“Feminist Historiography: Research Methods in Rhetoric” — Christine Mason Sutherland

A fan of primary research, Sutherland identifies common practices of feminist rhetorical history such as collaborating with other scholars; “living the research”–forming intellectual, spiritual, and emotional relationships with objects of research; building connections between facts and feelings in our scholarship; and employing an ethics of care. She also articulates her own bias against adopting adversarial positions and letting feminism as ideology trespass into their scholarship. Sutherland is also uncomfortable with relativism because, in a postmodern sense, the privileging of feminism that accompanies it is based on false categories of truth, values, and ethics. Therefore, Sutherland argues against claiming any kind of certainty, even in regards to feminism. In this regard, and yes, I am categorizing, it seems Sutherland is what some might call a moderate feminist. Sutherland believes in ultimate truth; yet she believes no single person or party can reach it. Nonetheless, we still must strive to find that truth and co-operate with each other in this endeavor.

I really like this last point Sutherland makes about cooperating with each other in order to move closer toward discovering some truth. In terms of scholarship, it helps to think of joining a conversation not because we are simply interested in the conversation but because we want to work with others to locate some truth of a matter that we deem important. Too often, I think we see ourselves in competition with each other rather than in cooperation.

I also appreciate Sutherlands point that research can’t be valued just for its practical value. Sutherland, in saying that modern feminists are doing “good” work, means I think that feminist scholarship is not just high quality but that in enacting an ethics of care, feminists are conducting scholarship for the common good. I wonder how different the rhetorical tradition would be if modern rhetoricians all adopted this ethics of care. In what ways might our field be enriched? On the other hand, how might an ethics of care also limit our field?

Lastly, Sutherland calls for theorizing sermo—the form of rhetoric typical of the private and semi-pubic discourse such as needlework samples, which Maureen Goggin has rhetorically analyzed and theorized. I really think she and Goggin are wise in making this move. Theorizing sermo will enlarge conceptions of rhetoric, open the rhetorical canon, and enrich our understanding of language itself. Theorizing non-Western sermo is especially provocative to think about…..and certainly creates all kinds of rhetorical artifacts which can be researched as primary texts.


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Filed under cultural rhetorics exam, historiography exam

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