My research in the field of Composition and Rhetoric investigates rhetorical practices and sites of rhetorical activity that are overlooked and/or undervalued. I see my scholarly projects as working in the tradition of queer and feminist scholarship focused on uncovering (or recovering) the values, possibilities, and disruptive potentials of ignored or illegitimated cultural practices. As part of this broader critical project, my work investigates the ways in which unrecognized and/or under-theorized rhetorical activity might aid us in better contextualizing the work and history of the field, might inform or help us better understand political and activist movements, and might allow more (or more diverse) voices to be heard in both disciplinary and extra-disciplinary conversations.
Below I have identified four arenas in which I plan to continue to developing this line of inquiry. As a researcher, I draw from and am comfortable using a diversity of research methodologies, and as can be seen below, I find equal value in theoretical and empirical approaches.
Composing the Discipline on Digital Platforms
My dissertation, Apologies for Cross Posting: Composing Disciplinary Conflicts and Affects on the WPA Listserv, makes a case for seeing the WPA listserv (WPA-L) as a dynamic but under-theorized site of disciplinary knowledge making. I see this project as my initial investigation of the role of professional listservs to the field of Composition and Rhetoric, and I hope to revise this project as a book. I imagine several future projects which will continue this work and might contribute to the book project or be separate articles inspired by this same dataset. While the dissertation provides a discourse analysis of specific moments in time on the WPA-L, I anticipate future projects designed to investigate themes or issues across the 22 year history of the list. Specifically, I am interested in studying debates about disciplinary identity on the WPA-L and how certain constituencies—specifically “students,” “graduate students,” and “two-year specialists”—have been constructed in that space.
In addition to discourse-based analyses of the WPA-L and other listservs, I plan to design a study to interview subscribers of the list about the social, profession, intellectual, and emotional functions served by the WPA-L. In this work, I am especially interested in the role that the WPA-L plays for “lurkers,” those individuals who actively read the listserv but do not contribute to it.
In addition to the WPA-L, I am interested in other digital platforms in which members of the discipline dialogue about issues concerning both the field and the broader culture. I imagine projects investigating the role of comment sections on Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle of High Ed, and other online trade publications, and I am also interested in the ways that members of the discipline construct their work, their students, and the discipline in more personal digital spaces, especially on Facebook and Twitter.
The Affects of the Discipline
Many of the online platforms mentioned above afford exciting possibilities for witnessing and inquiring into disciplinary affects. I am especially interested in the ways such spaces create the potential to observe conflict and hostility in-time in ways that are just not replicable in more traditional sites of disciplinary communication.
There are other contexts in which I am interested in exploring emotion, though. I am particularly interested in the role that negative emotions (especially feelings of failure, frustration, anxiety, and depression) shape the work of composing. In terms of theoretical work, I am interested in examining the extents to which we acknowledge (or, perhaps more likely, fail to acknowledge) the role of such emotions in the writing process and the work of teaching writing and administering writing programs.
Undervalued Rhetorical Forms/Pragmatics
My previous research with Marcus Meade on hyperbole in student writing has shown that students’ emotions, their feelings about the subjects they are investigating and the rhetorical situations in which they find themselves often have significant impacts on the texts they compose and the specific rhetorical moves they make. While our previous work has focused hyperbole (and exaggeration and overstatement) as often-maligned rhetorical moves made by students, our planned future work will investigate a phenomenon which might appear to be the exact opposite—hedging and hyper-qualification. Curiously, this opposite end of the certainty spectrum is also disciplined out of students and scripted as inappropriate for academic prose. Our project, tentatively titled “In Defense of Perhaps” reflects on the role of hedging and qualification in student and scholarly writing and the ethics of qualification and certainty in the culture more broadly.
In addition to investigating criticized rhetorical moves in the discourse of the classroom and the discipline, I am also interested in negative receptions of particular rhetorical moves in the broader public sphere. As an illustration of that interest, Shari Stenberg and I have planned to compose an article examining the rhetorical strategies of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential election, and our project is especially interested in the ways Clinton’s speech has been policed for both its perceived excessive forcefulness and its perceived overly tentativeness. Clinton’s speech is especially interesting to me because of her acknowledgement of labor and process towards goals, rather than the product-centered visions offered up by her opponents within and across party lines. This project is connected to a larger cultural interest in the policing of women’s language and feminist communicative strategies more broadly.