Why We Need Invitational Rhetoric


Why Computers and Composition Needs Invitational Rhetoric

Over the last 25 years, Computers and Composition has developed significantly as a field of study, and during that time, many leaders in the field have made clear connections and overtures to feminism. And feminism provides language we use in our scholarship to talk about choices, and the power that having choices provides.

Invitational rhetoric, grounded in feminist principles and focused on achieving feminist aims is a next logical step for computers and composition because it 1) values choice and self-determination and 2) it moves the field beyond traditional argumentation into a dialogic space. During most of our existence as a sub-field and field, members have argued that the computer-mediated space is different from traditional communication spaces. We have argued that is more egalitarian, safer, more inviting, less silencing, and a space for dialogic conversation.

All good things, until we came to the actual discovery that, while computer mediated spaces have these potential qualities, by large, these qualities remain unrealized because of outside factors brought to bear on the cmc spaces. As we have seen from social epistemic rhetoric, spaces do not exist without the dialogue or conversation that creates them; we create and mediate our realities, and we do so under the influence of the social networks and constraints that exist around us. We create our selves through and by the stories we tell, and those stories are created through and by the interactions that we have with our environments and the conversants that exist and interact with us in those environments. therefore, it is not possible to have an unmediated conversation.

Invitational rhetoric provides a space for the interconnection and reinterpretation of conversation. According to Foss and Foss (2009), the goal of invitational rhetoric is to shift participants away from changing those things we cannot change--in this case, others--to focusing on change we can make--ourselves--so that we can truly embody the change we want to see in the world. What this means, in terms of an approach for the field of computers and composition, then, is an acceptance that we will not change the systemic structures that undergird the academy by mounting a counter-argument. Rather, though we should not to turn an blind eye to the social realities that we construct and construct us, but re-emphasize the effects we want to have, we can dismiss argument as the modus operandi for the field. We recognize, of course, the difficulties of making such a suggestion. Our field has been hyperaware of the differences that set us apart, and those differences have been interpreted by others and by us as making us feel or appear “less than.” Choosing to dismiss the means by which most of the world defines the academy--scholarly debate and argument--can appear, at best, misguided. However, a focus on invitation does shift the conversation in significant ways.

Shifting away from a quasi-apostolic rhetoric--in which we are compelled to trace ourselves back as far back as we can so that we have the right and the privilege to say anything--toward invitational rhetoric imbues the field with a previously un-experienced self-confidence to speak.

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