CCR 635: Advanced Research Practices · Uncategorized

Feminist Rhetorical Practices: 4 Hot Methodological Concepts

Whew! I told Tim and Kate that when you highlight something in the Acknowledgments section, you know it’s going to be a hot book. There are so many different things to talk about here, but I thought I would just take some time to hash out the four methodological concepts Royster & Kirsch present: critical imagination, strategic contemplation, social circulation, and globalization.

Critical imagination.

Critical imagination is “a critical skill in questioning a viewpoint, an experience, an event, and so on, and in remaking interpretive frameworks based on that questioning” (19). That is, critical imagination is an “inquiry tool” (20) for speculating about what we know and how we came to know it. It provides an opportunity to rethink and reexamine people who have gone unnoticed, places that have not been seriously explored, practices and conditions that have been overlooked, and genres that have not received careful consideration (72). This remaking presents a number of new opportunities for inquiry:

When we study women of the past, especially those whose voices have rarely been heard or studied by rhetoricians, how do we render their work and lives meaningfully? How do we honor their traditions? How do we transport ourselves back to the time and context in which they lived, knowing full well that is not possible to see things from their vantage point? How did they frame (rather than we frame) the questions by which they navigated their own lives? What more lingers in what we know about them that would suggest that we need to think again, to think more deeply, to think more broadly? How do we make what was going on in their context relevant or illuminating for the contemporary context? (20)

Critical imagination also presents opportunities for the classroom. When learning academic discourse, students are eager to gain traction in any way they can, which is often evident through hasty claims, opinions, and evidence. Kirsch describes critical imagination as a way to “encourage students to go out into the world, explore unlikely sources, be open to chance discoveries, and consider the relevance of seemingly irrelevant documents, artifacts, and encounters” (79). Similarly, Royster explains that critical imagination encourages students to set aside assumptions, to delay judgments, and “to engage in their inquiries fully but courteously and respectfully—even when they disagreed with or became uncomfortable with something that they were seeing or hearing” (80).

Strategic contemplation.

Strategic contemplation overlaps with critical imagination as it, too, focuses on withholding judgment and resisting hasty conclusions (85). Strategic contemplation differs from critical imagination, though, with its overt connections to both the body and to time. Strategic contemplation reclaims meditation, which requires “taking the time, space, and resources to think about, through, and around our work as an important meditative dimension of scholarly productivity” (21). It also splits the research process into two parts (or journeys). One is the journey in real-time, real-space, which involves going into a field site to see where the research subject lived (85). The second journey is more internal and reflexive, providing space for the researcher to engage with her own embodied experiences in order to reimagine rhetorical situations and events (89). By focusing on lived or embodied experiences, strategic contemplation moves toward a politics of location that accounts for sociohistorical contexts, cultural traditions, and the lived experiences of both research subject and researcher. This methodological concept presents the following lines of inquiry:

What do we notice when we stand back and observe? How do we imagine, connect with, and open up a space for the women—and others—we study? How does their work speak to our minds, our hearts, and our ethos? What is most prominent? What lingers at the margins? What can our own lived experience teach us? How do we respond to—and represent—historical subjects when we discover that we may not share their values or beliefs? How do we honor, or do justice to, those who no longer can speak back to us? How can an ethos of humility, respect, and care shape our research? How do past and present merge to suggest new possibilities for the future when we create time and space for contemplation, reflection, and meditation? (22)

In terms of the classroom, strategic contemplation has a lot to offer in terms of both reflection and embodiment. Kirsch asks her students “to be mindful, to pause, to reflect, to pay attention to the world around them without rushing to judgment, to be open to chance discoveries, to new ways of seeing the world” (93), which overlaps with her approach to critical imagination. Royster, on the hand, moves closer to the embodied aspect of strategic contemplation, asking her students to imagine rhetoric as a “whole-body experience” (95). In this way, rhetoric becomes something more than disembodied academic practices: “I asked them to think about their bodily responses to what they were reading and writing, the part of the body to which they thought a text was connecting or trying to connect: the head (logos), the heart (pathos), the backbone (ethos—as related to beliefs), or the stomach (ethos—as related to aesthetic pleasure or revulsion)” (95).

Social circulation.

Social circulation is a point of departure from the previous two methods. This concept centers on “connections among past, present, and futures in the sense that the overlapping social circles in which women travel, live, and work are carried on or modified [generationally] and can lead to changed rhetorical practices” (23). Part of what social circulation seeks to do is disrupt the dichotomy of the public domain of men versus the private domain of women (98). Instead of focusing on how women participated in either the public or the private domain, social circulation works as a metaphor “to indicate the social networks in which women connect and interact with others and use language with intention” (101). Influenced by Stuart Hall’s ideas of language as a privileged medium for creating circles of shared meanings, social circulation presents new questions about women’s use of language in social situations:

Where were the spaces in which women chose/were permitted to speak? What were their fora, their platforms, the contexts of their rhetorical performances? Who were their audiences? What were their concerns? What tools for interaction did they use? How did they construct their arguments? What were the impacts and consequences of their rhetorical performances? How were they trained? How did they convey legacies of action? 100-01

Social circulation also prompts us to imagine new ways of positioning the reader in relation to new forms of texts as rhetorical sites, subjects, contexts, and practices  shift (108). Kirsch argues that this is an important opportunity to pay attention to, and appreciate, different reading practices (108). Royster argues that this is an opportunity to reflect on how place literacy and rhetorical education in social circulation within our classrooms: “We have the privilege and power of helping our students to liberate themselves as thinkers and self-defined users of language in full understanding that a liberation process does indeed mean, in effect, that we set in motion a process of casting “bread on the water” and creating circles of response—social circulations—the outcomes of which we might never be able to imagine—nor should be able to” (109).


Lastly, globalization differs most from the other methodological concepts, not necessarily because it’s underdeveloped so much as it isn’t developed quite as clearly—maybe because it is the one they suggest needs the most attention. Royster & Kirsch argue that feminist rhetorical scholars are actively moving toward “better-informed perspectives of rhetoric and writing as global enterprise; rescuing, recovering, and (re)inscribing women rhetors both distinctively in locations around the world and across national boundaries; and participating in the effort to recast perspectives of rhetoric as a transnational, global phenomenon rather than a Western one” (25). Though this movement doesn’t reflect intellectual dominance in the field, Royster & Kirsch argue that it does reflect presence (121). That is, people are interested in engaging with global feminist rhetorical studies, and scholars are using frameworks that connect feminist, rhetorical, and global studies (125). The challenge, then, is not necessarily a lack of research interest, but perhaps a lack of classroom application and an uncertainty of how to measure and value global knowledge:

How then do we explore the experiences of others without the encumbrances of our own cultural and linguistic prisms? How do we recast what we know in the face of the expanded scope of the unknown terrains before us? How do we create linkages between local and global points of view, knowledge, experience, achievement? Do the shifting paradigms of feminist rhetorical studies offer more-generative springboards as we search for new questions, gather data that may look different and actually be different, search for other ways to consider these data, and pursue an enhanced sense of rhetorical value? 127

Royster & Kirsch optimistically look toward the classroom, as part of the “world in us,” to think about some of these questions. They suggest trying to recognize and respect the globality that exists within our classrooms, “seeking more deliberately to gain experience in connecting internal globality (the world in us) to external globality (us in the world), as we tack out to other geopolitical locations” (128).


  • Were there particular methodological concepts that y’all were more or less drawn to? that you see yourself enacting or engaging with in your own research or teaching? Were there (aspects of) any that seemed impractical or more difficult to incorporate into our research or classroom practices?
  • When discussing strategic contemplation, Royster & Kirsch write, “In more recent years, any considerations of deliberately taking time away from the relentless march of making progress in the completion of a scholarly project—short of dramatic and often traumatic life experiences—have not been viewed as strength moves for serious scholars” (86). In the beginning, Royster writes that Traces of a Stream took 17 (!) years to complete. How do we find time to take on these types of projects? As graduate students, how can we engage with strategic contemplation in our own work? Or, how can we incorporate it into the 15-week space of a writing classroom?
  • For each methodological concept, Royster & Kirsch graciously give us some insight into their own pedagogical practices. We don’t really see that same attention in the globalization chapter, though. Does that just speak to the difficulties of bringing global practices into Western classrooms?
  • This is only slightly related, but how did y’all see their organizational framework of rhetorical assaying relating to, or departing from, these methodological concepts? How important was the geographical metaphor for the methodological discussion?

Royster, Jacqueline Jones, and Gesa E. Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2012. Print.


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