Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

A Principled Uncertainty: Writing Studies Methods in Contexts of Indigeneity

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

A Principled Uncertainty: Writing Studies Methods in Contexts of Indigeneity

Article excerpt

Some of our old people, they were the storytellers in our community and they were also the educators.... We think of old people as being our archives, our museum. They were our university. They were the people who were the keepers of everything in our community.

Maria Campbell (qtd. in Gardner)

Critical challenges to the history of rhetoric have brought with them challenges to the methods with which we study written and spoken texts. Scholars of Indigenous rhetorics question well-trodden methodological paths and invite us to consider how, since Native rhetorical knowledge resides within communities, rhetorical study can be responsive to the values ofthe communities in which it is undertaken. Researchers discuss how they negotiate their relations to both the Indigenous and research communities with which and from within which they work. Some question the very premises on which alphabetic writing and print have been privileged over alternative literacies, exploring in detail how Indigenous knowledges and alternative textualities-syllabaries, pictographic systems, khipu chords, wampum belts, sandpainting, basket weaving, or pottery design (Boone and Mignolo; Haas; Bross and Wyss; Cushman; Driskill)-find a place in mainstream rhetorical discussion.

The discussion here follows in this effort to place Indigenous perspectives more prominently in rhetorical studies and focuses in particular on how Indigeneity as a critical concept creates methodological concerns for those who research and teach genres of student writing in the academy.1 Our use of the term genre is founded upon the tradition of rhetorical genre scholarship notably advanced by Carolyn R. Millers 1984 article, and shaped and solidified through the concept of uptake (Freadman; Thieme; Emmons; Reiff and Bawarshi) and the study of activity theory (Russell, "Rethinking"; Spinuzzi). To take such an approach to genre is to say that texts are not objectified as stable forms but rather are contextualized within social communities of practice. F ormal elements of texts can be understood only with recourse to the situational contexts in which they are spoken or written-and heard or read-by thinking and feeling members of social groups with collective memories and habituated practices.

Genre theorists who study questions of diversity in academic writing describe genres as flexible resources (Devitt) and "dynamic rhetorical forms" (Berkenkotter and Huckin) that respond to sociopolitical and other changes in rhetorical situations. We argue that so, too, are methods and their descriptions. Given the questions that scholars of Indigenous rhetorics pose, it is necessary to explore how the very methods of writing studies are challenged by Indigenous rhetorics, protocols, and epistemologies. Thus, while scholars have begun to weigh in on how Indigeneity and Indigenous rhetorics might inform our teaching and research (Villanueva, "Maybe"; Jarratt; Lyons, "Rhetorical"; King, Gubele, and Anderson), scholarship has yet to reflect, as we do below, on how writing studies methods themselves respond rhetorically to such situations.

This article investigates our process of developing a method for a study of writing in Indigenous studies courses in light of the role of power in reproducing established methods. The data for this project consist of instructors' reflections, solicited in discourse-based interviews, on changes they made to pedagogical genres as a response to their own decolonization efforts or to institutional mandates for Indigenization. We present this data to illustrate the tensions in our project between established methods in the field of writing studies and critical questions raised in discussions on Indigenous methodology. We argue that method choices and descriptions bear some similarity to genre choices, particularly in the way that genre has been theorized in rhetorical studies as part of recurring patterns of activity. It is useful to think about these similarities between method descriptions and rhetorical analyses of genre because they allow us to see method's role in the reproduction of existing activity systems and existing power relations. …

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