Review: A Responsive Rhetorical Art: Artistic Methods for a Contemporary Public Life by Elenore Long

Reviewed by Aly Higgins (she/her), University of Arizona

A yellow line stretching across the page

Conceptualizing A Responsive Rhetorical Art

To define the overarching framework of a responsive rhetorical art, Elenore Long answers three questions: (1) What makes a responsive rhetorical art necessary? (2) What is purposeful about a responsive rhetorical art? And, (3) What are the challenges to a responsive rhetorical art? In defining the overarching framework, Long mimics the first strategy of developing a responsive rhetorical art: asking generative questions that lead to constructive inquiry and action. As Long articulates the various dimensions of a responsive rhetorical art, what is most compelling about the way she defines its key terms ("responsive," "rhetorical," "art," and "humanizing") is her own rhetorical approach. In other words, the features are defined in conversation with disciplinary concepts but also in terms of what they do, how they do it, and why they meet an exigency that has been previously overlooked and underdeveloped in the field of community literacy.

Below, I have described each feature of a responsive rhetorical art as a list that I hope can serve a starting point for researchers looking to study and perhaps enact a responsive rhetorical art in their own praxis:

1. Responsive

First, a responsive rhetorical art is responsive because it bears witness to how people want to work with others, performs a useful cultural critique by asking how power circulates within a given context, and is self-reflexive as it builds knowledge to address conflict between institutional practices and people's ability to thrive.

2. Rhetorical

Additionally, a responsive rhetorical art is rhetorical because Long understands rhetoric as a knowledge-making practice that works from still-emerging publics to uncover insights needed to develop humanizing responses to institutional practices and policies that disproportionately harm displaced communities. Long grounds her understanding of rhetoric in the assumptions that differences are resources, rhetorical situations are partial and iterative, and knowledge is made through dialogic discoveries that come from multiple points of view. In other words, rhetoric fosters invention that works as a shared, collaborative resource.

3. Art

Pulling from John Dewey (1958) and Kristopher Lotier (2016), Long understands art as a tool that can build pathways forward in response to the knowledge constructed within an emerging public. Long employs art as various tools (technai) to engage the world in material and symbolic ways that aim to transform harmful institutional practices into opportunities for change. Thus, each art is enacted in response to a particular exigency to help envision the answer to the question: There's a problem, what do we do next?

4. Humanizing

Lastly, Long brings together existential philosophy (Buber, 1937), liberation theology (Freire, 1970), and a feminist ethic of care (Young, 1997) to argue a responsive rhetorical art is humanizing because it facilitates action that is embodied, situated, and capable of recasting resources to support the needs and desires of community members working to redress harmful institutional practices. In other words, a responsive rhetorical art makes and does knowledge in order to foster humanizing change. More specifically, Long uses case studies from five distinct events to demonstrate the humanizing potential of a responsive rhetorical art in action.

Visualizing the Features of a Responsive Rhetorical Art

To operationalize these core features, I have created a Prezi that visualizes the questions Long asks in the final chapter of her book to visualize how we can ask generative questions to understand how these concepts work and relate to one another. Each circle in the Prezi ecology includes one of the features of a responsive rhetorical art. After clicking on each circle, I have included a generative question Long offers to help us begin to operationalize these terms for our own resesarch practices. I have also included an important quote from Long that articulates the function of a responsive rhetorical art. The design of the Prezi is intended to reflect an ecology, as Long takes a genre ecology approach to naming how a reponsive rhetorical art functions through diverse genres that are taken up in response to the rhetorical goals of the emerging public.

Prezi transcript (PDF)

Up Next: Methodological Frameworks and Methods

In the next section of this review, I will address Long's methodological frameworks and methods by mapping her key research practices and evaluating how these research practices function in the five case studies Long offers throughout the second half of the book.