Thursday, November 20, 2008
Diversity -- A Transnational Matrix of Relationships
Rebecca Dingo is an Assistant Professor at the University of Missouri. She holds a joint appointment in Women’s and Gender Studies and English. Rebecca's research intersects feminist rhetorical theory with transnational, public policy, disability, and visual culture studies. She is interested in how public policy-making at the local, national, and global levels are created not only to persuade policy-makers but also every day citizens. In her scholarship Rebecca demonstrates how the rhetorical dynamics of the policy-making process structure--through public, legal, political, and administrative institutions--audiences' collective and individual identities, cultural memories, value systems, senses of place, and material circumstances.
Rebecca Dingo’s monograph book project, "Networking Arguments: Rhetoric, Transnational Feminism, and Public Policy Writing," examines the formation of transnational publics by exploring the vocabularies of transnational policy initiatives. The book aims to develop a broader practice of rhetorical criticism that accounts for the transnational paths along which arguments travel, the interarticulated points at which local and global logics meet, and the historical contexts that enable these logics. Her latest essay, “Linking Transnational Logics” (College English, May 2008) examines the networked arguments in World Bank and U.S. gender-mainstreaming policies. Rebecca’s work has also appeared in Concerns: Journal of the Women’s Caucus of the MLA, The Journal of Women’s History, and Wagadu: Journal of Transnational Women’s and Gender Studies.
Diversity?… hmmmm…. Do I really “do” diversity? That is what I thought when I was invited to blog about how I address diversity in my teaching, scholarship, and service. Ok yes, I hold a joint appointment in English (rhet/comp) and Women’s and Gender Studies; I actively participate in recruiting and hiring minority job candidates; I publish essays that focus on third world women, post- and neo-colonialism, disability, and sexuality; I teach “Feminist Rhetorical Theories” (a course I designed to explore an expanded diverse canon); and I do also frequently teach that large lecture course titled “Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies” which is, in a lot of ways, teaching students to notice and respect the diverse experiences, needs, desires, and geopolitical situation of women. But oddly, I have never considered myself to be a diversity scholar or teacher per se. Unlike Victor Villanueva and Melea Powell, both of whom mentioned on pervious guest blogs, that they resist the use of the term diversity and unlike Asao Inoue who finds that teaching “diversity” usefully provides a way to teach students about power and identity, I do not think about diversity quite in the same ways.
Rather, in my teaching and scholarship I strive to untangle the happenings that connect us while showing how indeed, these connections are often uneven or unfair. I fear that if I simply teach about diversity or even sameness then my students will not be able to get past the simplistic idea that all “difference is good.” While difference and diversity can be good, people such as David Horowitz (who is known for creating a nation-wide movement to make university teachers teach and “respect” intellectual diversity), have made me question the usefulness of the term or even the concept. (And in fact, his movement demonstrates exactly what Krista Radcliffe mentions in her guest blog: words function as tropes and in his argument diversity has become a new trope.) While this sounds all good and well, intellectual diversity has become a way for universities to police their faculty thereby creating a hostile and suspicious work environment. My university recently adopted an intellectual diversity statement and while we are lucky that few of us have felt that we are being watched, this movement has affected my teaching (and scholarship)—but surprisingly, in some positive ways.
In an attempt to avoid being too much of what the Horowitz folks describe as a “liberal” teacher and scholar I invite my students (and my scholarly audience) to think about the various ways they are connected with other parts of their local communities, nation, and world. I have found that the emerging sub-field of women’s studies, transnational feminism, to be particularly useful for moving my students away from thinking only about their own privilege and how they are different from others to making connections to each other and the ostensible “other” (thereby making the other not so unfamiliar or exotic). I use the term transnationalism to refer to how globalization has influenced the movement of people and the production texts, culture, and knowledge across borders. A transnational feminist lens asks that we consider how social, political, and economic forces are dynamic, unbounded, and uneven; these forces function in a supra-national, trans-regional, and trans-local network making it necessary to reconsider how we understand identity, sovereignty, citizenship, and textual production. Transnational movements have had uneven material consequences throughout and within different regions of the world. These consequences require rhetoricians find new ways to examine how texts are written and dispersed, how they persuade, and how they might impact audiences who reside in different geopolitical locations. Indeed, I think that these consequences also necessitate that we expand our understanding of diversity.
This is not an easy task because we tend to want to exoticize people and places that are unfamiliar to us; we have already been taught through images, reports, preconceived notions, etc. that there are distinct differences between the so-called first and third worlds, the city dweller vs. the country dweller, Poles vs. Chinese, Americans vs. Africans, to name only a few examples. And yet, due to an increasingly transnational market, economy, and community, these assumptions are simply that: assumptions. Take for example the supposition that the U.S. is significantly different from India. Despite the fact that the U.S. is considered a high- income nation and India a lower-income nation, poor citizens and immigrants from both countries are being helped financially through micro-loans from the Grameen Bank (the bank that won the Nobel Peace prize, along with its founder, Professor Muhammad Yunus in 2006) . The Grameen Bank is best known for providing Indian women with microloans to begin independent businesses; recently, the New York Times reported that the Grameen Bank has begun to provide microloans to communities in Queens, N.Y. This simple example demonstrates how third world poverty very much resides in the so-called first world and that differences become muddied in a transnational economy.
I find a transnational studies methodology to be a useful way to think through the concept of diversity because a transnational analysis does not ask who suffers more, who has more power, or how two (or more) groups are similar or different but instead sets up a matrix of relationships and examines connectivities. A transnational perspective that examines how economic globalization has influenced the flow of people, labor, capital, culture, and knowledge across borders allows rhet/comp scholars and teachers to analyze more precisely how diversity is enmeshed with larger global exchanges (money, goods, power, representations, knowledges, etc.) that affect the changing nature of identity. In addition to rhet/comp scholars recognizing how race, class, ability, sexuality, gender, etc, impact one’s identity and rhetorical situation, a transnational studies lens asks us to examine identity alongside the global circulation of and interarticulation in texts and situations.
I use a simple exercise in my classes to illustrate this circulation of goods and situations. I ask my students to look at their clothing tags to see where the item was made. For the most part, the students’ clothing comes from parts of Central and South America, Asia, and sometimes Africa. We then think about how these items connect us to people we might not know by considering the various hands that might have touched the fabric before the students purchased the item. I then ask them to think about the other non-tangible ways they might be connected to those people who made the clothing. For example, I invite them to consider how women who work in the maquilladoras along the U.S. and Mexico borders have an unacknowledged relationship with former female factory workers who might now work in U.S. megastores. The women working in the megastore might have worked in a factory that produced the same goods as the Mexican factory but due to transnational trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), that factory might have moved to Mexico leaving these women without a stable income. Both sets of women, then, are linked by the very products produced at the maquilladora—one woman makes the items the other sells them—yet, in many cases both sets of women cannot afford to purchase the very products they produce and sell. In this way, U.S. and Mexican workers are linked within a complex network of economic, geopolitical, and labor forces even though they reside in different geopolitical locations and may have very different lives. Ultimately, these women are unevenly connected to each other due to increased global financial, cultural, and gendered networks.
So do I “do” diversity? Well, yes and no. I suppose that for me, the concept of diversity has productively shifted in my research and teaching so that I am less interested in how diversity or difference is expressed and more interested in climate and situation that creates a matrix of sometimes uneven connections. In my teaching and research, I thus show how the circulation of texts (and the climate in which they are produced) often creates this matrix making it necessary for rhet/comp scholars to turn a critical eye on diverse public texts we might otherwise disregard.