Concluding Remarks on Research Methods

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For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to follow my own winding path toward understanding, resisting, and reimagining research methods in writing and rhetoric. Here’s where I have ended up!

Even as I and other colleagues were making changes and rethinking research methods, many colleagues in English studies weren’t taking the same journey I was on, were still holding to traditional and (to me) outmoded ways of researching and reporting on that research. Some years ago, I overheard a white woman high in the MLA hierarchy remark that earlier work Jackie Royster had done in Traces of a Stream wasn’t really research with a capital R; “it’s mere recovery,” she said. I am seldom speechless, but that comment took my breath away: as if “recovery” could ever be “mere.” And as if the work of allowing us to hear, at long last, the voices and thoughts and goals and dreams of these foremothers, and to understand their legacy of advocacy and activism and leadership were in any way simple or “mere.” Give me a break.

So Jackie Royster and Beverly Moss and Shirley Logan have long been teaching me how to understand not just feminist methods but Black feminist methods. But to Shirley’s Black feminist historiography, Beverly’s Black feminist ethnography, Jackie and Gesa’s articulation of those four powerful feminist rhetorical practices—and all their embodiment of the fully engaged, non-neutral, passionate research described by Nisha Shammugaraj as the “intimacy in feminist methodologies” I would add the work of several others who have continued to challenge and expand my concepts of research methods and methodologies in the field of rhetoric and composition. 

Campus of Spelman College, historically Black women’s college in Atlanta, GA, in 1908Campus of Spelman College, historically Black women’s college in Atlanta, GA, in 1908


I’m thinking for instance of my Stanford colleague Adam Banks, whose visionary leadership has created an undergraduate writing program (and a new certificate in cultural rhetorics) that engages students in the kinds of research I have been talking about. Adam and Keith Gilyard’s On African American Rhetoric articulates and embodies African American ways of knowing while demonstrating how tropes emerging from African American culture enrich our understanding of texts and act as touchpoints of African American critical methods. Signifying, call and response, narrative sequencing, and especially storytelling emerge as key concepts and methods in African American Rhetoric, as does the figure of the “digital griot” in Banks’s earlier book. For examples of such methods at work, we can look to Adam’s writings on Black Twitter, Tara Conley’s Black Feminist Hashtag Project, and Lou Maraj’s analysis of hashtags and hashtagging as method in his Black or Right: Anti-racist Campus Rhetorics. And also to Aja Martinez’s concept of “counterstory,” which provides yet another powerful method now available to feminist scholars and researchers. 

These writers have been my teachers, especially over the last two decades, as they have sought to theorize, practice, and embody new ways of understanding and doing research, new or reimagined methods to use in doing so. Even more recently, I have also been learning from Carmen Kynard, whose Vernacular Insurrections: Race, Black Protest, and the New Century in Composition-Literacies Studies I studied long and hard. In a recent College English essay on “Racial Memory, Radical Reparative Justice, and Black Feminist Pedagogical Futures,” she offers—among other things—the story of “a Black feminist methodology” that is sometimes her “pissed dafuq off and holding onto my righteous anger” and other times “a story of writing classrooms” that reaches toward the ideal of “freedom and creative imagination” and “radical possibility.” 

Drawing on the work of Gwen Pough, Kynard recommends a “counterdisciplinary stance” and Black storymaking—"the counter-academic, counter-positivist, and antineutral writing of unapologetic Black feminist storymaking/futuremaking,” which is, she says, an example of Black feminist methodology (329) (the kind of “antineutral writing of unapologetic Black feminist storymaking that is another hallmark of Jackie Royster’s work). It’s important to note that by “storymaking,” Kynard is not referring to linear, white, western narrative patterns. Rather, she refers to narrative sequencing (described decades ago by Dr. G), narrative that relies on “multiple, seemingly meandering stories . . . that take you to and through complicated experiences and meanings.” This storymaking is intimate, she says, full of pain and witnessing “on the screen, on the page, in the field, or in the archive--where you must build out a non-linear past and present that has been trying with all its might to erase every trace of you” (329).

Kynard calls, then, for “Black, racially lived analysis” that can disrupt how the academy as a knowledge manufacturer/information industrial complex does its work” (330) and concludes by saying that such change, and the radical reparative justice she goes on to describe, are “largely impossible” if scholars “do not put themselves in the role of learning from Black folx” (341).

Earlier in this essay, Kynard speaks directly to composition/rhetoric studies, saying that she “loves the work of rhet-comp, just not the field,” admonishing the field that “it’s time for you to roll with some Black feminism” (323). 

Now in my 81st year, I am looking back on one white woman’s very long journey toward understanding—and deep change. I think back to my hopelessly naïve notion of how to set up quantitative and qualitative studies as though I could do so following a cut and cried series of steps from research question through to results and “discussion,” and I am chagrined by the stumbles I made along the journey. But also amazed by the amount that I have learned, and learned in my bones and in my guts, not just in my brain—and how much I have been able to share with students In my classes and in my textbooks. That’s largely thanks to the scholars of color I have been taught and mentored by, colleagues whose thinking and ways of doing research have helped shape and reshape my teaching, my research, and the writing I do for students. After all these years, I’m still going to school with them, and while I cannot ever claim to experience the world in the same way, nor do I always agree with every rhetorical move they make, I will continue to learn from Black and indigenous scholars of color. With deep gratitude. 

At this point on my journey, I can say with confidence: we got this! The methods I have surveyed here constitute a full and robust set of Black/Feminist methods that we can and must teach in undergraduate and graduate seminars, make explicit in all our own work, and claim—and keep claiming—as powerful and efficacious tools. Let me repeat: thanks to the work of so many: we got this!

Thanks for letting me take you along on this trip down my own memory lane. And in case you’re interested, here are the sources I’ve relied on:

Works Cited

Banks, Adam. Digital Griots: African American Rhetoric in a Digital Age. Southern Illinois UP, 2011.

Conley, Tara.

Crenshaw, Kimberlé, University of Chicago Legal Forum Volume 1989:1. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.”

Gilyard, Keith and Adam Banks. On African American Rhetoric. Routledge, 2018. 

Glenn, Cheryl. “Truth, Lies, and Method: Revisiting Feminist Historiography.” College English (Jan 2000): 387-389.

Kirsch, Gesa and Liz Rohan. Behind the Archives: Research as a Lived Process. Southern Illinois UP, 2008.

Kynard, Carmen. “’Oh No She Did NOT Bring Her Ass Up in Here with That!’: Racial Memory, Radical Reparative Justice, and Black Feminist Pedagogical Futures.”College English March, 2023: 318-45.

 ______________. Vernacular Insurrections: Race, Black Protest, and the New Century In Composition-Literacies Studies. SUNY P, 2013.

 Logan, Shirley. We Are Coming: The Persuasive Discourse of Nineteenth Century Black Women. Southern Illinois UP, 1999.

 Maraj, Louis. Black or Right: Anti-racist Campus Rhetorics. Utah State UP, 2020.

 Martinez, Aja. Counterstory: The Rhetoric and Writing of Critical Race Theory. NCTE, 2020.

 Moss, Beverly. "Ethnography and Composition: Studying Language at Home." Methods and Methodology: A Sourcebook for Composition Researchers. Eds.Gesa Kirsch

and Patricia Sullivan. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1992.153-71.

 _____________. "Intersections of Race and Class in the 

Academy." Coming to Class: Pedagogy and the Social Class of Teachers. Eds. Gary Tate, Alan Shepard, and John 

McMillan. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1998. 157-169.

Ronald, Kate and Joy Ritchie. Teaching Rhetorica: Theory, Pedagogy, Practice. Heinemann, 2006.

Royster, Jacqueline Jones. Making the World a Better Place: African American Women Advocates, Activists, and Leaders, 1773-1900. U Pittsburgh P, 2023.

 ______________________. Southern Horrors and Other Writings: The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells. Bedford Books, 1996.

______________________. Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Change among African American Women. U Pittsburgh P, 2000.

Royster, Jacqueline Jones and Gesa Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices. Southern Illinois UP, 2012. 

Schell, Eileen and K. J. Rawson. Rhetorica in Motion: Feminist Rhetorical Methods and Methodologies. U Pittsburgh P, 2010.

Shammugaraj, Nisha. “The Foregrounding of Intimacy in Qualitative Research,” presentation at the Feminisms and Rhetorics conference, Spelman College, October 2, 2023.

Smitherman, Geneva. Talkin’ and Testifyin’: The Language of Black America. Wayne State UP, 1977.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.