Dingo, _Networking Arguments_

Rebecca Dingo, Networking Arguments: Rhetoric, Transnational Feminism, and Public Policy Writing. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2012. Print.

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In Networking Arguments, Rebecca Dingo articulates a transnational feminist rhetorical analytic that encourages researchers to expand their work beyond analyses of a static situation by instead tracing how rhetorics travel and how meanings shift as they circulate. Dingo argues for using a network model to think through transnational power relationships (14), and argues that this network model isn’t just figurative but rather indicates a series of important linkages (economic, political, historical, etc.) through which rhetorics might travel, keeping in mind that power is not equally distributed through these linkages, but is instead concentrated in certain areas. Indeed, Dingo argues that this network model works to highlight the gendered impact of globalization and neoliberalism. This network model, which understands localized arguments as connected with larger global contexts, encourages us to rethink concepts like rhetorical agency and audience and allows us to perform a kind of analysis that shows links between seemingly disparate local and global contexts.

Dingo argues that studying these networks can show us how arguments or policies that seem to be at odds with one another might actually be linked through an overarching logic. A network model encourages us to look beyond similarities and instead focus on how and why meanings shift as they travel. To illustrate this transnational feminist rhetorical analytic based on a network model, the book’s chapters focus on three key terms that have influenced the way policies account for gender—gender mainstreaming, fitness, and empowerment—and Dingo’s analysis of these terms show how the meanings of these terms shift as they cross various borders and also how the language of any given policy is networked with a number of larger historical, economic, and political contexts.

While Dingo argues for the network model as a transnational feminist rhetorical analytic, she also argues that this analytic can form a transnational feminist research methodology. In the book’s afterward, Dingo argues that researchers need to focus on writing networked arguments—that is, arguments that actively work to connect the “micro” of a specific text with the “macro” by showing how a given text relates to larger economic, cultural, historical, and political contexts. The idea of networking arguments works to articulate a method that brings the insights of transnational feminism to rhetoric, pushing researchers to think of rhetoric in terms of gendered relationships and circulations rather than as objects of research.

 

Key Quotes:

“[W]omen, and their rhetorical acts, can no longer serve as the only central objects of study; rather, women (and discourses about women) must be recognized as part of a network of relationships that affect how women’s identities are represented in various situations. Thus, to network arguments, feminist rhetoricians must not only consider the places where rhetorics travel and are deployed but also the external social, economic, and political influences that serve as exigencies for particular policy arguments about women.” (17)

“[A] transnational feminist rhetorical analytic must trace how contexts and interarticulations impact a rhetoric’s meaning so that feminist rhetoricians can understand the diverse material effects of globalization—including positive material effects. When scholars only look to critique, they may miss the relational or emancipating possibilities of rhetoric.” (111)

“To write networked arguments ultimately means connecting the micro and macro by situating writing practices within far-reaching economic and political systems and by drawing connections between vectors of power: state and supranational power, rhetorical representations, history, class relations, and sexual, gendered, raced, and ethnic identity. Networking arguments is thus not just an analytic but also a material practice. Networking arguments can result in writing projects that influence how, for example, policy makers understand that what appears to be the local situations of particular women are actually due to global economic changes.” (148)

“We might answer [the question of how one studies the global] by saying, let’s network arguments—let’s pay attention to the inconsistencies and incoherence; let’s see how and why rhetorics move and change; and finally, let’s connect the relationships among persuasion, language, power, circulation, and contexts.” (154)

Kirsch and Rohan, _Beyond the Archives_

Kirsch, Gesa E., and Liz Rohan, eds. Beyond the Archives: Research as a Lived Process. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2008. Print.

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Summary:

This edited collection is designed to provide a variety of descriptive accounts of doing archival research as a way to illustrate the range of methods and strategies available to researchers. The book is not meant to outline “best practices” of archival research or debate questions of methodology, but rather sets out to explore and discuss those aspects of the research process like affect, serendipity, and the influence of familial and cultural histories that often get left out of discussions of research methods. In addition to providing descriptive accounts that make the research process more transparent, the editors argue that the book “enriches our notion of what constitutes an archive” by highlighting places where rich research material can be found outside the walls of official archives. The collection is divided into four sections: “When Serendipity, Creativity, and Place Come Into Play;” “When Personal Experience, Family History, and Research Subjects Intersect;” “When Personal, Cultural, and Historical Memory Shape the Politics of the Archives;” and “When the Lives of Our Research Subjects Parallel our Own.”

Chapter Highlights:

  • David Gold, “The Accidental Archivist: Embracing Chance and Confusion in Historical Scholarship”: Gold describes the way that he used difficult questions and problematics of identity into fuel for the research process.
  • Christine Mason Sutherland, “Getting to Know Them: Concerning Research into Four Early Women Writers”: Argues for the importance of place (as sometimes containing the living spirit of a person) and physical contact with artifacts as providing important context for historical research that helps avoid “presentism.”
  • Wendy B. Sharer, “Traces of the Familiar: Family Archives as Primary Source Material”: Sharer argues that we need to talk about the emotions that bring us to research projects and question the idea that emotion invalidates our questions and insights. She argues that we also need to challenge the privileging of the “official” archives and think about the archives that exist informally in our lives.
  • Gail Y. Okawa, “Unbundling: Archival Research and Japanese American Communal Memory of U.S. Justice Department Internment, 1941-45”: Okawa describes a process of trying to find information and artifacts kept suppressed that were ultimately uncovered through a lot of networking and communal contributions spurred by word-of-mouth. In other words, the material Okawa found would not have been uncovered through strictly traditional research methods.
  • W. Ralph Eubanks, “Mississippi on My Mind”: Addresses the question of how you use the limits of the archives (like sealed records and dead ends) as a starting point for other kinds of research?

Comments:

What I find most useful about this book is it’s various discussions of the way that emotion factors into the research process. While the editors argue that a personal, affective attachment to the work creates the richest historical research, the work of several contributors testifies to the fact that emotion and affect do not detract from the research process but rather enable methodological creativity and innovation.

Key Quotes:

“We are convinced […] that the most serious, committed, excellent historical research comes from choosing a subject to which we are personally drawn, whether through family artifacts, a chance encounter, a local news story, or some other fascination that sets us on a trail of discovery, curiosity, and intrigue. That personal connection can make all the difference in our scholarly pursuit: it brings the subject to life and makes us more likely to pursue hunches, follow leads, and spend extra time combing through archival materials than we would without a ‘personal attachment.'” (Kirsch and Rohan, 8)

Disability/Postmodernity: Embodying Political Theory

Corker, Mairian and Tom Shakespeare, eds. Disability/Postmodernity: Embodying Political Theory. London: Continuum, 2002. Print.

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Summary

In this collection, Corker and Shakespeare are trying to bring postmodern theory and disability into conversation with one another for the benefit of both. They argue that, while the social model has been politically useful, it is a comprehensive framework for thinking about disability, specifically because it lacks a theoretical base. For Corker and Shakespeare, the lack of a theoretical foundation is what has excluded the social model of disability from mainstream social theory. As Iris Marion Young explains in her forward to the book, this collection tries to advance the critiques of the social model by challenging the way that the social model of disability tends to treat the body as static. This postmodern challenge is a complement to the important work of the social model and is not meant to displace it in the way the social model displaces a medical model of disability. Resisting a radical form of postmodernism that emphasizes disembodiment, hyperfragmentation, and the end of all metanarratives, the editors endorse strategic forms of postmodernism that respond to the challenges of modernism with an emphasis on political resistance and social change. Corker and Shakespeare argue that postmodernism can contribute to the creation of inclusive societies, which makes it even more important that disability studies engages in a conversation with postmodern theory.

Chapter Highlights:

  • Anne Wilson and Peter Beresford, “Madness, Distress, and Postmodernity: Putting the Record Straight:” This piece looks as the discourse of mental illness as increasing difference and stigma by casting mental health services users as Other. Looking specifically at the documentation of mental illness, the authors argue that the social model is not complex enough to help with mental illness. They argue that medical records of mental illness stick with a person even though the tools of diagnosis are imprecise and often lack validity, and that these records are partial, negative, exclude the patient’s voice, and are often not accessible to patients.
  • Janet Price and Margrit Shildrick, “Bodies Together: Touch, Ethics and Disability”: In this piece the authors are trying to push on the binaries established through liberal models of rights and identities, arguing that the body is materialized through discourse and that embodied subjectivity is produced in relation to other body-subjects. They argue that Disability Studies needs to consider how “disabled” and “able-bodied” are mutually constructed.
  • Shelley Tremain, “On the Subject of Impairment:” Tremain uses Foucault to challenge the social model’s division of ‘impairment’ (as physical description) and disability (as a product of the environment). She specifically challenges the way ‘impairment’ is treated as static and prediscursive and uses Foucault to argue that “matter is an effect of the historical conditions and contingent relations of power” (41).

Comments:

I find Corker and Shakespeare’s discussion of the social model of disability one of the most useful points of this book. Not only do they provide a nice, comprehensive definition of the social model (see below), but I appreciate the way that they challenge the social model as a way of expanding and advancing the work that model of disability has already done. In particular, I find their argument that the social model could benefit from a strong theoretical base and the critique of the tendency for the social model to treat impaired bodies as static compelling claims. Tremain’s chapter does a nice job of extending these arguments.

Key Quotes:

“The social model of disability, particularly given its roots in historical materialism, is perhaps an example of the socialist counterculture. This model makes a conceptual distinction between disability and impairment, similar to the feminist distinction between gender and sex. It see disability as socially created, or constructed on top of impairment, and places the explanation of its changing character in the social and economic structure and culture of the society in which it is found. The body of knowledge and practice that constitutes the social model is primarily concerned with the political project of emancipation and, in some of its interpretations, with the development of an oppositional politics of identity.” (Corker and Shakespeare, “Mapping the Terrain,” 3, emphasis in the original)

Ramazanoglu, _Feminist Methodology_

Ramazanoglu, Caroline with Janet Holland. Feminist Methodology: Challenges and Choices. London: Sage, 2002. Print.

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This book is basically a text book that you might assign to provide an introduction to basic issues, trends, and concerns surrounding feminist methodology in the social sciences. In their overview of feminist methodology, the authors put forth a three-pronged argument. First and perhaps most important, they argue that debates in feminist methodology are responses to debates in Western philosophy about ontology and epistemology. Second, they argue that feminist responses to these debates have resulted in debate and diversity within feminism. And third, despite these methodological debates, there is still something distinct about feminist research because it is grounded in experience, focused on issues of social justice in gendered relationships, and takes into account theories of power. The authors argues that all methodologies combine some kind of ontology with some kind of epistemology, and then add to that some set of rules that determine how to produce valid knowledge claims. They argue that feminist methodologies add to this basic formula some theory of power that helps to account for what or how different people might come to know and in what ways. In response to the question of what makes something feminist research they provide 3 criteria: 1) they must be framed by feminist theory and aim at producing knowledge that will help transform gender injustice; 2) must seriously consider intersections of gender with race, class, sexuality, etc. and be conscious of the fact that focusing exclusively on gender can result in significant exclusions; and 3) it must come to terms with the fact that women can and do exercise power and occupy places of privilege and/or participate in their own subjugation. The book is divided into three parts: the first focused on challenges to scientific method, the second focused on challenges from postmodern and poststructural theory, and the third focused on detailing the choices one encounters when doing feminist research.

In the first section of the book focused on challenges to scientific method, the authors deal largely with questions about objectivity and whether or not, as they challenge traditional ways of making knowledge claim, feminist researchers are able to make valid knowledge claims themselves. Ultimately, the authors argue that the ongoing struggle for feminist researchers is justifying a position on a methodological continuum between absolute truth and absolute relativism. While both have been critiqued in some manner, the authors point to feminist standpoint theory and Sandra Harding’s concept of strong objectivity as two attempts to stake out a position on this continuum.

In the second section focused on challenges to feminist methodology posed by postmodernism, the authors argue that postmodern theory has great potential to open up new spaces in feminist research by introducing concerns by challenging traditional truth claims, deconstructing binaries, challenging essentialism and universality, and understanding power as productive. However, postmodern questions about knowledge and power have the potential to undo the aims and foundations of feminist methodology. Ultimately, it seems that feminist researchers must stake a similar mid-way position on a continuum between modernist thought and postmodernist thought in order to productively carry out feminist research.

Comments:

I struggled with the overall tone of this book which sometimes seemed to trivialize feminist work, but I do find useful the authors discussion of feminist researchers needing to find a position on the continuum between absolute objectivity and absolute relativism. And while they don’t say it outright, their discussion of the challenges presented by postmodernism seems to similarly suggest the importance of staking a position somewhere between modernism and postmodernism. I also appreciate their formula for what constitutes a methodology (ontology + epistemology + rules for what constitutes valid knowledge), especially the idea that what feminist methodology adds to this formula is a theory of power.

Key Quotes:

“From a feminist perspective, postmodern thought need not be seen as beyond epistemology. Postmodern thinkers themselves make knowledge claims, some of which seem to have become established as general truths. Rather than feminists being required, for example, to take on trust that power is everywhere and cannot be possessed, that gender is performative, or that hybridity is powerful, these knowledge claims can be investigated, qualified and contested, and their knowing subjects deconstructed. Since postmodern thinkers produce knowledge, they have an implicit epistemological stance on what counts as knowledge, though their epistemologies differ from those of modernity. They deconstruct rationality, but continue to propose reasoned arguments.” (98)

 

 

Grosz, _Volatile Bodies_

Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1994. Print.

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Summary

In this book, Grosz is looking at patriarchal philosophical frameworks that feminists might find useful for talking about the body, and she is unpacking their phallocentric assumptions, asking questions she hopes will facilitate the development further feminist theorizing on the body. As part of this project, she is challenging dualisms in philosophy and feminism that lead to the denigration of the body and arguing that subjectivity can be understood through the lens of the body. Combining philosophical and postmodern feminist approaches, Grosz uses the metaphor of the moebius strip to argue that the body is a historical and cultural product that is produced by the interaction of physical and psychical (or exterior and interior) inscriptions. The book’s introduction outlines the way Cartesian dualism has influenced discussions of the body in philosophy and feminism, while the remainder of the book is split into two sections that represent either side of the moebius strip. In the first section, Grosz takes up significant figures in psychoanalysis (Freud, Lacan) and phenomenology (Merleu-Ponty) to highlight the ways in which the psyche (or the interior) makes sense of the body as an exterior representation of the self and helps to bridge interior and exterior into a cohesive sense of being. In this section, Grosz emphasizes the importance of positing the female body as a positivity rather than a “lack” and of paying attention to the specificity of the body for feminists theorizing psychological understandings of the body. The second section focuses on theorists who have written about the inscription of the body (Foucault, Nietszche, Deleuze and Guattari) and argues that while the metaphor of inscription can be useful, feminists once again must remain mindful of the specificity of the body–the same message has different meanings written on differently raced and sexed bodies. In the final chapter of the book, Grosz returns to her critique of dualisms and argues for an understanding of sexual difference which does not see this difference as purely biological but which also grants that biology matters (ie. sexual difference is not purely cultural).

Comments

The first chapter of this book provides a useful gloss of changing conceptions of the body in the history of philosophy and in the history of feminism. In this chapter, she also provides a nice list of criteria for a feminist theory of the body:

  1. It should not set mind and body up as mutually exclusive categories
  2. Corporeality should not be associated with one sex or gender (namely, women)
  3. It should not set up a singular model of the body against which all other bodies are judged
  4. It should also avoid framing the body within essentialist models
  5. Any good model should account for both the interior and the exterior of the body (see the moebius strip metaphor)
  6. Rather than seeing the body in terms of binary pairs, the body should be understood as a threshhold concept between these pairs that often functions as a pivot point between these binary pairs (pp. 21-24)
While this first chapter, as well as the metaphor of the moebius strip, is useful, Grosz’s attempt to return to sexual difference, particularly at the end of the book, is troubling and ultimately ends on a blatantly transphobic note when Grosz argues that trans women can say that they are women but will never have access to the interior experience of womanhood and of the female body (as though this experience is something that is singular, shared, and knowable). The male/female binary seems to be a binary pair that Grosz refuses to trouble, which pretty much negates the criteria she’s established for a feminist theory of the body.

Key Quotes

“If women are to develop autonomous modes of self-understanding and positions from which to challenge male knowledges and paradigms, the specific nature and integration (or perhaps lack of it) of the female body and female subjectivity and its similarities and differences from men’s bodies and identities need to be articulated. The specificity of bodies must be understood in its historical rather than simply biological concreteness. Indeed, there is no body as such: there are only bodies–male and female, black, brown, white, large or small–and the gradations in between.” (19)

Bizzell, “Editing the Rhetorical Tradition”

Bizzell, Patricia. “Editing the Rhetorical Tradition.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 36.2 (2003): 109-18. Print.

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In this piece, Bizzell employs the metaphor of a stockmarket report to talk about the process of editing the second edition of The Rhetorical Tradition because it is a metaphor that reflects “the volatility of the tradition as it appears in our time” (111). She explains that there has been no waning interest in, and indeed increased demand for, what is seen as the “traditional tradition”–Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, Longinus, Blair, etc. Meanwhile there has been rising interest in “new traditions,” of which there are two primary varieties. First, there are those that either existed previously but were thought minor (like the sophists) or theorists outside the “traditional tradition” who are now seen as having rhetorical relevance (Nietzsche, Bahktin, etc). Bizzell describes these as risky stocks, because they can quickly go out of fashion. The second kind of “new tradition” coincides with the changing demographics of the academy–particularly the rise of women and people of color in the discipline–and represents work previously unknown to rhetoric because it had either been silenced or because the resources weren’t there to explain why they were important for rhetoric. Bizzell describes these “stocks” as showing real growth potential.

Bizzell argues that anthologies/canons represent who is in power in a discipline. So the revising of the rhetorical tradition to include some of these “new traditions” necessitates a more diverse group of scholars who can argue for the relevance of these texts. Bizzell responds to the critique that the additions from women and minorities are not pieces that are equivalent to the pieces included from the “traditional tradition” by arguing that we’ve spent so much time studying the “traditional tradition” that we recognize it all as being the same–as being theory-like or philosophy-like–when it is, in fact, heterogenous. We need to continue to theorize the voices of resistance and critical awareness of language found in these “new tradition” while also using a critical lens to unpack the differences and heterogeneity in the “traditional tradition.” Ultimately, Bizzell argues, the tradition is never static, but rather changes as the discipline changes.

Comments:

This is a really interesting and useful take on the politics of canonization, and I particularly appreciate Bizzell’s response to critiques of additions not doing the same kind of theory work as the “traditional tradition.”

Bahkru, “Negotiating and Navigating the Rough Terrain of Transnational Feminist Research”

Bahkru, Tanya. “Negotiating and Navigating the Rough Terrain of Transnational Feminist Research.” Journal of International Women’s Studies. 10.2 (2008): 198-216. Print.

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Summary

In this piece, Bahkru is drawing on her own transnational research experience to discuss key aspects of feminist methodology that are particularly relevant for carrying out feminist transnational research. She describes the scope and method of her comparative study of women’s reproductive health NGOs in Ireland and the US. She explains that she had originally planned to also include work happening in India, but ultimately decided to drop the case study from India. In the rest of the piece, she reflects on her decision to drop the Indian case study, paying particular attention to issues of self-reflexivity, insider/outsider status, and questions about objectivity as key feminist methodological considerations that encourage researchers to think about their positionality in the research process. Self-reflexivity involves holding yourself accountable, examining your position in the research process, being honest about your political motives. Bahkru omits the India case study because she realizes that she doesn’t have the resources to sufficiently immerse herself in the context to understand the work that is being done. She also reflects on the tensions between the way she saw her identity and the way the people working in the Irish NGO saw her identity. Because of her own position, easy divisions between insider/outsider were never available to her, which is a reminder of Uma Narayan’s rejoinder that we must work across difference if we want to build coalitions.

Key Quotes

“I argue that it is not possible for feminist researchers to produce objective knowledge and simultaneously resist relativism in the existing spaces of conceptual frameworks of feminist knowledge generation. In examining Donna Haraway’s notion of situated knowledge, I contend that it is only by creating a new paradigm within feminist approaches to research and scientific inquiry that a reconciliation of objective knowledge and the feminist pursuit of social justice can occur without resignation to relativism.” (210)

Comments

What I most appreciate about this piece is the author’s honest reflections about dealing with feminist methodological questions within the material limits of her dissertation research. A lot of feminist methodological work calls for us to do more towards crafting feminist research projects–a call which is necessary and good. But Bahkru’s work offers another example of a research project in which doing less (cutting out a case study) becomes a necessary means of maintaining the feminist integrity of the project.