Our theme for the AY 2017–2018 reading group is “Feminist Interventions in Rhetoric and History.” We will explore when, where, and how women have made their mark on history, as well as when, where, and how that work has been recognized and recorded. We will consider how scholarly feminist interventions in dominant historical narratives might provide ways forward—ways to address our society’s current need for re-collecting marginalized voices and for resisting oppressive power structures.

We convened our first meeting on November 8th. Our first set of readings approached the theme by thinking about the relationship between economic equality and women’s equality:

  • Kristy Maddux, “Without Touching Upon Suffrage: Gender and Economic Citizenship at the World’s Columbian Exposition”” (from RSQ 47.2, 2017)
  • Gerda Lerner, “Introduction” (from The Creation of the Patriarchy, 1986)
  • Ann Ferguson and Nancy Folbre, “Women, Care, and the Public Good” (from Not for Sale: In Defense of Public Good, edited by Anatole Anton, Milton Fisk, and Nancy Holmstrom, 2000)
  • OPTIONAL: Gerda Lerner, “A Working Hypothesis” (from The Creation of the Patriarchy, 1986)

Our discussion first considered Maddux’s archival project: by illuminating women’s redefinitions of citizenship, Maddux complicates standard histories of nineteenth-century women’s activism, which often focus on suffrage exclusively. We discussed the further work that might be done on the rhetoric of economic citizenship, as Maddux’s work opens up additional lines of inquiry into the speeches and exhibits at the World’s Columbian Exposition. We interrogated the notion that the female rhetors acted collectively, and we connected our reading to last year’s conversations about culturally circulating discourses (e.g., industrial progress in the late nineteenth century). Lerner’s metaphors and citational practices informed our thoughts on what might constitute scholarly feminist methods. Ferguson’s and Folbre’s understandings of economic efficiency brought to light the possibilities and limitations of viewing equality through disciplinary lenses. We concluded the conversation with plans to read more about women of color and women in transnational perspective for the winter.

The second meeting of the academic year convened on February 20th. We began by briefly reviewing some of the themes discussed during the fall meeting as well as introducing the new readings:

  • Jacqueline Jones Royster and Molly Cochran, “Human Rights and Civil Rights: The Advocacy and Activism of African-American Women Writers,” 2011
  • Alicia Garza, “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement,” 2014
  • “Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles” from the Women’s March, 2017
  • Banu Gökariksel and Sara Smith, “Intersectional Feminism beyond U.S. Flag Hijab and Pussy Hats in Trump’s America,” 2017

Picking up on last meeting’s conversation about how “equality” might be viewed through different disciplinary lenses and from different positions of lived experience, the group considered the two activist pieces. The Combahee River Collective’s “A Black Feminist Statement” (1977) was cited as a point of comparison and as an example of the manifesto genre that helped us to think about the readings’ various purposes, audiences and stakeholders, and constructions of rhetors. We discussed their audiences and how intended readerships appear to influence activist positions. For instance, Garza encourages solidarity with Black Lives Matter but also warns against misappropriating the movement’s message. The Women’s March organizers seem to speak to a broad constituency, at times jarringly juxtaposing political stances. For both readings the issues of (re)appropriation and circulation were important: How do ideas get picked up and repurposed? And how might iterations support or detract from a movement’s intentions? These questions emerged in relation to Gökariksel and Smith’s critique of the Women’s March images. While the article thoughtfully interrogates the symbols held up for the March, our group did not feel that the authors’ rhetorical analysis of these symbols was sufficiently rigorous. Our group continued to discuss inclusivity, intersectionality, and polysemy within the context of feminist activism and activist rhetorics.

On April 16th, we assembled for our final meeting of the academic year. We focused our discussion on the following readings:

  • Jeff Pruchnic and Kim Lacey, “The Future of Forgetting: Rhetoric, Memory, Affect” (from RSQ 41.5, 2011)
  • Ellen Quandahl, “Afterlives of Anna Comnena: Moments in the History of the History of Byzantium” (forthcoming)
  • Jessica Enoch, “Contending with Home: Spatial Rhetorics and Women’s Work” (chapter 1 of Domestic Occupations: Spatial Rhetorics and Women’s Work, forthcoming)

We were fortunate enough to be joined by Professors Ellen Quandahl (professor emerita of Rhetoric and Writing Studies, San Diego State University) and Jessica Enoch (associate professor of English, University of Maryland–College Park), who generously answered many of the questions attendees had about how the authors had come to and developed their projects. As the early part of our meeting focused on writing and research, the graduate students present got a “behind-the-scenes” look at the academic profession.

After the unexpected—though much appreciated—professional development opportunity, we turned our attention to the adjective “feminist” and how it functions as a descriptor for particular kinds of academic work. What, we wondered together, makes a feminist historiographical project “feminist”? How does a feminist public memory project, for example, differ from other kinds of memory studies work? We seemed to agree that what makes academic work feminist is not necessarily the subject (Quandahl’s and Enoch’s essays were not feminist only because they talked about women) but rather the goal of the work (to recover, to revise, to complicate, to add) and how the author builds her or his ethos (who the author cites, whether the author is “present” in the piece, how the author approaches the subject). As we wrapped up, reflecting on our year-long inquiry, we discussed what reading feminist work (or work through a feminist lens) did for us as a rhetoric reading group. Some members present questioned whether we might be in a “post-feminist” moment both in our society and in the academy, though others were adamant about the importance of holding onto the concept for political and intellectual purposes. We opened the conversation up by talking more broadly about what political solidarity looks like in this moment–when differences seem to dominate public rhetorics and public encounters–and how questions of identity facilitate or complicate social action.

We rounded out the day with a public lecture, “Feminist Memory Studies: Rhetorics of Gendered Remembrance,” by Jess Enoch. This presentation gave us a glimpse into Enoch’s new research about the Madonnas of the Trail and other public monuments to historical women. She described how, why, where, and by whom the Madonnas were constructed, and “read” the statues both in their original contexts and in the evolved landscapes they are situated in today. Our discussion from the earlier reading group spilled over into the lecture, as Professor Enoch worked through her methodology with us and considered what she anticipates her feminist approach will make possible in her study.

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The Rhetoric Reading Group originated as a cross-institution, faculty-led discussion of texts at the intersection of rhetorical studies and critical theory. In recent years, the RCGC has assumed control of the proceedings and, where possible, has sought to incorporate works-in-progress from both faculty and grad students. Scholars travel from nearby institutions, including San Diego State University, UC Riverside, and Chapman University, to attend these once-a-quarter discussions.

Past themes include the following:

  • Circulation and Materiality (Gries, Latour, Bennett, Spinoza, Boyle)
  • Rhetoric and Activism (And What They Mean for Pedagogy) (Happe, Haskins, Butler, Dewey, Acosta, DeChaine)
  • Ecologies and Metaphors (Edbauer, Booth, Deleuze and Guattari)
  • Emotions in/of Rhetorical Education (Berlant, Gross and Alexander, Stenberg)
  • Heidegger and Aristotle’s Rhetoric (Kisiel, Gross)
  • Foucault’s Care of the Self/Parrhēsia (Courage of Truth, Government of Self and Others, Hermeneutics of the Subject)
  • The Architectonics of Rhetorical Action (Doxtader, McKeon, Simonson)


Banner photo credit: “Seven Liberal Arts/Rhetorica” from the British Museum.