Jenn Fishman and Patricia Fancher
Members of the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition and Conference on College Composition and Communication convention-goers are familiar with the Coalition’s annual Wednesday night sessions. Organized by the Coalition’s President, these two-hour events begin with scholarly presentations and conclude with mentoring tables. The former typically features three or four presenters who deliver short talks subsequently reprinted in Peitho. Over the years, presentation themes have varied, reflecting not only current issues in the field but also topics of particular interest to the Coalition’s President. In the last ten years alone, that list has included women’s historical contributions to civic discourse, women’s changing roles in the profession, past and present feminist research practices, strategies for writing and publishing, and feminist methods of mentoring.
The New Work Showcase departs from past practices at the same time it affirms the Coalition’s overarching purpose and priorities. A learned society “committed to feminist research throughout the history of rhetoric and composition,” the Coalition has a well-defined mission:
It aims to be a dynamic, intellectually challenging, and professionally nurturing space for teachers and scholars who are committed to defining or redefining what it means to do feminist historical work on topics and methodologies as wide ranging as pedagogical history to archival theory to embodiment in digital spaces. (“Our Mission”)
As a group, our strategies for enacting the Coalition’s mission are always evolving to engage fully with colleagues doing feminist work in our field. Most recently, in 2014, we expanded the Advisory Board and welcomed nine new members. That same year, for the Coalition’s 25th Anniversary Gala, President Elizabeth Tasker-Davis organized presentations that directly addressed issues of diversity and inclusion within the organization, and a vibrant Q&A session followed.
As part of these efforts, the call for New Work Showcase contributors issued more than an invitation to share emerging scholarship. Circulated widely in the months ahead of CCCC 2014, the call signalled the openness of both the Showcase and the Coalition. Indeed, all rhetoric and composition/writing studies scholars were invited to nominate one or more colleagues, and all rhetoric and composition/writing studies scholars were invited to help define “new work” in feminist research, histories of women, and studies of gender and sexuality in our field. That is to say, the call did not establish a limit set of eligible topics or methods and methodologies. Instead, it invited nominators and nominated scholars themselves to make a case for what constitutes new work in feminist research, histories of women, and studies of gender and sexuality in our field.
The format of the Showcase also called on everyone involved to reconsider their ideas about scholarship. Promising to trade sequential stand-and-deliver talks for gallery-style, synchronous and multimodal displays, the Showcase took its cue from Jacqueline Rhodes and Jonathan Alexander. In “Installation, Instantiation, and Performance” they argue “that the multimediated or performative installation might serve as a powerful way for conference-goers to experience our professional knowledge production as an embodied experience.” In the same piece, they elaborate:
“[I]nstallation rhetoric,” as we call it, reminds us that however focused our discipline is on language, communication, and speech, our work also has to do with the materiality of language, communication, and speech. Moreover, the installation serves as a provocative way to experience the meeting of language and bodies, and to recall the power of language in shaping and disciplining bodies. Such intervention, we hope, serves as a way to think about—and perhaps re-think—our work as pedagogues and as a profession.
Typically, at CCCC and other conferences we file into rooms filled with rows of chairs, and we sit with our bodies neatly arranged in relation to a designated speaker or speakers. We watch. We listen. We may or may not take notes or post to social media. We applaud, we strike up conversations with others around us, and then we go on to the next thing. In such settings, it is difficult to believe anything other than the illusion we are all having the same experience, even while we know no two audience members are taking in the same sights, smells, sounds, or information just as no two readers make the same meaning from any given text.
An example of installation rhetoric, the Showcase created an occasion for us to encounter new work and each other differently. For a group familiar with the interactivity of mentoring and the mentoring tables, the Showcase asked us to treat scholarship in a similarly participatory way. It also created an occasion rife with choices. Contributors had to decide how to mediate their projects, matching available forms of scholarly communication to their evidence and arguments. Likewise, everyone who attended the Showcase had to decide: Where do I start? How much time do I spend? Where do I go next? A true embarrassment of riches, the Showcase also foiled our desire to be comprehensive. Contributors could offer only a small slice of larger projects, while few if any audience members were able to visit all eleven displays.1
On screen, the Digital New Work Showcase invites a different set of choices. Through curation, the digital version of the Showcase remediates the CCCC installation, transforming the physical event into a virtual one with multiple means of engagement. Some readers will choose to proceed methodically along the left-hand navigation, moving from “About” to “Authors and Abstracts” and from there to individual Showcase pieces. Others will be drawn immediately to the images that fill the main page, where each logo embodies the subject and argument of the project it represents. Each logo also holds a hidden second layer, a short verbal description that appears as readers move their cursors over the images. Thus, while the physical showcase encouraged conference-goers to connect ideas and arguments by moving among the displays, the digital Showcase invites us to browse digitally, creating and recreating connections as we click, look, click, listen, click, watch, click, read, and click again.
Less a genre than a mode combining presentation with representation, remediation is not a remedy, nor is its function corrective, as though the temporality and temporariness of an installation must necessarily be fixed by fixing live content in time or setting it in the scholarly space of a publication. Instead, remediation, as we enact it here, operates as a means by which ten of the eleven New Work Showcase presenters can repeat their performances with all the many differences repetition across media entails. Instead of organizing interactions around artifacts on display, the Digital New Work Showcase features dozens of digital objects. It also experiments with the affordances for argument of different arrangements of alphanumeric text, images, and both audio- and audio-visual recordings. Finally, the curation enfolds varying digital objects and media forms into a cohesive and visually compelling interface that fosters connection among projects while also allowing each individual project to invite a unique mode of engagement.
The result is a series of immersive opportunities, which resist the scholarly reader’s impulse to step back, to seek critical distance from the work at hand. Using all available means, the Digital New Work Showcase works to draw us in, redolent with a rhetoric of care that is everywhere in evidence, as though each contributor is inviting us to share something precious about their work, something we will encounter again differently in their subsequent presentations of the same research.
The Digital New Work Showcase, like its conference counterpart, also invites us to make associations among projects, crisscrossing time and geography as well as media and methods. Both Heather Brook Adams and Erin M. Andersen invite readers directly into the archives—one oral, one textual—with minimal authorial narration. Rather than inserting themselves through commentary, they are present through design, giving us the opportunity to listen, look, and learn from others’ stories. At the same time, we learn ways of sharing access to archived histories more broadly. In turn, through digital storytelling strategies, Geghard Arakelian, Heather Branstetter, Erin Costello Wecker, and Patty Wilde invite readers backstage, so to speak. They bring us behind the scenes of direct oral and textual encounters with historical subjects to explore related theoretical frameworks. Focusing particularly on agency, sexuality, and gender, these scholars tell us stories and meta-stories that move us to expand our ideas about feminism as well as feminist histories and historiographies.
Contributors to this Showcase also call attention to the diverse communities feminist rhetors cultivate over time through different forms of critical discourse. Both Nicole Khoury and LaToya L. Sawyer welcome us into very different sites: the first decade of a landmark feminist journal and one recent eventful month in the Black feminist blogosphere, respectively. In her piece, Khoury immerses us in the lives of pioneering Arab feminist writers to challenge the widely held assumption that Arab countries lack both feminists and feminist traditions. Sawyer, by contrast, offers a much shorter snapshot in time. She captures thirty-one days of online Black feminist conversation about Beyoncé to challenge the perception of those exchanges as combative, demonstrating instead their constructive and community building impact. Working in a similar vein, both Lavinia Hirsu and Kathleen Livingston direct readers’ attention from the past and the present to the future. Hirsu does so through an infographic that artfully portrays the contributions feminist scholars have made so far to digital scholarship in the field of rhetoric and composition/writing studies and the need for more digital feminist scholarship in the years immediately to come. Similarly future-oriented, Livingston alerts us to our collective need for a greater understanding of consent. Drawing on LGBT and feminist community praxes, she challenges us to expand our understanding of consent through both the interactive workshop and related ‘zine she has devised.
Individually and together, then, the assembled texts do more than example new work: they operate as exemplars of the possibilities for new feminist scholarship in our field.
The New Work Showcase was a community effort that began with responses to our widely circulated call for nominations:
In 2015, the Coalition's annual Wednesday night session will be a showcase of new work designed to contribute to feminist and women's scholarship at any point along the historical continuum of rhetoric and composition. Nominees can be scholars at any career stage, from Master's candidates to emerita faculty, who have embarked on research or scholarship that is well-defined and well-underway, but also still emergent and largely uncirculated.
Three dozen scholars were nominated and invited to submit proposals, which were evaluated and ranked by an ad hoc committee of Advisory Board members, including Roxanne Aftanas, Risa Applegarth, Kirsti Cole, Cheryl Glenn, and Jane Greer. Ultimately, a dozen contributors were selected: Heather Adams, Erin M. Andersen, Geghard Arakelian, Heather Branstetter, Tamika Carey, Elaine Hayes, Lavinia Hirsu, Nicole Khoury, Kathleen Livingston, LaToya Sawyer, Erin Costello Wecker, and Patty Wilde. Everyone in this group was paired with a mentor drawn from the Coalition membership. Volunteers who served in this capacity include Roxanne Aftanas, Jeanne Bohannon, Kirsti Cole, Cheryl Glenn, Nan Johnson, Lisa Mastrangelo, Gwen Pough, Cristina Ramirez, Becca Richards, Becky Rickly, and Bo Wang.
Collectively, we owe great thanks to CCCC and 2015 Convention Chair Joyce Locke Carter for the wonderful space we had for the Showcase, and we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to CCCC Convention Director Eileen Maley. As a group, we have benefited tremendously over the years from from her kindness, attentiveness, and experience, and 2015 was no exception. We also benefited from the able on-site assistance provided by Erin Krampetz. She may serve by day as the Community Director of Ashoka U, but on the night of the Showcase she was our production director extraordinaire. Moving from installation to remediation, Natalie O’Brien worked closely with Trish, providing invaluable assistance and artistic talent.
It is also the case that, from start to finish, Coalition Secretary and Archivist Tarez Samra Graban offered not only essential support--editorial, administrative and otherwise--but also her typical genius. Without her able assistance and intense commitment, the kernel of the idea Jenn had been developing over several years could never have come to fruition, nor could Trish or any of the Showcase contributors have accomplished all they did without her.
To each and every person named here—and many, many more—we thank you, and we look forward to seeing you at the Coalition’s microworkshops and mentoring tables on Wednesday night at CCCC 2016.
- The New Work Showcase featured installations by the ten contributors whose projects are remediated here as well as Tamika Carey’s fine contribution, “I Apologize: What Rhetorical Missteps Reveal about the Risks of Contemporary Black Feminist Discourse.”
- Front page logos by Natalie O'Brien, 2015.
- Website CSS adapted from "Magnetic" template by Pixelhunt.com, 2014.
“Our Mission.” The Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition. Web. 11 July 2015.
Rhodes, Jacqueline and Jonathan Alexander. “Installation, Instantiation, and Performance.” CCC Online 1.1 (2012). Web. 15 July 2015.