PAB & Paper #3

Finding Frames (paper #3)

Mostly, I’m hesitant to commit to things, even epistemologies. Each time I encounter a new idea or concept or theory, I get excited and imagine my life devoted to that idea. I buy too many books and make notes on random scraps of paper that I then lose and inevitably, by the time Amazon has shipped the books and my library emails read, “the book you ordered has arrived,” I’m tired and I put the paraphernalia of my excitement in another pile of things I just can’t get to in this life.

So I had to narrow from a long list of possibilities for this post. I chose to explore the feminist approach of Phelps and Emig in their Feminine Principles and Women’s Experience in American Composition and Rhetoric as both a personal quest to challenge the patriarchical epistemologies that have governed our way of experiencing the world for so long a professional quest. I also explored the theoretical approach to research that social semiotics and multimodality provide, within a social constructionist methodological approach. To expound and test my faulty understanding of these frames, I tried to apply them to a particular study I’m conceiving.

My application: Social science research examines the power of expectations on our satisfaction with the circumstances of life, though how this works in educational circumstances has been far less extensively explored.

To help fill that gap, I want to pursue research into the expectations we carry into online courses as a powerful component of students’ experiences and satisfaction with the course experience. To do so using a feminist epistemology, a multimodal theoretical approach and a social constructionist methodology (mouthful!), it might look like:

  • I’d try to apply the social constructionist approach. Although I’m working to totally understand social constructionism, my nascent clarity is that humans construct their reality and their truth via language and that examining this co-construction via the individuals that make up that understanding of that reality is a worthwhile pursuit.
  • I’d extend my data collection beyond the traditional alphabetic realm (i.e. asking subjects to write about their expectations) and look at visual depictions of those expectations, perhaps through conceptual metaphor analysis (whether communicated via image or the written word). This touches on Contemporary Theory of Metaphor (Lakoff) that respects the concept that metaphor is a matter of cognition, an organizing principle for our beliefs and actions (Lakoff; Haggis).
  • The feminist epistemology is a worldview that compels me to focus on the voices of those who have not yet been given agency in a pursuit that very much centers on students—in a context where voices have been usurped by dominant populations to mimic those of the students.

As Charles Bazerman noted, “the underlying epsitemology, history, and theory of a field Bazerman experimental article rhetoriccannot be separated from its rhetoric,” so, that end, I choose to pursue the rhetoric of feminists like Sally Miller Gearhart who has re-shaped rhetoric with her description of the womanization of our communication and culture is critical to our survival. She defines  rhetoric as “the co-creation of the possibility of change” (Gearhart). (Note: she also likens persuasion to violence, which I’m not as eager to sign on to.) I find her expansion of the purpose of rhetoric a noble epistemological  lens.
Sally_Miller_Gearhart image

I choose also to recognize and consider Sonja Foss and Cindy Griffin who assert in “Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for an Invitational Rhetoric” that persuasion can be one form of rhetoric, but the other is an “invitational rhetoric” that recognizes the inherent value others possess and refuses to impose their perspectives on audience. Instead, this “invitational rhetoric” invites the audience to see the world from rhetor’s perspective.

My other research interest (of late) is interpersonal political discourse. So, the OoS of such a thing would be transcripts of conversations between lovers, partners, siblings and families as they discuss differences of opinion. I do a lot of work with social scientists at the University of Denver and that work has to do with sustaining (or building) emotional safety in those relationships that really matter. Political discourse often sends us into modes of communication that are destructive to the emotional safety that we need to keep relationships healthy.politics in personal discourse

I’d examine the social science approach to healthy communication (notably Rogerian rhetoric’s Speaker Listener Technique) as a feminist construction in that it meets the principles for successful rhetoric laid out by Gearhart, Foss and Griffin: a respect for differences, a feeling of equity, and a willingness to yield to the other possibilities (Gearhart) in an environment that fosters safety, freedom to share and equitable value (Foss and Griffin).

The F word feminist gridThese approaches to research aren’t as much grounded in specific methodologies, but in the worldview that I carry into every project, with every subject, that I pursue. Maybe that’s an ideology or maybe that’s more an axiology. But they are approaches to rhetoric that have the potential to maintain the emotional safety of those interpersonal relationships that matter while still allowing for a safe space to share political discourse.

Works Cited:

Bazerman, Charles. Shaping written knowledge: The genre and activity of the experimental article in science. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988.

Foss, Sonja K. and Griffin, Cindy J. Beyond persuasion: A proposal for an invitational rhetoric. Communication Monographs, vol. 62, issue 1, 2-18, 1995.

Johnson, Lucy and Kristin Arola. “Tracing the Turn: The Rise of Multimodal Composition in the U.S.” Res Rhetorica. (2016), p. 98-104.

Gearhart, Sally Miller. “The Feminization of Rhetoric.” In Feminism and Composition: A Critical Sourcebook, Kirsch, Gesa E., Maor, Faye Spencer and Massey, Lance and  Nickoson-Massey, Lee and Sheridan, Mary P. (Eds.). Bedford St. Martin’s, 2003.

Haggis, Tamsin. “Theorising Leaning in Higher Education: Epistemology, Metaphor, and Complexity.” Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, 11-13 September 2003.

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. London: The University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Lakoff, George. “The Contemporary Metaphor Theory of Metaphor.” In Metaphor and Thought (2nd edition) Ortony, Andrew (Ed.) Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Mouraz, Ana and Ana Vale Pereira and Raquel Monteiro. “The Use of Metaphors in the Processes of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.” International Online Journal of Educational Sciences, vol. 5, issue 1, 99-110, 2013.

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee and Janet Emig (Eds.). “Introduction; Context and Commitment” & “Editor’s Reflections.” In Feminine Principles and Women’s Experience in American Composition and Rhetoric. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995.


PAB #1 and #2

Source #1: Johnson, Lucy and Kristin Arola. “Tracing the Turn: The Rise of Multimodal Composition in the U.S.” Res Rhetorica. (2016), p. 98-104.

Screenshot 2017-10-10 09.01.07

Johnson and Arola open with a call to action that I’ve read many times and appreciate. It’s a big part of what initially interested me about multimodality, despite my more natural state of cynical disinterest when it comes to new technologies:

Cynthia Selfe argued that if educators want to prepare students for communicating in an increasingly complex world, one where we strive to “create a different set of global and local relations than currently exists, we will need all available means of persuasion, all available dimensions, all available approaches, not simply those limited to the two dimensional space of a printed page” (CCC 60.4, June 2009, 663).

The definition of multimodality laid out in this article is: “an approach to literacy studies where all communication modes—textual, aural, linguistic, spatial, and visual resources—are valued and explored” (98), echoing Lauer’s warning against conflating the terms multimodal and digital, but also notes to increasing interest in multimodal theories: “Consider that of the 650 panels at the 2016 Conference on College Composition and Communication, 103 of them explicitly engage with multimodality” (99). Johnson and Arola go on to explain how this shifting interesting in theoretical approaches to Composition also shape how we define the scope of rhetoric within the field.

Johnson and Arola pause to focus on Burke, who gives scholars the first peek into an expanded concept of rhetoric, one that could include multimodality:

Screenshot 2017-10-02 10.45.01

Burke marks an inclusive ideology that challenges (back in 1969) even contemporary allegiance to the strictly alphabetic text as the teaching of rhetoric.

The remainder of Johnson and Arola’s text examine how the theories of multimodality are taken up with three sub-dsiciplines within rhetoric and composition: Digital Rhetoric, Cultural Rhetoric, Disability Studies.

digital rhetoric image.jpgSub-discipline 1: Digital Rhetoric. This sub-discipline concerns itself with what happens when “rhetorical acts take place in digital spaces” (100) and mediated by digital tools.

In fact, these tools increase our awareness of the modes made available and more conscious of style, arrangement, delivery—noting that the rhetorical concerns of digital rhetoric might heighten students’ understanding of the rhetorical situation. Profound connections are made when, according to Arola, composing with technology forces the designer to develop a critical consciousness about rhetorical design, in that form cannot be separated from content.

Sub-discipline 2: Disability Studies. Multimodality affords us all greater opportunity to expand inclusion, making information more accessible. To oversimdisability studies imageplify, the more modes you use to transfer ideas, the more chances there are for the recipient to receive the message. More importantly, “multimodal composition benefits from a perspective that considers disability studies” (101) in that it invokes an expansion of available modes for vaired consumption. This is not inherently true, though. Disabilty scholars still warn against ableist approaches to multimodality and urge all teachers to employ a “universal design” that considers issues of accessibility and the range of affordances made available via digital tools (102).

cultural rhetorics imageSub-discipline 3: Cultural Rhetorics. Cultural rhetoricians question the ways that culture affects our use of and response to symbols (102). They might question, for example, how the expanded affordances made available through digital tools and encouraged through multimodal pedagogies affect self-representation.

Ultimately, by examining these positions within sub-disciplines of Rhetoric and Composition, Johnson and Arola assert that multimodality is itself an epistemological framework for understanding composing (or designing, as Kress would have us call it).


Source #2: Phelps, Louise Wetherbee and Janet Emig (Eds.). “Introduction; Context and Commitment” & “Editor’s Reflections.” In Feminine Principles and Women’s Experience in American Composition and Rhetoric. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995.

Phelps book cover


Phelps and Emig published a collection of essays in 1994, the year I graduated from high school with a healthy obliviousness to feminism as a ideological framework. Janet Emig and Louise Phelps had both been in the field of Rhetoric and Composition for some time when their collection was published and while their lived experience with

phelps imagefeminism was very different from one another, their shared experience of defining the epistemology was similar. I ordered this book last summer, after taking Dr. Phelps’ SDI course, but I hadn’t had the chance to crack it open. My interest in understanding the feminist approach to putting together a collection of essays—the feminist epistemology– was the opportunity I needed.

Phelps and Emig note in the “Introduction: Context and Commitment” and the “Editor’s
Reflections” that Feminine Principles and Women’s Experience in American Composition and Rhetoric is not only just a text dedicated to the voices of women. That’s often an element of a feminist epistemology, but this collection is far more complex than that. They sought, in fact, to seek out the patterns of culturally feminine values—ideals, qualities, different ways of knowing, teaching, learning, etc…—exhibited in the submitted essays.

emig multi representational quote

The brand of feminism invoked here is redefining “feminine attributes” as “principled choices” to examine and learn from (page 409). They take a position that attributes all experience as embodied and biologically derived and that those experiences shape the learning and teaching of writing (xiv). This is admittedly not a popular approach, but an interesting alternative which is what feminist theories are all about: to this end, they resisting seeking out “predictable, conventional pieces” and instead sought to tap into the subaltern approaches to feminist experience. This subaltern approach invited the voices of adjuncts, undergraduate and graduate students, those who teach at all levels or teach older people, etc…

While I don’t agree with all their theoretical underpinnings here, Emig and Phelps mark their feminist approach as one of fluidity, openness and intertextuality—an approach that subverts linearity and acts as a kaleidoscope rather than a microscope (or singular vision) (xvi). They invite readers to craft their own patterns and both challenge and be challenged by the contents.

image of feminism in grids