By Chloe Smith, Madison Williams, and Danielle Koepke
Greetings from the editorial team!
As many of our fervent and devoted readers may have noticed, there has been a great deal of construction taking place on our blog over the past several months. This March, the 2020 Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) is being held here in Milwaukee, and Writing & Rhetoric MKE has been chosen to host the local landing page for the conference! Since being alerted of this exciting opportunity last year, we have been hard at work compiling content for the upcoming conference and making a space on our blog for this content. Volunteers through the local arrangements and website teams have collaborated to create the content that we’ve organized here for visitors to Milwaukee.
As the assembly of our CCCC pages comes together, we wanted to take a moment to highlight some of these new pages, and foreshadow what future CCCC content you can expect to view as we lead up to the conference.The newest main tab featured at the top of our blog, #4C20, is the landing page for the wealth of information waiting for you just beyond the horizon. This tab contains all things #4C20, both as static information and as links out to other useful resources.
Plunge into all the things #4C20 has to offer, including overarching categories such as accessibility, land/water acknowledgment, lodging and transportation, local CCCC events, and visitingMKE. Through these tabs, you can find information to help you prepare for the conference, give details about getting around the city, and find some great places for gathering with others during your time here in March.
Because of all the CCCC excitement, we’ll be taking a brief break from our usual content until the conference is over. Instead, we’ll be featuring posts on a range of CCCC related topics like advice for first-time attendees, the best spots for vegan and vegetarian diets, and some of the most offbeat attractions in the city. These posts still tie into our vision as an editorial team. Before, during, and after CCCC, we hope to highlight the opportunities conference attendees have to experience local community events, as well as the wide range of cuisine, culture, and attractions in our city.
If you’re presenting at the upcoming conference, we welcome you to go to our accessibility and land/water acknowledgement pages, where you can find some helpful resources to consider as you prepare your presentation and materials, such as the conference accessibility guide and suggested reflective actions to take in writing a land/water acknowledgement.
We’re so excited to share this content with you and welcome you to Milwaukee! Please keep in touch with us in the comments here on the blog, or on Twitter @writingmke and with #writingmke. Interested in writing a blog post of your own about something CCCC-related? We are looking for individuals to write reflective pieces post-conference about their experiences of CCCC and of Milwaukee.
We’re looking forward to seeing you in March! Here’s hoping it’s not snowing (But seriously, pack a winter jacket just in case).
Chloe, Madison, and Danielle
By Claire Edwards & Madison Williams
What is rhetoric?
It’s a question anyone in our field has been faced with, be it by students, parents, or friends. It is the subject we have advanced degrees in, the term we spend hours discussing, the concept some of us spend our lives studying; so why is this question so hard to answer? Many of us have our go-to definitions prepared to answer this question, usually short and sweet, that seem to sum up the concept well enough. Rhetoric is “the study of effective argument, persuasion, and messaging” or “the art of successfully conveying a message for a specific audience within a specific context”. Duh. While this sort of answer might suffice in the moment, we know rhetoric is more than just a persuasive argument. But, how can we possibly encompass all that rhetoric means to us in a few short words?
The root of the difficulty defining rhetoric is complicated, much like the word itself. Rhetoric has often been associated with Aristotle, politicians, and a history of institutionalized oppression but has transformed and expanded, particularly in recent years, to embrace various new perspectives. The field has moved beyond traditional views of rhetoric in academia, to appear differently depending on context, resulting in this lack of a field-wide consensus as to its definition. The uncertainty surrounding how to define rhetoric has been continuously perplexing and, especially considering the word is featured in the title of this blog, it is a vexation we’ve frequently encountered. Thus, as dutiful rhetoricians and members of this editorial board, we thought we’d give it the old college try and attempt to adequately define rhetoric (at least for the purpose of this blog).
The definition of rhetoric has evolved over time, from its earliest explanation as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion” by Aristotle, to its interpretation as "the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols" by Burke, to the description as “the art, practice, and study of human communication” by Lunsford, and everything in between. In Becoming Rhetorical, Jodie Nicotra writes that “Rhetoric… refers to the wide array of communicative devices humans have at their disposal to create effects on each other” and “While it was originally developed to help people make persuasive speeches, rhetoric is still studied for its supreme practicality and adaptability” (“Introduction” 2018).
Some of these definitions might initially seem straightforward and simple enough. However, defining rhetoric becomes more complicated when one considers that intentional or not, anything with a decision made about it is rhetorical; the decision itself makes it rhetorical, and if there is thought behind it, it’s in the realm of rhetoric (Watson). For example, a protest poster decrying the negative effects of a zoning bill is certainly rhetorical. But, the following things are also rhetorical: the placement of a homeless shelter adjacent to luxury condos, the design of that shelter, the community outreach efforts to gain funds for the shelter, and the ongoing discourse surrounding the shelter and its efficacy.
These examples illustrate just how difficult rhetoric can be to define and that it means potentially very different things in different contexts. It has evolved over time in not only its definition but also its scope and application. While some might define rhetoric as the study of effective argument, persuasion, and messaging, our program and the current larger study of rhetoric asks us to return to the drawing board as the field has broadened to include matters not easily classified as argumentative or persuasive (or even intentional). What is clear though, is that rhetoric is bigger than just something we study in our program; it surrounds us in our daily lives.
So, what is rhetoric to us?
For our purposes in this blog, we see rhetoric as a way to examine and communicate about the various power dynamics inherent to our city. We will use rhetoric to better understand communication across contexts, as something that exists in and, perhaps more significantly, outside of the academy. Rhetoric has power; it helps us to understand power dynamics, our roles in the world, and how we might interact with and respond to the environment around us. In these attempts, we hope to support the practice and study of rhetoric as vital activities that offer insights into the languages and communities of our city.
Danielle: I’ve lived in the greater Milwaukee area since I was young. I graduated from Marquette University in 2013 with a degree in Writing Intensive English. For my Rhetoric and Composition MA project, I rhetorically analyzed how Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez utilizes Instagram in order to build community with her followers. I hope to do more research about the ways in which people make rhetorical choices in digital spaces. As a mom of two energetic daughters, I don’t have much “spare time,” but I love drinking coffee and finding pockets of time to read.
Chloe: I’ve lived in the Midwest my whole life. As a first generation college student, I got my bachelor’s degree in English from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 2017. I finished my masters in Rhetoric and Composition at UWM this past spring. My MA project focused on the history of “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” and supporting teachers in furthering linguistic equality in their classrooms. In my free time, I enjoy cross stitching, listening to true crime podcasts, and supporting the Chicago Cubs.
As two students about to begin working toward their PhDs in UWM’s brand new Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement program, we see this blog as an opportunity to spotlight important work, events, and people in our community. While Milwaukee is known for its beer and cheese, we hope to explore more deeply what is happening in and around this city, and how people are engaging with rhetoric.
We’ve both been with the blog since the beginning, in Rachel Bloom-Pojar’s Latinx Rhetorics course in Spring 2019. We’ve seen the blog in all of its uses: as a tool to recap class discussions and readings, as a highlight of community events, and as a way to connect with other academics over the woes and triumphs of qualitative research. As contributors to this blog, we’ve written pieces that connected to theories and practices in the field of Rhetoric and Composition, and we’ve workshopped with our peers to create content that both a local and extended audience would be interested in reading.
Slowly but surely, we’ve seen the connections between our program and the community being built with this blog, and we’re looking forward to keeping that momentum. Writing for the blog was sometimes challenging as part of our class assignments, as it could be difficult to write good content within the confines of the guidelines. We hope that going forward, this blog can be not only a source of information but also a conversation starter with both our local community as well as with our larger academic community.
Both UWM and the Milwaukee community as a whole has an exciting year ahead: here on campus, the English department will be officially launching our new PhD program: Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement. Through this program, students will be challenged on their notions of rhetoric and stretched to engage with the diverse communities that surround UWM. We hope to utilize this blog as a platform to highlight other writers on campus and off. People are doing rhetoric in Milwaukee in a myriad of ways and we want to celebrate and share it!
It's going to be a big year for rhetoric and writing in Milwaukee. Next March, the city will be host to the 2020 CCCC Annual Convention; in July, the 2020 Democratic National Convention. We look forward to being a place of learning, connection, and community for those in the city, those visiting, and those keeping tabs from afar.
We hope to continue adding intriguing rhetorical writing to this blog, and welcome submissions from fellow writers who are engaging with community events, organizations, individuals, or anything else that highlights writing and rhetoric in our city.
Happy New Year, readers!
As Writing & Rhetoric MKE comes up on its one year anniversary, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what we've done and where we hope to go. I'm Rachel Bloom-Pojar, the professor who has asked her students to write for this blog, but who hasn't written a post, herself, until now.
I've been more behind the scenes with this whole project--helping give feedback on content, designing assignments that lead to the posts, and thinking big about where we're going in the future. As we were wrapping up the fall semester, my students asked why I hadn't written for the blog yet and argued that I should. They made a great point that resonates with an important piece of writing pedagogy--don't ask your students to do something that you haven't done (or wouldn't do). So, here I am, taking on the task to write more for the blog in 2019, starting with a little explanation of what I hope we're doing here.
At the heart of this project is a simple idea: I wanted to create a space to highlight and amplify the excellent work that communities around Milwaukee are already doing with writing, rhetoric, and literacy.
In learning about this work and connecting it to what we're studying at UWM, I've been asking students to recognize the ways rhetoric and writing are used for social justice and community-building around Milwaukee. I've placed community expertise next to academic expertise and have asked my students (most of whom are also teachers) to think critically about the knowledge-building and writing practices we value in schools. We study the historical and contemporary oppression and biases that are linked to the designation of certain types of writing and speaking as "better" than others. And they ask great questions about how to challenge the racism, sexism, and classism that are deeply embedded in people's ideologies about language in and outside of school settings. Through finding concrete practices and local connections to what we study about language, race, culture, and power, they are able to better understand theory as something that is alive and open to change.
I think these writers have done an excellent job highlighting a variety of spaces, events, organizations, and ideas that take up writing and rhetoric in innovative ways around our city. While the website needs some work with categorization and navigation, I'm happy with how far we've come in one year with two classes of smart, emerging scholars who have taken on my challenge to write something a bit different for their graduate seminars.
As we look forward to fully launching our new PhD program in Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement, I hope that Writing & Rhetoric MKE can develop into something more than a space for public writing with graduate classes. I want it to become something dynamic that is run by our graduate students and I hope they will help shape the vision for what this could be. I hope it will be a space that invites contributions from writers outside of our program and UWM. I hope it can provide content that supports and engages with diverse voices and perspectives of everyday writing and rhetoric around Milwaukee. In the coming weeks and months, I plan to write more posts as this vision develops, and these will feature conversations with the individuals who will help build the future of Writing & Rhetoric MKE. For now, I'll leave you with a quote that has inspired my vision for how the blog and our program can actively participate in sustaining social movements, resisting violence, and doing the work of social justice:
"What literacy, composition, and rhetoric might do is further explore the language and literacy practices of...activists, organizations, and everyday resisters historically and contemporarily, and apply them as models to construct radically intersectional methodologies, theories, and pedagogies that emerge from or grow the coalitions that build and sustain these movements. Language is a crucial element in resisting this violence, and as scholars of literacy, composition, and rhetoric we are especially skilled and thus charged with developing new and affirming existing practices that do the work of social justice." -Eric Darnell Pritchard (251-252)