Rhetoric and Reality Discussion


Beware Becoming the Trojan Horse

I am a brown person of color that grew up in a non-US country where white supremacy manifested primarily in the absence of white people following the country’s independence in the early 80’s. My family’s socio-economic privilege inscribed me into whiteness with peers often calling me a ‘white bway’ even when we shared the same shade of brown. I, in turn, internalized this image of myself, simultaneously hating my brown skin and idolizing the whiteness of the Americans, British, and French I encountered through film. In my academic experience as a graduate student in the United States, I had never been in a position of discussing issues of race in a critical way until my first semester of my doctoral degree in a feminist rhetoric, and a Caribbean tourism and sex trade course.

I struggle with how to link my research interests (comics authorship, graduate student labor, and Caribbean tourism rhetorics) to a vision of the nebulous field of rhetoric and composition. Many of the names that I am told are important to know hit me with a dead thump because their prominence feels significant only within an Americentric context. As a person from a global south country with plans to return there following graduation, it is nauseating to think that if I passively take up the names and ideas of folks who most often circulate and talk to them through my scholarship that I may gain social capital, but likely, no definitely, come out of it primarily having embodied the scholarship of white American able-bodied cis-het folks. I see this possibility as dangerous not only for myself, but for future students I work with, carving myself into a Trojan horse that enters a Belizean institution under the guise of a shared nation-state identity only to then unleash rhetorics mired in the epistemologies of empire, patriarchy, white supremacy, and ableism. Continue reading “Beware Becoming the Trojan Horse”

Making Our Future Through Anti-racist Citation Networks

This year’s SWR blog continues to be dedicated to considering the position of anti-racist scholarly practices to counter prevailing white-supremacist cis-heteropatriarchal Americentric normate practices, and holding each other and ourselves accountable for making this work central to our academic lives. Past and future contributors, include Asao Inoue, Staci Perryman-Clark, and Collin Craig. As C’s approaches, an event that many use to “map” themselves onto the field, we thought a consideration of citation practices might make an interesting contribution to that discussion.

We hope you enjoy the following post. We also hope you look forward to reading Staci and Collin’s discussion of African-American identity and WPA work in the coming weeks.

Steve Parks, Editor

Andre Habet, Associate Editor

P.S. Forgive the bit of delay since our last post, we’ve been working on this season’s author interviews audio book excerpts. Watch the CCCC/NCTE listserv as well as the SWR Facebook for their appearance soon.


Like pretty much anyone with access and ability to make it to a movie theater, I recently watched Black Panther. Like many others, it blew me away and sent my mind churning over all its various elements. What the movie triggered in me was a rethinking once again of the work of Jacqueline Jones Royster in Traces of a Stream, and the way she takes on the work of recovering 19th century American black woman’s literacies as a means of establishing a lineage for her and other black woman academics whose own literacies are regularly discounted by mainstream white academia.

Similar to Royster, I have been trying to create a reading of the field of rhetoric and composition that works for me and connects me to my communities, thinking through sites where lineages are created. Currently, I am working through an independent study that looks at the intersections of disability rhetorics, architecture, mobility studies, and food studies. In thinking through these intersections, and the work being done within them, I find myself regularly doing an activity after encountering any work I feel may be relevant to the work I want to do. I find myself looking up each individual scholar in search of an image of them, and then using that image as a means to then interrogate how their public identity’s positionalities may be influencing the biases of their work. I do this because I am trying to create a lineage that speaks to an embodied understanding of the world: one that is non-white, queer, and gives consideration to non-normative bodies by which I mean recognizing that no bodies fit a norm and that normal is grade-F balony. Continue reading “Making Our Future Through Anti-racist Citation Networks”

Antiracist Writing Pedagogy: Racialized Places of Labor and Listening

by Asao B. Inoue
Professor and Director of University Writing & the Writing Center
University of Washington Tacoma


First, an exercise in listening, not for me, but you, dear reader. The place I grew up, and the place in which I began reading and writing. This is the origin of my antiracist pedagogy.

I grew up in North Las Vegas in government, subsidized housing. Each apartment was white brick with three windows, one next to the front door, and one in each of the two bedrooms. Thinking back now, our home seemed like a cement box, not a home, yet it was my home. One of my strongest memories of living on Stats Street in North Las Vegas was coming home after the landlord had fumigated the entire building. We opened the door to find literally thousands of dead or dying cockroaches everywhere. They created a bed of carcasses the size of quarters and silver dollars on the floors and carpet, some still writhing and twitching. The roaches, legs up, formed a layer of bodies on tables, couch, chairs — everything. Some were dangling from the ceiling, dropping periodically. They ticked when they hit a hard surface. I remember the ticking.

As the door swung open, my mother clutched us closer and sat down in the doorway of our apartment. The three of us sat on the cement stoop, and she put her face in her hands and cried. It was the first and almost only time I remember seeing my mother cry. I was maybe seven years old. A friend came over that night and helped my mom vacuum up the roaches. I remember snatches of the entire evening. It was traumatic for us all. I never really recovered from the experience. Piles of shiny-backed, brown roaches, some in their death-throws, most dead, that’s what I remember. The feeling of helplessness, of thinking how do we live in such a place? How have we lived in such a place? How do we escape? How will we ever make this our home again? How do I go to school tomorrow, and come home, and learn? You see, I knew, even then at seven or eight years old, that this was the place where I would need to do the labors required to learn. I would need to sit on those floors, or in that chair, and read my school books, or write the first essay I remember writing, ironically about who I was, about my skin, my color — yes, that’s how I translated the prompt, “who are you?” Those floors would be where I would sit and read each night, book after book, and win the second grade reading contest. It was not easy labor. Continue reading “Antiracist Writing Pedagogy: Racialized Places of Labor and Listening”

Overcoming Gratitude: How the GOP Tax Bill Could Impact International Students

On Saturday morning of December 2, millions of people in the United States woke up the news that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act had passed in the Senate. For current graduate students, this was a step closer to the passing of the House’s version of the bill that would make tuition waivers taxable income, dramatically increasing the amount of taxes graduate student would have to pay in addition to the various ways the bill would devastate folks healthcare and labor security.

As an organizer working with the Syracuse Graduate Employees United (SGEU), I have been struggling over the past few weeks about how I might address this in the next installment of the SWR blog on anti-racist pedagogies. Given that the new SWR mission statement calls for an expansion of sites and discourses of study, I ultimately decided to share a speech I wrote for a rally (with help from Poonam Argarde, a fellow international student and friend) hosted by SGEU on Wednesday November 29 at Syracuse University. Its alignment with anti-racist pedagogies stems from a recognition of how existing structures within higher education, such as the ever-increasing workload expected of graduate students and the ever-existing threat to documentation status, work to keep marginalized bodies in precarity in order to maintain exploitative labor practices.

The speech was intended to address the ways that the bill will impact the lives of international graduate students as well as why I think union organizing will be key to collectively addressing any potential repercussions. Although this speech focuses on international students, I want to be clear that I don’t want to conflate all international students with students of color, but international students are often from countries largely populated by people of color, especially at my own institution. My hope is that by articulating the issues facing international students, we may be better able to join in solidarity with U.S. students of color, and recognize the ways in which we are sometimes pitted against each other within educational spaces heavily laden with white supremacist ideology that perpetuate narratives of competition between students of non-white identities.

Since last week, I have been finding other pieces highlighting the impact that the bill will have on international graduate students. Desiring something more polyphonic than my own voice, I have hyperlinked to those pieces throughout the speech. They are worth checking out and provide a more rounded view of how international students think they’ll be impacted by a change in the tuition waiver structure. Continue reading “Overcoming Gratitude: How the GOP Tax Bill Could Impact International Students”

“Producing the Future: The Book I Need” by Jaquetta Shade

In 2017, SWR initiated a new project, “The Book I Need, designed to sponsor discussion on what type of scholarship the series should be publishing – particularly from the perspective of graduate students.

The first respondent to this prompt was  Jaquetta Shade (PhD candidate in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University and member of the American Indian Caucus) who focused her talk on “Producing the Future: The Book I Need.” In this talk, she reflects on responses gathered from a Google survey and conversations with fellow graduate students and faculty about what kind of book the field most needs right now. Jaquetta shares some of the feedback she received, recognizing the many areas of inquiry still in need of attention. She then calls for a “a book on teaching writing in the time of Trump” that will prompt students and scholars to engage their critical literacies towards change.

Please click here to listen to a recording (mp3 file) of Jaquetta’s presentation. This audio file was recorded by sound engineer Brooke Chambers and includes three sound bites (cited below). Please click here to access a transcript of her presentation.

Sound Bite Citations:

Avantdebris. “Rally.” February 10, 2017 via FreeSound.org, Creative Commons          Attribution.

Miekyj. “Paging Through Book.” October 28, 2015 via FreeSound.org, Creative Commons  Attribution.

MLoveless89. “TrumpProtest_110917.” May 13, 2017 via FreeSound.org, Creative  Commons Attribution. 

Answering Berlin’s Call: The Unfinished Work of Rhetoric and Reality

I still remember the moment as an undergraduate in the late 90s when I randomly pulled Berlin’s Rhetoric and Reality off the shelf of my college library. At that time, I was a literature major passionate about critical theory, English teaching, and social justice. After I read Berlin’s book, I became an aspiring composition and rhetoric scholar. In Berlin’s work, I found a vision of a field dedicated to the teaching of writing as a deeply philosophical and political activity that could contribute to material social change—a vision that inspires me to this day.

When I came to graduate school (a land where one learns to critique everything one loves!), I came to take a much more critical view of Berlin’s work. I started to realize how Berlin problematically centered attention on the writing of white men at privileged institutions—leaving us with a very narrow and exclusionary understanding of the field’s history. (Terese Guinsatao Monberg’s post in this series compellingly engages this important line of critique). I also came to see how Berlin’s famous epistemological taxonomy was leading many compositionists to completely disregard the insights of scholars who had been deemed not epistemic enough in orientation—a point Lisa Ede eloquently made in her Situating Composition.

Building on Ede’s work, my own book, Remixing Composition, argued for a historical methodology of remix that sought to resist the kind of hierarchical taxonomies that animated Berlin’s narrative. In hindsight, though, I think my book sought not so much to critique Berlin’s work itself, but rather to challenge the claims of “Berlinians” who increasingly turned his provisional taxonomy into a rigid orthodoxy (e.g “we don’t need to read the expressivists anymore since Berlin told us they were problematic.”) Yet, Berlin quite explicitly warned us not to take his narrative as the final word, reminding readers that “I do not claim to be definitive. A great deal more needs to be said about this period, and I hope others will be encouraged to do so” (19). Here, I can see Berlin encouraging scholars in the field to complicate and extend his narrative—as many have done in the past 30 years.

When I re-read Berlin’s work now, I’m most struck by his ambitious attempt to offer a comprehensive overview of the field, noting that he sought to “include all major and most minor developments in the teaching of writing in American colleges from 1900 – 1985” (18). I can’t think of a historical book in the field since that has set out quite such an ambitious plan of coverage. And, in many ways, this is a good thing. After Berlin, scholars have increasingly turned towards composing more focused and deep historical case studies that have added much complexity and insight to the stories we tell about our past.

Nevertheless, I find myself wondering if it may be time once again for scholars to imagine broad historical projects that attempt to take stock of the increasingly massive archive(s) of writing instruction in the twentieth century. I think we could use more meta-analyses that synthesize the insights of all the diverse historical scholarship that has been published over the past thirty years. We could also make more use of distant reading and other quantitative textual analysis methods to locate and visualize trends in the field’s archives (as scholars such as Ben Miller and Derek Mueller have suggested).

Although distant reading methods might help us make better sense of large digital archives, we must remember that our own positionalities will inevitably shape the questions we ask of these archives and the methods we use to engage them. Furthermore, we should remain mindful that much of the history of the field has not been digitized—that contemporary digital archives, like Berlin’s history, still tend to privilege white men at “elite” institutions.

Berlin’s attempt to be comprehensive inevitably failed in some ways because it was not a task that could be accomplished by one person alone. Recognizing this, I think we need to imagine how “big histories” of the field might be composed collaboratively by collectives of scholars employing diverse methods and engaging diverse archives. Such collaborative histories would still inevitably have limitations, but they could allow for more complex stories to arise. What ideas do ya’ll have for how we might work together to compose “big histories” of the field?

-Jason Palmeri, Miami University


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The Rhetoric and Realities of Writing Instruction Today

As I re-read Rhetoric and Reality, some twenty years after my first reading of it in graduate school, I similarly observed the inattention to race, gender, and language diversity Asao Inoue and Terese Guinsatao Monberg noted in their recent SWR blog posts. I also noticed Berlin’s neglect of two-year colleges in his historical review of writing instruction. Although two-year colleges were a significant part of the postsecondary landscape throughout the historical period Berlin chronicled—and have long been the primary site of basic writing instruction, two-year colleges (and basic writing) are largely ignored in Rhetoric and Reality, despite their contributions to writing instruction theory and practice. Today, two-year colleges and open-admissions colleges, the most democratic of postsecondary institutions, enroll half of all college students and teach the majority of undergraduate writing, between developmental writing and first year composition courses. However, they are still under-represented in disciplinary scholarship.

In my review of Rhetoric and Reality, I was also particularly struck by the repeated rise and fall in prominence of particular beliefs about writing and writers and their manifestations over time, the consequences of such beliefs, and the conditions that create and recreate them. A few familiar patterns immediately caught my attention: the denigration of students and student writing (see Hesse’s recent Chronicle article), the vilification of high school English teachers, the shifting purposes of writing (e.g., a vocational skill, a means of exclusion, a service to other disciplines, the foundation of democracy), the reliance on objective standards and standardized testing in writing assessment, the marginalized place of writing instruction and instructors in the academy, even the erasure of First-Year Composition and Basic Writing from the curriculum. Reading Berlin’s historical account of writing instruction made me think Karr may be right: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Continue reading “The Rhetoric and Realities of Writing Instruction Today”

The Complications of Berlin’s Original Call to Teach Writing as Citizenship

Berlin concludes his book with a rousing call to writing teachers and scholars about what we do and what we hope our students will do with us. He says,

Writing courses prepare students for citizenship in democracy, for assuming their political responsibilities, whether as leaders or simply as active participants. Writing courses also enable students to learn something about themselves, about the often-unstated assumptions on which their lives are built. In short, the writing course empowers students as it advises in ways to experience themselves, others, and the material conditions of their existence — in methods of ordering and making sense of these relationships.

I can remember in grad school reading this passage and feeling invigorated, feeling that I’d made the right choice. Fuck the money, I wanta teach writing! I wanta teach citizenship, not just in a democracy but democratically! It was empowering to me because I could hear in conversations with other grad students that we all thought this was right: citizenship and empowering students to see or uncover assumptions that build their lives in and through language. Yeah, that kind of a classroom sounded, and often felt at that time in my life (the early 90s), revolutionary, felt critical, felt like critical consciousness, as in bein’ like Freire. That’s the work I wanted to do. After reading the book, I  had a better answer to why I thought the writing classroom was — is — so central to higher education, to education generally, to being human, a languaging-using animal. The writing classroom built critical citizens, prepared them for democracy.

At the time, I had the sense that we all knew these things, that this was the new paradigm. I was so enamored by the ideas, by having a clear definition for what I did, by seeing “epistemic rhetoric” as a path, even method, not just for critical awareness but social justice. But I didn’t listen to the other voice in the back of my head, the one that asked, “but isn’t there something missing? What is left out?”

Perhaps my enthusiastic response to Berlin’s important book was in part due to how this passage (and maybe the whole book) leans so much on a few Weaverian god terms: “citizenship,” “democracy,” “political,” “responsibility,” “assumptions,” and “empower students.” These were — and still are — important terms in my classrooms and pedagogy, important to the labor I ask students to do with me in those classes, important to being critical and to language work that leads to social justice. So what’s the problem? What’s missing? What is missing, I see now, was me, or rather, students and citizens like me. I don’t think we knew very well how to fit Berlin’s ideas to the more complex languaging, racial, gendered, and sexualized landscapes that the U.S. has always had in our society and in our schools.

Over the next twenty some years, I would come to see a limitation in not the purpose or goals stated by Berlin, but in how I and many others were able to articulate and enact these purposes and goals in our classrooms and writing programs with and for our diverse students. What kind of citizen building do we end up enacting in classrooms? What kinds of assumptions do we tend to learn about with our students? And (here’s the important part) what kinds of citizens and assumptions do we tend not to learn about or explore (and here’s the other important part) in our writing assessments, in our grading, evaluating, assessing, and responding, in our rubrics and standards used, in our assignments and processes of drafting and revision? I think, Berlin couldn’t see his own whiteness, or masculinity, or abledness. He surely could not incorporate some way to talk about his own white, male, middle-class subjectivity into his good call. I have often feared that the only critical pedagogy available to writing teachers and students in most places in the U.S. is a white critical pedagogy, or a critical pedagogy unable to see its own raced, classed, ableist, and gendered subject position. Many have made such critiques of Berlin and the kind of social epistemic rhetorical pedagogy he offered, but I’m not sure if as a field of teachers we’ve done much more than what Berlin has offered us. We often say we do, but how have our labors and languaging changed? I wonder.

I’ve said it before, writing assessment drives most of the learning in a writing classroom. Standards used (against) students always harm them, limit them, create unproductive failure (as opposed to productive failure). If I’m correct, then Berlin missed pointing this out in the book, and it too is part of our next steps as a field, as I see it. Berlin tells us the purpose of the writing classroom, but that’s not the same as getting to the goal, or the journey. What are the kinds of labors that make up citizen building? How do we read and judge — and teach students to read and judge — in ways that serve critical, democratic citizen building? How do we deal with judgment without falling back on white, middle class standards? Does Berlin offer ways to think about subjective judgment — that is, judgment that always necessarily comes from a subject position in time and space, which must be explained? We ask students to judge, we judge, and the rock bottom of the matter is, to teach writing is to teach judgment — that’s teaching how we are subjected to discourse, to echo Foucault. I missed this in my initial enthusiastic response to Berlin, but by the same token, he helps me see this issue today.

I think our job now as rhetorical scholars, writing scholars, and writing teachers is to draw out the learning-labors that build citizens, each of whom hold unique subject positions, but are learning in relation to larger structures of languaging, to academic discourses, to the hegemonic. And this is both a challenge and a wonderful gift to us.

-Asao Inoue, University of Washington Tacoma


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Revisiting Rhetoric and Reality: Histories and Possibilities for Rhetoric

As we approach the 30th anniversary of James Berlin’s Rhetoric and Reality, I’m reminded that this year also marks the 100th anniversary of a photo taken of my grandfather building the railroad through Montana. As a Filipino migrant worker, colonial subject, and self-sponsored student, he worked his way to Chicago in pursuit of his (North) American education. These two histories come together in a transcript I found a few years ago documenting that my grandfather passed his “Rhetoric Zero” course at a local community college. But these legacies have also been useful to my own work and my understanding of what it means to re-narrate a history, disciplinary or otherwise.

As one of the first published historical overviews of the discipline, Berlin’s text reflects disciplinary concerns that extended into my time as a graduate student in the 1990s. One of Berlin’s self-stated purposes was to “chronicle” a history of events that, in turn, would document a diversity of approaches used in the formal teaching of writing. I can see how this history would be useful to those in a growing discipline concerned that rhetoric and writing curricula were seen as “remedial” and assumed to be without a history, a set of genealogies, pedagogical traditions, or theoretical frameworks. And, occasionally, I face these attitudes toward our discipline even today.

Scholars like Jacqueline Jones Royster, Shirley Wilson Logan, Victor Villanueva, LuMing Mao, Hui Wu, Morris Young, Malea Powell, Rhea Lathan, Angela Haas, Candace Epps-Robertson, Qwo-Li Driskill, Kendall Leon, Vorris Nunley, Haivan Hoang, Andrea Riley-Mukavetz, Mira Shimabukuro, and Gabriela Ríos, as one list of examples, have deepened our knowledge of forms of rhetoric made and taught in sites that extend beyond the academic curricula surveyed in Rhetoric and Reality. This work raises different concerns about disciplinary histories and genealogies than those surrounding Berlin’s text. It speaks to the fluidity of a discipline that has accumulated wider and deeper genealogies for histories (and theories) of rhetoric. And yet, from where I sit in the discipline, concerns persist about histories and traditions that have yet to be made visible or, more importantly, seen as central and transformative of dominant paradigms and boundaries often used to define the discipline.

The ways we re-narrate a history—whether through writing, teaching, reading, or listening—makes history. This understanding informed the ways that Jennifer Sano-Franchini, K. Hyoejin Yoon, and I approached our forthcoming edited collection, Building a Community, Having a Home: A History of the Conference on College Composition and Communication Asian/Asian American Caucus. We set out to purposefully generate a history with caucus members that would remain open to revision and, ideally, be generative for our members, NCTE’s Writing and Working for Change project, and the larger discipline(s). We made our best attempts to “situate the caucus as a space where a longer continuum of past and present alternative institutions related to Asians and Asian Americans might become visible.” In writing this history, it was often the gaps and silences, coalitions and connections that were most instructive and useful for seeing the possibilities for re-narrating this particular history (as one history) of our caucus.

Last year, I collaborated with colleagues and community members to lead students on an Asian Pacific American tour of Detroit. Students learned that the neighborhood in which James Berlin was born, Hamtramck, is now also home for Americans of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, South Asian, and Arab descent. But they also learned of Asian Americans in Detroit, like Grace Lee Boggs, who have been central to rhetorical theory, method, and instruction outside of college-level writing curricula. This tour, my grandfather’s transcript, and tracing one history of the Asian/Asian American Caucus are only a few of that many reminders of rhetoric’s histories and possibilities.

–Terese Guinsatao Monberg, Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH), Michigan State University

I’d like to thank Steve Parks and Brett Keegan for their work on this forum and for inviting me to participate. I look forward to the conversations!

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