Resilient Editors Create a New Scholarly Book

By Dennis Walikainen | Published

It was an idea begun at a conference seven years ago. Michigan Technological University hosted the Fifth Biennial International Feminism(s) and Rhetoric(s) Conference in 2005, and conference coordinators Beth Flynn, Ann Brady, and Patty Sotirin, all faculty members in the Department of Humanities, recognized the resilience of those who made it to campus after a storm had closed the local airport. Elsewhere, the monumental resilience of the survivors of Hurricane Katrina was displayed across the globe.

Resilience, then, became a theme of the conference, and, in effect the book, Feminist Rhetorical Resilience was born. All of the chapter authors attended the conference and presented papers on issues related to their essays in the book. Most of the respondents attended the conference as well.

“Resilience is a term found elsewhere in scholarship, but it hadn’t been applied to feminist rhetoric,” Flynn said. “Our editor at Utah State University Press liked the focus it would give our book.”

Resilience also came to define the book, Flynn said, as it took two years to revise the introduction and supervise the revision of the chapters toward the goal of sharpening the focus. “It rarely happens that editors and contributors put this much effort into a revision. We are all very happy with the result.”

The coeditors also came up with their own definition of resilience, one that stresses agency (especially public action), metis (resourcefulness), and relationality (support from others).

“Our idea is that women often can’t do it alone,” Flynn said, “especially given the current economic constraints, for example. They need that network, that connection. It’s mobilizing the forces available.”

Initially, the attendees at the conference were invited to submit chapters for the book. Other scholars were asked to respond to the chapters that were selected, and the initial authors then wrote their reflections on the responses. So, it is a true dialogue in print.

“The exchange of responses and reflections is productive,” Sotirin said. “The contributors don’t just agree with each other. The result is that these exchanges work through the implications of resilience.”

Brady appreciates the discussion, too.

“The fact that not everyone agrees is a reflection of how important this is,” she said. “There is not a unified understanding of resilience and how it can be used.”

Brady uses the concept of metis as another example of an ongoing rhetorical discussion.

“Often it is formed in a time of hopelessness, but it doesn’t always end in a clear victory,” she said. “It is more often a way of negotiating with others and with systems in productive ways. That’s the power of it.” Brady also appreciates the diversity of the chapters: resilience in the workplace, in other nations and cultures, in the economically disadvantaged, in sexual orientation.

“We’re kick-starting a new conversation,” Sotirin said, “with people who should be considering this.”

The three coeditors are also using their newfound knowledge in their future research. At an upcoming Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), they will extend the concept of resilience. Flynn is focused on agency, using an Eastern/Buddhist approach. Sotirin is looking at relationality from a contemporary philosophical perspective. Brady is analyzing metis as embodied intelligence. All are working to expand the framework of feminist rhetorical resilience.

Their hope is that the book will be well received and have an impact on the field. In the meantime, they are learning about marketing (“websites, postcards, book signings”), which resides outside the normal realm of the academic enterprise.

“We know this concept is worthy,” Flynn says. “As three single mothers, we’ve all enacted our own versions of resilience! In our lives, our scholarship, and in the world today, resilience is a timely concept and resource.”

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.