Tag Archives: race

Summer Reading 2

Calafell, Bernadette Marie and Delgado, Fernando P. (2004). “Reading Latina/o images: Interrogating Americanos,” Critical Studies in Media Communication, 21: 1, 1-24.

Calafell and Delgado explore the implications of Americanos, a book of photos of Latinas and Latinos in the U.S. They suggest that the text is critical of flattened, stereotypical understandings of latinidad in the States.

  • The authors cite Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities to frame their work.
  • The authors incorporate elements familiar to postmodernists and third-wave feminists: Latina/os remain dynamic and difficult to fix precisely because they are responsive to their shifting environment, their historical contextualization in the U.S. and their pursuit of opportunities there as well as their ties to their cultural homes” (2).
  • The authors discuss “hyphenated Americans.” Although the context leads me to believe they did not coin this term, this is the first time I’ve encountered it and it seems to me to have a lot of potential as a representation of othered groups.
  • This article discusses some dominant discourses about Latina/os and sets out to show how Americanos participates in a critique of them. For example, one such discourse is the idea that Latina/os are “invaders” who intend to “rob the US of its resources” (3). Americanos offers a more complex narrative than this.
  • “It aims at both the Aristotelian goal of persuasion and the Burkeian presumption of rhetorical discourse as identification. In the first instance, Americanos functions as a vernacular rhetoric that retells the story of Latina/o peoples and counters the legacy of distorted impressessions of Latina/o peoples and cultures. IN the second, the text imagines a pan-Latina/o reality through the iages and their composition within the text and invistes readers (Latina/os and non-Latina/os alike) to recognize the connectedness among the variety of Latina/os” (4).
  • The authors make an argument based on three concepts: third space, crossing (borders), and los sagrados.
  • The authors set up Americanosas a “plea” (8). Given their attention to the language of classical rhetoric, what does it mean for them to identify this work with judicial rather than deliberative or even epideictic rhetoric?
  • Attention to the word American is fascinating: It’s the “most unifying single word in the hemisphere. But for some reason the United States has coine it as their word” (Olmos cited in Calafell and Delgado, 9).
  • Note the incorporation of La Malinche as a cultural icon. (11)
  • The authors engage in a rhetoric of “overcoming” in relation to Latina/os who “make it.” This is an interesting connection to dis/ability rhetorics, where the rhetoric of overcoming has been critiqued.
  • The authors say that Americanos “posits los sagrados (the sacred) as a way to see how rituals serve as a means to resist assimilation while simultaneously complicating the meaning and impact of religious practices both inside and outside of the culture” (14). This bears interesting connections to Francesca Bray’s work in gynotechnicas, wherein she expands the definition of technology to include social rituals.

Summer Reading 1

I’m trying very hard to be a good student this summer! I’ve started out by finishing up some reading that I really wanted to get done during the semester. I’m including here some of my favorite concepts and quotations (some with context) from these texts, which will hopefully create interest for others and job my own memory in the future. (Citations precede quotations/contextualizations/concepts.)

Bizzell, Patricia, Ed. Rhetorical Agendas: Political, Ethical, Spiritual. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006. Print.

  • Lester Faigley’s critique of fast rhetorics because they risk creating “a culture where things are quickly used and discarded, a culture where the abuse of the environment and gaping inequalities are ignored” (9).
  • Harriet Jacobs’s “decision to be a fugitive (absent-present) mother” (Carlacio 319)
  • El Mundo Zurdo, quoted from Anzaldua
  • Christa Jean Downer recognizes her own privilege as “a light-skinned woman” (335). She says: “women-of-color feminists realize that labels and categories are important life strategies; they create visibility and break silences. However, women-of-color feminists understand also, that the act of joining in uncomoplicated solidarity around an identity category reifies oppressive relationships and, therefore, limits the efficacy of social movements that seek to change relationships of domination” (336).
  • Downer calls for women to base alliances on interconnections
  • Jung theorizes the potential flattening effects of over-identification, giving an example wherein her students, by over-identifying with bell hooks as victims of racism, were “able to avoid the hard work of contrasting the historical, material, and institutional contexts of their experiences with those of African Americans” (349). The students were able to gloss over the differences between individualized and institutionalized racism. Jung suggests that disidentification, listening for difference, is a potential solution to such defensive mechanisms.

Olson, Gary, Ed. Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2002. Print.

  • Lynn Worsham suggests pursuing a deeper understanding of the relationship between intellectual work and ideology. “What I am suggesting, then, is that the primary work of ideology is more fundamental than the imposition of a dominant framework of meanings. Its primary work is to organize an emotional world, to inculcate patterns of feeling that support the legitimacy of dominant interests, patterns that are deemed especially appropriate to reigning gender, race, and class relations” (106).
  • Crowley says: “In a posthumanist dispensation, to say that bodies are not containers of something-else-that-is-more-important (that is, to reject the modernist body) is not enough” (177). Drawing on Halberstam and Livingston, Crowley suggests that the body is a technology that “both writes and is written upon; it is the scene as well as the aegis of representation” (178).
  • After proving the point with a quotation from Susan Bordo, Crowley suggests that because women’s worth has always already been connected to their bodies and how they use them, “women are particularly well placed to develop analyses and critiques of the body and of the regimes that govern bodily practices” (179).
  • Crowley: “we do not celebrate the multiplicity of sexes ‘given’ use by ‘nature’; rather, we presume that people whose bodies do not clearly comply with our bipolar definition of ‘true sexuality’ are inadequately or inappropriately sexed” (183).
  • Crowley: “What I learn from body studies is that no body is disinterested. And that’s why this work is central to rhetorical studies, which has always taken the study of partisanship as its province” (186).

(Literature) Pedagogy

The literature students at my school don’t have too many options in their coursework to focus specifically on literature pedagogy. As a result, a couple of smart students have created a summer mini-conference on this topic. This is its third year, but the first I attended, and I was happy to discover that much of what I learned was very relevant for rhetoric/composition pedagogy as well. I’m including some of the most important notes I took here. If any readers are interested in something below, let me know and I can hook you up with whoever presented on that topic.

Teaching Difficult Topics led by Chris Desantis, Julie Jung, Oren Whitesell

  • When discussing oppressive institutions–we’ll use race as an example–start by talking about the historical context. Don’t open discussion until after students have this common ground established. (In this phase, be careful to create a common vocabulary and to consider how themes circulate in language.)
  • Next, introduce social construction. (Note: It’s OK to “shut a student down” if she or he refuses to buy into the basic premises of the class. You can think of this less as silencing a student and more as eliminating an obstacle to other students’ learning. Hopefully it doesn’t happen often.)
  • Open discussion: Possible topics in this example include the collective silence on whiteness, connections between texts and student lives, and implications of physical spaces that produce whiteness and blackness, etc.
Ogbu’s definition of education: systematic eradication of viable alternatives (I’m not sure what I think of this. It sounds a lot like bell hooks’ definition of oppression)
Helpful readings:
Summative comments:
Teach not what to think, but how logic works
Always consider power relations in and out of the classroom

Teaching Digital Texts led by Cheryl Ball 

Remember: A 10-page paper is not nearly equivalent to a 10-minute video. A proficient producer of video typically takes 200 minutes for every minute produced. Consider a 2-3 minute video equivalent to a 10-page paper.


Sample digital project outline for a themed class – Using wiki technology to interlink all student work
  • Establish common key terms
  • Have an individual draft due by midterm
  • Have students read others’ drafts during second part of semester
  • Links/revisions/additional pages due by finals
Linguistics led by Aaron Smith
  • Consider that linguists study speech communities; historical linguists must use written texts (literature)
  • Take care not to apply sociolinguistic understandings from modern times to historical contexts
  • Consider how linguistic usage is used to construct literary characters. This may include elements like the a- prefix (I’m a-goin’) or h-dropping (‘umble beginnings).
  • Remember that ideology is shown in language
  • When teaching, narrow the focus. First, select a form to focus on, then prove to students that they know a grammar (disrupt their belief that we’re in some sort of historical grammatical decline), then choose texts with appropriate linguistic variation.
Making Sense of Evaluations led by Claire Lamonica
  • The most important different in evaluations is understanding the purpose of formative vs. summative evaluation. Summative evaluation happens at the end of the term; formative evaluation can be used to improve teaching.
  • 360-degree evaluation: Collect evaluations from self, supervisors, peers, students
  • For student evaluations, collect early so that you can learn during the class. Consider doing a 1-minute paper at the end of each class. This is where students quickly write the most important thing they learned and the muddiest point from the day’s work. Also consider incorporating weekly reports and/or a midterm chat to get mid-semester evaluations.
  • Frequent evaluation teaches students to think and write evaluatively; it’s not just for the teacher.
  • Take into account, when reading summative evaluations, the things that students are and are not really qualified to comment on
  • When working through evaluations, first categorize responses into positive, negative, suggestions, and other. Then synthesize results, count and a rank them, reflect, and prioritize. Remember to work on only one or two things at a time so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
Teaching with Film led by Sally Parry and Bob McLaughlin

Challenge: Getting students to engage films as texts instead of passive consumers
Advantage: FIlms are able to fill in more historical context
  • Remember to teach film conventions, often comparing them to parallel conventions in printed texts
  • Incorporate historical context. For example, study the Hayes Code and teach students to know what signals meant what sort of action (to get around the censors)
  • Defamiliarize students with film media by starting with (or only showing) black-and-white films
  • Teach and complicate themes. (For example, in film noir, the bad guy is often a veteran. Why? What does this mean?)
Some films to consider, taken from a WWII culture class
  • Snafu
  • Iceland
  • Miracle on Morgan’s Creek
  • Casa Blanca
  • The Best Years of Our Lives

Ownership, Bodies, Legality: Culture in Tech Comm

This post is a critical response to readings in English 451: Cultural Studies in Technical Communication

It is unsurprising that the part of Williams’ text that interested me most came in “Owning the Self in a Disowned World.” Williams, in her curious style of narrative anecdote and theoretical reflection, discusses the case of a woman charged with homicide after a miscarriage, and juxtaposes it against the case of a woman suing for the right of her fetus not to be in the prison she herself has been sentenced to; meanwhile, she remembers the case of a woman jailed to protect her fetus from drugs (183-184). “My head is throbbing because these cases don’t make sense to me … I’m not sure I believe that a child who has left the womb is really a separate person until sometime after the age of two. The entire life force is a social one …” (184). While this passage is of interest to me because of my research in technical communication and gender studies, especially as it relates to reproduction and women’s bodies, I also think it gets to the heart of Williams’ book. Time and again, she argues (with herself, with the world) over the disjointedness of trying to impose neat legal limitations on human beings who are so complexly, messily, socially un-limitable and whose “legal rights” often overlap or are taken up in frightening and unjust ways.

The whole book is a passionate, angry, sad response to the fragmentation imposed on people, people like Williams. More than once, she notes her own isolation as a single black professional woman. In many contexts, she wrestles with the notion that “allowing the separation in order to benefit the real mutuality, they enslave themselves to the state” (185). Reading this on the heels of This Bridge Called My Back, I often found myself conflicted about the promise of unity for women, for people of color, for gays and lesbians, for the poor. I struggled to read this text. It was emotionally difficult, both in terms of sheer exposure (an eleven-year-old slave girl impregnated by her white master! the acceptance of that girls’ descendants that the master is also part of their inheritance! A fifteen-year-old black girl raped physically, then again in the media/social aftermath!) and in terms of my own implication (as a white woman, my thoughts about affirmative action programs are a hopeless mess of conflicts). There were many subjects on which I agreed with Williams; there also were areas where I disagreed but recognized my own privilege and historical context as influencers in my disagreement.

(The one disagreement I just have to mention is Williams’ idea to stage “guerrilla warfare” by secretly impregnating white women with black sperm (188). Although she then does “disclaim this as a serious exhortation,” she does so defensively. I found her entire treatment of the issue to be highly problematic; to me, any case of a woman impregnated with sperm—black or white—that she did not want—regardless of why she didn’t want it—is a form of rape, and Williams does not deal with this violent trespass into female bodies as a feminist issue at all.)

I was so involved with Williams’ book that I now find myself worrying about involving the field of technical communication in this response. Much like Williams’ students who claim she doesn’t teach law, I find myself struggling to connect the content of the book to the subject of our class. But at the same time, these subjects—race, gender, sex, disempowerment, oppression, subjugation, discrimination, hate, privilege, the veil of transparency—are endemic to technical communication. Mark Hannah exhorts technical communicators to re-envision their own production of legal rhetoric and technical communication teachers to take up legal issues in the classroom. At stake is that technical communicators “not see themselves or their companies simply as subject to or victim to the limits and restrictions of the law” (14). Hannah’s work could perhaps be seen as a response to Williams’ book; here is a way to do something about all the injustices she makes visible.

(Hannah’s suggestions, of course, represent just one angle of a whole spectrum of responses. As Christian argues, there is no need to produce a particular theoretical response representative of my own situatedness and stick to it “as if I were a mechanical man” (53).)

I have brought legal rhetoric into my own classroom when I teach technical communication. My students study a body of lawsuits surrounding nail gun accidents. However, the combination of Williams and Hannah’s pieces have prompted me to reconsider the way in which I present this information. I have asked students to think in complex ways (including thinking about social class and gender) about how instruction manuals for nail guns function rhetorically. Now, I’ll add some new subjects of focus. I’ll ask students to look at the lawsuits themselves and examine the ways in which we value law as neutral or transparent, and I’ll ask students to review each others’ work (as Hannah demonstrates on page 19) with an eye to legal potentiality.

This seems a small step in the face of a text like Williams’. For now, it’s all I know to do.


Works Cited

Williams, Patricia J. The Alchemy of Race and Rights. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1991. Print.

Hannah, Mark. “Legal Literacy: Coproducing the Law in Technical Communication.” Technical Communication Quarterly 20.1 (2011): 5-24. Print.

Christian, Barbara. “The Race for Theory.” Cultural Critique: The Nature and Context of Minority Discourse 6 (1987): 51-63. Print.

Back to School: A Reading List

Today marks the beginning of the fall semester as well as the first day of a class that I’m very excited about: U.S. Latino/a literature. My undergraduate minor was Spanish, and one of the very best summers of my life was the one when I studied abroad in Spain. I hope this class will inspire me to brush up on my Spanish, and I also believe it will introduce me to issues of culture (clash?) within immigrant populations.

Here is the reading list for the class:

  • Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives; ISBN: 978081662286
  • Boricua Literature; ISBN: 9780814731475
  • Woman Hollering Creek; ISBN: 9780679738565
  • Cuban Palimpsests; ISBN: 9780816642144
  • Down These Mean Streets-30th Anniv.Ed.; ISBN: 9780679781424
  • Days of Awe; ISBN: 9780345441546
  • Dreaming in Cuban; ISBN: 9780345381439

Just for fun, I used www.whatshouldireadnext.com to come up with some other literature that might be interesting to me in this area. What an interesting tool! And the results are interesting, too, even though the site couldn’t find most of the books I entered. Nevertheless, worth a look, and here are my results based on entering some of the books above:

  • Octavio Paz – The Labyrinth of Solitude: The Other Mexico, Return to the Labyrinth of Solitude, Mexico and the United States, the Philanthropic Ogre
  • Linda Hogan – Solar Storms
  • Terry Burnham, Jay Phelan – Mean Genes: From Sex to Money to Food – Taming Our Primal Instincts
  • Louise Erdrich – Four Souls
  • Anne-Marie MacDonald – Vermimm Mein Flehen / Fall on Your Knees
  • Julia Alvarez – Yo!
  • Barbara Kingsolver – Pigs in Heaven
  • Toni Morrison – Song of Solomon: A Novel
  • Carson McCullers – The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (Penguin Modern Classics)