Rousculp, Tiffany — Evolving a Discursive Ecology: A Rhetoric of Respect

Rousculp, Tiffany. “Evolving a Discursive Ecology: A Rhetoric of Respect.” Rhetoric of Respect: Recognizing Change at a Community Writing Center. Urbana, IL: Conference on College Composition and Communication, National Council of Teachers of English, 2014. Print.

According to Rousculp, a rhetoric of respect, an idea she developed within the culture of her Community Writing Center (CWC) in Utah, focuses on maintaining “a solid faith in a potential partner’s own capability and their agency to determine what they needed or wanted.” In this sense, in the context of tutoring, it is essential for tutors to go into appointments with “blank” intentions, not allowing “their own opinions or backgrounds to rush into the foreground of the client’s own ideas” (27).

Rousculp then touches on the “systemic discrimination” of language and how the social order in which an individual is born within determines their “available resources, including language, material culture, social interests” (28). She discusses James Gee and his definition of literacy being not an activity in which promotes a specific skill (reading and writing) but rather an ideology. In this light, she notes the hegemony of literacy and language, which regulate “the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion,” and how this leads to discrimination through the multiple literacies within education and school systems (29). Rousculp’s Community Writing Centers thus tries to encourage a different definition of literacy, one that is flexible and depends on the person, but is also empowering and makes anyone’s writing, regardless of how “good,” valuable (29).

Rousculp then emphasizes the idea that mainstream versions of literacy fail to “recognize nonmainstream capabilities and intelligences” (33). She details the struggles within her job, understanding that her obligations were to “dialogue, to collaborate, to facilitate [the students’] work toward goals” within their own area of study, not to restrict and tell them exactly what they needed to do in order to reach those requirements (41). These tensions led Rousculp to develop the idea of a rhetoric of respect to “provide a flexible environment in which people could determine their own needs and wants for writing, a place where perhaps people could become ‘self-sponsored’ in their literacy development” (45).

As Rousculp indicates, the promotion of a single autonomous literacy as a means of control is a violent act because it limits the potential of those who are not born into the social order associated with that literacy. Even though our education system seems to promote (to a degree) a sense of individuality, the very ways in which we try to express ourselves (speech, writing, reading) are regulated to meet certain criteria of a specific, more “powerful” literacy. I immediately think of Whorfian linguistic determinism, and how those who learn English as a Second Language are stifled when they cannot completely express themselves in the “proper literacy of the global world.” In regard to language and nonviolence, is a universal language or literacy a worthy goal? Although I do understand the need for empathy, and that language can be a bridge to understanding another’s trials and interpreting their experiences through our own, it seems as if the idea of promoting a global language is ultimately a move of imperialism and superiority, not necessarily a move of peace. In fact, a majority of conflicts throughout the world seem to be created either through something lost in translation or through the imposition of the ideals of one group onto another. Promoting the use of English in less developed countries is a very ethnocentric act.  

Rousculp’s discursive ecology, known as a rhetoric of respect, is a strong way to promote the fuller potential in others, for it seems to seek creating harmony through promoting multiple interpretations. It is also an idea that could promote the possibility of writing and language to promote nonviolence and conflict resolution, rather than aggression and intolerance. The oppressive acts built into the system have created the potential for rhetoric of respect to grow: so what other positive outcomes, I wonder, could these violent acts towards individual expression promote?

–Madiera Dennison

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