Transnational Feminisms: Rhetorical and Pedagogical Practices

"Transnational Feminisms: Rhetorical and Pedagogical Practices" was another panel I attended at CCCC (yes, I'm slowly but surely blogging them all!). As always, anything that sounds strange or wrong should probably be attributed to my misunderstanding, not their presentations. Because of a coffee craving, I got there late and only caught the tail end of Susan Jarratt's presentation, "Pathos Effects: Gender and the Regulation of Emotion in South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Hearings." She was discussing trauma, loss, mourning, and psychological narrative among South Africans, and at the end, she said that rhetoricians have work to do; we must engage with the "emotional, juridical, symbolic, ethical, and political" aspects of this trauma, this "laboring in the realm of memory." The theme of the new issue of JAC is trauma, so it looks like the work is underway. Geographers and literary critics have been studying trauma and loss for a long time now, so rhetoricians would do well to look to the existing work (though I'm sure those who are studying trauma, loss, and mourning are already doing that). While I didn't catch much of Jarratt's presentation, what I did see prompted me to search for sources on the TRC and bookmark a few articles to read later:

Overcoming Apartheid: Landmark survey reveals South Africa's peaceful transition to democracy

South Africa at Ten: Readings on Postapartheid South Africa

Dis-placing Race: The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Interpretations of Violence

Rebecca Dingo's presentation, "Visualizing Empowerment: The Emotional Rhetoric of Global Economic Access," was very interesting too. It was one of those presentations that reinforced my desire to attend sessions that are only marginally related to my research interests. Dingo framed her talk by describing the multiple levels of policymaking: the actual policies, the material effects, the hearings, conversations among policymakers, distribution of pamphlets, etc. She then claimed that the audience for the World Bank's promotional materials, faced with the pathetic appeals in the photographs, are invited to, as Homi Bhabha puts it, identify ambivalently with the embedded colonial narratives in the pamphlets. The World Bank promotional brochures affirm what the audience already expects and desires. It's a visual rhetoric of care, bound up with images of the cultural other in our memory.

The World Bank's approach assumes a couple of principles, Dingo said. First is rational choice: if you teach people to make the right choice, they'll never be poor. The second is neoliberalism, in which individuals are defined by their ties to the market. Former World Bank president James Wolfensohn made it a point to "walk with" the people in the countries that were borrowing money.

After providing this background information, Dingo showed some transparencies from a World Bank promotional brochure. The cover had "primitive" art alongside information about the World Bank, suggesting a partnership. However, Dingo pointed out, it's a teleological movement away from the "primitive" art. The goal, the brochure implies, is economic independence. Dingo called our attention to the body text, which repeats the words "poorest," "help," and "helping," and makes the bank the central actor. This teleological progression depends on the audience's ambivalence with regard to colonial discourses.

One image showed a middle-aged black man engaged in factory work, not looking at the camera. The audience is invited to watch the man, whose actions are intended to represent "tenacity, middle class aspirations, and empowering work." A second photograph shows a woman wearing a traditional straw hat, harvesting crops, again not looking at the camera. Here we see the same pattern of representing work: workers focused on work. But then we encounter a photograph of a boy holding up a slate, looking directly at the camera, which interrupts the pattern of representation. Education gives one the power to look, Dingo suggests. Later in the brochure is a photograph of a woman with scrubs on -- traditional western medical attire. Does she now identify with a colonizing gaze?

Dingo concluded by pointing to some possible applications in the rhetoric and composition classroom. Students can study policy documents to analyze how US identity is actually formed. One potential assignment could be to study the language of welfare policy against the "welfare queen" stereotype.

Related sites:

Ten Things You Never Knew About the World Bank in Africa

World Bank Boycott

Life and Debt See it if you haven't already!