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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Colloquium Archive

Kristie Fleckenstein

Name: Kristie Fleckenstein, Florida State University.

Presentation Title: “When Language Is Not Enough: Vision and Rhetoric in Social Action"

Date: February 12, 2009


In ‘Cartographies of Silence,’ Adrienne Rich writes: “It was an old theme even for me:/Language cannot do everything.” In my presentation today, I extend Rich’s insight to argue that, when we seek to enact social change either individually or collectively, we cannot rely on rhetoric alone; language is not enough. Any approach to social action, individual and collective, micro and macro, depends on rich repertoires of ways of speaking and ways of seeing, both of which coalesce to open up (or, conversely, curtail) options for protest and intervention. An individual’s ability to improve the material conditions of her or his life depends on the ability to tap a repertoire of visual and rhetorical habits. I begin my argument by highlighting the role of visuality in the construction of our social realities. I then turn to the integration of rhetoric and vision in social action, defining and emphasizing the importance of visual habits. Finally, I conclude by turning to the composition classroom, offering as my conclusion a set of questions that might help us foster student engagement in and out of the classroom through a visually-rich composition pedagogy.