I’m grateful to be here at Watson, the University of Louisville, the lands of the Shawnee, Miami, and Osage. I’m here from Houston, Karankawa territory, originally from Coahuiltecan land—Laredo, Texas, a border city that straddles the Rio Grande, that feature that most informs my rhetorical praxes. These praxes are not limited to writing, but multiple, alterior forms of composition: embodiment, establishing presence, and editorial work and publishing. I deem these two rubrics of composition—corporeal communication and knowledge (re-)distribution—related in their alterity since both are meant to be “behind-the-scenes” labor, backgrounds for the “real” business of academic knowledge production. Yet these are fundamentally connected when I consider the rhetorical stimuli in which I am immersed I do my work as co-founder and editor of the recently established online, open-access journal, the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics.
Today, I’m speaking on how I try to use this venue to make everyday life matter to us as a discipline while seeking to underscore the relevance of scholarly activity to everyday life. That means delving into an ecology of motives that provides a background for publishing but based on issues foregrounded in the lives of people like me. Please allow me to explain.
When I say publishing is backgrounded, I mean that a lot of our general conversations about publishing hinge on whether we’ve a very good or bad experience, unless you have the privilege of (or get stuck) doing this work. But we should care about publishing practices. Editorial labor is intensive and characterized by a range of rhetorical choices that determine if and how research projects develop and are published. These choices affect our professional advancement and the direction of a field, as noted by Blair, Hawisher and Selfe. In addition, the job easily translates into another instance when we must explain its import in yearly reviews or tenure dossiers to administrators who don’t get it. And there are other, additional choices one must make as an academic who is a member of one or more marginalized groups trying to make room for O/others. These choices result from simultaneous inhabitance of professional and personal spaces that cannot be paused so we can concentrate on one or the other.
Those trying to make room for O/others weave our professional goals and practices with who we are at home and with love for our cultural, ethno-racial, and linguistic communities. That is a must because we know what’s at stake. Don’t we all have to do that? I’ve been asked in a way that resonates too closely with that assertion that we all have intersectional identities. My answer to both is yes, but we don’t all have to bear the same weight of what said intersections mean. People from marginalized communities usually have to make do, bridging the academic and the everyday and figuring out the terms of this amorphous relationship as they arise in context. These embodied rhetorical choices cannot but directly inform my editorial practices.
I. Impetus as Context
Context as Impetus
People from marginalized communities often feel unwelcome in the academy. This discomfort isn’t an a priori condition but one created for us rhetorically—verbally, spatially, procedurally. The senior white faculty who typically evaluate us may be unfamiliar with the major topics of our fields, sometimes leading to a devaluation of our research (Thompson). To administrators and editors, our research may not be as valid or rigorous as non-marked research, or if we use culturally-specific methods. Too niche, nothing to say to the field at large. It’s not objective, though outsiders whose analyses are ostensibly less biased may do it. Sometimes we must publish more and more often than our colleagues, and in top journals whose standing may not even be recognized. All big ifs, as authors in the Presumed Incompetent collection explain.
This arrangement translates, too, as a matter of in/visibility, of making sure there’s representation in an institution’s demographic statistics, of being scholars who talk about Othered concerns. Of offering free labor to ensure our ever-more-diverse students’ needs are met though our numbers in the academy don’t improve. Women of color faculty especially must act as “counselor, mentor, and guardian for minority students, often giv[ing] white faculty an edge in writing, conducting research, and working for tenured positions,” this in addition to serving on committees focused on minority issues while receiving little support (Chandler 88). After all, who knows better the needs of our communities? Plus, too often we feel we can’t say no, lest “expert” colleagues in our departments or disciplines who don’t know inflict harm. Cases like those involving Third World Quarterly, wherein colonization was proclaimed a force of good, and Hypatia, wherein an author used a transphobic apparatus to justify Dolezalian transracialism, speak to the rhetorical violence that we try to impede with our presence.
II. Orientation as Practice
Practice as Orientation
There’s a reason why I began by sharing something of my background on that river; besides establishing presence for me and mine, it proves the material pivot for the fluid thinking, flux, and change that characterize living on perhaps the defining geographic, political, cultural, and linguistic border of life in the U.S. A very different stream than the whitestream. The realities of my life do not fit dominant culture models so my praxes necessarily diverge. But there are meaningful rhetorical, ethical, political reasons behind any of these moves, as keynotes by Melanie Yergeau, Jacqueline Rhodes, Octavio Pimentel, and Steve Parks illustrate.
Yergeau asks whose lenses are used to in- and exclude ways of knowing that deviate from standard, ablebodied notions of rhetoric. She contests the erasure of disability from rhizome-centering architechtonics that yet consign us to linear mis/diagnoses. Rhodes’ taking up of “cutting together-apart” and queer futurity as a mix of “what is” and “what could be” evokes how we engage dis/identification, a refusal to position oneself wholly within or outside (Muñoz). Queering time and spaces calls for a “speculative revolution” that re-imagines these as “always-emergent becoming…” avenues for hope. As Pimentel notes, despite some good intentions, racism and other -isms are still enacted through “policies, practices, rules…that function throughout institutions…” He asks those with most privilege to do something about it, and personally, I love that he asks directly, because this is not the time for conciliatory appeals. Parks questions why attention to “identities, heritages, knowledges, and world views” disregarded by the whitestream is discounted as activism rather than “real” scholarship. Speaking to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Parks advocates for an activist composition. But these speakers model that, too, even as they remind us that we should be teaching students to write to real exigencies as when we are talking about matters of life and death.
It’s a rare and wonderful thing to have such a group of scholars speaking directly to my own experiences. Wonderful but rare. Taken together, their words tell us there can be no more “business as usual” in our lives, our scholarship, teaching, and publishing practices. Across these scholars’ words a braided thread emerges: a need to dismantle erasing, effacing norms coupled with diverse schemes for doing so. I like that word, scheme, for its rhetorical and conspiratorial connotations. As critics from Fanon and Bhabha to Victor Villanueva and Juan Guerra reveal, we learn to be protean in our approaches, strategic in our presentation. But we also have to conspire, sharing our tactics to raise each other up and out of the norm’s phenomenological background.
III. Technology as Tactics
Tactics as Technology
By tactics I mean technologies we’ve developed to live. Marginalized people maintain complex, complicated relationships with technology as scholarship by Angela Haas and Adam Banks illustrates. Haas argues that technologies are “saturated in white male culture—which has real effects related to privilege and oppression” ("Race, Rhetoric, and Technology" 284), a point that resonates with her work on the erasure of Indigenous antecedents to hypertext ("Wampum as Hypertext"). Addressing debates about the Digital Divide, Banks argued over a decade ago that beyond giving marginalized people access to computers, we must “challenge the nation to accept responsibility for the exclusions programmed into its technologies” (39-40). In response to these exclusions, different marginalized groups remix, re-envision, and repurpose technologies developed without us in mind. As Jacqueline Rhodes and Jonathan Alexander show in Techne, we employ technology to engage in queer “acts of de- and un- and re-composition” to contend with and contest those dominant narratives attempting to make us strangers to our own lives, but we also de-, un-, and re-fashion our tools in the process.
One crucial technology that helps me to do so is the concept of survivance, which scholars like Malea Powell and Gerald Vizenor explain as “survival + resistance” (Powell 400). This crucial technology is enacted via tactics that allow colonized people to survive and resist, survive to resist—a technology far more vital to me as a member of a colonized people than any computer or even the Internet. Sometimes we forget that “technology” comes from techne, meaning “art” or “skill,” or maybe we just have to refocus. What is important to remember is that technologies are saturated with intent and ideology, the teleology of any technology inextricable from its axiology, its standards of value circulated as technologies reify, originate, or communicate them. In the resourceful hands of marginalized folks (see Dolmage on mêtis), technologies are also suffused with tactical value. Tactical technologies that bespeak our takes on transformative access, or access to “spaces where technologies are created, designed, planned and where policies and regulations are written” (Banks 42). Transformative access lets technologies work for and matter to us. But it also includes how they make us matter.
Technology means differently for marginalized people; what counts as technology obtains differently based on how we make ourselves matter as subjects of and objects to the texts and tools we compose. We have to be cognizant of how technologies big and small de-matter or re-matter people. Established discourse about the Digital Divide was marked by a focus on of material access, though rhetorical discussions showed there was more to it. Over the last 15 years, authors like Banks, Vie, Selber, Grabill and Hicks have shown us that we need to pay attention to students’ functional, rhetorical, and critical literacies, the ability to use, and question how we use, technologies. Despite all this, technological inequality remains. Experiential access is still a problem, Jennifer Dolan writes. Annette Vee notes that crucial literacies still accumulate among “affluent or already advantaged groups” (207). I present this perfunctorily traced thread because it exemplifies the relational circuit linking the corporomaterial and the technological. Our embodied knowledges and experiences must make their way into our tools and affect their distribution; however, they must in turn be amenable to our uses, our needs. Otherwise, we are erased. The home security system, invented by a Black woman named Marie Van Brittan Brown, is often sold using stereotypes that target African Americans. Alan Turing’s cryptography helped defeat the Nazis and yet his life was ruined by heteronormativity’s brutal code. See, minoritized people find themselves in the tech all the time, just uncredited and de-mattered. It’s crucial that we highlight ways to use technologies to re-matter ourselves and others.
This isn’t to discount the importance of redistribution of resources or programming education. But I would like us to shift our perspective just a bit. Knowing that typically capital-T technologies come to us already built without us in mind, can we (re-)focus on and celebrate those smaller-t technologies that allow us to use what we’ve got? On finding models of culturally-based hacking-invention until we actually see ourselves in the tools. This already happens in digital rhetoric classes though mainly in courses composed by scholars from marginalized communities and their allies; it’s not a given. Yet this focus can help students (and us) develop approaches rife with what Paul Prior calls “a panoply of possible trajectories,” albeit while addressing matters of privilege frankly. Privilege (and its lack) can’t be dismissed as yet another factor in rhetorical contexts, not when it constrains aspirations and limits assessment of what counts as composition, as Jabari Mahiri and Soraya Sablo have shown. Not if we are to develop and deploy praxes designed to re-matter the de-mattered and purposely raise them/us up.
So, to the editor hoping to re-matter certain voices, to make matter everyday rhetoricity, “what is” and “what could be” means everything as you work to compose an issue, a journal, a field that allows us to matter too. It means paying attention to people’s lives, knowing some of us face harsher constraints due to social, and therefore professional, precarity. It means working to learn what kind of assistance authors may need because we aren’t all privileged with the same technical and practical training. It means remembering at all times that publishing standards reinforce institutional ones that force us to conform to the norm or GTFO, yet knowing that sometimes deviance is key. It means accounting for the different reasons why people publish because it’s not always about novelty: when people speak for you or over you, sometimes you just have to talk back; sometimes you just want to let those who come after know you see them. It means pre-thinking through a text or tool’s ability to work in service for others in real life and real time (as we see in Laurie Gries’ project).
Given these extra pressures and responsibilities, you have to want to dedicate your little spare time to editorial work. You have to ask if the risks are worth it in your efforts to decenter the discipline’s whitestream norms. But I know contributors from marginalized communities ask themselves similar questions. Our journal does not yet have the reputation of a long-standing journal, and exists without the finding and other resources of an R1. Authors may still have to explain to their directors why they chose to publish in an online venue. Still, a dedication to making the discipline more inclusive means our editorial board is purposely composed of thoughtful reviewers who know gatekeeping does not equal rigor and who are willing to work with authors. No one has time or energy to spare, but we can reconfigure our discipline by eschewing one-size-fits-all models of research, reviews, circulation. A small hope that others might be spared a bad experience based in classism, homophobia, sexism, racism, transphobia or ableism can be a powerful apparatus for turning even a simple website into a disciplinary mod where we can strive to make life in the margins matter. Hopefully, this “little [digital text] that thinks it can” can contribute to re-mattering those made to feel immaterial.