on “The Rhetorician as an Agent of Social Change”

Lisa also suggested that I read Cushman’s article “The Rhetorician as an Agent of Social Change,” which I enjoyed a lot. She advocates for crossing the ivory tower/reality divide that separates universities and their work from the real life work of citizens. She claims that “we need to take into our accounts of social change the ways in which people use language and literacy to challenge and alter the circumstances of daily life” (12). I find this particularly useful, after reading the work of Habermas, who talked about the importance of communicative action and how we use it to create relationships with others.

I’m reminded of some of my writing I did on another blog about homophobia, sexism, and the cultural act of “being annoyed” and how it led to great discussions at an open mic I attended around those issues and how it (might have) changed the mind of a friend who found people who were “very gay” very annoying. We used literacy and language to communicate to each other and come to a better understanding. I think I’m going to expand on this story and use it in my thesis.

Cushman points to an important distinction that I would like to keep in mind: “the difference between missionary activism, which introduces certain literacies to promote an ideology, and scholarly activism, which facilitates the literate activities that already take place in the community” (13).

Another issue I have found at stake is that of the dialogues around “false consciousness.” Cushman notes that critical pedagogues can label students and citizens as having false consciousness and then dismiss them. “Yet,” she writes, “the many scholars who do immerse themselves into the daily living of people find, predictably, hidden ideologies — belief systems that contain numerous, clever ways to identify and criticize onerous behavior” (23). The engagement in society that Cushman calls for would allow us to understand that there is resistance in the population to dominating forces, that everyone isn’t caught up in “false consciousness” (or perhaps, totally caught up in it), and thus should not be dismissed.

(I’m reminded of the Grimshaw article I blogged about a few weeks ago that argued against the “autonomous self” that liberalism so loudly touts.)

Cushman also quotes from Freire, that “To affirm that men are persons and persons should be free, and yet, to do nothing tangible to make this affirmation a reality, is a farce” (24, quoting Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed 35). Cushman believes tangible to mean activism and questions if the cultural studies’ and critical pedagogy’s stress on “critical consciousness” is activism. “My sense is that we’re not doing enough because we’re acting within the role of the teacher that has been perpetuated by the institution, and thus keeps us from breaking down the barriers between the university and community” (24).

Vitanza has written and spoken about the “cynics” that cultural studies might be creating because perhaps working for “critical consciousness” is not enough. This is largely due to the flow of desire and how analysis often does not do enough to confront and change desire, to change the way our bodies function (remember to go back to Alcorn’s book).

Cushman, Ellen. “The Rhetorician as an Agent of Social Change.” CCC 47.1 (February 1996): 7-28.

This entry was posted in Critical Pedagogy, Desire, Education, Literacy, Suggestions from others, Teaching Composition, Thesis work, Victor Vitanza. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to on “The Rhetorician as an Agent of Social Change”

  1. Sara Jameson says:

    Teachers can feel as if they are doing enough by simply teaching about the situations. Certainly enlightening students to the reality of oppression is a great start. But stopping there can be a cop out. I know, because often though I know I should do more and would like to do more, I don’t.

  2. Sara Jameson says:

    But, this is indeed the way I try to structure my WR 222 – to have students aware of Textual Power, to quote Scholes.

    By the way, is the book I lent you, Rhetorical Democracy, any help here?

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