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Zdenek, Sean. Centering Disability Studies in Composition and Technical Communication. CE, May 2020. Posted 08/28/2020.

Zdenek, Sean. “Transforming Access and Inclusion in Composition Studies and Technical Communication.” College English 82.5 (2020): 536-44. Print.

Writing in a special edition of College English on “Transdiciplinary Connections in Composition Studies and Technical and Professional Communication,” Sean Zdenek argues for the transformational effects of disability studies on issues of access and inclusion in both fields. Zdenek cites scholarship from both composition studies (CS) and technical and professional communication (TPC) to argue that they share the goal of moving beyond both “add-and-stir” methods of addressing disability and the view of access as synonymous with “consumption” (537, 539). Central to both areas, Zdenek proposes, is disruption of norms in which disability is the marked condition to be accommodated as an individual problem.

Central to critiques in both CS and TPC is the common practice of dealing with disability as an “add-on” or “afterthought” rather than as a basic foundation for access. Rather, in this view, disability should be a governing principle addressed “from the start” (537). Scholars cited by Zdenek see inclusion of disability studies as a “bridge” between TPC and CS because it speaks to crucial concepts inherent in rhetorical interactions, such as “adaptation, creativity, community, interdependency, technological ingenuity and modal fluency” (Tara Wood et al., qtd. in Zdenek 538).

Zdenek finds “theoretical foundations” for centering disability studies in the work of CS scholars who focus not just on the need to improve inclusion but more importantly on the importance of reimagining the “norms” and assumptions governing questions about access (537). Brewer et al. advocate for “a culture of access,” citing the Computers and Composition Digital Press and the Composing Access Project as examples of how such a culture could develop (538). TPC, Zdenek writes, can provide “practical interventions” and “expertise in workplace practices and interface design” (536), which he believes should align with CS’s values as the field moves beyond the classroom and embraces understandings of communication beyond the “printed page” (538).

Both fields, he argues, can find transformation through centering disability studies; for example, TPC, he says, tends to imagine “users” as able-bodied and to tacitly endorse an untenable “hierarchy” separating “‘normal’ and ‘assistive’ technology” (539). Zdenek quotes Jason Palmeri to argue that in fact, “all technologies are assistive” (qtd. in Zdenek 539).

Zdenek traces extant “overlap” between TPC and CS on issues of more inclusive access and encourages collaborative research into these topics (539-40). Important to both fields is the “consumer/producer binary” in which enabling participation is overshadowed by strategies to facilitate passive consumption. A disability-centered focus, in this view, would foreground the need to make communicative action easier for all users. Zdenek contends that TPC can offer CS effective critiques of technology as well as “interventions grounded in rhetorical and design principles that strive to build more accessible digital media and user experiences” (540).

In Zdenek’s view, disability studies has resisted critiquing “computer technology” (540). He suggests practices in TPC that further such critique while building the culture of access, such as “perform[ing] usability studies with diverse users” and “interven[ing] . . . through web accessibility audits and digital retrofitting,” among other practices (540-41). More inclusion of people with disabilities at all levels of research and participation, in Zdenek’s view, is essential to these efforts (541).

As an examples of an area he sees as a space for research and collaboration, Zdenek cites “caption studies,” which he argues “cuts across and unites our diverse fields” (541). Similarly, he proposes attention to the challenges of producing adequate “alt-text” and “image recognition projects,” which he sees as driven by the “values of automation, efficiency, surveillance, profit, and ableism” (541).

Ultimately, he contends, critical disability studies should be a “methodology” that is “not (exclusively) a study of disabled people” (Sami Schalk, qtd. in Zdenek 542), but rather a theoretical approach that centers the reduction of stigmatization and bias. CS and TPC, Zdenek writes, “are more alike than different” in their commitment to this goal (542).

 

 


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Johnson, June. Teaching the Literature of Witness. CE, Mar. 2020. Posted 06/27/2020.

Johnson, June. “Overcoming Reader Resistance to Global Literature of Witness: Teaching Collaborative Listening Using The Devil’s Highway and What is the What.College English 82.4 (2020): 351-80. Print.

June Johnson writes about the pedagogical challenges of using the “literature of witness” to engage readers’ emotional responses to suffering and injustice in the lives of people different from them.

Citing scholars Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Johnson lists the features of “literature of witness” as

a first-person narrator’s account of suffering and survival, the obligation to tell the stories of the dead, and grounding in cultural and geographic specifics. (353)

The goal of teaching this literature, in Johnson’s view, involves developing readers’ ability to care about strangers and recognize similarities of humanity, without, at the same time, “either subsuming cultural differences within our own cultural frames or accentuating them” (352). Paradoxically, Johnson writes, efforts to engage emotional empathy may exacerbate resistance and even trigger hostility to the sufferers readers encounter in these texts.

For Johnson, citing Martha Nussbaum, narrative writing and literature are the means best suited to draw out emotional responses (351). In the case of literature of witness, the effort to gain empathy through storytelling is “justify[ed]” by “the genre’s outcomes in the world” as attitudes and behavior change; as a result, Johnson considers these texts to have “an overtly persuasive purpose” (353).

Drawing on work within language studies on the role of emotions in decision-making and attitudes as well as in fields such as cognitive psychology and theories of critical reading and “collaborative rhetoric,” Johnson also turns to Krista Ratcliffe’s concept of “cultural logic” to explore the ways in which readers may resist the emotional force of works like literatures of witness (352). Noting that a cultural logic, in Ratcliffe’s words, is “a belief system or shared way of reasoning within which a claim may function” (qtd. in Johnson 354), Johnson examines ways in which these cultural logics may limit readers’ responses to the stories of suffering presented in the specifically situated accounts of refugees, immigrants, and others whose accounts challenge the preconceived assumptions of developed Western societies.

One form of resistance, in Johnson’s view, is “Shock and Fascination Followed by Patronizing Dismissal” (354). Readers may experience a “voyeuristic response” to horrors that seem unimaginable, then move on to cast such horrors as distant and irrelevant in their own lives. Geographical areas where suffering takes place can be seen as needing to “work their way out of their problems” on their own in order to emulate more “developed” countries (355).

Citing scholars studying efforts to ameliorate global suffering, Johnson identifies a second form of response: “Sadness and Indignation Followed by Emotional Overload and Helplessness” (355). In these cases, readers are overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and “retreat into emotional self-protection” when no solutions are offered or seem possible (357).

Finally, readers may experience “Fear and Defensiveness Followed by Denial and Retrenchment” (357). In this dynamic, Johnson contends, issues of national security and economic well-being compound with protectiveness over identity to shift attention to questions of responsibility, as members of privileged societies resist blame for others’ suffering (358).

In order to alleviate the effects of these resistances, Johnson writes, respondents must fundamentally change, and she posits “collaborative listening” (354), practices that draw on work by Carl Rogers, Peter Elbow, Donna Qualley, Krista Ratcliffe, and sociologist Robin DiAngelo (353-54). To guide students into these “rigorous listening” experiences (358), she proposes teaching two specific texts, Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway and Dave Eggers’s What is the What.

The Devil’s Highway recounts a non-fiction border tragedy in the form of a postmodern novel: a desert march by 26 Mexican migrants, 14 of whom died on the journey. Johnson argues that rhetorical features of syntax and structure immerse readers in transformative identity challenges in ways that traditional narrative strategies may fail to do (359). In her view, the text induces collaborative listening via such moves as a “disorienting narrative structure” that requires readers to “struggle to make sense of the text as the characters struggle to make sense of a journey” (361).

She writes further that the text creates “shifting character identities” with postmodern juxtapositions of characters including Border Patrol agents and “coyotes” or smugglers as well as the migrants (363). Dialogic narrative includes a shift to second-person through which she writes that readers are “[c]aught off guard” and “place[d] . . . directly into the shoes of the walkers”; this shift, Johnson claims, undercuts what Carl Rogers called “our very natural tendency to judge” (qtd. in Johnson 360). In Rogerian fashion, Johnson contends, the text also “listen[s] to” readers’ concerns and further opens a space for engagement (364; emphasis original).

Johnson also defines Eggers’s book as “postmodern narration” that “teaches collaborative listening” (366). The full title is What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, A Novel; Deng, a refugee from civil war in Sudan, worked with Eggers over many years, deciding with him that “a shift to fiction” with Deng as the first-person narrator would be most effective in conveying Deng’s story (366). Johnson writes that a “fragmented narrative” that moves forward and backward in time in recounting events from 1987 to 2004, from Deng’s experiences in the Second Sudanese Civil War to his life as a refugee in America, emphasizes the “unknowableness” of these experiences for Western readers (Elizabeth Twitchell, qtd. in Johnson 367). In Johnson’s view, this radical difference undercuts tendencies toward “ethnocentric representation traps of racial privilege and cultural superiority” (367). Instead, she believes it encourages us to collaborate in the search for “agency and meaning” (368).

The text also focuses on the irony that Deng’s search for safety in the United States led him to become a crime victim as well as a victim of cultural oppression (369), undercutting what Michelle Peek calls the “rhetoric of rescue and promise” in which Western readers might find solace (368). Johnson also explores the use of direct address to other “narratees, “ such as the young man guarding Deng while his apartment was robbed; for Johnson, Deng exhibits a “listening” stance that acknowledges readers and their views (370). She also argues that his “reflexive grappling with his subjectivity” over the course of the novel disrupts readers’ attempts to construct a familiar identity for the narrator, thus inviting understanding of the instability of comforting assumptions (372).

Johnson suggests low-stakes practices such as free-writes, journals, or letters to self that teachers can use to introduce students to difficult texts like the literature of witness. These activities should encourage students in:

(1) creating probing dialogues with self that address positionality; (2) curbing judgments and revising assumptions by living with/in multiple perspectives; and (3) embracing ongoing reflexivity that focuses on open listening as a rhetorical stance and an ethical choice. (373)

 

 


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Crawford et al. Public Memory, Hope, and Rhetorical Education. CE, Jan. 2020. Posted 03/29/2020.

Crawford, Anne E., Peyton Galloway, and Jane Greer. “Drawing Hope from Difficult History: Public Memory and Rhetorical Education in Kansas City.” College English 82.3 (2020): 255-80. Print.

Anne E. Crawford, Peyton Galloway, and Jane Greer present an upper-level English course, “Rhetorics of Public Memory,” taught at an “urban research university” in Missouri prior to the March 2018 College Composition and Communication convention in Kansas City, Missouri (256). Materials from the course were exhibited at the convention as a series of panels titled Deconstructing the Divide: Rhetorical Activism in Kansas City (264). The exhibit was also displayed at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center on the authors’ university campus and at other educational venues (256). The resulting article recounting the development of the exhibit has been co-authored by Greer, instructor of the course, and two undergraduates who took part (256). Each author presents her experiences in a dedicated section of the article.

Crawford et al. write that an important exigency for the course and the exhibit was a 2017 NAACP travel advisory citing the need for African Americans to be cautious while in Missouri because of a “series of questionable, race-based incidents occurring statewide recently” (qtd. in Crawford et al. 255). Greer, as the instructor, was moved to ask how a college rhetoric course could address the troubled moment. The resulting course drew on scholarship on public memory and its relationship to “hope” to provide students with opportunities to develop their rhetorical skills while also examining their own situated engagement with their home city (256, 258).

The authors contrast studies of public memory with the study of history by citing Carole Blair’s distinction between history’s “legitimacy based on research norms” and public memory’s “overtly political and emotionally invested” nature (qtd. in Crawford et al. 257). Further review of research in English studies and in college classrooms grounds the authors’ claim that “public memory is a profoundly rhetorical enterprise” and thus a rich topic for rhetorical pedagogy (257).

Drawing on part of Stephen Browne’s definition of public memory as “a shared sense of the past” (qtd. in Crawford et al. (257), the authors note that this shared sense can be “created” for specific purposes (257); they develop a relationship between public memory and “hope” through the work of scholars like Stephen Fishman (drawing on John Dewey) and Paula Mathieu by arguing that despite its attention to the past, public memory serves to remind audiences of their connectedness to others and to engage them in dialogue that often serves as a “provocation” to become involved themselves (258, 261Fr). They cite Fishman’s claim that “for Dewey, hope always arises in the context of anxiety and potential despair” and is inspired by a belief intrinsic to public memory that “things could have been otherwise” and that people have agency to effect change (260). Because of its rhetorical nature, public memory becomes a shared activity that engenders the “fundamentally communal project” of encouraging hope (259).

The course exhibit made use of the relationship between public memory and hope both by reminding viewers of past injustices and also by enhancing public memory of activism that addresses these injustices. The course itself was a reprise in response to the NAACP advisory of one taught over nine years by Greer. As the instructor, she drew on Mathieu’s advice to create a “project orientation” rather than a “problem orientation” because student efforts could not realistically solve the major systemic injustices involved. Rather, the intent of the project reflected the approach advanced in Freeman Tilden’s Interpreting Our Heritage, which Greer identifies as “widely influential” in guiding “public historians, park rangers and tour guides.” Greer writes that Tilden sees the purpose of public memory not as instruction or persuasion but instead as a means of “spur[ring] ongoing engagement between the exhibit’s audience and the material being presented” (263).

The students drew on award-winning exhibits for models. From a 2016/2017 exhibit by university history students came the plan of designing freestanding panels that could be transported to multiple venues. From the curator of interpretation of an exhibit at the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, with which Greer has partnered, students learned the importance of personal stories to generate immediacy (262). Greer details the multitudinous archives the students searched in order to collect “nearly fifty items/artifacts” relevant to “education, injustice, and activism” in Kansas City’s past (263). She notes that students’ interest expanded from attention to national figures usually associated with activism to “local stories” showing how “resistance,” “resilience,” and “creativity” can be used by lesser-known individuals from their own communities (263).

Students determined that Deconstructing the Divide would create separate sections to address “literacy activism, legal activism, and embodied activism” (264). Smaller groups of students worked on each section. Crawford worked with others on the opening panels (268), while Galloway participated in constructing the closing section (273).

Panels on literacy activism featured a Black women’s book club and a student poet at the only high school offering African Americans educational opportunities in 1918 (264). Legal activism encompassed a challenger to segregated graduate studies at the University of Missouri in the 1930s and a teacher who worked with students in their homes rather than at their unsafe school (264). Embodied activism highlighted students who demonstrated during civil unrest following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Chicano/a students who organized a walkout to underscore the needs of multicultural and multilingual students (265).

Detailing her participation in the creation of the opening panels, Crawford posits that a “sentimental view” of her home city led her to become “perhaps complacent” as she failed to “appreciate the complexity of the history I had inherited” (267). She recounts the impact of images from the 1968 civil unrest, in which students in familiar locations confronted police in gas masks (267-68). She writes that the opening panels were intended to remind viewers of past injustice while pointing toward the activists included in the other panels (270).

Galloway writes of the revisions required to avoid “creat[ing] a false sense of unity among the preceding panels or to oversimplify” Kansas City’s past (273). The group moved from “imperative statements . . . in the second-person singular (you)” to images of a prominent building that they decided presented “too simplistic a story of progress” (273). The panels as finally completed noted “current social justice organizations” and an example of a communal effort that resulted in historical preservation and neighborhood revitalization (274). Galloway recounts responses via social media and in-person conversations that attested to the exhibit’s effects (274).

Both students report finding personal connections to their city’s past and present as well as renewed hope for the future. Citing the many rhetorical skills involved in creating such a complex exhibit, the authors emphasize the importance of public memory work as an act of forward-looking engagement, the goal of which is

not to present a definitive argument about the past, but to provoke and energize ongoing dialogue about what that future might be. (277)


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Obermark, Lauren E. “Misfitting” and Disability in English Graduate Studies. Nov. 2019 CE. Posted 01/28/2019.

Obermark, Lauren E. “Making Space for the Misfit: Disability and Access in Graduate Education in English.” College English 82.2 (2019): 173-203. Print.

Lauren E. Obermark examines the English graduate school experience through the lens of disability studies, incorporating the concept of the “misfit” to analyze responses to a survey she conducted at the “midsize regional public university” (179) where she is an assistant professor.

She reports that her own graduate education, where she regularly felt she “did not fit the graduate school mold” (173), aroused her interest in issues of access in English graduate programs like the one she attended and the one in place at her institution. To key concepts of access and disability, Obermark adds “wonder,” which she draws on Tanya Titchkosky to define as “a multipronged and exploratory orientation” (177) that can be “uncomfortable” because it is “outward-facing and change-focused” (178). She describes her survey as an act of wonder; her grounded-theory approach to the responses leads her to conclude that many assumptions underlying common models of graduate education create unacknowledged “pedagogical misfits” and diminish access in these programs (176).

Disability scholarship leads Obermark to argue for understanding disability studies as a form of inquiry into concerns that affect everyone as these studies consider how the “collaboration and interdependence” that improve conditions for people with disabilities can enhance everyone’s lives (176). Such an approach, she contends, makes questions about access “generative” rather than casting access as a way of correcting a specific problem through “accommodations” that can create more obstacles than they remove (174, 193-94).

Noting that institutions implement procedures that attempt to resolve access problems, Obermark describes many such efforts as part of a “disability bypass,” which renders people needing different forms of access invisible as their needs have supposedly been met. In graduate schools, she argues, this bypass takes the form of insistence that no student succeeding in academia meets the definition of disabled (182). Obermark’s survey examines the ways she believes the university and the students alike bypass or deny the existence of students for whom extant forms of access mean struggle (181).

For the concept of “misfitting,” Obermark turns to the scholarship of Elisabeth L. Miller and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. Quoting Garland-Thomson, Obermark writes that “a misfit is a result of incongruence or ‘awkward’ juxtaposition” and therefore “does not imply a problem with the environment or with an individual” (177). A premise that emerges from the survey data is that misfits occur when established norms are wrongly assumed to work well for everyone. In Obermark’s view, such misfitting can affect access, especially as it often goes unnoticed (177).

Obermark’s institution offers an MA and an MFA, which feature many overlapping classes for students working toward a number of goals, such as credentialing for their secondary teaching jobs or preparing for PhD work. Of the ninety-five students offered the survey, thirty-two participated(179). Opening questions asked about the “most common in-class approach and the most common assignment” in the students’ experiences (183). By wide margins, students reported that whole-class discussion was the most common approach and an academic essay the most common assignment (183).

From open-ended comments, Obermark concludes that many students question whether the class discussions really serve either the learners or the course goals as effectively as they might (184). Student comments note the tendency for a few students with strong oral skills to control discussion, in one case describing this environment as “repetitive and even a bit intimidating for those not ‘in the loop’” (184). Another called such discussions “unstructured and random” and not clearly aligned with assigned materials (185). A student who found the reading challenging wrote that the discussion did not provide the access to the material that she needed (185).

Student comments about the essay assignments, in Obermark’s view, constitute “a deeply enculturated essay allegiance,” with students contending that only the traditional essay correctly showcases graduate-level skills (188). Obermark counters that much recent scholarship in digital and multimodal communication suggests that a wider range of options might be fruitful (188).

For Obermark, students’ sense that they are expected to succeed in these situations even if they are not comfortable with them suggests that students have internalized a message that those for whom the accepted process is not the best fit are not actually “fit” for graduate school (185). She characterizes “reverse accommodation” as a common assumption on students’ parts that it is “their job to figure out and work through” any issues they encounter with the teaching methods considered the norm (190; emphasis original). Rather than questioning how the norms could change, Obermark argues that students see adaptation as their only recourse. The ability, in the words of one respondent, to “just muddle through and figure it out on our own” is seen as the duty of a graduate student in English by students and professor alike (191). Misfitting, in this view, is the misfit’s fault.

Maintaining with other disability scholars that “accommodation” is not “access,” Obermark argues that accommodation as generally provided “requires a great deal of emotional labor from students,” making it their responsibility to inform and educate their instructors individually about their needs, thus “reliev[ing] the professor (or the institution) from making a wider change” (192-93).

For Obermark, the students’ struggles to accommodate the traditional academic assumptions raise the question of what the field of English studies really wants. She responds to “water cooler” assertions that graduate school should be rigorous and the material difficult with the contention, quoting Anne-Marie Womack, that “The way to teach difficult material well is always to make it more accessible” (194). The failure to provide this access leads Obermark to wonder whether the field “really want[s] [graduate education] to be accessible or inclusive in meaningful ways” (195).

Acknowledging that colleagues may see student struggles as “an ongoing reality” (195), Obermark asks questions about her respondents’ attitudes toward disability. She reports that for students currently teaching, learning about disability issues makes them more aware, not just of specific disabilities, but also of difference and diversity generally in their own classrooms (196). Such awareness, she contends, suggests that the teachers acknowledge their responsibility to change rather than requiring their students to adjust when their fit to norms is not perfect (196).

Obermark writes that examining how graduate students manage their fit in current graduate-school culture might encourage an open-ended and ongoing conversation, perhaps triggering small changes in the pedagogical practices that are often taken for granted (195). She offers examples of alternative practices that can welcome other ways of learning rather than promulgating what she considers a “take it or leave it” message (177), which she believes drives students out of graduate programs when they perceive that their abilities are not those the field requires. Thus, in her view, awareness of misfitting is a step toward creative thinking: improving access generates new approaches that she believes enhance access for everyone.


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Canagarajah, Suresh. A History of Orientations to Text. CE, Sept. 2019. Posted 11/24/2019.

Canagarajah, Suresh. “Weaving the Text: Changing Literacy Practices and Orientations.” College English 82.1 (2019): 7-28. Print.

In a special issue of College English, “Reorienting to the Text,” Suresh Canagarajah’s guest editor essay explores the reference to “weaving” in the etymology of “text” to trace a progression of attitudes toward texts in academic and intellectual circles since the advent of alphabetic writing. He writes that these attitudes have tended to produce binaries like “orality versus writing,” “community versus artifact,” and “mobility versus stability,” among others (8). Approaches that Canagarajah groups under “modernist literacy,” he states, valued the second binaries in this list, while later orientations shifted the focus to the initial concepts (8).

Cautioning that the history of text is not a linear path to “an enlightened conclusion” (8), Canagarajah writes that modernist literacies result from what he calls the “Great Divide” that divorced oral and written communication, privileging the written because of its supposed “transparent meanings” and permanence (7). Under the heading “Autonomous Literacies,” Canagarajah discusses various approaches to text that focus on its claim to convey stable meanings across contexts to those able to receive those meanings (9-10). He sees this approach deriving from the Enlightenment’s “orientation to reality” because such an orientation “transform[ed] experience into manageable and abstract information” (10). Similarly, colonization worked to silence disruptive local or unsanctioned communication, and the need of religion to manage ideas required official language represented as incontrovertible (10).

Canagarajah points to the New Criticism as an example of adherence to this view of text as separate from author and context (10). However, in the 1970s, he writes, an “ethnographic bent” led scholars to challenge the claim that texts could produce meaning not influenced by the social circumstances in which they functioned (11). Scholars like Shirley Brice Heath produced work that Canagarajah classifies as “Social Literacies,” which examined how the diverse contexts in which language was both constructed and interpreted was shaped by a “text’s social functions” (11). Inherent in this literacy was a recuperation of spoken communication, which was seen as “complementary” to writing (11). Meanwhile, interest in “new literacies” deriving from multimodal practices drove attention to “vernacular” literacies (12).

Canagarajah writes that this social turn retained a view of the community itself as “homogeneous,” tending to respond to a particular “bounded object” like a text in uniform ways (12). Reaction to this tendency led to attention to the effects of power, even within communities, on the dissemination and uptake of texts (12). This turn advanced “critical literacy,” which, in turn, paved the way for the “social-constructionist orientation” (12).

Social-constructionism, Canagarajah writes, may have been equally sanctioned by the sense of loss of agency and control occasioned by late capitalism. The social-constructionist move to reduce the social, the material, and the effects of power to textual representation may have produced “greater order, coherence, and control over life” (13). This “textual turn,” as Canagarajah calls it, means that the force of the text itself is replaced by the interpretations with which it is received across divergent contexts. There is no constant meaning; power resides in the reader, whose ideology, in turn, is formed not by any exterior reality but by earlier texts: “That is, our knowledge and interpretations are a chain of unending texts” (13). As a result, texts are not seen as “reflecting social practices and material life,” but rather as “constructing” them (14; emphases original). Returning to the metaphor of weaving, Canagarajah writes that in this turn, society and text became interwoven so that complex social threads could be deciphered in texts, with the result that nothing existed outside text (14).

He characterizes a new turn as a “mobility turn” engendered by the degree to which world events “bled outside the text” (14). The need to address the reception and uses of texts by widely divergent communities across multiple borders led, in his view, to a rejection of the idea of “bounded communities” and to a conception of society as composed of “liminal contact zones” (16) where people with different ideologies and needs interact. The “traveling text,” in this view, can be appropriated endlessly, with consequent ethical implications for such repurposing (15-16). “Recontextualization” captures ways in which power-relations within contact zones can be revised as texts are taken up for new uses; “entextualization” refers to the ways in which speech can become text as it is taken up and embedded across divergent spaces (17): “It is as if the textual fabric gets rewoven with new threads every time people wear it” (17).

Canagarajah next examines a “material turn” that heralds enhanced awareness of the ways that context and physical objects have agency and impact the production of texts (18). In this view, texts are one object among many that construct meaning. Ancillary to this approach is the “recuperat[ion]” of “the agency of the textual artifact” itself as an object acting on contexts it encounters (17). Scholarship noted “performative” aspects of text/materiality interactions, with the activities involved in meaning making replacing the product as central to production and use (18-19). This emphasis, in Canagarajah’s view, underlines the “unpredictability” and expansiveness of texts in the world and reveals the ways in which experiences with texts are “mulitisensory,” with aspects that are “affective, aesthetic, imaginative, and social” (20).

Canagarajah notes the role of technology as a material actor, using the hashtag as an example of the kind of entextualization that emerges as meaning builds and shifts from activities within a “whole network working together” (21): rather than crediting a single author, such entextualization sees meaning as “coconstructed in the doing” (21). For participants, creating text becomes an “everyday practice” (22).

Such approaches to textuality, Canagarajah argues, call into view prior literacies that practiced texts as embodied and social and that were erased by Western culture (22). He uses his own Tamil heritage to explore how a single text, preserved orally, drew its significance from performance in varied settings across time: “The transcribed version was not the full ‘text’”; rather, the emotional experience engendered by encountering the text in specific material, social, and affective moments gave the text its meaning (23).

After summarizing the contents of the special issue, Canagarajah contends that movement from autonomous literacy to the fluidity and expansiveness of the material turn does not guarantee “more inclusive and democratic literacies” (26). The resources that permit coproduction of meaning, in his view, also serve interests that may wish to hide their own agendas. As a counter to this danger, Canagarajah argues that “critical intervention” remains possible because “[n]o one can control the weaving of the text” (26).


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Elbow, Peter. Text and Time. CE, Sept. 2019. Posted 11/07/2019.

Elbow, Peter. “We’ll Sing Like Birds in a Cage: Text and the Dream of Eluding Time.” College English 82.1 (2019): 29-40. Print.

Contributing to an issue of College English dealing with the relationship between literacy studies and “text,” Peter Elbow explores the implications of different lenses we can use to look at language: speech, writing, composition, and text.

He prefaces his piece with a quote from the Greek philosopher Anaximander of Miletus regarding the boundedness of human activities by time and a sections from a poem, “As I Walked Out One Evening,” by W. H. Auden. Elbow later quotes two lines of this poem: “O let not Time deceive you,/You cannot conquer Time” (37). His article addresses the ties among the four lenses and human attitudes toward time.

Elbow maintains that writing itself arose from the need to cross from the embodied actions of speech to the more distanced communication of the written symbol. All writing systems, he contends, owe their existence to the use of rebuses, “visible pictures that represent audible sounds” (30). He illustrates the use of the rebus technique to convert an abstract word like “belief” into writing through images of a bee and a leaf, then goes on to trace the transition from using the meanings of the pictures to using their initial sounds to represent phonological sounds; thus, the Semitic word aleph, meaning “ox,” led to a drawing of an ox’s head that represented the initial sound of the word and that came to be the letter A (31).

In Elbow’s view, “writing” retains the connection to the embodied through its invocation of the physical actions and environments associated with putting marks on page or screen. However, he states, as writing studies aspired to academic standing, the implication of the “ordinary” and “everyday” inherent in “writing” no longer served and practitioners sought “a fancier word” (32). “Composition,” denoting something that Elbow claims no ordinary person ever sat down to write, does at least, in his estimate, capture the “process” involved in writing (32). However, Elbow claims, “composition” soon became ordinary in its own right and succumbed to an even more erudite term, “text.”

Elbow provides definitions for the three lenses. Text “foregrounds writing as a transaction of pure meaning” that “disconnects writing from persons, bodies, sound, time” (33). The writing lens, in contrast, evokes writing as “action by humans taking place in time,” while composition “ties writing to the classroom,” where it is “an exercise—not the real thing” (34; emphasis original). Elbow discusses a tension between seeing writing as private in that most of what people write, in drafts for example, will never be read by anyone else, and seeing it as public because “in the process of producing anything, we are haunted by that third-grade teacher-reader peering over our shoulder at every word we put down.” He proposes that such oppositions are each, “in a sense,” correct, and the true discussion should focus on “which lens is most useful” in a specific context (35; all emphasis original).

Elbow ties the “text” lens to time with an analogy to King Lear, arguing that Lear’s fatal actions were failed efforts to control and elude time. The effort to “create works that will last,” in his view, is a similar strategy to escape time (36).

Contending that text lends itself to the sense that words can “last forever” as well as to an illusion that we can take in the entirety of a “string of words” simultaneously, Elbow responds not only that texts can disappear physically but that meanings are ephemeral; moreover, reading is an activity bound to the progress through a text in time (37). At the same time, he writes, the success of text ultimately is a function of narrative, which “carrie[s] us forward from word to word” (37). He also finds the imprint of time in intonation, the way even silent readers have been shown to hear emphasis and even musical qualities in what they read, thus returning writing to the space of the body and therefore time (37-38).

Elbow proposes the “voice” lens, which he says reminds readers that “the words emerged from a physical body” (38). “Writing” similarly evokes a living being making choices, while “the text lens downplays time, person, voice, sound, and body” (38; emphasis original). He endorses reading aloud to audiences as a way of producing language that is “clearer and easier to process” (39). Ultimately, he claims, in order to come to life, text must give up “the dream of eluding time” (39).


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Fleming, David. Fear of Persuasion in English Language Arts. CE, July 2019. Posted 09/02/2019.

Fleming, David. “Fear of Persuasion in the English Language Arts.” College English 81.6 (2019): 508-41. Print.

David Fleming expresses concern that English instruction at all levels has banished “persuasion” as one of the rhetorical arts. He argues that scholars and practitioners in the English Language Arts should reconsider the importance of persuasion as a central element of human communication and reinvigorate it as part of the language curriculum.

Fleming examines the history of “persuasion” from ancient Greek culture through present-day curricula like that included in the Common Core State Standards for preK-12 classrooms and currently taught in college composition classes. The Greeks, he points out, considered persuasion a god in the form of Peitho, seen as a vital force in all forms of political and cultural life (508), particularly because of its power to bring people together (509). The god, however, had two sides, one involving “eros, beauty, and seduction” and the other including “logos, speech, and reason” (508-09). Its seductive powers mean that persuasion “needs discipline” if its practitioners are to maximize its worth without giving in to its “vices” (510).

Fleming draws on the contrast between the Isocratean rhetorical tradition and the Socratic philosophical approach to illustrate persuasion’s complex history. The Socratic tradition turned to a dialectical search for truth, characterizing persuasion as the ability to “mov[e] crowds of uneducated listeners” (509). This strand, Fleming writes, led to “modern philosophy,” as developed by thinkers like René Descartes, John Locke, and Immanuel Kant, for whom “disagreement” was to be taken as a “sign of error” on the part of one of the arguers (511).

In contrast, Isocrates, in a tradition continued by Quintillian and Cicero, argued for rhetorical practice “centered on language, literature, and the arts of social influence, rather than mathematics, dialectic, and truth seeking” (509). This tradition, Fleming writes, appears as well in the late eighteenth-century British Enlightenment, with the work of George Campbell and Hugh Blair. Fleming states that in Campbell’s view, persuasion was the most important of the four aims of discourse because it acted on the “will” and generated action (512).

Fleming reports that this respect for persuasion as one of a range of forms of discourse continued through the nineteenth century in United States education. John Franklin Genung’s “influential 1886 textbook” considered persuasion “sovereign” among rhetorical aims because it spoke to “the whole man—not to his mind alone, but to mind and heart and will” (Genung, qtd. in Fleming 513). U. S. education in these years is characterized as an “oratorical culture” with a “backdrop of momentous social issues” (513), in which powerful public speakers influenced public opinion and spurred action.

In Fleming’s view, persuasion lost ground in education as “scientific, technical, and commercial pursuits” replaced the “traditional arts,” writing supplanted speaking, and persuasion became “weaponized” for commercial and political ends (514). Educators began to consider persuasive tactics as a form of domineering violence and urged a turn to argument seen as “inquiry, discovery, or communication” (Amy Knoblauch, qtd. in Fleming 515).

Argument as opposed to persuasion, Fleming indicates, experienced a resurgence with Stephen Toulmin’s 1958 The Uses of Argument, in which, in Fleming’s view, “practical reasoning” cast argument as “all about justification, the relationship of statements, not of people” (516). Educators, he contends, came to see argument and persuasion as separate kinds of discourse, with persuasion the negative form. This opposition, Fleming writes, runs counter to the rhetorical tradition, in which the two work in concert (516). Fleming notes that a search of CompPile he conducted finds mention of persuasion “declining precipitously” in college writing literature from the 1990s (516).

Fleming cites Kenneth Burke’s argument that persuasion is inherent in communication and defends persuasion through the claims of political scientist Bryan Garsten, who focuses on the role persuasion plays in democracy. Like Burke, Fleming writes, Garsten urges us to recognize the ubiquity of disagreement; for Garsten, persuasion requires respect for those with whom we disagree, including an awareness of their right to freely reject our claims. Acknowledging the legitimacy of persuasion, in Fleming’s view, validates our “situated capacity to judge controversial matters” rather than handing judgment over to “a sovereign public authority of some kind” like a monarch or “reason itself” (519-20). In Garsten’s words,

The presumption . . . that there is such a thing as persuasion that lies between manipulation and pandering . . . is the presumption of democratic politics. (qtd. in Fleming 520; ellipses in Fleming)

Fleming documents the rejection of persuasion in the Common Core State Standards, which provide benchmarks for English and math in preK-12 education. The Standards privilege argument defined as “a reasoned, logical way of demonstrating that the writer’s position, belief, or conclusion is valid” (qtd. in Fleming 522). Text from the ELA Standards, Fleming maintains, makes clear that arguing from ethos or pathos is inferior to arguing from logos—in Fleming’s view, dismissing “the key insight of Aristotelian rhetorical theory, that persuasive argument is a matter of ethos, pathos, and logos” (523; emphasis original).

Fleming explores online resources spreading the view that persuasion is to be avoided because of its appeal to the emotions rather than “facts, reasons, and evidence” (ReadWriteThink.org, qtd. in Fleming 524). Fleming contends that this distaste for persuasion may be a reaction to poorly designed timed writing prompts that asked students to take positions based entirely on subjective experience (527).

He expresses concern that few scholars in rhetoric and composition have addressed the “hyperlogical” slant driving current approaches to argumentation (528). Some have examined the fact vs. opinion binary that Fleming believes exacerbates the rejection of persuasion. Analyzing an NPR segment on a sixth-grade argument assignment, Fleming challenges the claim that “facts” can be opinion-free, contending instead that students will be better served in a polemic culture if they understand that “their arguments are always based on evidence that is itself always constructed, contingent, and debatable” (532).

The example in question presents students with two sets of opposing facts, in Fleming’s view failing students by not providing the tools to assess situations where both sides may be partially right or wrong (533). Moreover, in his view, students are not allowed to use appeals that would gain adherence in a real-world decision-making context. He argues that an opinion can be an embodied “judgment” resulting from joining argument and persuasion rather than uncoupling them (533-34).

Fleming sees persuasion as a form of communication that “tries to move others while still respecting their autonomy, that appreciates the legitimate role of character and emotion in human judgment and action” (535). Rejecting this art, he claims, can lead to a belief that anyone holding opposing views is in error, “even evil,” a situation “more ethically dangerous” than the vices attributed to persuasion (535).


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Hesse, Douglas. R/C Journals since 1984. CE, Mar. 2019. Posted 05/22/2019.

Hesse, Douglas. “Journals in Composition Studies, Thirty-Five Years After.” College English 81.4 (2019): 367-96. Print.

Douglas Hesse surveys journals in rhetoric and composition as of summer 2018. Among his goals is to examine changes in the field as evidenced in the journals based on a comparison with a similar list compiled by Robert J. Connors in 1984.

Connors’s original list contained fifteen journals; Hesse’s considers forty-five “identified presently or historically with composition studies,” using as a “foundation” the journals on Connors’s list (369). Hesse recounts locating lists of journals from such sources as recommendations for graduate students; he examines publication histories and tables of contents for listed journals and selects journals for his survey based on criteria of “centrality,” such as being included on multiple lists, and “diverse directions and interests,” which leads to the inclusion of more specialized journals dealing with ongoing interests and trends in the changing field (369).

Among the challenges of Hesse’s project was determining which journals “count” as belonging in rhetoric and composition (370). For example, he states, not all “rhetorical criticism” addresses issues related to the teaching of writing, even though scholars within the field may cite journals with this focus. Hesse excludes journals focusing on visual communication, as well as those more attuned to business and technical communication and to creative writing because, in his view, “these fields increasingly have become . . . distinct from composition studies” (370). Connors excluded Quarterly Journal of Speech, and Hesse follows this lead (370).

For a “subset” of articles examined more closely, Hesse counted articles and pages in articles, a task requiring him to decide how to define “article.” Ultimately, inclusions like book reviews and editors’ introductions were not counted as articles (371).

At the outset, Hesse notes “the increased density of citation,” which he attributes to the increased availability of information within the maturing field (371). He argues as well that electronic access means that the accumulation of a full set of hard copies of prestigious journals no longer indicates “a symbolic means of identification, even consubstantiation, with disciplinary conversations” or an indication of authority (368).

A first section addresses what Hesse calls the “[e]stablished [n]eighborhood,” which includes the twelve journals from Connors’s list that are still extant and still relevant to composition (376). These include major NCTE offerings such as College English, College Composition and Communication (CCC), and Research in the Teaching of English. Hesse also analyzes “established neighborhood” selections like Composition Studies (378) and Teaching English in the Two-Year College (379), as well as WPA: Writing Program Administration, which had just assumed journal status as of Connors’s study and indicated a shift toward professionalization of WPA work (380-81). Two journals on the foundation list address writing-center issues (379-80).

In the process, Hesse notes reductions in membership rates for NCTE, as well as the institution of a small fee for journal subscriptions, which he speculates may mean that composition scholars now choose specific journals more in keeping with their interests (376). He also notes a shift in several cases from a focus on classroom practices to writing as an object of study in itself, for example in CCC and similarly in Composition Studies, which was once Freshman English News but has since dropped that subtitle (377-78).

Hesse’s evidence also suggests that edited books have taken over some of the roles of journals and that emerging journals covering more diverse interests are less likely to be published by professional organizations like NCTE (381).

For Hesse, journals that have come, and in some cases gone, since Connors’s study constitute “new writing studies neighborhoods” (381). The publications examined suggest that as composition became a more distinct discipline, interests ranged beyond first-year writing and “canonical texts and genres” to more diverse and broader areas (381). Hesse examines journals addressing writing across the curriculum and a number of offerings that deal with technology and writing (382). Computers and Composition and Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy both request submissions that are not bound to print traditions (383). In the 1990s, Hesse reports, these journals invited the question of the value of online publication for tenure and promotion committees. That so much publication now does occur online means, for Hesse, that “the question has obviously been settled,” although, in his view, print as “embodied in the pdf” remains a “default design” (384).

He examines recent journals with an empirical bent like The Journal of Writing Research and Assessing Writing, opening in the process the issue of competing methodologies in writing studies: journals that feature empirical studies, he writes, rely on a social-sciences model, while others choose more qualitative, “humantistic” models emphasizing textual analysis or interpretation (384). Hesse reports that the more empirically oriented journals tend to have an international focus (385, 392). A wider range of methodologies as well as an international approach characterizes the “leading empirical research journal in composition studies for years,” Written Communication (385). Hesse determines that empirical research “is not very sexy to the field’s mainstream” (392).

Other new neighborhoods explored by Hesse include publications dealing with narrower areas like “community-engaged writing” and responding to writing (386). Writing on the Edge sponsors creative non-fiction and interviews with prominent writers (387). Hesse notes a trend toward “narrative and the personal essay” in several mainstream journals and suggests that these inclusions may become more common (387).

Noting that he could discuss many more examples given enough space, Hesse concludes that the “fragmentation” Connors predicted (388) has occurred, with a resulting “erosion of an informational commons” (389). Of concern for both is the possibility that the “fraternity and consubstantiality” once extant in the field might no longer pertain (Connors, qtd. in Hesse 393). Hesse posits that the wish for a more unified field might be an elitist sentiment, with the proliferation of areas a sign of a mature discipline (393).

Hesse proposes other trends, including a rift between attention to classroom practice and rhetorical scholarship (392-93), and a turn to the politics both of power versus literacy and of composition itself, although he argues that on the whole, publications are “mostly talking about writers and writing” despite their differing bents (391).

A discussion of strategies for sustainability as new journals emerge (390-91) dovetails with concerns about the future of academia in general and Hesse’s sense that the traditional gatekeeping function of journals is valuable (389-90). As a product of care and attention to quality, Hesse contends, a peer-reviewed journal with its longer production times and enhanced scrutiny

demonstrates faith in continuity, an ongoing act of passing the present forward, confident this issue’s articles will bend the field for better, however scantly—and so will the next. (393)

 


Marotta, Calley. University Writing as White Property. CE, Jan. 2019. Posted 02/20/2019.

Marotta, Calley. “Who Has the Right to Write? Custodian Writing and White Property in the University.” College English 81.3 (2019): 163-82. Print.

Calley Marotta analyzes the ways that custodial workers at a “Midwestern, predominantly white, public university” (166) experience writing through their positions as support staff in a cultural institution in which writing is central. Stating that studies of people in such positions are rare (163), Marotta reports on observations and interviews from a “larger qualitative case study” (166) to make her case that in such settings, writing is “White property” with which the minority participants she studied have complex relationships (164).

Marotta states that 53% of the fifteen custodial workers at the university were Latino; the seven who took part in her study were Latino and male. All but one were first-generation immigrants (166). She drew on “feminist and critical race theory,” as well as “Latino/a critical theory” (165) to examine the workers as writers both in terms of their social interactions and the material aspects of writing, such as access to equipment and production of artifacts (167).

Her research addresses scholarship that views writing as having cultural and exchange value, thus coming to serve as “property” in power hierarchies (165). Marotta sees this property as “constructed as white” by “those who regulate writing” and its circulation within power configurations (165). She cites scholars such as John Trimbur and Jenny Cook-Gumperz to argue that safeguarding literacy is an ongoing function of “dominant castes” who attempt to block access for those not considered deserving (164).

Her study presents cases in which the Latino staff members find their access to and use of writing affected by what critical race theorist Sara Ahmed calls “institutional whiteness” (165) as manifested within a “writing-intensive” setting (164). Marotta argues that even though the workers are seen as outside the privilege associated with writing, they “are indeed workplace writers, because they write in, on, and for the institution as well as for themselves” (164).

Her research results in four categories of analysis: ways in which the workers and their writing were surveilled and “overwritten” as well as ways in which the workers used “writing back” to create agency in their positions and were positioned to “serve” through their writing (168).

To illustrate her category of surveillance, Marotta describes her observations of “Roberto,” a recent hire at the institution who had been in the United States since the age of seven (168). For Marotta, Roberto’s job as collector of discarded materials is that of protecting the writing that goes on in the privileged spaces of classrooms and offices (169). Roberto discusses his uncertainty over being allowed to use “public kiosks” for computer work during breaks even though, in a training session Marotta observed, workers were told they could use these resources (169).

Marotta recounts that in this training session, a “white, male, English-speaking facilitator” drew on an anecdote of a “custodian” using a professor’s office computer while the professor was “log[ged] in remotely” to remind employees that they were not authorized to use computers in private spaces like offices (169). In Marotta’s view, this kind of admonishment “cultivate[s] an atmosphere of danger circulating around custodial writing, and specifically, the use of university property to create it” (169). Within this atmosphere, Marotta writes, Roberto brings his brother’s laptop to work to study for his GED, thus “negotiating university property figured as white” in order to act as a writer (170).

“André” illustrates Marotta’s claim that workers’ products are “overwritten” as the white institution reasserts that writing is White property. A native-born U.S. citizen identifying as Puerto Rican who previously attended the university as an engineering major, André took time off to reconsider his goals and signed on as “lead worker on the custodial crew” because he had an unfulfilled student housing lease (171).

André reports on a scatological graffito scrawled on a notice about proper waste disposal he posted in a restroom. Acknowledging that the graffito may have been the kind of joking text common in restrooms, Marotta argues that for the writer of the scrawl, the “joke” was “the idea that custodians could make requests and even demands of those around them via writing” (171). Similarly, when a wallet disappeared, André believed that flyers instructing employees to ask “suspicious individuals” if they needed help led three different people to ask him such questions while he was posting official notices. Marotta argues that “this flyer functioned to metaphorically overwrite” André’s notices, thus, again, claiming writing for whiteness (172).

The case of “Henry” explores how, in Marotta’s view, employees are both subject to “demands” from the white institution and able to “make demands of [the institution’s] actors in ways that, for some, may be worth the risk” (175). A lipsticked note on a washroom mirror asked questions about maintenance that Henry saw as attacking his work. Moreover, he found that his professional background as a college-educated electrician during his life in Cuba was discounted due to what he considered racism (174). At the same time, despite his difficulties with English, Henry wrote on garbage containers to instruct faculty and staff where to correctly deposit trash (174-75). This act of “writ[ing]back,” for Marotta, both “made [Henry’s] job a little easier and asserted his presence in the university space” (175).

Marotta reports that custodians wrote notes when turning in found property and often received notes of appreciation in return, writing that, for Marotta, documents their value to the university (176). This aspect of “writing to serve” is further illustrated with her study of “Jesus,” whose friendliness and collegiality across the university class tiers earned him written testaments to his worth to the institution from both the university and an individual student (176-77). Jesus is shown using his own literacy abilities to make signs that further the university’s mission. According to Marotta, when custodians are able to “negotiate” the university’s limits on writing in such ways, their efforts

reflect how the difference between custodial writing that is institutionally resisted and accepted is the extent to which participants seem to be writing to serve students and staff. (177)

Marotta urges composition faculty and staff to address workplace writing of the sort she describes as an issue of access and of who counts as writers. This project “can play a role in exposing such structures of whiteness and shifting expectations about who writes and has the right to do so within university spaces” (178).


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Earle, Chris S. Habermas and Religion in Public Life. CE, Nov. 2018. Posted 12/21/2018.

Earle, Chris S. “Religion, Democracy, and Public Writing: Habermas on the Role of Religion in Public Life.” College English 81.2 (2018): 133-54. Print.

Chris S. Earle discusses the issue of students’ inclusion of religion-based argument in writing classrooms. He links this concern to the problem of democratic deliberation in a diverse society in which religion plays an important role for many citizens.

He notes scholarship in composition regarding non-religious students’ resistance to argument drawn from religious belief and the concomitant problem of religious students’ need to bring their deep convictions to bear on questions of policy (134). He finds two often-used pedagogical approaches: encouraging critical thinking by asking students to recognize the existence of multiple viewpoints, and a focus on audience by developing reasons that would be persuasive to people who lack a religious commitment (134-35). In Earle’s view, these approaches do not address aspects of the problem that he considers additional “obligation[s] of democratic citizenship” (135).

To explore these obligations and suggest fruitful approaches to them, Earle proposes the “translation proviso” of Jürgen Habermas (135). In Earle’s reading, this theory recognizes the possible contradictions underlying “Value pluralism.” Habermas finds religious conviction important in democratic life because it can provide “a counterweight to forces . . . that threaten to instrumentalize human life” (135). But, Earle writes, Habermas also contends that reasons given in public debate must ultimately find expression in “terms acceptable to all involved” (135). These tenets set up a tension between “inclusion and reciprocity,” concepts Earle presents as central to “translation” (136-37).

Inclusion, in this view, means that all voices are heard. Reciprocity requires all interlocutors to express these views in ways that audiences will accept. Paradoxically, Earle argues, the need for inclusion requires religious views to be honored, yet reciprocity requires religious views to be subject to “validity claims” that they may not be able to accommodate. The result can be that arguers end up bringing “private reason” to decision-making, resulting in an “irreducible moral pluralism” in which stakeholders’ insistence on being included clashes with the refusal to subject their viewpoints to full debate (137).

Earle presents John Rawls’s solution as the elimination of “reasonable comprehensive doctrines” from “public debate” (137). Citizens would be limited to arguing for their positions through “the public use of reason” (137). For Rawls, public reason is founded on widely shared democratic and constitutional principles, whereas for Habermas, public reason can include “any reason that can be ‘defended as being in the best interest of all considered as equal moral and political beings’” (Seyla Benhabib, qtd. in Earle 137).

According to Earle, both Rawls and Habermas offer the “translation proviso” as a means to overcome this problem. For Rawls, religion can enter public debate, but religion per se does not provide the kind of reasons that can be accepted across the broad audiences engaged in such debate. Religious arguers must, “over time,” produce “a public translation” that will lay out their claims in terms accessible to all (139). Earle draws on the example of Jeffrey Ringer’s student who linked his religious convictions to “the democratic principle of free will” (139).

For Habermas, Earle contends, this version of the proviso means that religious arguers often may find the need for their positions to be “watered down”: was the student forced to “background his core beliefs in order to satisfy an audience or assignment requirements” (139)? If so, translation burdens religious arguers more than non-religious ones.

Earle writes that Habermas tackles this limitation of translation, first, by adding “an institutional filter” that would require public translation only in specific public settings like “courts, legislative bodies, and the discourse of elected officials and candidates” (1140). Earle claims that for Habermas, this adjustment allows religion to work as a moral force in the larger public while being converted to what Habermas called “generally acceptable language” in formal policy-making environments (qtd. in Earle 141). Working with this distinction can encourage students to distinguish between claims based on doctrinaire religious authority and those appealing to a broader “moral insight” (142).

Earle recommends setting this process in motion by encouraging students to write for many different audiences, assessing how reasons may need to be translated for different contexts and genres (142-43). Still, he contends, excluding religious claims from formal decision-making contexts may cause religious students to be constrained in ways that non-religious students are not (143). As an approach to addressing this problem, Earle presents Habermas’s depiction of translation as “a cooperative task” (144). In this view, a process of “reciprocal-perspective taking” in which respondents “listen to each other, reflect upon the limits of faith and reason, and [are] willing to modify their proposals and commitments” can result in more equitable exchanges across divisions (144).

Earle cites the critique of Maeve Cooke that generating broadly accessible reasons, even through reciprocity, may prevent students from accepting reasons that do not match “what sounds familiar” or is “compatible with what they already know” (145). Reasons that embody difference, Earle notes, may often be those of “less powerful groups” (145). He posits that, responding to Habermas’s proviso, students working together to generate diverse claims may learn to hear a fuller range of voices. Instructors should especially help students locate “real opposing voices” rather than generating their arguments prior to engaging specific points of view (150; emphasis original).

To reinforce the emphasis on listening inherent in reciprocity, Earle examines Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” used by both Rawls and Habermas to illustrate translation (147-49). Earle illustrates the ways in which King articulated his understanding of the views of those who opposed his practice of civil disobedience before “drawing connections and identifying shared premises between God’s law and, when just, constitutional law” (148). Earle contrasts this act of translation with the rhetoric of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses on the grounds of religious freedom. Paramount for Earle is the refusal of Davis and her supporters to listen to and examine in good faith the views of those she opposes, with the result that she did not try to justify her positions to those audiences as true translation and reciprocity would require (149).

In Earle’s view, Habermas’s understanding of translation would move writers away from seeking out opposing views simply to recognize or rebut them (150). He acknowledges that hoping students, regardless of their religious commitments, will truly hear views that they find unacceptable and, in the process, “critically reflect upon the partiality of their perspectives” (150) is an “ideal” rather than a common result (152). He urges accepting the role of religious as well as non-religious points of view as a crucial component of “accepting as unavoidable what Habermas refers to as the democratic confusion of voices” (152). In such an ideal, Earle writes, members of a democratic society “might find a basis for agreement and even consubstantiality on something other than the content of our beliefs” (152).