Rhetorics of the Body (Major Exam Area)

While academic interest in the body is often attributed to the uptake of theorists like Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Luce Irigaray, it has even firmer roots in the second-wave feminist assertion that “the personal is political.” Challenging a long-standing philosophical tradition of Cartesianism that privileges the liberatory power of the mind over the prison of the physical body, feminists like Gloria Anzaldúa, Elaine Scarry, and Emily Martin have worked to explore the meaning and value of women’s embodied experience. The turn towards post-modernism has increased this interest in the body, resulting in a number of theorists who have explored the gray space between the view of the body as natural and biologically determined and the view of the body as entirely constructed and inscribed with cultural meaning.


Scholars in rhetoric and composition have been similarly interested in the rhetorical power of the material—particularly bodies. Many of these scholars are heavily influenced by corporeal feminist theories, and have complicated and extended these theories to explore the persuasive nature of the material, the materiality of language, the place of the body in the history of rhetoric, and the embodied experience of the writing classroom. The vast majority of these discussions of the rhetorical body have, at heart, a concern for social justice. As Barbara Dickson explains, “Material rhetoric shares the assumption of cultural materialism that corporal [sic] bodies are socially produced—and therefore shares as well its interest in identifying how rhetorical and literary productions are potentially disruptive of the dominant structures which produce them” (298).[1] The shared project of corporeal feminism and material rhetoric is not only to disrupt Cartesian assumptions by insisting that the body does indeed matter, but also to highlight the ways in which the body is shaped according to dominant norms. These projects are liberatory in nature, arguing that identifying the constraints placed upon the body by a variety of intersecting oppressions will allow us to imagine other ways of being in the world.


In this exam, I attempt to read together feminist theories of embodiment with work in the field on rhetorics of the body and of the material. I will be reading all of these texts through a feminist rhetorical lens in order to highlight areas where rhetorical work on the body can be extended through feminist theory, as well as the ways in which current feminist theory might be extended through a deeper understanding of the body as rhetorical. In bringing these two areas of reading together, some of the questions this exam will explore include the following:


  • What role has the body and the material played in histories of rhetoric?
  • In what ways is language embodied?
  • How does the presence and shape of the body impact rhetorical productions?
  • What rhetorical strategies do rhetors use to challenge conventional notions of the body?
  • How is the body positioned within institutional discourses like those of medicine and science?
  • How do intersections of race, gender, class, and ability affect experiences of embodiment and how do we account for these differences when talking about the body?
  • How does the body and our experiences of embodiment affect our pedagogies?


This interdisciplinary list will allow me to prepare for research on women’s health and current cultural anxieties about health that deal extensively with discourses surrounding the body—specifically discourses about the body that circulate through medicine, science, policy and media. This exam gives me the opportunity to contextualize these discourses and helps me situate myself as a researcher within an ongoing feminist discourse on the political import of the body. These readings will also provide me with a foundation upon which to further theorize the connections between the way we talk about the body and the materiality of daily life.




Reading List

Alexander, Jonathan. “Transgender Rhetorics: (Re)Composing Narratives of the Gendered Body.” College Composition and Communication 57.1 (2005): 45-82. Print.

Banks, William P. “Written Through the Body: Disruptions and ‘Personal’ Writing.” College English 66.1 (2003): 21-40. Print.

Bay, Jennifer. “Screening (In)formation: Bodies and Writing in Network Culture.” Plugged In: Technology, Rhetoric and Culture in a Posthuman Age. Ed. Lynn Worsham and Gary A. Olson. Cresskill: Hampton P, 2008. 25-40. Print.

Bennet, Michael and Vanessa Dickerson. Recovering the Black Female Body: Self Representation by African American Women. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2001. Print.

Birke, Lynda. Feminism and the Biological Body. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2000. Print.

Birmingham, Elizabeth. “Another Fine Mess: The Pregnant Body and the Discipline of the Line.” Writing on the Edge 14.2 (2004): 95-109. Print.

Boler, Megan. “Hypes, Hopes and Actualities: New Digital Cartesianism and Bodies in Cyberspace.” New Media & Society 9.1 (2007): 139-168. Print.

Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body.  10th Anniversary Ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003. Print.

Bray, Abigail and Claire Colebrook. “The Haunted Flesh: Corporeal Feminism and the Politics of (Dis)Embodiment.” Signs 24.1 (1998): 35-67. Print.

Brush, Pippa. “Metaphors of Inscription: Discipline, Plasticity and the Rhetoric of Choice.” Feminist Review 58 (1998): 22-43. Print.

Buchanan, Lindal. Regendering Delivery: The Fifth Canon and Antebellum Women Rhetors. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2005. Print.

Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex.” New York: Routledge, 1993. Print.

Coleman, Rebecca. “The Becoming of Bodies: Girls, Media Effects, and Body Image.” Feminist Media Studies 8.2 (2008): 163-179. Print.

Crowley, Sharon and Jack Selzer, eds. Rhetorical Bodies. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1999. Print.

Dolmage, Jay. “Breathe Upon Us An Even Flame: Hephaestus, History and the Body of Rhetoric.” Rhetoric Review 25.2 (2006): 119-40. Print.

—. “Metis, Mętis, Mestiza, Medusa: Rhetorical Bodies across Rhetorical Traditions.” Rhetoric Review 28.1 (2009): 1-28. Print.

Durham, Meenakshi. “Body Matters: Resuscitating the Corporeal in a New Media Environment.” Feminist Media Studies 11.1 (2011): 53-60. Print.

Fixmer, Natalies and Julia T. Wood. “The Personal is Still Political: Embodied Politics in Third Wave Feminism.” Women’s Studies in Communication 28.2 (2005): 235-57. Print.

Fleckenstein, Kristie S. “Writing Bodies: Somatic Mind in Composition Studies.” College English 61.3 (1999): 281-306. Print.

—. “Bodysigns: A Biorhetoric for Change.” JAC: A Journal of Advanced Composition Theory 21.4 (2001): 761-90. Print.

Freedman, Diane P., and Martha Stoddard Holmes, eds. The Teacher’s Body: Embodiment, Authority, and Identity in the Academy. Albany: State U of New York P, 2003. Print.

Gibson, Barbara E. “Disability, Connectivity and Transgressing the Autonomous Body.” Journal of Medical Humanities 27.3 (2006): 187-96. Print.

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

Haraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print.

Harold, Christine L. “The Rhetorical Function of the Abject Body: Transgressive Corporeality in Trainspotting.” JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory 20.4 (2000): 865-87. Print.

Harrington, Dana. “Remembering the Body: Eighteenth-Century Elocution and the Oral Tradition.” Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric 28.1 (2010): 67-95. Print.

Hartsock, Nancy C.M. “Experience, Embodiment and Epistemologies.” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 21.2 (2006): 178-83. Print.

Hawhee, Debra. Bodily Arts: Rhetoric and Athletics in Ancient Greece. Austin: U of Texas P, 2004. Print.

—. Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2009. Print.

Hesford, Wendy S. “Rereading Rape Stories: Material Rhetoric and the Trauma of Representation.” College English 62.2 (1999): 192-221. Print.

Hindman, Jane E. “Writing an Important Body of Scholarship: A Proposal for an Embodied Rhetoric of Professional Practice.” JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory 22.1 (2002): 93-118. Print.

Iwanicki, Christine E. “Living Out Loud within the Body of the Letter: Theoretical Underpinnings of the Materiality of Language.” College English 65.5 (2003): 494-510. Print.

Jordan, John W. “The Rhetorical Limits of the Plastic Body.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 90.3 (2004): 327-58. Print.

Johnson, Nan. Gender and Rhetorical Space in American Life, 1866-1910. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2002. Print.

Kates, Susan. “The Embodied Rhetoric of Hallie Quinn Brown.” College English 59.1 (1997): 59-71. Print.

Kazan, Tina S. “Dancing Bodies in the Classroom: Moving Toward an Embodied Pedagogy.” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Composition, and Culture 5.3 (2005): 379-408. Print.

Kennedy, Kristen. “Hipparchia the Cynic: Feminist Rhetoric and the Ethics of Embodiment.” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 14.2 (1999): 48-71. Print.

Killingsworth, M. Jimmie. “Appeals to the Body in Eco-Rhetoric and Techno-Rhetoric.” Rhetorics and Technologies: New Directions in Writing and Communication. Ed. Stuart Selber. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2010. 79-93. Print.

Lay, Mary M. The Rhetoric of Midwifery: Gender, Knowledge, and Power. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2000. Print.

Lay, Mary M., Laura J. Gurak, Clare Gravon, and Cynthia Myntti, eds. Body Talk: Rhetoric, Technology, Reproduction. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 2000. Print.

Lebesco, Kathleen. Revolting Bodies?: The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 2004. Print.

Marback, Richard. “Detroit and the Closed Fist: Toward a Theory of Material Rhetoric.” Rhetoric Review 17.1 (1998): 74-92. Print.

—. “Unclenching the Fist: Embodying Rhetoric and Giving Objects Their Due.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 38.1 (2008): 46-65. Print.

Martin, Emily. The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction. Boston: Beacon, 1987. Print.

Mattingly, Carol. Appropriate[ing] Dress: Women’s Rhetorical Style in Nineteenth Century America. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2002. Print.

McGee, Robyn. Hungry for More: A Keeping-it-Real Guide for Black Women on Weight and the Body. Emeryville, CA: Seal, 2005. Print.

Mendelson, Michael. “The Rhetoric of Embodiment.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 28.4 (1998): 29-50. Print.

Mol, Annemarie. The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice. Durham: Duke UP, 2002. Print.

Mountford, Roxanne. The Gendered Pulpit: Preaching in American Protestant Spaces. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2003. Print.

Parrot, Roxanne, and Celeste Condit, eds. Evaluating Women’s Health Messages: A Resource Book. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1996. Print.

Perl, Sondra. Felt Sense: Writing With the Body. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 2004. Print.

Roberts, Dorothy. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. New York: Vintage, 1997. Print.

Rothblum, Esther, and Sondra Solovay, eds. The Fat Studies Reader. New York: New York UP, 2009. Print.

Salamon, Gayle. Assuming a Body: Transgender and Rhetorics of Materiality. New York: Columbia UP, 2010. Print.

Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985. Print.

Segal, Judy. Health and The Rhetoric of Medicine. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2005. Print.

Seigel, Marika. “Exposing the Body.” JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory 21.3 (2001): 683-89. Print.

Shalma, Margaret and Rod Michalko. “Resistance Training: Re-Reading Fat Embodiment at a Women’s Gym.” Disability Studies Quarterly 28.4 (2008): n. pag. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.

Shaw, Andrea Elizabeth. The Embodiment of Disobedience: Fat Black Women’s Unruly Political Bodies. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2006. Print.

Shildrick, Margrit. Leaky Bodies and Boundaries: Feminism, Postmodernism, and (Bio)Ethics. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Stenberg, Shari. “Embodied Classrooms, Embodied Knowledges: Re-Thinking the Mind/Body Split.” Composition Studies 30.2 (2002): 43-60. Print.

Sunden, Jenny. Material Virtualities: Approaching Online Textual Embodiment. New York: Peter Lang, 2003. Print.

Wallace-Sanders, Kimberly. Skin Deep, Spirit Strong: The Black Female Body in American Culture. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2002. Print.

Weiss, Gail. Body Images: Embodiment as Intercorporeality. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.

Wells, Susan. Our Bodies, Ourselves and the Work of Writing. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2010. Print.

Wendell, Susan. The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability. New York: Routledge, 1996. Print.

White, E. Frances. Dark Continent of Our Bodies: Black Feminism and the Politics of Respectability. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2001. Print.

Young, Iris Marion. On Female Body Experience. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.



[1] Dickson, “Reading Maternity Materially: The Case of Demi Moore.” In Rhetorical Bodies. Ed. Jack Selzer and Sharon Crowley. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1999. 297-313.