Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Karma Chávez and Cindy Griffin (Eds.), Standing in the intersection: Feminist voices, feminist practices in Communication Studies. Albany: SUNY Press, 2012.


Copyright 2012 State University of New York.


Metaphors not only "structure our experience" but "by organizing reality in particular ways, our selected metaphors also prescribe how we are to act." As the opening chapter of this volume notes, feminist scholars have long grappled with the figurative language of intersectionality in order to find the conceptual framing that best accounts for varied relationships between power, oppression, and privilege. Similarly, rhetorical historians have an obligation to think critically about the metaphors we use. One cluster of metaphors, in particular, characterizes both intersectional and rhetorical-historical research: the spatial and geographic. Moreover, critiques of both research approaches essentially point to the same problem; that the language of intersections and maps suggests a fixed location that does not fully account for the fluidity and shifting of human relationships.

In her overview of feminist perspectives on the history of rhetoric, Kate Ronald notes that there has been an "explosion of research in women's rhetoric over the last decade and a half." Much of the early research in this area concentrated on the primary analytical category of "woman" in documenting, recovering, and interpreting rhetorical texts. Since then, major methodological debates have centered on the question of how best to ensure that feminist rhetorical historians do not focus too narrowly on a single axis of identity (woman) to the exclusion of others. This chapter uses common critiques of the metaphors of intersectionality and rhetorical history as a starting point to articulate a forward-looking vision for intersectional rhetorical history. To that end, I offer a way for communication scholars to animate our methodological and conceptual metaphors with an eye toward motion and mobility.

In line with contemporary feminist theorizing that favors a coalitional (relational) rather than individual (locational) politics, I argue that an intersectional approach to rhetorical history should be concerned with shifting webs of relationships rather than singular articulations of identity in historical contexts. The first section identifies overlapping spatial and geographic language in key texts on intersectionality and feminist rhetorical history. I then suggest how metaphors that capture motion and mobility better address the relational complexity of the historical practices and people we study. Finally, I offer examples of the themes of coalitional belonging, movement, and travel in the life of politician Barbara Jordan to demonstrate the possibilities of intersectional rhetorical history. In taking mobile metaphors seriously, intersectionality can inform rhetorical-historical research, while feminist rhetorical history can explore innovative spaces for the extension of intersectionality studies.