Outline

Ethically Working Within Communities: Cultural Rhetorics Methodologies Principles

Jun 7, 2021

Published in Conversations | Issue 4

Sonia C. Arellano, University of Central Florida

Lauren Brentnell, University of Northern Colorado

Jo Hsu, University of Texas at Austin

Alexis McGee, University of Alabama

Moderated by Alexandra Hidalgo

 

Introduction

By Alexandra Hidalgo

I decided I would become a professor my freshman year at Ohio University back in 1995. I was enamored with every aspect of my college life—from my international group of friends with a penchant for heated literature and philosophy debates to the speakers who visited the university, wowing us from the front of classrooms and the university’s grandest stage. I was living in a wonderland of ideas, and at the center of it were the professors who, week after week, helped us elucidate impenetrable texts as they gracefully choreographed our conversations. I imagined myself unleashing a similar spell on my own students someday.

In my 18-year-old mind, faculty taught courses, wrote books, and entertained guest scholars. Now that I am a tenured professor, I can say that my view was accurate yet incomplete. Most of what I missed in my idealized picture of faculty life involves some kind of meeting. Academia is littered with meetings, and as we figure out within the first semester of our faculty venture, those meetings often seem ineffective and draining. At constellations we add to our editors’ too-many-meetings woes by gathering biweekly, so we try to make those meetings effective and enlivening. Much like the wondrous debates with faculty and friends that resulted in my intellectual reinvention when I was a freshman, we take our meeting time to work through topics that both thrill and concern us when it comes to our publication.

The conundrum we keep returning to is how to provide robust yet non-prescriptive guidance to readers and potential authors on our understanding of cultural rhetorics, since that understanding helps shape the scholarship we publish. For this three-piece conversation series, we decided that, as editors, we would emulate the conversations we have at our meetings around cultural rhetorics scholarship, methodologies, and pedagogy. In this, the second piece in the series, managing editors Sonia Arellano, Lauren Brentnell, Jo Hsu, and Alexis “Lexi” McGee tackle cultural rhetorics methodologies.

One of the most salient ideas that emerged from this exchange is cultural rhetorics’ emphasis on working with communities and the human beings that make up those communities. As Lauren writes, “I have a background in the social sciences and wanted to know more about how we bring people into the humanities, and suddenly there was this entire group of people in front of me going, uh yeah, we’ve been doing that, welcome to the club.” Ethical considerations are always present whenever we do research, but when dealing with fellow humans and their lives, the possibility to wound grows exponentially. In order to mitigate that danger, Sonia argues that “you as a researcher should have an ethical and genuine relationship to the practices or people who are at the center of your research.”

Building and navigating relationships should start long before we collect any data. Jo begins each project by asking themself two questions, “(1) Who/what will be impacted by what I am researching and writing, and (2) how do I do so in a way that is responsible, that can seek out and respond to the needs that were present before I got there, and that can be of value?” Those questions rarely have simple answers, and as we work on our projects, we find ourselves faced with our own vulnerability as cultural rhetorics researchers. When examining how to turn her vulnerability as a researcher into an asset, Lexi suggests, “know what you don’t know and ask for help; allow for intervention and disruption.”

As the conversation drew to a close, our editors engaged in a generative meditation on time and how difficult it is to do cultural rhetorics research as quickly as academia often expects us to. Lauren writes, “Communities and our collaborators may not always exist or live on a university timeline. And it might not be good practice for us as community members or as researchers to push everyone to meet our personal deadlines.” How do we respect the needs of our methodology and the communities we’re working with while satisfying the ever-quickening pace of our various academic clocks? The wide-eyed freshman I once was never imagined that such a question would cross my professors’ minds. And yet, as I learned that same year, bringing brilliant humans together to deliberate topics they are passionate about is extremely fertile ground for our most perplexing inquiries. Join Sonia, Lauren, Jo, and Lexi as they, together, work through cultural rhetorics methodologies and the demands of academic time.

 

In “Constellating Stories and Counterstories: Cultural Rhetorics Scholarship Principles,” the opening conversation in this series, our moderator Kimberly Wieser opened the discussion by asking us to share our origin stories in cultural rhetorics, and that was such a generative question that I’m going to do the same here. Tell us how you became involved with cultural rhetorics.
A collage made by Lauren featuring several kinds of flowers as well as two figures. One of the figures has words inside their body, many of which are covered by hair or other images.

A collage made by Lauren Brentnell featuring several kinds of flowers as well as two figures. One of the figures has words inside their body, many of which are covered by hair or other images.

Jo Hsu: I guess like most folks in cultural rhetorics, story was my path into the field and into rhetoric more broadly. My “origin story” as a rhetorician is that I was an MFA student in creative writing—a queer, trans, sick, neurodivergent, generation 1.5 Taiwanese American—who got into my MFA program by writing stories about straight white people, because those were the only models for stories that I had (see Chimamanda Adichie, of course, or perhaps Eli Clare’s discussion of the “single story”). In cultural rhetorics, I found people who were making knowledge from their experience—from the ways their embodied knowledge exceeded existing conversations. I don’t really know any other way of studying rhetoric. For me, story is the means through which I understand how experience becomes knowledge and how knowledge becomes change.

Lexi McGee: There are two answers to this. One is the story of how I began to realize my own process for thinking, and the other is a more formal response centered around academic disciplines. I’ll answer the former first: I was often left to my own devices as a kid, and my imagination and curiosity were constant companions; I sought out answers to my questions through music. That is the nexus for me—where I began realizing that there are ways of knowing: through sound, through feeling, through movement, through images, and through reading. Music, for me, was the gateway to understanding life and being cognizant of different epistemologies and methodologies.

To answer the latter, it was the last year of my undergraduate studies. Until then, I had learned information within silos and had not really imagined that I could blend these institutional teachings—not to mention blend these more formal teachings with what I learned from life and from music on my own. It wasn’t until I took a class on hip hop literacies at Texas State that I found out there was a whole subdiscipline, a more “formal” (or perhaps just more structured) way of making sense of my multidimensional meaning-making; that was cultural rhetorics.

Jo Hsu: I sense a connection between my experience and Lexi’s in that cultural rhetorics makes legible and establishes conversations around forms of knowing and discovery that many of us feel long before we can name. That’s part of what makes cultural rhetorics so appealing to me—that it prioritizes and directly draws from and adds to lived experience, with all its vulnerabilities and possibilities.

Lexi is holding up a copy of the yellow-covered "The Lemonade Reader," smiling at the camera.

Image of Lexi McGee posing with the cover of The Lemonade Reader. Edited by Kameelah Martin and Kinitra Brooks. Routledge 2018.

Lauren Brentnell: Yes to both of you! I think one thing I was always craving that felt missing in the kind of textual analysis version of the humanities that I’d been taught was the stories I was reading weren’t mine, and I wasn’t really able to see or interact with people in the way I wanted to. The texts and stories are so important—but y’all have me thinking about how those stories we’re often shown as examples may or may not resonate with us.

Sonia Arellano: I loved reading everyone’s origin stories in the scholarship piece. I actually learned a lot from and about my fellow editors. Similar to others, I think I came to cultural rhetorics by happenstance. When I first attended the Cultural Rhetorics Conference in 2018, I knew I was in the right place, but when Ana and Alex first approached me about submitting something to constellations, I was like, me? (looking around the room). And I reacted similarly when they asked me to be on the editorial team. Little did I know I was already deeply engaging with cultural rhetorics; I just hadn’t experienced the language to articulate that yet. As I’ve spent time working with this team, I’ve realized that I am in the right place, and I am honored to be a part of this conversation.

Jo Hsu: Haha, Sonia, I totally had that reaction: “Who, me?” I think another thing about cultural rhetorics that strikes me (and that I had to discover in time) is that it has been built by and for the people around it. It feels very much alive in that way—adaptive to needs and desires in the world rather than a fixed set of texts or dictates. I also like to think that it’s a field that can and will flex and grow with its communities, filled with people who will, in turn, challenge and change the field. And I’m honored to be here with you!

Sonia is crouched on the ground over a small, colorful quilt that she's working on.

Sonia Arellano with a research quilt she submitted for publication that chronicles the state-sanctioned sexual violences migrant women experience when traveling from Central America to the US.

Lauren Brentnell: I first became involved with cultural rhetorics during my doctorate at Michigan State. I had a conversation with Phil Bratta (who was one of the co-founders of constellations) before applying to MSU. He told me about the program and a little about cultural rhetorics scholarship, but most of what I was intrigued about was the idea of research with and as part of communities. Before that point, a lot of the research I was taught in the humanities was really text-based, which can be really valuable in certain situations. But, I have a background in the social sciences and wanted to know more about how we bring people into the humanities, and suddenly there was this entire group of people in front of me going, uh yeah, we’ve been doing that, welcome to the club.

Sonia Arellano: It seems like we all have these experiences of engaging with embodied knowledges and storytelling, as well as feeling something lacking from our prior interactions in higher ed. I completely relate to all of these stories, from only reading stories about straight white people, to understanding ways of knowing, and being brought into the fold by other cultural rhetoricians.

Lexi McGee: Thanks for sharing y’all’s origin stories; I am definitely appreciative and honored to take part in this conversation. I’ve been looking forward to sharing with my colleagues all week. I find it energizing, and comforting to some degree, knowing that we share similar introductions to cultural rhetorics. I think that kind of sharing mentality and embedded mentorship seen within cultural rhetorics methodologies and pedagogies is what really drew me to this way of researching, writing, and teaching. As Lauren noted, a lot of our methodologies are concerned with “how we bring people in,” and I think that speaks volumes to how we constellate.

 

Methodology is a complex term, as is cultural rhetorics, so this is a knotty question to ask, but pondering knotty questions is ultimately what these conversations are for. So, realizing that this is coming from your personal perspective, what are key principles you suggest scholars follow when enacting a cultural rhetorics methodology? 
Image of a portion of Lexi’s bookshelf showing a range of texts from literature, graphic novels, ethnomusicology, poetry, musical instruments, and tape cassette.

Image of a portion of Lexi McGee’s bookshelf showing a range of texts from literature, graphic novels, ethnomusicology, poetry, musical instruments, and tape cassette.

Jo Hsu: I was really affected by Andrea Riley-Mukavetz’s piece in CCC, “Developing a Relational Scholarly Practice,” which helped name a lot of commitments I’ve been trying to place at the fore of just… being a person in higher ed: How do we do this work in a way that is accountable to the people and places we engage with that work? So, I guess that’s the place I start from when I’m thinking about a project: (1) Who/what will be impacted by what I am researching and writing, and (2) how do I do so in a way that is responsible, that can seek out and respond to the needs that were present before I got there, and that can be of value? And I definitely don’t think I do this perfectly. I don’t even know if there’s a way to do it perfectly, but for me it seems that part of the work is a willingness to be vulnerable—an openness to others’ thoughts and knowledges, and a commitment to making genuine connections that will help us grow.

Lauren Brentnell: Jo, that question about accountability is so important, and it’s one that I think about constantly as well. My research has to do with trauma, often the traumas that are enacted against us by institutions. Thinking about how we hold institutions accountable for those traumas while working within those very spaces is such a hard thing to do. So, for me, I’ve thought a lot about commitments to (re)building networks of trust and care, which also means finding ways through our work and research to give control to the people we write with and about. Being reflective about our relationships to those people, to ourselves, to our institutions, and those histories is all part of that accountability for me.

Image of a gathered group of cultural rhetoricians on a zoom call.

Jo Hsu with storytelling kith and kin: Christina Cedillo, Remi Yergeau, Andrea Riley-Mukavetz, and Elaine Richardson

Sonia Arellano: One key principle I put forth is to “stay close to home,” and I think this aligns with so many points y’all have made. I say this to my students, and it has been a guiding principle for my own work. In other words, research something you engage with regularly or that is somehow a part of you already. Doing so can make for robust research questions, nuanced perspectives, and a genuine engagement with the research. I think it can already get at some of the questions of accountability Jo and Lauren have mentioned here.

However, I think it’s important to clarify that we shouldn’t box ourselves in either. Alex pointed this out in the Scholarship conversation in this series when she talked about her not wanting to only tell the story of upper-middle-class Venezuelans like herself forever. I don’t mean that you can’t branch out into new topics, but that you as a researcher should have an ethical and genuine relationship to the practices or people who are at the center of your research. It sounds as though you all have similar concerns in your own approaches to research. I particularly love Lauren’s attention to accountability with institutions.

Lexi McGee: This is a knotty question! I know that the answers I’m about to give may not be specific to cultural rhetorics alone, so I’d like to orient my answer in a way that suggests (or represents) my own guiding principles for how I implement cultural rhetorics methodologies—-and also know that a lot of these keywords, for me, often overlap as my colleagues have already said.

  • Ethics: research with diligence and an open mind; get out of your comfort zone and ask yourself the hard questions while also asking yourself how to handle this research with care.
  • Intersectionality: imagine through multiple origin points.
  • Intertextuality: read across and between lines.
  • Vulnerability: know what you don’t know and ask for help; allow for intervention and disruption.
  • Collaboration: build bridges wherever you can; learn from others; share.

Sonia Arellano: Wow, Lexi, these are so on point and concise. I’m definitely using this the next time I teach. I love how you’ve presented and framed these.

Lauren Brentnell: I was just thinking the same thing, Sonia. I was like, can’t wait until this piece comes out so I can cite Lexi here.

Jo Hsu: Ha ha, I think Lexi might’ve just dropped the mic here.

Lexi McGee: No way! Y’all set the stage. I just summed up our common threads in keywords.

Jo Hsu: Constellated!

Lexi McGee: Finding something to write/research about might be “easy,” but I find these intersections of passion, ethics, and accountability something that can easily get overlooked or lost in other methods/methodologies. I am loving how this is coming together. I can definitely get behind what Jo, Lauren, and Sonia are saying.

Sonia Arellano: I want to mention one thing that I see throughout as well, which Lauren mentions as (re)building networks of trust and care, and Lexi mentions in collaboration as sharing. Linda Tuhiwai Smith talks about this in her book Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, and I think the idea of giving back to the community you are working with is important. We all work not for ourselves just to get published, or simply because we think something is interesting, but because we are trying to make positive change and affect people’s lives. I think the idea of conducting research to give back is an important principle mentioned here.

Jo Hsu: I also want to note how important it is to name care as a significant part of the work—-one that is often not given a place in the metrics used for (for example) “academic rigor.”

Lauren Brentnell: Yes to all of these. I want to make note of so many of these words like care, ethics, vulnerability, collaboration—-I think these are so important and, like Jo said, not always given the kind of attention that we need. And sometimes when we do give attention to them (like with ethics), it’s in a cursory way, to be done through the institution for IRB, and not in the way I think Lexi framed it as something to be done with diligence and openness.

 

In addition to being a burgeoning field, when using cultural rhetorics we try to find productive ways to tell a story while applying lived and embodied experiences, and that can be daunting and sometimes isolating. So, knowing (or perhaps presuming) that a cultural rhetorics methodology is inherently multidimensional, what methodological sites have been particularly useful for generative theoretical explorations? What do you think makes a generative question to drive a cultural rhetorics methodology forward? 
A zine page featuring a red & and various bits of inspirational text

A page from a zine Lauren made at the 2018 Cultural Rhetorics Conference reading “Build intimacy, Inspire hope, Celebrate life, Embrace joy & Cultivate love.”

Lexi McGee: Music has been a productive site of knowledge-making for me, especially when coupled with reading different kinds of texts. I immediately thought about Janelle Monáe’s “Dirty Computer as a recent example. If you listen to some of her interviews, where she talks about the ongoing evolution of her ArchAndroid, you can get a “behind the scenes” kind of map for how to go about creating an interdisciplinary work; she has so many converging ideas that incorporate books, film, journalism, oral histories, etc. Also, to address the second part of this question, (the generative aspect, it’s thinking about what kinds of questions fuel my passion for inquiry. I love asking and thinking through questions, so that passion is usually what takes me down the rabbit hole in the first place. So, for me, a generative question has multiple answers and none of them easy (e.g., yes/no). If we start from the position of being open and then to having multiple answers, then it is worthwhile to explore solutions from different vantage points. It sets me up with a mindset of needing to talk across borders.

Jo Hsu: I agree with avoiding questions with easy answers. For me, the generative question almost always begins with “whose lives are affected here and how?” and then, “what can rhetorical analysis or intervention do in this circumstance?” Those questions have often taken me outside of (what Lexi referred to as) disciplinary silos because people don’t live within disciplinary boundaries. The part of cultural rhetorics that drew me in is the ability to pursue connections that reveal how different bodies of knowledge can converge and can facilitate responses to the material conditions that imperil or curtail people’s lives. These discoveries (in those moments that we question “what am I doing here?”) remind me that rhetoric has a meaningful impact on how we meet each other in the world.

Lauren Brentnell: I was also thinking about those non-easy questions, and many of them that immediately came to mind are probably connected to our previous conversation about care, ethics, collaboration. I think the questions that guide me are things like “how can we ethically and responsibly engage in the issues of the world that impact us?” and “how do we build programs/do research/cultivate classrooms (whatever it is we’re focused on doing) in a way that can do that work of rebuilding trust and care?” I think adding those notes about ethics, responsibility, care, and trust to the things we already do is what guides me, because it asks me to think about how I’m building relationships with the people around me, and what I’m doing through my position.

Jo Hsu: I also think that it’s important that we engage deeply/critically with terms like “care” and “trust,” which are often thrown about as keywords without further discussion about what they entail, how difficult they are to practice, and what happens when we fall short of those aims.

An image of an empty, snow-covered backyard.

Image capture by Lexi McGee signifying feelings of isolation.

Lauren Brentnell: That’s such an important point, Jo. It goes back to your original point about accountability when we think about what happens when we fall short of our aims—we have to also hold ourselves accountable to the relationships we’re trying to cultivate and what it means if/when we fail at those. You pointed out both care and trust, but trust to me in particular is the sticky one out of those terms; one reason I wrote “(re)building” trust the way that I did is that I often see texts discuss (re)building trust in this context now, which implies that people had trust before—there are assumptions that somehow there was a trust that was lost and we have to regain it, but for many of us, that trust never existed in the first place, and establishing trust is a much different kind of thing than even regaining it.

Sonia Arellano: Textiles have been generative methodological sites for me, especially in thinking critically about how rhetoric can function in a tactile manner. There’s not a lot written about how rhetoric is tactile, although there’s much about material rhetorics, embodied rhetorics, and rhetorics of textiles. I think there’s a lot there to be fleshed out and better understood. Textiles also lead me to the types of research questions I ask.

Alexandra Hidalgo: I’m glad you’re bringing this up here, Sonia. The tactile nature of rhetoric often gets lost in discussions about embodiment and material rhetorics.

Sonia Arellano: I agree with everyone’s responses about difficult questions, people-centered questions, and ethics at the center of questions. These all make for strong approaches to cultural rhetorics. Like you all, I also think about people in my questions. When considering my research, I think about whose stories are not being told and why; whose knowledges are not being valued and why; and how my research can potentially change some of this.

Lexi McGee: I second Alex’s comment: I’m “glad you’re bringing this up here,” Sonia. Your point about needing more conversations regarding how rhetoric is tactile is so important. In relation to your guiding questions, I am thinking about texts that are saved and passed—often making cannons. So often that question (i.e., “whose knowledges are not being valued and why?”) isn’t asked enough or isn’t critically discussed. I think that’s an important part of how we start to engage with questions that center people and do the work that you, Lauren, and Jo mention as integral to cultural rhetorics with ethics, accountability, care, and (tentatively?) trust.

 

What are the differences between a cultural rhetorics methodology and other scholarly approaches—in other words, what do you see as the key distinctions between a cultural rhetorics methodology and doing race studies, queer studies, gender studies, disability studies, etc.? (How) do you draw on or constellate these approaches as a scholar?
Sonia is sitting with four older women in a restaurant booth, all smiling at the camera.

Sonia Arellano with four of the Tucson-based quilters she interviewed and worked with on her research about memorializing textiles and tactile rhetorics.

Sonia Arellano: So much of what y’all have said in our conversation has the answers to this one for me. First, Lexi mentioned “sites of exploration” in thinking about cultural rhetorics methodologies. I think that cultural rhetorics approaches are not looking for definitive answers or solutions but are exploring from a position of being open to having multiple answers, as Lexi mentioned.

Additionally, Jo and Lauren discussed care, trust, and accountability in research and research questions. Not only are these central to cultural rhetorics approaches, but one way that I believe our approaches to scholarship are set apart is by considering and acting when, as Jo says, “we fall short of our aims.” Recently we have seen academics using buzz words with actions that are contradictory to those buzz words, and then not taking accountability for that publicly. However, I see cultural rhetorics methodology engaging with the difficulty of practicing our commitments (to say care, for example) and also taking responsibility and revisiting/revising that research and approach when our work falls short.

Lexi McGee: One of the things I find useful about a cultural rhetorics methodology is the horizontal freedom to move across boundaries. A cultural rhetorics methodology, for me, allows me to think deeply about an issue and draw on multiple theories across fields, as well as my own relation to the issue as I seek to answer questions.

Jo Hsu: Yes to what Lexi said about horizontal freedom! One of my guiding principles is the notion of “intimacy”—from both queer diaspora (Lowe, Gopinath, Eng) and disability activism (Mingus, Piepzna-Samarasinha), understanding intimacy as a network of affinities, tensions, frictions, etc. among people/ideas/communities. The term “constellating” here is unavoidable—cultural rhetorics, to me, emphasizes those relations and maps them onto broader systems of power in ways that enable more (to go back to our themes here) ethical, mutually accountable responses.

Sonia Arellano: Yes, I agree that this horizontal freedom enables us to do what I stated above. We can look to others to inform our work.

Another collage made by Lauren featuring the words “I have a story to tell” with several images overlaid, prominently images of birds, a person in a birdcage with the door opened, and a little red riding hood figure talking to a wolf.

Another collage made by Lauren Brentnell featuring the words “I have a story to tell” with several images overlaid, prominently images of birds, a person in a birdcage with the door opened, and a little red riding hood figure talking to a wolf.

Lauren Brentnell: I agree with Sonia that so much of what we’ve talked about already speaks to this distinction. For me, that main commitment to the relationships and accountability to those relationships is what distinguishes cultural rhetorics.

I also love what Lexi says about movement and the idea that you’re speaking about cultural rhetorics in a way that involves that space (and I’m also thinking about place when Jo mentioned the queer diaspora). To me, that’s also something that distinguishes cultural rhetorics: an attention to not only to those relationships and identities of people, but also to space, histories, lands.

Lexi McGee: I love what Sonia (and everyone else) is saying about accountability and the possibilities afforded by revisiting and revising. Perhaps one of the other (or maybe tangent) things about cultural rhetorics methodologies that I see is the attention to critical reflection, which allows for us to acknowledge our missteps and learn from them; it’s part of that horizontal freedom we’re meditating on. It’s not out of the ordinary for us—and other scholars too—to go back and say, “Hey! Maybe I didn’t fully account for ‘x,’ but I think I should take a closer look at this.” We can’t know everything at one time and that’s it; there has to be room for growth.

Jo Hsu: Also, on the theme of revisiting and revising, I think it’s notable that a lot of work in cultural rhetorics is conversational (thinking not only about these forums, but about the Enculturation issue on cultural rhetorics). It’s acknowledged on the page and in the shape of our scholarship that research is always collaborative and in community in ways that traditional academic genres do not often acknowledge or embrace.

Sonia Arellano: Yes, and I think that is reflected in the mentoring practices of constellations. We prefer to have a conversation and kindly think through the revisiting and revising to publish thoughtful work rather than simply be critical and say no. We encourage conversation and collaboration to further our thinking and help with the accountability aspect of research.

 

What challenges have you encountered in crafting/applying cultural rhetorics methodologies, and what has helped you work through/with those challenges?
Jo Hsu with interdisciplinary colleagues at NWSA. Left to right: Injeong Yoon, Jo Hsu, Gloria Negrete-Lopez, and Alejandra I. Ramírez

Jo Hsu with interdisciplinary colleagues at NWSA. Left to right: Injeong Yoon, Jo Hsu, Gloria Negrete-Lopez, and Alejandra I. Ramírez

Lexi McGee: Trusting myself (which often leads to feeling overwhelmed at moments) has been a challenge that I’ve seen creep into my own research and writing. I often doubt myself, asking “Is what I’m doing ‘right?’” “Will this way of thinking/argument be accepted by the community since it is not often discussed in “x” way?” But what has helped me through those challenging moments is to 1) talk it out with a friend, or even with my students in class, and 2) keep doing what I like to do—ask questions, specifically “why not?”

Lauren Brentnell: I’m thinking a lot about the issue of time. Cultural rhetorics methodologies aren’t quick and easy (and they shouldn’t be). Jo and everyone already called attention to how they also require accountability; that’s more time we have to spend thinking about our approaches and relationships. That’s not to say that other research methodologies don’t also require careful attention, care, or empathy, but cultural rhetorics has so much to do with relationship-building and maintaining and just being a human who exists as part of a community.

Jo Hsu: I’m so glad Lauren mentioned time. Collaborating with others—particularly folks outside of universities—does not fit easily into tenure-track clocks, for example, or dissertation timelines.

Lauren Brentnell: Yes, Jo. Communities and our collaborators may not always exist or live on a university timeline. And it might not be good practice for us as community members or as researchers to push everyone to meet our personal deadlines.

Lexi McGee: Ooo! Lauren. You hit a spot lol. I’m writing about time right now, and just thinking through how time is defined is taking me in all sorts of directions and gettin’ me in my feels!

Jo Hsu: Lexi, I’ve also been mulling a lot over how Academic Time™ refuses to account for human bodyminds and community relations—and how discourses of scarcity and precarity are used to enforce exclusionary timelines. One of the major challenges of working in cultural rhetorics is trying to hold our relationships in balance: How do I prioritize the relationships and the actions I find meaningful while also keeping my job (which, practically, enables me to make those relationships and take those actions)? I like Lexi’s point about relations. For me, having networks of peers and mentors who are able not only to offer advice but also structural support has been crucial to being able to do this work. It also means that those of us who’ve benefited from those structures have the responsibility to further them with the resources at our disposal.

Lauren Brentnell: I just wrote a piece on that, Jo. I was writing about being nonbinary, disabled, and a survivor in academia, writing primarily about issues of queerness, disability, and trauma. I remember responding to this idea that we’re always moving, rhetorical bodies—but people like Margaret Price, Melanie Yergeau, or Christina Cedillo have pointed out that’s not always true. Sometimes we have depression or panic attacks or disabilities that prevent us from being moving, thinking bodies in the way that Academic Time™ demands. So, my question in the piece was what do we do with that rhetorical body that does not produce rhetorical work—the body employed by the university that does not publish rhetorical scholarship because of these issues?

Lexi McGee: Yes, Jo. I love what you and Lauren are saying about time. I’m trying to work through what a grammar of Black time means when we apply temporalities to sound, language, and literacies. I’m seeing our threads of time all pushing back on solipsistic and normative relations that are often upheld by academic institutions. What would the world look like if we started from a different frame of reference?

A soundwalk through the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, AL.

Lauren Brentnell: Lexi, I was just thinking about how I can’t wait to see what you write. It seems like we’re all thinking about time all the time (no pun intended, I swear). But it’s so true that our academic system is not set up to think about ourselves as humans—it’s not good research practice to have to move some of these things quickly, but it’s also not good human practice.

Sonia Arellano: Yes, yes, yes, to all of this. Lexi, I felt what you wrote in my bones. I am constantly asking if my work will be accepted and if people will be willing to take risks with me. But I loved the two pieces of advice you gave. I also look to others. As Alex mentioned in the Scholarship conversation, in her doctoral work a professor told her that non-Western traditions of thought do not qualify as rhetoric per se. As demoralizing as that might have been, she is a great example of someone pushing the boundaries so we can think more critically and more expansively. I look to so many others whose work is doing the same, and they inspire me.

I also agree with the aspect of time you all are talking about, but one other point to mention is our own emotions. I know the work we do, the approaches we take, and the communities we work with can elicit some deep emotions that are difficult to deal with on a personal level. That requires a lot of emotional labor, and it’s again something that takes time to do and is hard to account for in ways that academia values.

Lexi McGee: I was trying to add a gif here because y’all got me dancing with excitement and wanting to cosign Sonia! Past advisors’ comments of “your work isn’t ‘this’” (so it won’t be accepted) get me fired up! It sometimes seems like they attempt to distill my work to make it fit into boxes that I’m not engaging with or force it into conversations that aren’t speaking to me. Those kinds of comments, I feel, are often wrapped up in so many -isms (e.g., racism, sexism, classism, ageism, you name it) that we can’t see which way is up. Talk about gatekeeping… Like Cardi B said, “If it’s up, then it’s up”.

Lauren Brentnell: Sonia, that is such an important point too. Like you mention, because of the nature of cultural rhetorics work, so many of us end up writing about things so close to us—and that Academic Time that Jo mentioned simply does not make space for us to process our feelings in the ways that we often need to in order to properly take care of ourselves. I know we were talking about care above, often in relation to others, but that care of ourselves is such an important part of this too and is so often not space made for it in our timelines.

Jo Hsu: “Process our feelings.” Yes, Lauren, you’re so right that we don’t have enough conversations in the field about the affective part of doing work that is so close to home. It’s so important to have boundaries and support systems in place before you dive into material that might (re)open wounds you didn’t even know you had. This makes me think back to the earlier point about cultural rhetorics work being conversational—establishing dialogue as professional practice and as scholarship helps foster that network of colleagues and mentors so you are not doing this alone.

Sonia Arellano: For sure, Jo, and that’s one of the other ways I’ve gotten through challenges to my use of cultural rhetorics approaches: a wonderful network of friends and colleagues. They are important to talk through ideas with and remedy those -isms that Lexi mentioned that have us questioning our own work.

 

About the Authors

Sonia C. Arellano is an assistant professor in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Central Florida. Her research focuses on textile projects that address social justice issues, particularly at the intersections of migration and death. Her current book project examines the tactile rhetoric of the Migrant Quilt Project, which uses quilts to memorialize migrant lives lost while crossing into the US. Her work can be found in Peitho: The Journal of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition and in Rhetorics Elsewhere and Otherwise: Alternative and Contested Modernities, Decolonial Visions.

Lauren Brentnell is an instructor of English at the University of Northern Colorado. They are a managing editor of constellations: a cultural rhetorics publishing space and the current secretary of the CCCC Queer Caucus. They have a PhD in Rhetoric and Writing from Michigan State University and their research focuses on incorporating trauma-informed, care-based practices into institutional contexts, including writing classrooms, programs, and centers. They are the author of several pieces on vulnerability in writing center work co-authored with Elise Dixon and Rachel Robinson, as well as “Living Oklahoma: A Memoir About Trauma and Rebuilding in Academia” in Pixelating the Self: Digital Feminist Memoirs. Their dissertation, “Responding to Sexual Violence Through Care-Based Practices in Writing Programs,” argues for the incorporation of trauma-informed work into writing program administration.

Jo Hsu is an assistant professor of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas at Austin, where they are also core faculty in Asian American Studies and an affiliate of the LGBTQ Studies Program. Broadly speaking, Jo’s research uses narrative to examine how gender, race, disability, and sexuality entwine in mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion. Their work can be found in disciplinary journals such as the Quarterly Journal of Speech, Women’s Studies in Communication, and College Composition and Communication. Their creative writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and can be found in Kartika Review, Color Bloq, and other literary outlets. Throughout their (often wayward and meandering) academic journey, Jo has been fortunate to have the support of generous mentors and co-conspirators, and they strive to further these forms of mutual care and collaborative worldbuilding.

Alexis McGee received her Ph.D. with two certificates of concentration: one in linguistics and the other in rhetoric and composition from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Alabama where she teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses such as Advanced Writing; Technical Writing; and African American rhetorics. Her research lies at the intersections of Black feminist theory, Black rhetoric, language, and literacies; sound; and pedagogy. Her first manuscript, From Blues to Beyoncé: A Century of Black Women’s Generational Sonic Rhetoric, is currently under advance contract with SUNY. In it, largely, she argues that music has served as a pathway for Black women to teach generations about resistance, survival, and liberation. Along with her book project, Alexis is also working on a co-written chapter about extra-institutional mentorship; and an article about theorizing Black voice. You can also see some of her prior work in Pedagogy and Obsidian as well as the e-book Racial Shorthand: Coded Discrimination Contested in Social Media; The Lauryn Hill Reader; and The Lemonade Reader. Additionally, she has served in a number of service roles for national organizations and is the current recipient of NCTE’s “Cultivating New Voices” cohort and the past recipient of NCTE’s “Early Educator of Color Leadership Award.”

About the Moderator

Alexandra Hidalgo is an award-winning Venezuelan filmmaker, theorist, memoirist, and editor whose documentaries have been official selections for film festivals in 15 countries and been screened at universities around the United States. Her videos and writing have been featured on The Hollywood Reporter, IndieWire, NPR, The Criterion Collection, and Women and Hollywood. She has a PhD in English from Purdue University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Naropa University and is associate professor of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures and co-director of the Doc Lab at Michigan State University. Her video book Cámara Retórica: A Feminist Filmmaking Methodology for Rhetoric and Composition received the 2017 Computers and Composition Distinguished Book Award. Her academic video essays have been published in enculturation, Kairos, Present Tense, and Peitho, among others. She is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the digital publication agnès films: supporting women and feminist filmmakers and of the peer-reviewed journal constellations: a cultural rhetorics publishing space.

Production Credits

Developmental Editor: Alexandra Hidalgo

Copy Editor: Iliana Cosme-Brooks

Editorial Assistant: Jeanetta Mohlke-Hill

Social Media Manager: Mitch Carr