Creating Spaces for Strategic Contemplation:
A Collaborative Webtext
By David Maynard and Christine Denecker
Designed by Megan Adams
Feminist Rhetorical Practices
The suggestion to collaborate on an academic article was rooted in my admiration for David’s completed project, as well as in the aforementioned feminist rhetorical practices that guide my decisions inside and outside the classroom. Prior to and throughout every semester I teach, I intentionally endeavor to meet my students where they are as learners and to challenge them to challenge themselves. As an instructor, I can guide and encourage learning, but my main goal is to foster self-activation and actualization as well as an atmosphere of collegial collaborative inquiry and knowledge-making. Ideally, the classroom should be a place to share, to explore, to fail, to question, to listen, to interpret, to create, and to thrive. This teaching philosophy, while not unique, derives from my early training as an English educator; from years of trial and error as a high school composition instructor; and from mentoring that occurred when I completed doctoral work and became a university professor. The result: over two decades of feminist pedagogical strategies that emerged organically are now intentional.
In particular, notions of safety, freedom, and rigor undergird my ideal classroom environment and align with the external conditions of invitational rhetoric, as described by Foss and Griffin (1995). Classrooms built on principles of invitational rhetoric encourage participants to “not only listen carefully to the perspective of others but to try to think from those perspectives” (Foss & Griffin, 1995, p. 12) and to “order the world so it seems coherent and makes sense to them” (Foss & Griffin, 1995, p. 11). Bone, et al. (2008) add, “The interaction, or relationship between those involved in the exchange, is rooted in reciprocity and respect” (p. 436). Most importantly, participants in environments that support invitational rhetoric are afforded the safety and freedom to express their ideas and perspectives—even as they differ—and to know that those ideas and perspectives will be received with well-meaning thought and introspection. In the words of Foss and Griffin (1995), “As rhetors and audience members offer their ideas on an issue, they allow diverse positions to be compared in a process of discovery and questioning that may lead to transformation for themselves and others” (p. 6).
As with the practice of strategic contemplation, theories of invitational rhetoric can extend beyond the initial site of inquiry, or to be specific here, the initial site of instruction. Said another way, invitational rhetoric (like strategic contemplation) need not be bound to a particular space or time; instead, when carefully cultivated, the safety, freedom, and rigor of the course environment can branch out into the discussions and exchanges that occur outside classroom walls. For example, while I had preliminary ideas for a potential publication when I approached David about collaborating, I was married to none of them, and as we discussed the project in our respective offices, in the hallways of our shared office building, and as we waited for copies at the Xerox machine, new and unexpected ideas emerged. Invitational rhetoric helps explain these early exchanges and our commitment to remaining open to how the interplay of our perspectives might determine the path and scope of our shared work.
Since invitational rhetoric is grounded in “a commitment to the creation of relationships of equality and to the elimination of the dominance and elitism that characterize most human relationships” (Foss & Griffin,1995, p. 4), I approached this project as a colleague and co-learner and was happy to see David do the same. No grade was at stake here; the semester was over. Instead, here lay a chance for two scholars to experience the push and pull of co-authorship. I anticipated how working collaboratively would challenge us “to listen more carefully than we were wont to do, to negotiate differences in style and substance, to wait patiently for the other to speak or write, to be critical and supportive at the same time, to be responsible to one another . . .” (Lunsford & Ede, 2012, p. 4). My previous co-authoring experiences initiated by Blair had already clearly proven to me the many intellectual benefits of collaborative scholarly work. To now share such an experience with one of my graduate students seemed completely natural and in keeping with feminist mentoring principles that underscore the importance of achieving “a nonhierarchical, co-equal model among colleagues, despite the differences in rank and stature within the profession” (Blair, Gajjala, & Tulley, 2008, p. 16) in such projects.
To be fair, I brought experience in academic publishing and editing to this collaboration, and some might see that in contradiction to my previous claim regarding the project as shared work among co-equals, work born of feminist rhetorical principles and a pedagogy of invitational rhetoric. However, to borrow from Howard (2001), “When teachers are no longer dispensing knowledge in lectures but are guiding students in the collaborative process of discovering and constructing knowledge, students are empowered” (p. 57). Furthermore, who is to say that my experience is more valuable than David’s? Surely, having prior exposure to the publishing process was helpful, but David’s ideas drove our early discussions, as well as subsequent ones, and allowed the project to take on elements of dialogic collaboration, which entails cooperating on all components of an endeavor.
In contrast to hierarchical collaboration, which is “carefully, and often rigidly, structured, driven by highly specific goals, and carried out by people playing clearly defined and delimited roles,” (Lunsford & Ede, 2012, p. 138), dialogic collaboration “is loosely structured and the roles enacted within it are fluid: one person may occupy multiple and shifting roles as a project progresses” (Lunsford & Ede, 2012, p. 138). Participants in dialogic collaboration enjoy “the creative tension inherent in multivoiced and mutivalent venutres” (Lunsford & Ede, 2012, p. 138). These observations are not meant to simplify hierarchical collaboration as “bad” or dialogic as “good” (as Lunsford and Ede are also quick to point out); instead, the “shifting roles” and “creative tension” of bringing individual voices and values together in dialogic collaboration intimates the goals of a pedagogy of invitational rhetoric--goals that, like dialogic collaboration, recognize “the human and social potentialities of collaboration” (Lunsford & Ede, 2012, p. 138). Likewise, the dialogic collaborative approach mirrored my own experience writing with Blair and later with Christine Tulley, who, despite my relative newness to the field at the time of our initial collaborations, not only treated me as an equal but also readily afforded spaces in which we each moved seamlessly among roles as we conceived of ideas, carried out research, crafted text, fussed over edits, and ultimately published our work (see “The Role of Narrative in Articulating the Relationship between Feminism and Digital Literacy," 2013).
David’s ideas would ultimately guide our collaboration toward an examination of the intentional expansion of technological literacy, and it was within that examination that I began a closer grappling with my own pedagogical choices. To borrow again from Lunsford and Ede (2012), “examining the theoretical implications of collaboration--particularly in the dialogic mode--can be valuable precisely because it throws these practices into high relief, thereby allowing us and our students to question them, to open up the classroom to the free play of difference” (p. 145). To say that I was heretofore unmindful of my pedagogical choices would obviously be inaccurate given my earlier points on feminist principles and invitational rhetoric; however, the creative tension that drove David to consider the ethical implications of crafting his “Ask the Expert” assignment in Windows Movie Maker gave me new pause to consider my own complicity in assigning digital projects. Lunsford and Ede argue that “rigorously pursued, a theory of collaborative writing must lead us to question, in fact, not only the structure and management of our classrooms but our curricular and institutional structures as well” (p. 145). As such, David’s personal query, in turn, opened a Pandora’s Box of pedagogical questions for me regarding the “Ask the Expert” assignment, questions with which I am still contending. Furthermore, I am happy for the measured sharpness that now permeates my dissemination of and the classroom discussion of this assignment thanks to the introspection David helped spark in me.
Most markedly, working with David on this project challenged me to slow down enough to witness the interplay of strategic contemplation, invitational rhetoric, and dialogic collaboration occurring in the work I do with my students. That is not to say that clear lines demark each of these elements or that others have not recognized the ways in which principles of each co-mingle across the three. However, the cognitive dissonance that David experienced upon our initial reflections on the project as a potential source for collaborative work served to reveal the power of reflecting on a project in a safe space with no particular agenda at hand other than to see what meaning might derived from such an exchange. Bone et al.’s (2008) words, while about invitational rhetoric alone, seem an appropriate explanation to the results of such an exchange: “ . . . when rhetors use invitational rhetoric their goal is to enter into a dialogue in order to share perspectives and positions, to see the complexity of an issue about which neither party agrees, and to increase understanding” (p. 436). An important point to note here is that the phrase, “an issue about which neither party agrees” does not necessarily denote disagreement. Instead, our mutual respect for one another and our willingness to listen to one another, along with the strategic contemplation that we entered into individually and the dialogic collaboration we engaged in led us both to some moments of clarity on the implications of the “Ask the Expert” assignment.
Next Section: Begin at the Beginning