Tag Archives: class

On “All Our Relations”

One book that I had hoped to read for a recent research project–but didn’t because I ran out of time–was Winona LaDuke’s All Our Relations. Luckily, I did have time to do some reading in this text before returning it to the library, and I was stunned at reading of the Mothers’ Milk Project.

LaDuke’s first chapter chronicles the struggles of the Mohawk Indians who live in the northeastern U.S. near a large General Motors plant. The plant dumped toxic chemicals in “SuperFund” sites, and those chemicals found their way into the water supply. LaDuke follows Mohawk activist Katsi Cook, who tries to involve women in activism.

“The fact is that women are the first environment,” according to Cook. “We accumulate toxic chemicals like PCBs, DDT, Mirex, HCBs, etc., dumped into the waters by various industries. They are stored in our body fat and are excreted primarily through breast milk” (18). In fact, a study found a 200 percent greater concentration of PCBs in mothers who ate fish from the St. Lawrence River.

Now, I don’t want to come off as the stereotypical tree-hugging academic liberal. (And, truth be told, I don’t actually have a lot in common with that stereotype.) I have family that has worked for GM, and while the company has been less than generous (or even fair?) to its employees in recent years, it did provide millions of solid jobs for millions of people who would not otherwise have been nearly so well paid over several decades. I do not want to vilify GM. However, it does appear that the company has been less than ethical and responsible in many of its actions pertaining to the environment. Perhaps the more informative question is one of motive. Did GM shirk its responsibilities because of ignorance, costs, or just because it could get away with it?

In 1996, Chief Scientist to the World Wildlife Fund Theo Colburn gave an address at the State of the World Forum in which he said: “Every one of you sitting here today is carrying at least 500 measurable chemicals in your body that were never in anyone’s body before the 1920s” (21). Colburn said 2,500 new chemicals are developed every year. How is anyone supposed to keep up with that much new information, let alone figure out how each of those chemicals might affect the human body?

Can we hold a company like GM responsible for being up to date on all chemicals they use? (That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m not sure of the answer.)

The one surety? Things are always changing, and this presents a challenge for native populations and cultures. But other cultures can make a difference by doing as little harm as possible.

In LaDuke’s final chapter, she discusses the U.S. takeover of Hawai’i, and some bits are stunning in their demonstration of the ignorance of dominant cultures in the area: “The final eviction threat was fulfilled February 14, 1997, when the [National Park Service], hell-bent on its park of historic Hawaiian culture, evicted the Hawaiians” (168). Brilliant, eh?

But there is hope.

I was particularly struck by LaDuke’s account of the island of Kaho’o’lawe, which the U.S. took martial control of the day after the Pearl Harbor bombing. Since that time, it was used as a test site for weaponry … until 1990, when then-President George Bush ended practice bombing there and returned the island to Hawaiians.

Coming full circle

A few pages into Barbara Monroe’s Crossing the Digital Divide: Race, Writing and Technology in the Classroom, I felt like my readings for English 467 had come full circle. We’re back to defining race, but Monroe uses the term in a new way: “Race, as I use the word in this book, refers to people of color, specifically African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians, all of whom as groups have been historically excluded from the matrix of power and wealth in this country” (21). While this isn’t a definition I personally would ever use, it does point to two important understandings in defining race. First, race is not static. It is always changing and is always different depending on one’s perspective. Second, we can gain power over this often divisive word by using our agency to define it in the ways that benefit us. Monroe uses it to point out those who “have been excluded.” We could also use it as a term that denotes commonality rather than difference, as in celebrations of ethnic (racial?) heritage. I think that this may mean my original definition of race still works for me, although I’ve now had the chance to explore and complicate it in various ways. Race is a construction of particular rhetorics, used for a particular end in a particular social realm. And regardless of the origin of the word, it doesn’t have to be used with treacherous intentions.

I am reminded–as was Monroe on page 30–of Paulo Freire’s goal of critical consciousness and liberatory pedagogy. In his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire advocates helping the oppressed (whoever they may be) by teaching them to help themselves. They must be able to see the structures they have to work within and then cultivate a desire to do so. Anything less is pantomime. I particularly like thinking of race, rhetoric, and technology as addressed by Freire through bell hooks. In Teaching to Transgress, hooks points out the openness of Freire’s work and life (and examines and ultimately comes to terms with his sexist language). It seems to me that this treatment of the oppressed speaks directly to the issues of access we’ve been discussing all semester. hooks admonishes us (teachers, in a broad sense) to work as cultural healers, utilizing and modeling tactics for disrupting hegemonic power in ways that are sustainable and productive.

One example of such a tactic comes in Monroe’s second chapter, “Putting One’s Business on Front Street.” In this chapter, Monroe discusses a globally networked learning environment (GNLE) in which 27 Detroit High School sophomores and 27 University of Michigan upperclassmen interacted within a mostly electronic mentor/mentee relationship. Her attention to local and cultural contexts was exciting, and it was fascinating to read actual excerpts of the students’ correspondence.

The cultural differences were interesting and a bit frightening. For example, Monroe concluded that the DHS students who “performed” their mentors’ introductory emails by using “falsetto voices and with much body English” and “making fun of a person by overdramatizng his speech and gestures” were working within an environment that was “celebratory,” “good-natured fun” (44-45). While I realize that I might be rankled by these students’ treatment of their mentors because my culture is closer to that of the mentors than the mentees, Monroe could have done a much better job of explaining the culture clash at this juncture. As someone interested in navigating the complexities of culture and race in particular audiences, she should have been attuned to the audience of her book.

I think the study itself could also be critiqued because it is somewhat dated. The correspondences were conducted in the 1996-1997 academic year, and the book was not published until 2004. Dynamics at DHS with access and technological understanding have certainly changed in that time, and it would have been interesting to see some acknowledgment of that. (But, this is a common critique of technology-based books and a problem that is not easy to overcome.)

The parts of this study I was most interested in were the female-female partnerships that were so successful, and code-switching done be mentees, and the “Implications for teaching.” I find that analogies pertaining to sex-based oppression often help me understand “the race problem” better than I would otherwise be able to. As such, it came as no surprise to me that the female-female partnerships were generally successful. The discomfort surrounding the sharing of romantic details was an interesting cultural difference to ponder, though. Monroe’s discussion of the students’ code-switching likewise provides food for thought on the complex discourse communities these students navigate, despite the fact that standardized tests often label such students as “failing.” So far as implications for teaching go, I was particularly interested in Monroe’s note that English teacheers should be aware of “race-based cultural differences when designing their curricula” (64). Monroe gives the example of using rap music as a pedagogical tool. While some might think this would be appropriate for a school system with a high African-American demographic, DHS found that it posed problems for the religious African American communities that many of their students came from (65). Care must be taken in making such moves.

“Storytime on the Reservation” was also intriguing, and this is the chapter where Monroe returns to her original–problematic, in my opinion–premise that “electronic media–mainly, movies and e-mail–can bridge the gaping maw between home and school literacies” of students. I’m old-fashioned, I know, but I resist the idea of basing a child’s education on anything other than good reading. Electronic media can be supplements, and a medium like the Kindle is synonymous to books. But substituting movies and e-mail for books seems to be a very bad idea to me, and one that Monroe doesn’t support well enough for me to change my mind. She does mention that this is cultural, and this is part of my resistance. In a primarily oral culture, movies might be a better medium for instilling critical literacy. I concede that this could work … but the movies would have to be carefully chosen given the nature of Hollywood today, and while e-mails and texting are fine means for getting students to write, I still think they must be able to code switch to SAE to reach their fullest potential. In short, I don’t think it’s responsible to encourage teachers to switch to using movies and email as their main pedagogical tools without providing a good deal more explanation and support on how to make these tools work for instilling critical consciousness in students.

In this end, though, I think my critique stems from my having goals that are different from teachers at the schools that are discussed. The local needs and goals are far more important–though many politicians don’t realize it–than ensuring all students speak and write SAE flawlessly. In answering Cindy Selfe’s call to come up with more methods for critical engagement, I think Monroe does a fine job. It’s my own cultural situatedness that prevents me from accepting her suggestions. (Although I’m not saying my caution is an incorrect response, just qualifying it.) I wonder at her audience for this book, and I hope she’ll write the new book that is suggested by her closing statement that we need to “teach all children, not just children of color, to become interethnically literate” (125).

Works Cited

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Tran. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1968. Print.

hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.

Monroe, Barbara. Crossing the Digital Divide: Race, Writing, and Technology in the Classroom. New York: Teachers College Press, 2004. Print.

Selfe, Cindy. Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century: The Importance of Paying Attention. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1999. Print.

On (dis)ability

Of the readings we did for this week (cited below), the one I found most helpful was Jason Palmeri’s article on technical communication pedagogy. In addition to offering a new perspective on disability studies, Palmeri provided constructive ways to help others learn about this field as well. After providing several examples and a discussion of how “cripples” are framed as “burdens on society” and thus marginalized, Palmeri moves to promoting the idea that technical communicators must see disability accessibility “as a source of transformative insight into design practice for all” (57). This sounds like a noble and achievable goal to me, but I have more trouble imaging how it can work practically when he moves in that direction. Palmeri suggests that “we must begin to trouble the binary between normal and assistive technologies” by viewing all technologies as assistive. This makes sense, but when he goes on to say that students should conduct research with a screen reader, I wonder 1) might this activity reinforce that binary? and 2) where the heck do I get a screen reader? Both ponderings, obviously, point to larger questions about understanding and access that I don’t have answers to.

Questions of access were at the forefront of several of the materials we viewed this week. Sandhu, Saarnio, and Wiman discuss access at several points, although I was disappointed that they didn’t problematize the idea that laws can provide access until later in the piece. As an undergraduate, I distinctly remember the news staff of the campus paper doing investigative piece after investigative piece in attempts to get the administration to see that the campus was in violation of several accessibility laws. In the end, some administrators agreed but said there simply weren’t funds to right the issues we raised. Sandhu, Saarnio, and Wiman also raise interesting questions about the intersection of poverty and disability. The correlation between the two conditions makes the whole situation much more complicated.

These three authors also make a claim when positing that there is a horizontal divide and a vertical divide within the digital divide. They say that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are inaccessible to some because of issues we’ve discussed before (socioeconomic concerns), and this is a horizontal divide. The vertical divide is “the difference between people who are able to use the existing technologies and people with disabilities with little or only partial access to these resources’ (8). I think what we’re dealing with is actually more than a divide. In searching for a better metaphor, it’s almost as though we’re all navigating the surface of a pane of safety glass that has splintered. In terms of technology, there are chasms everywhere.

Pamela Walker explore one such fissure in her essay “Artists with Disabilities: A Cultural Explosion.” She makes a good point early on in saying that society expected people who were differently abled to accept their circumstances and make do, and that people internalized that feeling. This struck a chord with me because, although I do not identify with any community of physical disablement, I have internalized the same worldview in terms of socioeconomic struggles. Perhaps this is also why I react negatively to the lyrics near the end of Walker’s essay “We’re not longer grateful for the handouts you have thrown us … ” While I like the metaphorical “moving out and moving up,” the sense of ungratefulness rubs me the wrong way. I don’t have a lot of things and I don’t think the system we live in is fair, but I’m grateful for what I do have. For that reason or perhaps for a reason I still need to find and explore, these lyrics do not evoke empathy in me.

Hephaestus

Hephaestus

Walker’s text was rich with other connections between disability studies and the scholarship I’ve known. Her note on censorship was, I thought, very important. Unfortunately, I fear censorship in some form is happening to disabled artists, because I didn’t find much when I tried to search for the artists she mentions. And she’s certainly right that this has been going on for centuries. Her mention of Hephaestus struck a note of familiarity with me as well. As an undergraduate, I wrote a paper arguing that Hephaestus was the most overlooked of the Greek gods, and he certainly is the most unusual in his complexity. I love the connection Walker makes that Hephaestus, the one god described as lame, is the most well known patron of the arts among the Greek gods.

This brings us to the idea of cyborgs. I found Cromby and Standen’s discussion of the definition of cyborg highly informative (although I’m obviously prone to liking definitions). They suggest three interpretations: 1) a metaphor used for rhetorical leverage 2) use of media and 3) physical augmentation of the body. The latter two, the authors say, are useful to people with disabilities. They then discuss issues of cyborgism, including access, surveillance, control, and dependency. Their points about the problematic nature of using technology in this way are well taken. I was especially interested in their discussion of surveillance and the idea of a house that could monitor whether its occupants needed intervention. The authors conclude that such a situation could be helpful or invasive and may ultimately increase the chasms discussed above that allow only the wealthy to have truly palatable options. The Thoughtware.tv site contributed some valuable insights to this dicussion as well, and I especially liked Jeff’s ideas on the rhetorical choice behind the word disability:

“Disability focuses on a loss. Cyborg focuses on adaptive technology. It focuses on what we can do, not what we can’t do. And I think that’s a fundamental paradigm shift that must
occur if the disabled population has any hope of transitioning out of the shadows,
out of the institutions, and living a life of mobilization as opposed to one of stagnation.”

I do take issue with one point in Cromby and Standen’s article: the notion that women are more shaped by standards of appearance in our society than men. I wold argue that this is dependent on individual people. Although there may be a general perception that women are more affected by this, that may only mean that men are in greater danger of acting upon it.

Although I mentioned earlier that I do not self-identify as a disabled individual, I have certainly made use of cyborg technologies–braces, dermatological interventions, laser eye surgery–and I have encountered a surprising amount of (not always unwelcome) surveillance in each case. This also makes me think of the video I just watched of “quadraphlegic gamer/artist Robert Florio playing” a video game using mouth controls (found on this site). Although this surveillance was apparently allowed by Florio, it still was a result of his disability. Access, surveillance, control, and dependency are categories that become exponentially more complicated in terms of theorizing (dis)ability.

Works Cited

Cromby, John and Penny Standen. “Cyborgs and Stigma: Technology, Disability, Subjectivity.” Cyberpsychology. London: Routledge, 1999. Print.

“Game Accessibility: Gaming with a Physical Disability.” The Game Accessibility Project. http://www.accessibility.nl/games/index.php?pagefile=motoric

“On Disability, Adaptive Technology and Cyborg Societies.” Thoughtware.tv. http://www.thoughtware.tv/videos/show/1121-On-Disability-Adaptive-Technology-And-Cyborg-Societies

Palmeri, Jason. “Disability Studies, Cultural analysis, and the Critical Practice of Technical Communication Pedagogy.” Technical Communication Quarterly 15.1 (2006): 49-65. Print.

Sandhu, Jim S., Ilkka Saarnio, and Ronald Wiman. “Information and Communication Technologies and Disability in Developing Countries.” October 2001. Print.

Walker, Pamela. “Artists with Disabilities: A Cultural Explosion.” National Arts and Disability Center. University of California. 1998. Web.

Image from https://pstevensfhs.wikispaces.com/Hephaestus

Technology, Gender, and Cyberfeminism

In her riveting book Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in Late Imperial China, Francesca Bray introduces “gynotechnics,” which is “a way of organizing materials from more varied sources into new patterns, providing a new perspective on gender and its place in the social order as well as a way of getting beyond what written texts alone can tell us” (373). The second part of her book is fascinating in its attention to the technology of weaving and how women’s lives existed in relationship to a technology that was considered “women’s work” without being devalued. Bray shows how women’s roles changed dramatically as weaving transitioned to being under the domain of men through this gynotechnical inquiry.

The part of the book of greatest interest to me was the third and final part, “Meanings of Motherhood: Reproductive Technologies and Their Uses.” Bray acknowledges that readers won’t be surprised that a society organized around the male descent line focuses concern over fertility on females (287). But what she tells us in Part Three changes what that statement means. Bray explains to readers that married men over age 40 with no children were legally allowed to take a concubine (although the practice was actually far more widespread than this statement would imply). While some wives resented their husbands’ concubines, others were eager for the concubine’s arrival and even sought her out. This is because the wife would be the real, or formal, mother of any child born to the concubine. Bray says that although “it appears to use that these women were simply acquiescing in their own oppression,” “such actions also offered to a childless woman the promise of a child who was formally hers” (357). Thus, women whose husbands had the status/money/power to take a concubine were released from the typical scrutiny surrounding fertility—and they could then avoid the plethora of frightening-sounding technologies Bray mentions for dealing with infertility and pregnancy. The wife employed a variety of social and local technologies, then, in the management of her household and the raising of the children that were now formally her own.

(However, even women who had no intention of bearing children still paid particular attention to their monthly cycles, because the Chinese conception of Blood as one of the vital organs meant that menstruation irregularities were a sign of bad health. Thus, technologies were often applied to women in imperial China in order to regulate them to a social norm.)

Gynotechnic inquiry is very related to the concept of cyberfeminsim, at least as represnted in Domain Errors!, although the latter is far harder to pin down. Cyberfeminism, according to Fernandez and Wilding in their book’s first article, came about in response to the fact that “historically, waves of feminism have often accompanied technological expansion” and the response of feminists to such expansions (17). A bit further on, they establish that cyberfeminism is, by nature, undefinable, unlabelable, and unidentifiable. As a person who likes definitions, this troubles me. Although I know that definitions (by definition) reduce complex ideas, I also find this initial reduction very helpful in developing a more complex understanding further down the line. Of course, “situating” a thing (as the title of the essay is “Situating Cybefeminisms”) may be a way to begin understanding it without defining it, and I found this technique helpful. I discovered that cyberfeminism is not feminism, but that it has much in common with second-wave feminism (20). I also found that cyberfeminism has its own two waves already as well: one that concentrates on the relationships of women and machines and a second wave that deals with politics and embodiment.

Among other essays I found particularly helpful to my work in Domain Errors! was Paasonen’s treatment of “the woman problem” in relation to the Internet. Paasonen notes that we (critical scholars) tend to “presuppose a given gender difference” in how women access the Internet. She also astutely points out that we incorrectly see gender is a polar characteristic and the Internet as gender-neutral (94). She goes on to present troubling depictions of expectations Internet authors have of women users … all of which, I think, go to show that more conversation on the topic is required in order to begin suggesting alternative methods that are less problematic. (But I’m out of room to ponder them here.)

Finally, Amelia Jones’ account of her infertility treatments was both touching and informative (an expected and yet interesting combination, given the book’s focus). “One’s entire identity becomes wrapped up in” a particular identity that is made possible by technology. Although I know it probably isn’t this simple, it seems to me that technology has allowed those dealing with infertility to hang onto hope, but also to make themselves miserable because of that hope. Technology has changed not only the way that women are perceived and embodied, not only the way they think and live, but also the ways in which they believe certain things about their inner selves.

Works Cited

Bray, Francesca. Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in Late Imperial China. Berkeley: U of California P, 1997. Print.

Fernandez, Maria, Faith Wilding, and Michelle M. Wright, eds. Domain Errors!: Cyberfeminist Practices. Canada: Autonomedia and subRosa, 2002. Print.

**I feel compelled to note that Fernandez, Wilding, and Wright maintain an anti-copyright on their book, so I feel that I’ve done it a certain amount of rhetorical violence by citing it in the conventional manner. I beg forgiveness for this offense as I found no better solution.

Reproductive technology and the legal system

Here’s another interesting article, this one at the intersection of rhetoric and technology, though I’m certain race, class, and culture would also provide highly informative lenses through which to view this situation. This article is a feature on a state-run drug-treatment program for pregnant women in South Carolina.

In my previous studies, I ran across a couple cases where a woman was prosecuted for her behavior while pregnant, and I also found several cases (in Canada) where a woman was prevented from getting an abortion by the father of the fetus she was carrying.

The rhetoric of this particular article is noteworthy, I think, because it does much less blaming than most discussions of this topic. Most such articles or other works use rhetoric that puts the pregnant drug addicts at fault. (Whether they are or not is beside the point; I’m only interested in the rhetoric and how it shapes these women in our minds.)

The article says some women find the program on their own, while others are forced there by law. This is all made possible, of course, by the advent of reproductive technologies (from formal scientific studies and the ways they get results to the use of fetal ultrasound) that allow us to trace cause-and-effect relationships between maternal drug use and fetal condition. In at least some cases, this relationship is also shaped by the rhetoric used to describe that technology–even if the technology is not used as the cultural knowledge that begets the rhetoric in question holds that it is.