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Anglo-American Feminist Challenges to the Rhetorical Traditions

Anglo-American Feminist Challenges to the Rhetorical Traditions

Virginia Woolf, Mary Daly, Adrienne Rich

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Krista Ratcliffe


E-book (Other formats: Paperback)
5.5 x 8.5


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About the Book

Although women and men have different relationships to language and to each other, traditional theories of rhetoric do not foreground such gender differences. Krista Ratcliffe argues that because feminists generally have not conceptualized their language theories from the perspective of rhetoric and composition studies, rhetoric and composition scholars must construct feminist theories of rhetoric by employing a variety of interwoven strategies: recovering lost or marginalized texts; rereading traditional rhetoric texts; extrapolating rhetorical theories from such nonrhetoric texts as letters, diaries, essays, cookbooks, and other sources; and constructing their own theories of rhetoric.

Focusing on the third option, Ratcliffe explores ways in which the rhetorical theories of Virginia Woolf, Mary Daly, and Adrienne Rich may be extrapolated from their Anglo-American feminist texts through examination of the interrelationship between what these authors write and how they write. In other words, she extrapolates feminist theories of rhetoric from interwoven claims and textual strategies. By inviting Woolf, Daly, and Rich into the rhetorical traditions and by modeling the extrapolation strategy/methodology on their writings, Ratcliffe shows how feminist texts about women, language, and culture may be reread from the vantage point of rhetoric to construct feminist theories of rhetoric. She also outlines the pedagogical implications of these three feminist theories of rhetoric, thus contributing to ongoing discussions of feminist pedagogies.

Traditional rhetorical theories are gender-blind, ignoring the reality that women and men occupy different cultural spaces and that these spaces are further complicated by race and class, Ratcliffe explains. Arguing that issues such as who can talk, where one can talk, and how one can talk emerge in daily life but are often disregarded in rhetorical theories, Ratcliffe rereads Roland Barthes’ "The Old Rhetoric" to show the limitations of classical rhetorical theories for women and feminists. Discovering spaces for feminist theories of rhetoric in the rhetorical traditions, Ratcliffe invites readers not only to question how women have been located as a part of— and apart from—these traditions but also to explore the implications for rhetorical history, theory, and pedagogy.


Krista Ratcliffe is a professor and the chair of the English department at Purdue University. 


“Anglo-American Feminist Chal­lenges demonstrates that both rhetoric and composition studies are concerned with the composition of subjects and cultures in language. Ratcliffe’s book thus truly joins rhetoric with composition studies, raising and answering questions that drive each field: How does language compose subjects and cultures? How can we use language to compose subjects and cultures differently? How can rhetoric and composition studies be a way to theorize our own positioning in relationship to an Other? What possibilities are available and unavailable to us and our students in canonical and noncanonical discourses? Ratcliffe’s pro­vocative study demonstrates that feminist work on writing and language must inform and transform rhetoric and composition studies.”—JAC

“While Ratcliffe ends with a familiar nod to composition studies, her work is, nevertheless, after a much larger revolution, one that transcends any particular site. That revolution is the ongoing effort to define a more interdisciplinary scope for rhetoric. Her rereadings suggest that there are other rereadings to be done of theorists whose work has not been recognized as rhetoric but who could lead us out of the relentlessly gender- and ethnicity-blind canon of rhetoric we have inherited. Her work also shows that these new theories could inspire a broad range of work: composition pedagogy, political activism, cultural work beyond the academy, critique and study of other academic fields, and enriched analysis of public discourse.”—Rhetoric Review

"I’m impressed with the ground-breaking work this author has done. I believe this book has the potential to be a significant contribution to the new field of feminist studies in composition and rhetoric. There is a need to transform existing traditions through feminist readings."—Susan Jarratt, Miami University