Refiguring Family:

Rhetoric, Feminist Voices, and Digital Publishing

The "Survey said!"

More About The Survey
Three months after the family rhetoric issue was published (and after receiving IRB approval for a survey of authors), we invited all twenty-two authors (published and unpublished) to complete our six-question survey. Respondents entered a password protected WordPress website to complete the survey.

To maintain their anonymity, we provided each with a pseudonym (bird types including thrush, osprey, sparrow, etc.). The questions were posted "blog-style" as topics, and respondents answered questions in threaded discussions where they could see each other's responses and could respond to each other's work.

In addition to our six directed questions, we included a space encouraging authors to make additional comments, if they wished, or ask any questions they might have had.

Finally, all but one of the respondents participating in our survey were published by Harlot. The responses should be considered keeping this particular bias in mind since they reflect responses by what we assume are "happy" or "gruntled" authors.

While our own reading of the pieces submitted for the special issue on family rhetoric shed light on family, feminist perspectives, and rhetorical style, we wanted to know more about authors' decisions to write about family rhetoric from the perspective they did, to cover the specific topic they did, and their desire to share their work with the academic/non-academic audience Harlot targets. Nine of the twenty-two authors submitting to the family rhetoric issue (eight of whom had their piece published in the issue) completed the online survey. While we cannot generalize too much from the modest pool of responses we received, authors' responses can teach us more about their motivations for the content and style they chose for their pieces; they also teach us something about perceptions of academic publishing (more about the survey).

Motivations for Exploring Family Rhetoric

Call For Submissions

One question we asked, "Why did you choose Harlot as your publishing venue?," yielded a number of responses relating to the Call For Submissions (CFS). While this isn't necessarily surprising, it does help us understand the importance of these calls in inspiring and encouraging authors to write. Though reasons for submitting were varied and included that it was "a matter of convenience" because "The call from Harlot fit the essay I'd just written," Figure 2 shows how our CFS was important to authors and composing.

Figure 2

Thrush
The cfp on family rhetorics came out while I was in the process of choosing a topic and drafting a proposal for a seminar paper. Since I often use cfps as a means for invention and found the call appealing—most especially the idea of discussing portrayals of families in TV sitcoms—I wrote to the call and submitted.
Osprey
Harlotfor awhile with the intent to submit regardless. As others have noted, the creative freedom that Harlot allows and promotes makes it an attractive venue for publishing. Though my article didn't get accepted to the Family Rhetoric issue, I still intend to pursue publication in Harlot in the future.
Sparrow
Harlotbecause of the CFP on Family Rhetoric. I had a project I was working on, and it fit quite well with the call. When I saw that Harlot is directed at both scholarly and public audiences, I was even more convinced that my piece could be a fit.
Pelican
I chose Harlot because of the CFP focussed on family rhetoric (much like sparrow above!).

We also asked, "Why did you choose to write a piece about family rhetoric?" and "Why did you choose to write about this particular topic within the subject of family rhetoric?" A couple more of these responses, like those above, mention the importance of the CFS. Figure 3 shows these responses.

Figure 3

Parakeet
hmmm
for me, I was writing about struggles in my life. Looking back, figuring out what in the language and the culture had shaped me to say certain things.
I mean, seeing the CFP made things click together for me. It's not a topic that I had thought was "write-able-about" until I read that.
Goldfinch
This was a strange piece for me, in that I had zero intention of ever writing about the topic of infertility. I'd been going through it for years, and pretty much talked it out as much as I thought it could be (with my therapist, friends, etc). But, when I saw this call something fired up inside me. I was at first stunned at how my reaction to the CFP was one of "why are they excluding me?" When, clearly, notions of "family" don't exclude those without children, it was more that my own definition of family excluded me from the term. So, I stewed on this, wondered why I was excluding myself, and realized I had something I wanted to say. Family, after all, is all about rhetoric and I had created a very clear me-vs-them narrative that wasn't entirely fair. In short: I did it for myself, to sort of clean out my angst. It worked.

Based on these findings, we feel our CFS is one of the primary reasons for our increased submissions for this issue. We believe part of the reason for its success is because it gives presence to topics authors didn't necessarily view as legitimate or appropriate for discussion and analysis. Unlike open or "regular" issues, a special issue may help authors "see" how their work belongs in a community and is appropriate or legitimate by giving it presence—"By the very fact of selecting certain elements and presenting them to the audience, their importance and pertinency to the discussion are implied. Indeed, such a choice endows these elements with a presence..." (Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca, 1969, p. 116). In more words, the CFS for the special issue might be read to inspire connections between interests and research by endowing family rhetoric with "importance" and "pertinency." At the same time, however, our call also denied or gave absence to other ways of considering texts for our authors. For instance, the piece on "Modern Family" did not have to examine the program through the lens of family rhetoric. It could have analyzed children's rhetoric and how representations of children are rhetorically constructed. The piece on infertility and Christmas cards didn't have to analyze family and its definitions. It could examine more closely the visual rhetoric of Christmas cards themselves. By giving presence to family rhetoric the CFS helped engage authors with their research or with their invention processes; again, however, we also denied other topics and ways of understanding the world.

Audience/Style

Our survey also helped us understand that some authors were motivated to compose and submit their pieces because writing for Harlot's audience (a more general or less academic audience) required—and allowed—them to consider non-traditional, less-academic styles of communication. Our question, "How did you feel about submitting a personal work/subject to a publication that attracts a hybrid (i.e. scholarly and general) readership?" elicited a number of pathos-based responses. Figure 4 lists a few of these responses.

Figure 4

Osprey
I felt really good about it. It was refreshing to write in a way that could accommodate academic inquiry with a more personal, narrative voice.
Pelican
The readership is easy to address. I usually write with some form of personal voice–rather informal. It was nice to do so and feel within bounds.
Goldfinch
It felt good. I truthfully didn't approach this as a line on my CV (which is the way I approach most print-based work I do), instead I saw it as a way of sharing my own experiences in the hopes that I might also learn from others. Because I saw it more as sharing than as telling/proving-how-smart-I-am, the personal had to be included. In more print-based theory work, I feel like the personal is excluded in our aims of being "objective." This felt much more honest, and I loved it.
Sparrow
I like goldfinch's use of the word "honest." Yes, I think I can relate to that word in this case, too…

[and in sparrow's initial response]

I deeply respect a hybrid of narrative and scholarly analysis that includes both an intellectual perspective on an issue, and the pathos of its connection to human beings (their emotions, their values). Indeed, much of the scholarly work we do can and should be read by the public for its relevance to them, but our culture and discourse keeps audiences out...
Conure
It felt empowering! I felt like what is close to my heart can in fact raise many people's awareness on the important intersections between language and culture. It also blurred the boundaries between academic writing and personal writing, and challenged the assumption that research is only read by academics.
Thrush
One of the authors whose piece was not focused on personal experience said this about style:

I suppose I'm also an outlier here, in that my piece was an analysis of a cultural text, not of my own experience.

That said, I had great fun in writing this piece. I loved the chance Harlot's journal style affords to be playful with the writing.

Additionally, we asked respondents, "Would you consider publishing on a similar subject but in a more traditional scholarly publishing venue with a solely academic audience? Why or why not?" We were surprised by the number of respondents who would probably not publish on a similar subject in a more traditional scholarly venue. Sparrow is included as this respondent presents a "yes...but" answer. Figure 5 lists these responses.

Figure 5

Falcon
Hmmm. I am told to publish (scholarly works), and I do. I don't' like them. I don't think they make much of a difference in the world. I feel like we who have gained this "power" and "prestige" should certainly be more focused on those who haven't. That means, we need to share our ideas and our words OUTSIDE the walls of academe. We need to really make a difference. I prefer to try for inclusion in the popular press. Let's face it, College English doesn't have much of a readership compared to Harpers or Rolling Stone. JAC [Journal of Advanced Composition] too. If we continue to write "to ourselves" we really don't' stand a chance of really making change. And, that's why I'm here – to make change.
Parakeet
no.
I'm writing a book that I want to be published by a trade press. The academic audience exclusively doesn't interest me. Harlot was kinda pivotal in that for me, since I knew there was a non-academic audience out there, but I didn't know what my voice would sound like without that academic defense — the language I learned to use in graduate school that makes everything impersonal.
Now that I have done this kind of writing, I don't want to go back.
Goldfinch
I don't think so, because I feel like it would rip the soul out of my topic. Somehow it would take the personal, the movement, the embodied text, the story, and flatten it in a way that I would find distasteful. This might not be the same for all topics, but mine felt so deeply personal that I just couldn't flatten it in that way. Plus, academic audiences are the worst. Ok, that sounds trite, but really…. there's something to be said for a venue such as Harlot where most readers aren't coming to see what they can pick apart so that they can insert their voice via publication, instead they're just coming to poke around, see what people have to say, learn, dig, etc. To me, it's a huge difference, an important difference.
Sparrow
Yes…I could certainly turn the conversation I'm having in this article into one directed at a "solely academic audience," but the spirit and pathos of it would be compromised to a large extent.

[and in sparrow's initial response]

I deeply respect a hybrid of narrative and scholarly analysis that includes both an intellectual perspective on an issue, and the pathos of its connection to human beings (their emotions, their values). Indeed, much of the scholarly work we do can and should be read by the public for its relevance to them, but our culture and discourse keeps audiences out...
Osprey
I don't think I could "academicize" a personal rhetorical analysis, but the topic of family rhetoric is broadly interesting to me from a scholarly perspective.

Responses to our questions recall the perception that some styles of communicating and, perhaps, some topics are non-scholarly and seem to be off-limits, not worthy of addressing, or are just too personal to be completely "academized." The notions of emotion, fun, and play, and the drive to eliminate it from scholarly works, and the perceived creative freedom a more general audience provides, should, in other words, not be taken lightly. Thrush, for instance, comments, "That said, I had great fun in writing this piece. I loved the chance Harlot's journal style affords to be playful with the writing." Osprey echoes Thrush writing, "I felt really good about it. It was refreshing to write in a way that could accommodate academic inquiry with a more personal, narrative voice." Respondents appeared to enjoy their experiences away from their assumptions and visions of scholarly audiences.

We are also reminded of the special "Manifesto Issue" of Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. Special editors, Scott DeWitt and Cheryl Ball (2008) comment on some of the problems they see with regards to traditional scholarship and emotion and conveying scholarship in non-traditional styles and mediums:

We all have ideas about how our scholarship comes to being in the world—what we want to say, how we want to say it, where it will live, and what perceived impact it will (or won't) have on the field based on the what, how, and where. If our scholarship seems too cutting-edge, too in-your-face, despite its having been deeply considered, then it is reserved for discussing around conference-hotel bars, on listservs and blogs, or over dinner and wine in the backyard patio. We don't often make the leap to publishing it in scholarly journals. Why? Because these ideas often don't take the shape of traditional scholarship—even with respect to the different traditions of scholarship in a journal like Kairos. These ideas—the ones on which we act daily—are exclamations of our research and practice; they are what we feel passionate about; and yet they are also locations of conflict because strong ideas acted on with passion don't typically follow the models for how knowledge gets conveyed and acculturated within our field. (DeWitt & Ball, 2008)

Here, though not explicitly stated, DeWitt and Ball suggest that emotion or "passion" is viewed as not only an important part of composing and selecting a media form(s) for communication, but it also needs to be expressed in the form and viewed as legitimate scholarship. While certainly Kairos and Harlot do encourage different forms of expression, we think another important aspect of expression also regards audience or, at least, perceived audiences for journals. In more words, it seems that respondents are expressing more than a happiness with different styles. Many of our respondents appreciate a general audience, and they are, simultaneously, displeased at how academic audiences read texts. Sparrow expresses displeasure at the academic style as well as, from our understanding of "academic defense" reading practices of academics: "but I didn't know what my voice would sound like without that academic defense — the language I learned to use in graduate school that makes everything impersonal. Now that I have done this kind of writing, I don't want to go back." Goldfinch explains this more explicitly: "most readers aren't coming [to Harlot] to see what they can pick apart so that they can insert their voice via publication, instead they're just coming to poke around, see what people have to say, learn, dig, etc. To me, it's a huge difference, an important difference."

To borrow a term from Alan G. Gross (1996), the style of "traditional" scholarship might be said to generate a referential presence. For Gross, "the creation of presence in science is limited to those devices by which language may be said to refer unproblematically to a real world..." (p. 44).

Gross helps us understand how referential presence is created in the rhetorical moves made in scientific prose:

Because scientific prose is designed to create the impression that its language refers unproblematically to a real world existing independently of any perceiving subject, it generally excludes the subjective dimension of description, the use of emotion-charged words or irony. For the same reason, scientific prose generally excepts any device that shifts the reader's attention from the world that language creates to language itself as a resource for creating worlds. (1996, p. 43)

Though certainly humanists aren't scientists per se, our academic work (including this piece) often invokes this sort of presence. Reading, then, might also be understood in a similar manner. In other words, perhaps, academics in our field are "referential readers" in that they read for "the impression that its language refers unproblematically to a real world existing independently of any perceiving subject, it generally excludes the subjective dimension of description, the use of emotion-charged words or irony." As Goldfinch explains, reading isn't for "poke[ing] around, see[ing] what people have to say, learn[ing], dig[ging], etc..". Referential reading, when applied to many of the pieces submitted to Harlot, may be used as a way to belittle or shrug-off the important and insightful scholarly work being done at Harlot regardless of claims of having a more general and non-academic audience. The skill and ability it takes to incorporate pathos, personal experiences, and publish for less academizied audiences is a challenge which many authors are unable to accomplish. For example, we have seen a number of pieces rejected (Paul's included) from Harlot because they were too academic, were too referential (we think this is a funny and important reversal from the moves many of our introductory English students make.). Some of the pieces not selected for publication, we imagine, were submissions scholars just didn't know where to place or erroneously imagined that Harlot would take just about anything. In more words, we get the feeling there is an assumption that if you can write or create referential presence, then your work is de facto ready for a general audience; an author just has to take away some language, style, and rhetorical techniques. An author with take away assumptions might arrogantly suppose that he/she has to "dumb it down."

While we certainly appreciated respondents' participation in our survey, it is important to remember that our survey is heavily biased towards "gruntled" or "happy" authors who were published in our journal. Though much of their feedback is "cheerleading" and their participation in the survey might be considered a "thank you" and/or a way to "grease the wheels" for their future submissions, we think that what they've said is important. Our questions may have led respondents to consider Harlot in a way they hadn't before by making Harlot seem to be the antithesis to an essentialist form of publishing (e.g. "Would you consider publishing on a similar subject but in a more traditional scholarly publishing venue with a solely academic audience? Why or why not?"). However, we believe this frame allowed authors to consider and explore their own assumptions about the publishing process. Our respondents helped us understand how they view academic publishing and how their views on academic publishing play out in their composing and publishing choices.