Rhetoric

Public Health, Diabetes, Exercise

Has anyone else been reading those scary stories about diabetes in the Times (it's a series)? If not, do so now. The gist of the stories is that diabetes has become a serious threat to public health, especially among the poor and predominately Latino and African American. This brings up a lot of issues related to public policy, the economy, government funding for health care, and race-based medicine, and it serves as a cautionary tale about diet and exercise for everyone, especially for those of us who have a family history of diabetes. I've already decided that the next first-year or advanced composition course I teach is going to have a public health theme.*

On a related note, a few weeks ago I read that if you run or walk eleven miles a week, you won't gain any visceral fat. That's the kind I always gain, so I'm implementing this advice: I've been doing one mile on the treadmill three days a week, two miles the other four days. I didn't run at all yesterday, so today I did three miles.

* Edited to add that I've been thinking more about this as the day has progressed. I'm seeing this course as having five units:

  1. Complications related to obesity
  2. HIV/AIDS and safer sex campaigns
  3. Anti-smoking campaigns and smoking ban legislation
  4. Infectious disease (in this case, I'm thinking about using bird flu as a case)
  5. Environmentalism and public health (I'm thinking along the lines of environmental racism)

Any other suggestions, like for assigned reading? A good friend of mine has already recommended assigning Super Size Me.

English Studies and Political Literacy

Here's the second installment of my MLA session-blogging. Two down, two three to go. This is from "English Studies and Political Literacy," a forum which has already been covered at Tech Central Station, the Chronicle, and Acephalous, but I'll throw my notes in there too; why not? As with all my conference-blogging of years past, these are simply notes I took. They're probably direct quotations, but I don't use quotation marks because I don't want to have them in every sentence, and I'm not sure enough of the exact words to use quotation marks. You'll find very little commentary here, because, well, it would take even longer for me to post these if I also offered commentary. Notes are in order of speaker:

Donald P. Lazere, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

In his introduction to the forum, Lazere said that students are caught in a double bind: They need a degree for a job, but they can't afford college. Students are pressured to major in areas that are expedient to getting a good job, not allowed to take a variety of humanities courses. They're also having to work while going to school.

Lazere cited the NEA "Reading at Risk" study and the "literacy crisis": only 21% of students read newspapers. (Note: What counts as a newspaper? In my three years of teaching at the University of Minnesota, when I walk into the classroom each day, nearly all the students are sitting in their desks engrossed in The Minnesota Daily. Some of them read City Pages too, which admittedly is mostly an entertainment guide but also contains some very smart articles about social and political issues.)

Birth Stories

Introduction, by Clancy Ratliff

For a long time, I've been reading birth stories, both online and in print. I was enchanted with Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, especially the birth of Leah's first child, Reuben; Leah gives birth roaring, standing up, with women all around her supporting her legs, not letting her fall. Anthropologist Robbie Davis-Floyd (1998) interweaves her birth story with reflections on reproductive technologies and the "cyborgification of birth." The birth story has become more significant in recent years, with feminism's advocacy on behalf of the birthing woman. A common argument is that as reproductive technologies have gotten more sophisticated -- and, as some would argue, more invasive -- the woman's control over her own birthing experience has eroded. The laboring body is pathologized, "out of control," something that must be "managed" (See Schuster). In response to the "medical model" of birth, many women who have the financial resources to do so have sought the services of midwives.

In putting together these essays, I had considered breaking them up into sections, with stories of c-sections, drug-free births, etc., but I decided against it. To represent these stories in categories according to the presence or absence of medical technology simply repeats the erasure of the woman from the birth. It insultingly reduces the richness of these stories to what is really ancillary. I thought about the reasons I read and appreciate birth stories: the eloquence, the humor, the visceral honesty, the bravery in the face of immense pain, the powerful emotion. The choral similarities (the "ring of fire," for example). The fact that they are passionately feminist stories. The fact that these women wrote it down. So I decided to include the titles, authors' names, and a snippet of each story that will make you see why I enjoyed reading it and want to read it yourself.


Birthing Arden, by Jodi Egerton

For a long time in the middle of active labor, I was in a wild, amazing, euphoric, ecstatic high. In between contractions I'd remark on the beautiful music playing (Lanell had these lovely soothing cds with her), how much I loved turkey sandwiches, how delicious that massage lotion smelled...I looked up at Owen and Lanell between one contraction and just gushed 'you both look soooo pretty!'


Anya's Birth Story, by Sarah

This entire pregnancy, I’ve been nursing a fantasy of giving birth in the middle of a snowstorm with the fire roaring in the wood burning stove.


NikkiZ's Birth Story: Attack of the Giant Uterus, by Miss Zoot

Dr. SoNice was telling me that he was drawing a line for my incision. The weird doctor tried to joke and say 'He'll initial it too!' but Dr. SoNice immediately said, 'No I Won't.' Evidently Dr. SoNice is of the opinion that during an emergency surgery, joking is NOT the best way to console the patient. And in reality? I agreed.


A Labor Story, by Heather Armstrong (Dooce)

I order the Pregnant Pizza which really isn’t a pizza but a 144 square inch orgasm of garlic.


It's Jackson's first birthday today. Woo! by Fussy

5:40 p.m. Jack whips up a delightful little creamy pasta vegetable dish. I take one look at it and tell him there's no way in hell I'm going to eat that. He goes back to the kitchen and blends a bunch of fruit and dairy products and calls it a smoothie. I have a sip and push it away. Jack sits next to me and puts his arm around me. I tell him to quit looking at me.


Birth Story 4.0, by Mara

The baby's head was not coming down straight to apply any pressure to my cervix, so she manipulated a bit so it would, and recommended walking, and if contractions started up again, doing all we could to intensify the contractions, not backing down or seeking comfort. Which seemed like a fine idea, except that there were no contractions. So when she left, Raven resumed some work phone calls, I loaded Søren in the stroller and went for a walk. And within half a block found my knuckles were white on the stroller.


Duncan's birth story, by Silandara

I ended up on my back, with the nurse holding one leg, Kevin holding the other, I think. I had to grab onto my thighs and curl up my chin and bear down with each contraction.


Birth Story, Part One and Part Deux, by Tracitalynne.

At one point she was, uh, poised at the opening, and it felt like the world’s biggest poop moved forward a bit.


Ainsley's Birth Story, by Mommy with some help from Daddy

At one point, I apparently asked them to just 'suck the baby out' of me, and I also sassed Alison when she asked for 'one more push' - 'I already DID one more!'


Birth Story, by jmoon

Tom later equated my feelings to having jumped off a cliff, and knowing you were going to hit the ground, but being unable to stop it. This analogy seems very apt.


My First Baby, by Strange Quark

I pushed for 2.5 hours and finally Jasper was born. His hand was on top of his head, and so his head and body came out with one last exhilarating push. Just like superman.


Baby Born, by Fabmujer

For some reason part of a Cesarean birth is being strapped like Jesus...arms and legs taped down to a bed with arm rests which resemble a cross.


My birth story...may be sad to read, by Sabra Girl

Eventually after 2 other dopplers, 2 ultrasounds, a fetal scalp heart monitor, and my dr and midwife checking everything, they told us they couldn't find a heartbeat.


The birth story, by llyncilla

I’ve learned what not to do, what to do differently next time, and I just need expiation. I have a few demons that need two dimensional-izing, to be pulled apart and rewoven into a quiet little story, a story like a grave.


And So I Choose, by Allison Crews

There was no way I could handle the pain and horror of childbirth alone, in my bedroom and sanctuary, as I wished to do. I needed a man, trained to care for women, (who are inherently capable of caring for themselves), to see me through my labor. I needed to be monitored, strapped to a bed, cleaned from the inside, shaven smooth and knocked out cold. I was a little girl and delivering babies is a man's job.


Birth Story--Jiro Coltrane, by Stacey Greenberg

'Fill the birthing tub!' I commanded.


Baby Moon Essays: 1 : The Birth, by Lone Star Ma

Then I was pushing that wet, fat baby out…which didn’t burn at all, it was literally the best sensation of my entire life!


*NOTE: I know it's a little weird to have "Introduction, by Clancy Ratliff" at the beginning, but I'm thinking of this as not just a link-roundup type of post, but more formal, like an anthology. I hope to see others start creating these, perhaps as online course packs for classes, but it might be a neat assignment for students to do too. I see this as different from a carnival in that it's a one-time thing and not a serial; plus, there's my introduction at the beginning that explains my reasons for doing this project.

Chapter 4 Vignette

I've been very reluctant to write this post lest it spur another round of "Where are the women?" for me to contend with, but I figured it was time for a dissertation post. I owe it to you, right? Well, a while back I finished Chapter 4 and am now in the process of revising it. In Chapter 3, I give a thorough overview and chronological description of the "Where are the women?" case: the posts, descriptions of the (onymous) people involved, and the contexts and exigencies of each instance of WATW. For example, the Larry Summers speech had a degree of influence on many of the comments. I also give a more detailed micro-rationale for my project than I give in the introduction. To clarify a bit, the macro-rationale is "why rhetoric should study blogging" and the micro-rationale is "why the 'Where are the women?' case." As anyone who has participated in them can tell you, the WATW threads are quite rhetorically unproductive; nothing really changes as a result of them, and that's one reason I find them so interesting. So in Chapter 3, as part of my detailed micro-rationale, I bring in some of the MANY metacommentaries and parodies of WATW, plus some of the interview responses.

Now for Chapter 4. I'm mostly drawing upon Nancy Fraser's article "Rethinking the public sphere: A contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy," but in this chapter I'm not going into her thoughts about multiple, subaltern counterpublics. I'm more interested in the four problematic assumptions she points out on which Habermas’ idea of public sphere rests: first, that inequalities in social status can be “bracketed” in a public sphere; second, that a singular public is preferable to multiple publics; third, that issues and interests deemed “private” should be excluded from the discussion; fourth, that a public sphere’s fruition depends on keeping “civil society and the state” separated (p. 117-118). Fraser claims that “[o]ne task for critical theory is to render visible the ways in which societal inequality infects formally inclusive existing public spheres and taints discursive interaction within them” (p. 121). That task, rendering visible these inequalities, is the raison d'être of this chapter.

I'm reviewing the various stereotypes and ideas about women's speaking in public that get tossed around in WATW. To illustrate, see this comment, and tell me if this guy didn't totally nail the "maiden, mother, crone" archetypes/stereotypes that feminists have been talking about for years (sincerely, I think this is really well put):

[I]n the world of Big Punditry women get one of three jobs:

1. The Soft-core Liberal Infobabe. Doesn't say or do much. Her entire function is to perpetuate the idea that if you're a liberal, you can have sex with women like this.

2. The Breast-Feeder from Hell. Begins every argument with "As a mother, I ..." Uses nurture six times in a single paragraph. Her function is to serve up chocolate-covered liberalism to guilty insecure housewives.

3. The Uppity Old Lady in Tennis Shoes. See Molly Ivins. This is where Infobabes go when they get put out to pasture. They're supposed to be sort of funny - Driving Miss Daisy kind of funny.

Specifically, I look at 1.) the role of sex, beauty, and attraction and how it can create noise; 2.) "women aren't interested in politics; they're more interested in fashion, gossip, and babies"; 3.) "women and men communicate differently," i.e. the "women can't handle the food fight, boxing match, swashbuckling, Crossfire, Hardball, insert agonistic metaphor here flavor of political debate"; 4.) "women are too busy with the house and the kids to have time to blog"; and 5.) "women aren't as technologically savvy as men." Mind you, I'm not saying there isn't any truth in any of these, especially #4. I'm just laying them out there. I may say more about these later, but for the vignette I want to focus on #2, because there are pictures!

Consider these sample comments:

There are simply less females than males passionate about politics, hence less females blogging.
If there is a blogosphere concerned with sales at Nordstroms or Hollywood gossip, that blogosphere will be predominately female. (Reader at Kevin Drum's weblog)

and here:

As for the gender thing, I still don't know if this is a problem in search of a solution or just the way women are. I'm leaning toward the latter, frankly. They don't like war, don't like hard-nosed arguments and have a hard time separating the personal from the political. Case in point, a girlfriend the other night told me Bush was too stupid to be president, and anyway she didn't like his family--his daughters didn't seem engaged enough (unlike who? Chelsea? Amy Carter? I was confused). This, apparently, was enough to decide her vote--Laura is a bit chunky and I don't like her shoes, it's settled!

Let me first say that I mean no disrespect toward the people who made these comments. The ideas represented here have a long history. In fact, in keeping with Jonathan's creative 'Aleatory Research' methodology, I happened upon some political cartoons from the suffragist movement, which I ended up using in the chapter. From January 27, 1909, a comic by T.E. Powers titled "When Women Get Their Rights":

Also from the 1910s:

The caption says, “Woman Devotes Her Time to Gossip and Clothes Because She Has Nothing Else to Talk About. Give Her Broader Interests and She Will Cease to Be Vain and Frivolous.”

I'll stop there; this is only a vignette, after all. As always, feedback is welcome.

Feminist Carnival: 1970s Feminist Thought

Yes, I know I've blogged these photographs before. But this time I'm doing a little something extra for the Feminist Carnival. I don't have any grand arguments to make about 1970s feminism, but I find it very interesting how, during the 1970s, before the backlash, feminism seemed almost celebrated. (Thumbnails go to larger photographs.)

Advertisement for Hour after Hour deodorant, Mademoiselle magazine, 1973 Advertisement for Secret deodorant, 2005
When feminism was good for business, 1 Secret Ad, 2005

The 1973 ad says:

How do you rate as a 1973 woman?

It used to be a man's world. But you've changed it. How much? Check a box for every yes. In the past year:

  • Have you taken an active part in an election campaign, bond issue, school budget, zoning question?
  • Have you expressed your opinion in areas where you used to just smile and nod agreement?
  • If you manage a home and family, does it upset you when someone says you're "just a housewife"?
  • Do you have -- or do you want -- a job in what was once considered a man's domain?
  • Do you pay more attention to news, comments, editorials?

The more "Yes" answers you have, the more involved, concerned and active you are. But now that you're tough enough to dish it out, you should be tough enough to take it. Frankly, you sweat. That's why you need an anti-perspirant that's tough enough to take it . . . Hour after Hour.

It fights odor and all 3 kinds of wetness. From heat, tension and exercise. That's powerful protection. Yet it has a new fragrance that tells you you're still utterly feminine. Hour after Hour. Protects against 3 kinds of wetness. So you dish it out. We're tough enough to take it.

The 2005 ad says:

My secret: I send myself flowers to make him jealous.

Our newest body sprays give you such a rush of long-lasting Lavender and Passion Flower freshness, you'll be tempted to pluck a handful.

See also these other ads from Mademoiselle for more context. It isn't that I feel nostalgic for the 1970s -- I was only a tot then, but I know it was no Herland -- but I would like to see some of this Hour after Hour kind of pride right about now. Irony and flippant humor are great, but so are sincerity and earnestness. UPDATE: I just discovered this list of Tips for Strength on Secret's site, which, much to my relief, makes the scale a little more balanced, though it lacks the agenda-like specificity of the 1970s ad.

I'd love to hear any other thoughts about this if you have them. If anything, these images can be a jumping-off point or prompt for further discussion.

As an aside, check out this ad for Chomsky's American Power & the New Mandarins from a 1969 issue of The Nation.

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Carnivals and Academy 2.0

I'm liking this Academy 2.0 idea a lot. I agree with Collin and Alex that more mashed-up, collaborative, networked, open source-style public peer production is going on every day. Collin already mentioned the Teaching Carnivals, but I want to go a little further with the whole idea of carnivals. A carnival, in case you hadn't heard this term before, is a collaborative effort to harness good, recent posts on a specific topic. For science, there's Tangled Bank, then there's the History Carnival, the Asian History Carnival, Carnivalesque for early modern history, the Philosopher's Carnival, the Skeptics' Circle, and the Carnival of Bad History. Each carnival consists of a list of links to posts that meet the criteria for the carnival. Usually the person who hosts the carnival provides a one-sentence description of the post.

What are these, if not distributed scholarly journals? It's true that they don't have length requirements and that they're not refereed...well, they're not refereed in the traditional sense of gatekeeping. The posts are still reviewed and commented upon, but in the comments sections of the blogs or on other blogs. Point is, carnivals are clearly intended to be scholarship, however informal, and their resemblance to scholarly journals should be noted. For example, here's one I'm excited about that's taking the resemblance to a new level: the newest Feminist Carnival, which is doing a special issue on 1970s feminist thought. From Sour Duck's Call for Submissions (sound familiar?):

Yes, there's a theme: 1970s feminist thought. However, this won't be a nostalgic look at "second-wave feminism". Oh no. I'm looking for pieces that engage with the themes and ideas of 1970s feminism, while applying them to current events, or looking to the future.

You might say it's a "1970s into 2000" Feminist Carnival issue.

Examples of topics to consider:

  • women and men in the workplace (e.g., creating an even playing field, and equal pay for equal work)

  • reproductive freedom (with the advent of "the pill") & sexual liberation ("sex is fun!")

  • healthcare reform (1970s feminists took on the medical establishment and effected significant change. What else needs to be changed? Can 1970s tactics prove effective again?)

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By the way, don't forget the next Teaching Carnival at Scrivenings. The 1970s into 2000 Feminist Carnival issue will appear on November 16, which is right around the time Scrivener will be posting the new Teaching Carnival.

Are you a better writer or speaker?

I like to ask people this question if we're just sitting around talking about nothing in particular. It's always interesting to hear everyone's answers, especially if they qualify them -- if they think they're MUCH better at one than the other -- and if they explain why they think this is the case. Most people say they're far better writers than speakers.

For my part, I think I'm a MUCH better speaker than I am a writer. I wonder how sending a speaking sample instead of a writing sample would go over?

So how about you? What are you better at, writing or speaking? Hey, and if you've read my academic writing and heard me give a talk, you're welcome to express your agreement or disagreement with my assessment.

Hesse "Persuading as Storytelling"

The following is a series of quotations from Douglas Hesse's article, "Persuading as storying: Essays, narrative rhetoric and the college writing course." (In Richard Andrews, ed. Narrative and Argument (pp. 106-117). Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1989.) Yes, that's 1989, and I'll admit, I hadn't happened upon it until just recently. But remember that commercial NBC used one summer to advertise their reruns? "If you haven't seen it before...it's new to you!" I don't have much to add, except that I hadn't thought about narrative and argument in such a closely aligned way before. I'm seeing some similarities to Burke's theory of form from "Psychology and Form" in Counter-Statement. But mostly I'm just impressed with the way Hesse so lucidly sets forth the debates about narrative's place in composition pedagogy. I'm curious to see what the rest of you think about it. Now for the quotations; the remainder of this post consists of Hesse's words only.

"my argument does not rest on narrative as 'an easier, first mode' for young writers. It does not rest on narrative as the best means for developing 'voice.' It does not rest on narrative as the best way to teach students the importance of detail. It does not rest on narrative as a way to introduce the concept of 'thesis' through an Aesop's-Fables-like attachment of meaning to experience. Instead, my argument for narrative rests on its function as a powerful persuasive strategy, one which derives force not from hierarchical logic but from the emplotment of propositions. To put this another way, I suggest shifting our attention from narrative as a type of proof to narrative as a form of argument. To put it a third way, I argue that the best classical account of the persuasive effect of narrative in non-fictional texts is not Aristotle's Rhetorica but his De Poetica, especially the Poetics as read by Paul Ricoeur. (p. 106)

"In the ongoing pedagogical battles between teaching experiential writing and teaching expository/rhetorical writing, champions of the latter make two main arguments. The first, an economic one, assumes the scarcity of personal narrative both in other academic settings and in that golden 'real world' of work after college. Storytelling is dismissed as a largely belletristic exercise that deprives students of writing more apparently susceptible to financial reward. The second, more serious challenge, comes from a different quarter. This charge is that overemphasizing narrative inhibits intellectual growth because it privileges a simplistic mode of cognition. Narrative is 'natural' or 'unavoidable,' the argument begins. Because we narrate all of the time yet we do not naturally construct systematic analyses and syntheses of written texts, the latter activities are more significant to college writing curricula. This argument lies beyond economics, its justification the loftier one of cognitive development. [. . .] Combined, these two arguments pose a serious challenge. If classroom narratives appear to bear no resemblance to real world writing (which often means writing directly susceptible to financial reward), and if writing them appears to contribute little to developing real world skills, what place do they have in writing classes, especially when aesthetic or personal growth rationales are out of favour? (p. 107)

"narrative does not equal autobiography"

I have reviewed the conventional wisdom regarding proof through storytelling. It boils down to two tenets: first, that the highest virtue a story in an expository writing class has is to recreate reality so faithfully that readers feel like 'they were there'; second, that when readers assign a meaning to experience faithfully told, that meaning should be stated or statable as a thesis -- that the story proves the thesis. (p. 108)

"essays with stories" -- story serves to prove or illustrate a point
"stories as essays" -- narration of events (Orwell "A Hanging")
"essays as stories" --
"(Note the distinction I'm making between stories as essays and essays as stories; the latter do not strictly consist of reported events of 'things that happened' in 'the real world', the relation of experience, for example. Rather, such essays are story-like in their form; they present propositions and report and exposition in a narrative form, this 'causing' that, so that the entire essay has the shape and, as I'll argue later, the persuasive force of story.)" (p. 109)

"to the extent that essays are emplotted they persuade by appealing to their readers' sense of well-formedness, both in their familiarity with stories, nurtured by their desire for concordance." (p. 112)

"Instead of action consisting of 'physical events as they happen in the world' -- in other words, what composition textbooks mean by 'narrative' as opposed to 'non-narrative' parts of essays -- action might be seen instead as movement and narrative as the creation of plot. We would do well, then, to consider the sense in which essays can be viewed as being emplotted, their propositions as events in the essay as story. When Orwell asserts, 'When the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys', he gives it a place in the essay as story. The stating of the proposition is an event caused, as it were, by prior events." (p. 113)

Coherence depends on the entailment of assertions, an orderly movement of mind reflected in a sequential interconnection of statements; readers perceive coherence when they perceive the force of a work's entailments (Knoblauch and Brannon 1984, pp. 70-2). An author, therefore, who is able to present something well-formed persuades largely by allowing the reader easily to perceive form. The power arcs between ethical appeal ('Here is someone who is able to form well, so what he says must be true') and the creation of something where there was nothing: 'Here is a constellation. Without a competing version, why should I doubt its existence?' Given the apparent primacy of narrative and story, what more compelling way to reveal form?" (p. 113)

"The power of narrative in essays comes from assertions offered in a shape that is attractive because it is so familiar. 'Story' is a form of narrative argument in the way that 'syllogism' is of logical."

"Argument by narrative draws its power from the reader's involvement in configuring a text."
"Encouraging narrativity in readers involves them in the enterprise of the essay. The result is a rhetorical advantage similar to the one that accrues with such strategies as 'showing, not telling.' Inviting, even forcing, the reader to construct a sense of order in the text makes him or her complicit with the writer. Power comes to writers when they give essays the shape of story because of a fundamental disposition we have toward stories. The rhetorical value of stories, then, is participatory, not logical." (p. 114)

"Writing teachers need to recognize the limitations of textbook depictions of narrative. In particular, we need to recognize that stressing the attachment of 'points' to stories neglects how a narrative may function less as a chunk of evidence than as a form of argument. We should discuss with students how stories can be used not only as bits of proof but also as means of transport, ways of getting readers from place to place, from idea to idea in essays." (p. 116)

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