ACT II, SCENE 1:
Curtain rises. Lights come up as NIIJ begins.
NIIJ. I don't mean to be disrespectful, here, but, um, you keep saying that decolonization is bigger than the academy. I believe that. And it seems like it's a really important effort that impacts the lives of people all over the world. I can't help but think, though, that most of those people don't really care about what we do in the academy, and all this careful positioning doesn't matter to them at all. Which makes me think that all of this "decolonial" business might just be a new scholarly fashion trend.
US. Actually, we would say that how we do scholarship matters a great deal to colonized peoples, especially those engaged in the huge task of decolonization. Again, let's shift orientations—from an idea that the academy is apart from the "real" world to an understanding of the ways it's really an important part of systems that perpetuate oppression. Linda Tuhiwai Smith addresses just that kind of point in Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. She points out how Western research methodologies continue to harm indigenous people on a global level. But more than just critiquing Western research paradigms, Smith provides strategies to decolonize methodologies to be more mindful of working with and for indigenous peoples. She writes,
Research is one of the ways in which the underlying code of imperialism and colonialism is both regulated and realized. It is regulated through the formal rules of individual scholarly disciplines and scientific paradigms, and the institutions that support them (including the state). (7-8)
MARIA. By contextualizing decolonial practices and projects within research and academia, Smith draws attention to the relationship institutions have with imperialism. But here's an important part of Smith's work: She does not discourage us from doing research. Instead, she provides another orientation to it:
To resist is to retrench in the margins, retrieve what we were and remake ourselves. The past, our stories local and global, the present, our communities, cultures, languages, and social practices—all may be spaces of marginalization, but they have also become spaces of resistance and hope. (4)
DAISY. In the place between resistance and making, we see a location for the practice of cultural rhetoric—a practice that creates a decolonial space inside rhetoric studies. It is here, we believe, where we can forge necessary relations inside and outside of the university. This relationship allows us to make scholarship—to develop frameworks—reliant on growth and sustainability, instead of negation and destruction. And Smith reminds us of something that we often forget within academe: research is about people. It affects people. It can save and destroy lives.
JENN. We know this seems pretty specific to scholars who work in/with communities outside the university.
MARI. Or that it's only useful for the handful of rhetoric scholars who work in/with indigenous communities, but if we look at Emma Perez's work on the "decolonial imaginary," other possibilities start to come into view.
MARIA. Where Smith's attention is on how traditional research in ethnography, anthropology, and other community-based paradigms perpetuate the imperial project, Perez stages a similar critique of the colonial practices of Chicano history and historiography.
ANDREA. Perez's methodology "trace[s] social change from the bottom up" (19). She focuses her attention on the representation of Chicana/os within Yucatan Nationalist movements, the Mexican Revolution, Chicana feminisms, the lived experiences of immigrants, and Selena as a Chicana icon of desire. Her practice in doing so draws attention to the intellectual spaces in which Chicanas live and work but that have been ignored even within Chicano/a history produced under a colonial historiographical model. The space Perez locates, then, is "the decolonial imaginary," a "rupturing space between the colonial and postcolonial…the space where differential politics and social dilemmas are negotiated" (6).
MALEA. Notice here how both Perez and Smith focus on creating sustainable frameworks instead of spending time proving how their respective disciplines have done very bad things.
NIIJ. Still, it seems like you're saying that scholars in our discipline sometimes do very bad things.
US. We get that. And although we do believe critique of our current disciplinary practices is important and necessary, we want to make sure that critique leads to something even more important—making. Critique is not the end of the process of decolonization—it's the beginning. We want to make something that people will use, rather than to take things apart only to show that they can be taken apart.
One of the models we offer for the relationship we're trying to instantiate between decolonial and cultural rhetorics scholarship is Qwo-Li Driskill's "Doubleweaving Two-Spirit Critiques: Building Alliances between Native and Queer Studies." In hir story, Driskill enacts decolonization by creating "theories and activism that weave together Native and GLBTQ critiques that speak to our present colonial realities" (70). Through the methodology of doubleweaving, a Cherokee basket-making practice, Driskill produces a decolonial framework that creates an alliance between Native and queer studies. In doing so, s/he draws attention to a complicated but ignored shared history between queer and Native/two-spirit peoples, which is a direct effect of colonial approaches to historiography. This alliance calls both fields to be more accountable for how they imagine their own histories and how they can produce more thoughtful scholarship that considers the very real impacts of colonization on all peoples.
End scene. Curtain down
ACT II, SCENE 2:
NIIJ. But what about scholars in rhet/comp? All those people who you're talking about aren't really in our discipline.
US. Qwo-Li Driskill is a rhetoric scholar.
MARI. I remember presenting with Qwo-Li on a MLA panel called "Aristotle is Not Our Father." The room was full, and we each trembled at the podium when it was our turn to speak. Qwo-Li told a story about hir decision not to include any Kenneth Burke texts in hir Histories of Rhetoric course. Other faculty members could not understand this decision. As Qwo-Li spoke, hir frustration with hir colleagues and the discipline was palpable: Why do we tell only one history of the discipline? Why do we claim some ancestors and not others? In that moment, I remembered that I was part of a movement. In that moment, I felt like a contributing member of a community of cultural rhetorics scholars. In that moment, I felt an increased investment to play a part in defining and making the discipline. In that moment, I knew and I continue to know, more than ever, that our work matters.
US. Driskill's work is a model for cultural rhetorics scholars because it emphasizes four important practices.
MARIA. We have all been affected by colonization. We are all complicit in colonial discourses. It is our responsibility to both remember and acknowledge this as we teach, create curriculum, serve on committees, and develop research plans.
JENN. The manner in which we engage, orient in relation to, or produce scholarship matters. We must be mindful that research methodologies are not value-free tools. Our practices, including our research methodologies, are imbued with ideological and epistemological beliefs and values that have material effects in the world.
MARI. Driskill's model of doubleweaving, a deliberate methodological movement across communities (disciplinary and otherwise) emphasizes the necessity of moving beyond even the most robust idea of a disciplinary canon—of reaching across, around, underneath, above and over disciplinary boundaries in the practice of cultural rhetorics. We must understand the discipline as fluid, not static.
DAISY. The combination of these four components is central to doing cultural rhetorics scholarship. Embracing just one or two of these elements is not enough. A cultural rhetorics orientation requires an investment in a methodological frame that values the relation among history, practice, and knowledge.
ANDREA. It should be noted that these practices aren't exclusive to Qwo-Li's work, of course, but are vital to the practice of cultural rhetorics scholarship. These four practices are not a step-by-step approach to creating a cultural rhetorics framework; they inform the orientation required to develop a cultural rhetorics framework. Scholars working in our discipline consistently integrate these practices into their academic life.
US. Along with Driskill, Malea Powell and Terese Monberg embrace fluidity, multiplicity, and the good, bad, and ugly of rhetorical studies. In much of her work, Powell argues for theoretical and practical endeavors (no matter the disciplinary affiliation) that make multiple orientations and frameworks both visible and heard. She insists that not to do so is irresponsible, doubly so, because a scholar's work tells stories, and these stories are always positioned within and among other stories ("Blood and Scholarship: One Mixed Blood's Story" in Race, Rhetoric, and Composition, and "Learning (Teaching) to Teach (Learn)"). Similarly, in "Listening to Legacies" Monberg listens to how multiple communities create theories and stories in order to weave another orientation to feminist historiography, community-based research and rhetorical theory.
MARIA. I remember watching Malea give her CCCCs chair address in Saint Louis in 2012. I was particularly interested in her address for two reasons. One, this was my first CCCCs that I attended and was anxious to understand how this address would be received by the discipline. But even more intriguing was the fact that I had the pleasure of being enrolled in Malea's contemporary theory class during the time she was preparing to give her speech. During our class Malea revealed how her speech would be focused upon telling stories. "Interesting," I thought to myself as a perplexed first-year graduate student. One month later, sitting in the crowded room I listened to the stories Malea told about the Natives that inhabited the very space in which we were meeting, about the stories she had been told about the discipline, as well as multiple stories of decolonial practice. Her stories invited me to start to ponder the stories I carry with me, about the stories I could share with our discipline, and about the need to invite students to think about the ways they can share their stories. I learned from Malea at that moment how stories as a decolonial practice matter; stories, then, should be shared in our discipline. Cultural rhetorics, as part of our discipline linked to decolonial practice, allow for stories to be told and asks for others to deeply listen to them.
ANDREA. I remember reading Terese Monberg's "Listening to Legacies" for a research methodologies course. As a beginner oral historian, I was still trying to figure out how to make sense of my own research with a group of urban, Native women. As Terese talked about Dorothy Cordova's identity as "behind the podium," immediately I could understand what my participants meant by saying that they "remain in the background" and how "leadership is a masculinist construct" (p. 93). In that moment, I knew how to talk to our discipline about oral history, rhetorical theory, and American Indian women.
US. With Driskill, Powell, and Monberg's emphasis on listening as a necessary part of any scholar's work reminds us of the four components of a cultural rhetorics orientation we described earlier. For all three scholars, this kind of positioning creates a complicated web, becoming an intricate act of "listen[ing] for unheard stories, counter-stories, which are usually silenced by the narratives that construct ‘life'" ("Blood and Scholarship" 2). Driskill, Powell, and Monberg each take approaches that prioritize the visibility of this web; regarding the intentionality of ignorance of this web—"accidental" or otherwise—both presume complicity in a colonialist agenda.
NIIJ. This web makes sense when you're researching Indigenous cultures, but what if the subject of your scholarship isn't aligned with that "kind of worldview"?
US. In rhetoric studies, we're too used to thinking of our work as either mainstream (and thus applicable to all peoples) or marginal (and thus applicable only to some peoples). All work in the discipline is already focused on or arises from specific cultural practices—mostly dominant Euro-American practices, which go as the unmarked "mainstream" in our discourse about what counts in the discipline. Even as Powell's and Monberg's work has effected change in the manner in which the "subdisciplines" of American Indian rhetorics and Filipino/a rhetorics are engaged as intellectual activities, their theories of constellations, listening/telling, and cultural narrative have impacted the field of rhetoric studies as a whole. Powell's arguments about "how to learn about Indians" and Monberg's claims about feminist historiography may just as easily be reworked to include any site of inquiry. Indeed, we may just as easily say these theories of constellated rhetorics helps re-situate how to study rhetoric at all. Rather than thinking of Rhetoric (upper-case, intended) as a distant, objectified, fixed identity, these precedents open the door for rhetoric (lower case, intended) to be seen and heard as a series of stories, none of which can really be heard without listening for other stories, and all of which impact and are impacted by the relationships between them.
NIIJ. But surely, these aren't the only people that do this work? This is starting to sound a lot like the work of Jacqueline Royster and Victor Villanueva.
US. Exactly. This is no accident. We look to our relations all the time when practicing cultural rhetorics. We didn't get to this place on our own, we stand on the backs of our elders, work alongside other scholarly allies and relations—in academic parlance, we'd say this: our work follows from, builds on, and is connected to some important scholars in the discipline. The stories of our relations—elders, colleagues, youngsters, communities—constellate in multiple ways. Together, through these practices, we continually make and remake webs of relations.
Lights fade slowly to darkness. Sounds of scenery being rearranged can be heard by the audience.
ACT II, SCENE 3:
NIIJ, asked in the darkness. That's a weird way to talk about scholarship.
Lights come up as Us begins to speak.
US. Yes it is. We have been taught to separate academia from real life, and that academia is not a cultural community. We have been told that what we do in academia doesn't have a substantial impact on the kinds of oppression brought about by colonization. That it's all in our heads. We put decolonial delinking at the center of our stories here as a way of addressing these misconceptions. We're interested in ancestors who've talked about our discipline as a community and have worked to make space for multiple practices and stories within that community.
Both Jacqueline Jones Royster and Victor Villanueva have worked across various aspects of our field, reminding us that none of us does just one thing, and that our work is interconnected and energizes us as a community, not just as individuals. In their scholarship, we hear particular teachings on how to shift the field, intervene, and critique from a place that sustains ourselves and our discipline.
MALEA. I remember hearing Jackie Royster deliver her 1994 CCCCs chair's address, "When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own." Terese and I sat side-by-side, smiled, nodded our heads. I got teary-eyed at the recognition of shared struggle that I heard in Jackie's words. In that series of moments, the community of the discipline opened for me to enter.
US. When we hear Royster say "Interpretive communities have to be persuaded, not just to notice that there is something more or different to know, but actually to incorporate the knowledge in their thinking and use it meaningfully in sense-making enterprises," we hear the need for decolonial practice in our own cultural community ("Disciplinary Landscaping" 161). Royster's work asks us to continue the project of "extending the boundaries" of our discipline, but even more importantly, it reminds us of the "remarkably resilient mechanism against which contemporary research must inevitably contend and must persistently resist" (150). Royster's work certainly attends to these very impulses, but we want to point out that Royster herself acknowledges the difficulty and effort this kind of attention entails. Even in Traces of the Stream, she remarks that she does not want to be a defender of Afra-American women's experiences, but an examiner of them. She admits that she too can get stuck in recuperation stories and has to intervene in her own practice so she can imagine another framework.
MALEA. I remember hearing Victor's 1999 CCCC chair's talk too. I guess that's means I'm officially the "elder" in this group. Anyway, the 1999 program said his talk was supposed to be "The Tree and the Woods: Racism in Multiculturalism," but what he delivered that day was called "On the Rhetoric and Precedents of Racism" instead—which I like a lot better. Again, a whole group of us Scholars for the Dream folks (current and former) sat together in the audience, listening. He told stories, held the discipline accountable, talked about the Americas in a way that confirmed my own decisions about engaging in scholarship focused on American Indians. More than that, Victor's talk revealed a process of making across and among scholars/writers/thinkers inside and outside the discipline. And everything he did implicated all of us as people who lived inside always already-raced bodies who were (and are) continuing participants in a racist society. People squirmed in their seats as he drew us all into the implications the pervasiveness of racist practices for our disciplinary stories. His comfort with our discomfort, his stretch from a sixteenth-century Franciscan to contemporary poets of color, his stories made a web of relations, and a practice of making that has stuck with me for all of these years.
US. One of the most compelling practices that Villanueva has consistently engaged—starting with Bootstraps and continuing in articles like "On Rhetoric and Precedents of Racism" —is story as methodology. When Villanueva says "Rhetoric, after all, is how ideologies are carried, how hegemonies are maintained. Rhetoric, then, would be the means by which hegemonies could be countered" (Bootstraps 121), we hear a call to engage in counter-hegemonic scholarly practices.
But even more important for our decolonial Cultural Rhetorics practice here is that he acknowledges—again and again—that the practice of story doesn't always feel good, and the stories produced in that practice aren't always happy celebrations of our community's accomplishments. When he asks, "Why do perfectly nice people…?" we hear decolonial delinking in practice—a practice that understands the discipline as a community with cultural rituals, ceremonies and beliefs. This opens space for those of us who feel alienated in those celebrations, barred from those traditional accomplishments. In this, Villanueva's ability to both critique the discipline and produce new ways to participate in it provides one model for how to participate in a disciplinary culture/community with diverse practices, rituals, histories, and futures.
NIIJ. Surely Jackie, Victor, Malea, and Terese aren't the only ones who are important. It seems like there are so many people in our field who talk about culture, and even associate with this thing—cultural rhetorics.
US. You're right. There are so many folks who do interesting and important work that has changed how the discipline has talked about "culture" and "rhetoric." What we're interested in is not just their scholarship, but how these people have created professional opportunities for new generations of scholars, of practitioners. We mark Jackie and Victor as especially significant, as elders who opened doors, created space, provoked new thoughts, and took great risk. We also recognize that our discipline is made up of plenty of elders and allies, folks who are doing work that may not be explicitly aligned or named according to some of the theoretical frames we're outlining here.17 Yet, their work and practices also contribute to so much of what we are hoping our discipline can do, interventions we, as members of this disciplinary community can make in order to sustain and survive it. As members of this collective, we recognize how these allies have impacted our scholarship and how we understand our relationship to the discipline and cultural rhetorics. They are not explicitly doing cultural rhetorics work the way we are saying, they've come to shape how we think cultural rhetorics work should be done. We understand these scholars as our neighbors. We can articulate things about their work that empowers us to identify this cultural rhetorics orientation.
JENN. I remember the first time I sat and talked with Julie Lindquist. I was just learning how to comfortably articulate my understanding of verbal traditions and language, and being in her effervescent space was intimidating. Her work with the language and culture of those at a bar in A Place to Stand was fascinating because it mirrored conversations that I had in situations when I explored voices of African American students and the cultural traditions of that group. I listened and agreed that when making sense of cultural traditions, no one wants to justify their experiences and have them validated through interrogations by academics. In talking with Julie, what made sense was exploring the conversations and the relationships that they created with the culture, people, and space in which the conversations occurred. Being able to discuss language and culture without being on the defense was a new experience and allowed me to realize that language was an integral component to understanding culture, and when language is attacked by those who demand a formal tone and "proper" construction, culture is attacked and made invalid because of non-comprehension of connections and relationships. As an ally, Julie offered me new words to better make my stance and move with more ease through arguments about this notion of language and culture and how we practice.
US. Julie believes that "language works to create, manage, and situate culture" (4). When we hear her say, "To understand culture as a narrative formation means that it cannot be regarded as an isolated, or isolatable, entity. It must be understood as relational as well as distinctive, as a site of action and reaction" (5), this is what we hear: studying culture is a relational practice, requiring interaction with and investment in the communities whose practices are being investigated. She acknowledges that interplay among local practices, material conditions, and identity performances are all part of rhetoric. Her work is intensely committed to recognizing and honoring the relationships between herself, her scholarship, and the people she works with. She is our ally because she does not objectify the people she works with. She's working with them and not on them. This practice is central to her scholarship and intellectual activity, not just because it's ethical or good or to meet Institutional Review Board (IRB) standards. For our purposes in this article, we would like to also remember our desire not to erase people's bodies from our community and disciplinary practices.
DAISY. I remember sitting in the audience of the third Octalog at the 2010 CCCC, remember being hurried, remember not having looked closely at the program. I remember being there for the event of it, being unsure of my own personal connection to this discipline. It's not that I wasn't invested in the politics of historiography, but how I would ever find a way into that conversation was completely beyond me. As a movement educator, I had been taught to identify meaning as located in the body, but in my recent five years in the academy, I was being disciplined into this other teaching—that bodies didn't matter. That morning in the Octalog audience, I remember Jay Dolmage on the dais, urging us to see bodies and history and circulation of stories as necessarily connected. It wasn't enough, he said, to change things, to "find new stories." We needed new ways of doing. I remember something opening in my chest when he said that; I was no longer there for the Octalog simply as a marked event for other people. In that moment, I felt my body in that room, listening to the other bodies. I remember feeling everything I had ever been taught about meaning and bodies could actually help me find my connection to this discipline.
US. When Dolmage says that he "see[s] rhetorical history as the study not of just a selected archive of static documents or artifacts, but a study also, always of the negotiations, valences, shifting claims and refutations, canons and revisions that orbit any history" (p. 113), we hear him calling attention to how our discipline talks about the history of rhetoric as static and disembodied. He asks us to use an embodied rhetorical methodology "to find new ways to circulate these stories in order to generate a new ontology, a new epistemology, a new rhetoric" (114). We understand this to be an important alliance with our work in cultural rhetorics, to remember that, like bodies, histories are alive and interconnected. Remember that the decolonial project, as we see it, also recognizes the multiple coexisting stories, bodies, histories. Our alliance with Dolmage rests on his call for an embodied methodology. He is not just asking for new stories. He's asking for new ways. This feels similar to decolonial practices like doubleweaving or the decolonial imaginary or relationality.
NIIJ. So, is this the constellating thing that you've been talking about?
US. Exactly! Yes!
NIIJ. Then, can any scholar be an ally? Is all scholarship useful to cultural rhetorics? As long as you exist in the constellated field of rhetoric, does that make you an ally? How do I learn how to do this?
US. Good questions. Remember the pieces of this story so far—decolonial practice, story, relations, constellations. We think the best way to answer your question is if we tell another story about two very different pieces of scholarship to show how this process works: Royster and Gesa Kirsch's Feminist Rhetorical Practices and Shawn Wilson's Research is Ceremony.
In Research is Ceremony, Wilson builds an indigenous research paradigm using indigenous practices such as relationality and relational accountability. For Wilson, to enact relationality means to understand one's relationship: to land, people, space, ideas, and the universe as interconnected and fluid. Relational accountability is how one is respectful and accountable to those relationships (i.e.: practices). Under an indigenous research paradigm, Wilson understands epistemology, ontology, axiology, and methodology as relational concepts that are stronger as a whole and not the sum of its parts. He builds this paradigm by sharing previous conversations he has had with his colleagues, reflecting on his experiences as a First Nations person in academia who works with and for his tribal community, and discussing the importance of this paradigm to his two young sons through letters. He argues that "relationships do not merely shape reality, they are reality" (7).
Although Wilson primarily discusses an indigenous research paradigm in the context of working with indigenous American people, we see the possibilities of enacting relationality and relational accountability to work with all cultural communities. Through relationality and relational accountability, our objects of study do not provide meaning, but our relationships to those materials do. Remember our discussion of disciplinary practices in rhetoric and composition to treat all materials, including bodies, as objects used to gather and excavate meaning from? Relationality, as a rhetorical framework, gives us a way to do something besides objectify. This framework provides another option to emphasize meaning as made within and among multiple contexts, histories, and knowledge systems.
US. Royster and Kirsch's Feminist Rhetorical Practices is another model for how to maintain a cultural rhetorics orientation. In this book, they offer a framework, rather than a prescription or a blueprint for knowledge making. They emphasize the "feminist" in their description of rhetorical practices, encompassing methodology, textual/artifact production, pedagogy, and mentorship; we see a kindred association in this description—an orientation that requires the same elements we've been talking about here. Their "feminist informed operational framework" (18) means accepting a "set of values and perspectives [...] that honors the particular traditions of the subjects of study, respects their communities, amplifies their voices, and clarifies their visions" (14). We see this as a serious alliance with our proposed cultural rhetorics orientation in the following ways, some of which may seem obvious to you at this point. First, Royster and Kirsch are intent on recognizing the subjectivity of the sites of study—these are people, after all, and come with all the complexity and richness that people bring. Second, to study in such a way, the researcher must recognize the community/-ies in which the subjects of study participate, engage, belong. These communities are vital and interesting players; the people can't be dislocated away from them.
But also Royster and Kirsch help their readers to imagine "new paradigms" for our disciplinary community's work (14), one that reveals "more clearly where and how we stand, how we interpret what we see, and consequently how we make sense out of the chaotic effects of various encounters and observations in creating new knowledge" (15). They are acknowledging our discipline's ancestors while simultaneously encouraging us to recognize the manners in which our well-rehearsed patterns of assessment and valuation have limited our scope and vision (Royster and Kirsch 16). Feminist rhetorical practices, as drawn for us by Royster and Kirsch, have been doing this work for decades; their project is not to take credit for the work that's been done already, but to help their readers see for themselves how this work has accumulated towards "the consequence of creating volatility in research and practice, tectonic shifts on the rhetorical landscape" (17). To help us see these shifts, Royster and Kirsch offer "critical engagement, strategic contemplation, social circulation, and globalization" (19). These terms, detailed more extensively in the book (we really think you should read this book if you haven't already), are interesting corollaries to some of the ideas we've been talking about here. For instance, critical engagement emphatically asks how a story is told, how a person's experience is honored, how a scholar sees and doesn't see. Strategic contemplation is a continuation of the kind of work we engage critically, to consider the space our intellectual work creates, where space is understood as a real, lived entity, with consequences and impact on all kinds of people and other spaces, both present and past, and future. When we talk about a cultural rhetorics orientation requiring an awareness and recognition of our ancestors, all of them, the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, we believe we're engaging in a kind of strategic contemplation that encourages a new paradigm.18
End scene. Curtain down. A spotlight appears stage right.
MALEA. Up to this point, we've been telling you a lot of stories. Now, we want to show you how those stories emerge in individual practice. We'll do this showing in four voices: three individuals and one collective.
18 We also see our own practices reflected in their understanding of "social circulation" — "mediated legacies of thought and action, such as things that we absorb even without conscious awareness rather than a static sense of direct inheritance" —and "globalization" in the concern we take from Mignolo to build a world in which many worlds may coexist (23).