Submitted by John W. Pell on October 20, 2011 - 11:49am
Feminisms and Rhetorics was once again a terrific conference. Engaging ideas, brilliant graduate students, and thoughtful panels - many of which spent time reflecting upon the history of feminist rhetorics and offering suggestions about the field's possible future(s). Of course, returning to work after four days away has kept me from writing about the experience. So, over the next few days I want to post about some of the presentations I attended and give some publicity to scholars doing interesting work.
Mary Beth Pennington, VMI
Pennington's presentation examined the rhetorical strategies of coal country activists. Seemingly mastering the art of composing a conference paper, Pennington was able to both trace a pragmatic and theoretical lineage of coal country activism from Mother Jones to Judy Bonds and develop a rhetorical heuristic capable of accounting for the discursive strategies employed by these women.
Drawing upon Addams' notion of sympathetic knowledge, the feminist idea of standpoint theory, Pennington argues that the rhetorical performances of Mother Jones and contemporary activist like Bonds emerge from a matrix of social memories. These rhetorical matrices Pennington argues are places where tropes and figures, especially those relating to the land and to the body, are "recycled and re-constituted" and employed in new arenas of discourse. So, while rhetoricians can trace a lineage between the practices of orators like Jones and Bonds, scholars must simultaneously account for the disparate ways in which activists employ the same rhetorical figures, a practice that both validates historical community experience and opens new possibilities for future communal action.
Pennington offers a complex and nuanced theory of how activist rhetorical strategies develop over time. And, given her ethnographic sensibilities and pragmatist commitment of valuing the voices and ideas of others, Pennington is also creating new lines of inquiry for those interested in both rhetoric and ethnography.
If in the future you have the opportunity to hear her work, I highly recommend it. She is a gifted story-teller and brilliant theorist.