Critical Feminist Methodologies: Studies That Influence

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Almjeld, Jen and Kristine Blair. “Multimodal Methods for Multimodal Literacies: Establishing a Technofeminist Research Identity”Composing (media) =Composing(embodiment). Eds. Kristin L. Arola and Anne Francis Wysocki. Logan, UT: Utah University Press. 2012. 97-109.

In their recent study of MySpace as a public site of online literacy, Jen Almjeld and Kristine Blair advocate “embedded” research strategies to “bridge the gap between researcher and participants” (103).  They argue the establishment of “researcher positionality through autobiography” and enact this methodology in their study of the digital practices of female MySpace users, discovering that “new media creates challenges regarding ways researcher identity is created” and how it affects research” (99).  The article cites new media scholar Blair’s older work calling for multimodal and multivocal “delivery and access” to scholarship and data.  This, in their estimation, broadens the scope and definition of research.  Their answer to Blair’s earlier challenge is to create a technofeminist methodology in which the researcher participates in social media sites where rhetoric and knowledge is made, “embedded within the dialogic” process of female writing on the web (101). An insider status can help or hinder divisions between researcher and subject, but can also offer situated knowledge that challenges the false and patriarchal notion of “outside objectivity” (105).

When I read this article recommended by a colleague, I tucked it away for this research project immediately.  I was so confused by Pinterest as an outsider, and I knew I wanted to “dive in” to the belly of the beast to see it more clearly (and to stop alienating people at parties with my harsh, half-informed, outsider criticisms) and Almjeld and Blair offer a wonderful justification for this instinct.  One of the reasons I had not joined Pinterest is because I “didn’t get it” – possibly because, as a working-class and feminist mother, I felt “outside” the crafts and recipes and wedding ideas and expensive products pinned on the site.  I never felt economically or domestically equal to the woman presented through most pinboards.  Diving in and seeing – doing actually – firsthand, that there is definitely space to resist these common constructions, to pin feminist and transgressive messages, and to simply imagine my own possibilities was a helpful perspective to gain.  Almjeld and Blair legitimate that methodology – and give it a pretty punk rock name.  I am a technofeminist researcher.  Perfect!

Blair, Kristine. “A complicated geometry: triangulating feminism, activism, and technological literacy”. Writing Studies Research in Practice.Eds. Lee Nickoson and Mary Sheridan, Southern Illinois University . 2012.  pp63-72. Print.

Gries, Laurie.  “Iconographic Tracking: A Digital Research Method for Visual Rhetoric and Circulation Studies”. Computers and Composition 30 (2013) 332–348.

In her exploration of a new research methodology she calls, “iconographic tracking”, Gries attempts to argue and demonstrate the call for and answer to emerging need for new methods of studying visual online data in the field of Composition and Rhetoric.  Drawing on the work of rhetoric and communication scholars who have developed methods for examining the role of circulation in public communication, Gries notes that “Circulation studies is important as it has helped (a) draw attention to rhetoric’s dynamic movement and fluidity; (b) reconfiguretheories of rhetoric and publics to account for discourse’s dynamic, distributed, and emergent aspects; (c) rethink composing strategies for writing in a digital age; and (d) revamp pedagogy to account for writing’s full production cycle. Scholars have also pointed toward new methodologies for studying the mobility of rhetoric, writing, and digital representations” (333).  In order to further this direction of Composition and Rhetoric scholarship, Gries introduces “iconographic tracking,” a research method that “makes use of inventive digital research and traditional qualitative strategies to account for an image’s circulation, transformation, and consequentiality” (334).  To demonstrate how iconographic tracking can work to help create new knowledge and understanding about how meaning is constructed and re-composed online, Gries “tracks” the now-famous “Obama Hope” image as it is re-posted and re-rendered across the Internet and the world.

A case study that aims to help illustrate how and why new digital methodologies deserve attention and conversation in our field, I found Gries article helpful in terms of imagining where a methodology piece on Pinterest might fit into our field.  Like Blair and Almjeld who attempt to not only study online composing practices, but to examine how we might best go about practicing that study, Gries piece helped me understand that methods for data collection can be creative and innovative.  Instead of folders to “code” visual data, however – I will explore how the use of pinboards and hashtags can help a technofeminist researcher code data within the geography and social network of her subject.  I think reading some of Gries’s sources will also help me build future work.  I am also going to discuss the role of ethnography and people-based research in conjunction with iconographic tracking methods for understanding how/why/where women are composing resistance on Pinterest.

Rhodes, Jaquiline.  Radical Feminism, Writing, and Critical Agency: From Manifesto to Modem.  Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005.  Print.

In this book, Jaquiline Rhodes sets out to examine how careful recovery study of the collaborative feminist manifesto writing of the women’s movement in the United States can inform scholarship on the rhetorical practices of web activists.  Her purpose here is really to argue that feminist rhetorical tactics of the past and even our very digital present can help to “retheorize student writers as active producers of the strategic discourses of resistance” (3).  Rhodes focuses her recovery scholarship using critical historicism – relying on Foucault’s “notion of genealogical history to reconfigure radical feminism’s place in feminist history” and in the history of composition and rhetoric (6).  For Rhodes, this project is crucial in answering the field’s fairly simplistic understanding of feminist scholarship that merely, as she says “valoriz[es] ‘women’s ways’ [yet] ignores or misrepresents women’s different ways” (21).  Rhodes “rewrites” radical feminist rhetorical practices by critically examining the manifesto writings and characterizing the genre as unstructured (or anti-structured), confrontational, collective, personal and narrative with the purpose of consciousness-raising, exclusionary of male authorship, deliberately very public, and insisting upon ambiguous authorship (25 -51).   This is important, because for Rhodes online feminist writing and circulation of texts parallels cyberfeminists with “the textual subjectivity of radical feminists” (54).  This is really, truly a study of the Internet – but one grounded, as Rhodes asserts, in the “materialities and histories” to explain the “present sate of women online” and to explore a useful example of “writerly subjectivity” (65, 93).

This book is fantastic in terms of offering me a solid methodology for examining a rhetorical tradition of resistant social action in concert with new media manifestations of that tradition – to see how new technologies changes and often complicates or enables these modes of public engagement and counter-world making.  I’d love to keep thinking of Rhodes’s work as a foundation for the ways I imagine my project developing – and that is using a critical examination of capitalist spaces – real places and architected environments like Planned Parenthood clinics – in conversation with how those places happen online, how web environments reflect or obfuscate the power dynamics that actual spaces and their histories communicate to bodies that enter (or cannot enter) them.  I’d like to keep on with my investigation of, unlike Rhodes, spaces on the Internet that are not designed or architected to be sites of radical feminist activism.  Instead I would like to look at sites that ask resistant rhetorics to infiltrate dominant discourses and traditional genres/modes of composing in order to make counter narratives within restrictive spaces.

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