Rhetorical Maneuvers: Reflections on being Blue Collar in an Academic World

Raymond Blanton and Joshua P. Ewalt


In this essay, we interrogate gaps in the knowledge of working class people in the academy. We theorize that rhetorical maneuvers are a productive way of seeing—of theorizing both our presence in the academy and accounting for our potential to influence and alter the discipline of rhetorical studies as an intellectual enterprise by way of praxis. To these ends, we construct two auto-ethnographic narratives as a way of considering how our bodies may function as sites of transformative change that has significant implications for rhetorical epistemology and pedagogy. In describing the process of becoming-rhetorician and the conditions of social change contained therein, we also challenge the idea that rhetorical maneuvering happens always in a space of freedom.

The authors would like to dedicate this work to all those in Limbo.

Rhetorical Maneuvers: Reflections on being Blue Collar in an Academic World

[1] For years, this piece has been in a slow state of becoming, simmering between the two bodies assigned authorship. Both of us, as unique sets of material forces with our own histories, arrived in Lincoln, Nebraska at the same time for our doctoral education. The histories of our bodies had a parallel path: From trailers and apartments, Velveeta cheese and white bread, to academic pontification, our noses in the books of rhetorical theory and critical philosophy, being shaped by encounters with Derridean erasures and lines of flight, memorization of the Greek Lexicon of rhetorical concepts or arguments about the Bourgeois public sphere. Our parallel histories immediately became a salient feature of our experience in Lincoln, haunting our conversations, the core history shaping any affective encounter between us. We blue-collar kids had become academic.

[2] We felt this dissonance particularly saliently as we were in a field characterized by a difficult tension between blue-collar and elitist histories. Certainly, communication departments were established at land-grant institutions for the sake of instructing the blue-collar worker and farmer, [1] but they did so by privileging the discourse and theory of the elites. As it pertains to Rhetoric, many an elite mind has contemplated the nature and function of rhetoric. Moreover, the entire field of rhetoric is predicated upon the promise of the bourgeois public sphere: So-called Democratic societies are characterized by an arena where autonomous selves can use the toolbox of classical concepts of persuasion and communicative interaction in order to deliberate and persuade on public topics. [2] As blue-collar kids, we knew this mythos of the public arena was much more complicated.

[3] The following essay is written in light of this dissonance between our histories and the promises of our field. We have designed the essay to move in and around two distinct but interrelated questions: 1) What are the stakes and dimensions of bodily transformation from blue-collar body to white-collar academic/rhetorician? That is, what happens to the body as it becomes-rhetorician? 2) Moreover, how can our bodies as sites of subjective becoming, also be sites where, through rhetorical maneuvers, the field of rhetoric, and its bourgeois underpinnings, may also be transformed? That is, each body that becomes rhetorician potentially introduces a line of flight into rhetorical studies as a territorialized discipline. We ask: what lines of flight emerge when our material bodies become assembled with the machinic and enunciative assemblages that articulate our discipline? [3] In order to answer these questions, we develop and provide two narratives built from the reflections of our individuated bodies and bodies of scholarship, combined here to reflect on the process of becoming-rhetorician and the potential for change contained therein. [4] We consequently see this effort as one of "speak[ing] differently," to theorize possible tactics to combat burdens working class academics face in academe.

[4] However, as we now know, "Memory is not neutral; it is always motivated, always interested, and always has consequences. That is to say, memory is persistently partial." [5] To be clear, auto-ethnography or self-writing is not pure. But neither is objectivity. Heralded calls to privatization and sequestering of emotional and logical experience are saturated with power. As we reflect on our past through stories we invite a particular understanding of our present subject position as a means to contemplate future possibilities. In every case a raconteur has counsel for his readers. [6] Likewise, we have counsel for our readers in seeking to address gaps in knowledge of working class academics by self-writing our process of bodily transformation as a catalyst for transforming Rhetoric as a discipline. We begin by explaining the concept of rhetorical maneuvers. We then provide two narratives of blue-collar transformation inspired by the two initial questions. We conclude by theorizing how the process of the working-class-becoming-rhetorician can re-shape the territory of rhetorical studies, reflecting not only on how our bodies-in-academia affects us, but also how it can affect the disciplines in which we operate.

Rhetorical Maneuvers

[5] As academics, we know that a good essay has to begin with a theoretical base and, moreover, one that implicitly supports the efforts of one's discipline. So, even though our language in the introduction is Deleuzean, we start with Kendell Phillips' Foucaultian-inflected notion of "rhetorical maneuvers," a concept that provides a useful framework for considering the process of becoming-rhetorician. [7] For Phillips, "In the simplest terms, the rhetorical maneuver is performed at those moments when we choose to violate the prospective limits of our subject position and speak differently by drawing upon the resources for another subject position." [8] We will challenge the quotation's promise of freedom, but this is nonetheless what each of us does, or can do, as we move through the resistant pathways of becoming-rhetorician out of working class worlds. As blue-collar kids in white-collar worlds we can speak from multiple subject positions.

[6] Thus, Phillips is concerned with the procedures that might be utilized to address the tensions that exist between subject-multiplicity and subject positioning as a rhetorical resource. Phillips explains that rhetorical scholars have developed a particular concern for "the practices that both constitute and challenge the constitution of the self" and that attend "specifically to the points of friction between prescribed positions in which a subject is constituted and the dynamic nature of subjectivity as performed." [9] It is in this gap that the practice of rhetorical maneuvering becomes salient. Specifically, rhetorical maneuvers are a movement that "violates" the constraints of one subject position by "articulating the discourse more appropriate to another subject position." [10]

[7] As academics who navigate two worlds, we value Phillips' understanding and use of Stuart Hall, who writes: "The subject assumes different identities at different times, identities which are not unified around a coherent 'self.' Within us are contradictory identities, pulling in different directions, so that our identifications are continually being shifted around." [11] Being pulled in "different directions" is an ideal frame for gazing upon the picture of the working class academics, trapped for life in a perilous zone of low-wage work." [12] As Sherry Ortner writes, we have experienced the "pull" of upward mobility away from "kin, friends, or neighborhood." [13] We eat "rainbow pie" [14] as we consider "how the other half lives." [15] We "comprise two people who aren't always compatible." [16] The feelings we have of being in limbo between two worlds—foreign in the academic world and in our world of origin – demands that we interrogate the myth of the American Dream and to "negotiate" our inability to transcend socioeconomic class. [17]

[8] Finally, paralleling de Certeau, Phillips contends that the rhetorical maneuver is a calculated action determined by the multiplicity of possible subjectivities, and is defined by the expression of an "inappropriate alternate form of subjectivity within an already defined subject position." [18] Such rhetorical maneuvering always requires accidental and/or calculated transgressions of subject position(s). [19] In sum, we contend that Phillips is astute (and correct) in suggesting that "a more thorough examination" is warranted and we'd like to reflect on these transgressions below as we recount, through two narratives, the process of becoming-rhetorician. [20] At the same time, we hope to evidence that, for us, these rhetorical maneuvers were not always calculated but conditioned by our class conditions and many began with the imagination of a different subjectivity.

Two Narratives of Bodily Transformation

A Mobile Home

[9] Books on all sides surround me. Stacked two feet high in multiple rows, their subjects range in age from primordial to present and traverse an array of intellectual terrains. I am seated, centered at a basement table, dissertating, and two questions occupy my thoughts. How did I get here? What would my father think of these books? My first question alludes to the particulars of my bodily transformation—of the conditions, motivation, and inspiration that functions as the cobblestones of my road from the Redwood Estates trailer park in north-central Texas to my humble A-frame rental in the Woods Park neighborhood of Lincoln, Nebraska. My second question is expressive of two things regarding my bodily transformation: one, how my becoming white-collar influences my being blue-collar, and two, how my being blue-collar can influence my becoming a white-collar academic/rhetorician. Personally, there is more at stake in Rhetoric than seeking to establish vocational credibility. For as I work on my dissertation, I am afraid of becoming inaccessible and incomprehensible to those who have most forged my being and becoming. My mother was one of nine from a large nominally Catholic family. She left home at fifteen. She was married at sixteen. I was born two weeks after she turned seventeen. Both of my parents were reared in homes of domestic violence and various abuses. I was told my father, one of four boys, intervened into my mother's life to protect her from further abuses. These conditions serve as a background for my subject position, which has traditionally been associated with "poor white trash," a nomenclature that overlooks what bell hooks refers to as the "politics of invisibility": white poverty. [21] Admittedly, I was not always fully aware of my poverty or class. I knew only that a sort of rescue was desirable. I can recall the "poetics of space" [22] around me as I performed maneuvers of naming myself subject positions other than blue-collar, a doctor or lawyer. I did not enact such maneuvers because I sincerely wanted to become such, but because I sensed a deep need for relief. It is a peculiar and often confusing mindset for a child to feel the burden of such relief. Hard times. In those days, I associated a ringing phone with earsplitting rage and the merciless pursuit of "bill" collectors. "Don't answer!" Or "tell them we'll pay when we can." Conditioned by my parents' depressive dispositions, I also acclimatized to the conspicuous double-glances and whispering banters of those better off. Such were the conditions that conditioned me.

[10] I was in my second year of high school when my mother sat me down for a chat on our beige sofa. With a more resolute tone than was normal, my mother asked me about my ambitions regarding a college education. Her message was terse but direct: "You are on your own ... because we cannot help you." Conditions beget motivation. Mine had begun. In the days thereafter, I thought about what I would need "on my own." I decided, I suppose with a sort of concerted desperation that I needed to maneuver away from my current conditions. I needed to alter some element within the social sphere—the game. I made a calculated choice and walked into the administrative offices of my high school and requested to be placed in Honors courses—no testing, no qualifications—just desperation. In hindsight, I am fortunate (and grateful) that administrators were willing to comply with my request. Though I did not fully realize it in that moment, it was the beginning of a new becoming—a transformation.

[11] In college, one day as I was neatly organizing my clothes in a residence hall closet, I thought about the filth and disorder of our home—of our lives. I wanted to change the conditions but what could I do? I did only what I could—I returned home. I drove home, parked my car (which I bought and paid for myself), and went immediately to the back room of our mobile home. Growing up we rarely had guests over to our home. It was essentially forbidden. Filth. There were a dozen or so bowls and pots levied throughout our home to catch the rainwater. I can still see them; I can hear the syncopated drips dropping from our mobile home roof—faded brown from water damage and bending inward as if about to give way; I can smell the Christmas day fire that destroyed our hot water heater and relegated us to boiling water on the stove and trekking it to the bathroom for each personal use; I can recall the feel of the scold scar on the torso of my father from his trudging hot water to and fro. Poverty has distinct sights, smells, and sounds—tastes and touches. Poverty is a terrain of sensation.

[12] This back room is an example. At one time it was a family "workout" room. That lasted about one month. Since that time, it had become a room to throw random objects in: superfluous magazines, random boxes, recycled cans, trash, and the like. The room functioned as one substantial junkyard. By my senior year of college, the room remained a depository for objects and the rubble was waist high. The door could only be opened by leverage of force. Stopping only occasionally to eat and sleep, I spent the entire weekend cleaning this back room. I did not do laundry. I did not socialize. I was only there to clean. When I finished, I hugged my mother and returned to school. What happened? Had I become better than my parents? What had I provided that was actually better? Such questions still pose dilemmas.

[13] What I do know, is that my parents wanted to change (at least some of) their circumstances. They simply lacked the sustained strength and resources to do so. In fact, they held me up so that I could. And we are continually realizing many of the particulars and nuances of such sacrifices. Vincent Serravallo illuminates this when he writes: "Working-class parents inspire hope because their class disadvantages motivate them, or these parents cannot inspire hope because the very same class disadvantages constrain them from doing so." [23] For working class academics, the routes through/to transformations are fraught with resistance(s). Many working class parents want their children to "have it better," and they communicate that very message, instilling a desire to be upwardly mobile. [24] The process of becoming-rhetorician, however, is difficult, a process of maneuvering, talking differently, of re-shaping subjectivities.

[14] Just before my college graduation, I recall a conversation with my father. He and my mother still lived in the same mobile home, which by then was a dilapidated heap, barely livable. I can still sense the pain and sadness of his dejection. It is etched upon my memory as it was that day upon his face. "What's wrong?" I asked. "Look at our house," he gloomily suggested, as if restraining tears. "I cannot provide a proper home for my family." Instinctively, I retorted with a repackaged working class sentiment that my father had often instructed me with as a boy when I would ask about my grandfather (and namesake). "My dad was not perfect," he would begin, "but there was always food on our table, clothes on our back, and a roof over our head. And that was enough." To the extent that my father believed this, or whether my counsel was meaningful, I cannot verify. My father died shortly thereafter, unexpectedly, from a massive heart attack (at age 47). In this moment, now, I realize that death is instructive to life. Conditioned as I was and motivated by my mother's attempt to elucidate me to reality, my father's death provided me with inspirational life—with the capacity to maneuver for our family and myself.

[15] In hindsight, I more fully realize how much my father hid his ambitions and worked to position me to realize what he could not. My father was like Moses—he never made it to the "promised land." And it is for this reason that I asked myself what my father might make of these books that surround me. Specifically: does what I do as a human being, a critical thinker, an academic, a rhetorician (in that order), bring him the due that he deserves? Is what I do accessible to my working class sensibilities—to my mother, my cousins, or aunts and uncles? Should it be? What should I make of the intellectual bilingualism necessary to express what I do if asked by my working class relatives? Put differently, if rhetorical praxis is to be more than mere hollow theorization and status positioning, then I must appeal at some level to more than just the procedures of craft. I appeal to the memory of a working class father I have no access to. And so I am left to wonder, what would he think of these books—what would he think of me?

A Mobile Life

[16] I had returned to my hometown. Although it was spring break, I hadn't planned on returning; I had some extra grading to do and a dissertation deadline loomed in the near future. But there I was – in an old motel room in Berrien Springs, Michigan – getting ready to head to the hospital. My dad's head had been caught in a factory machine at work. Of course, I can only describe it as a "factory machine." I do not know or understand the details of its operations even though my brother tried explaining all of it to me. All I knew is what my mother had told me over the phone: "Your dad's eyes are bloody, his skull is fractured in multiple places, blood is running from his ears. He could have easily been killed." I was staying in a motel room for two reasons: First, I couldn't stay at my parent's home due the mold growing in the basement. Second, although I knew I had to be home, I still had to work. I couldn't miss this dissertation deadline. Everybody else was missing work time, but how could I? My dissertation was far too important. So I maneuvered between the hotel room and the hospital, writing the second chapter of my dissertation, and seeing my father, calling lawyers, talking with my mother about workman's compensation. I am constantly making this drive, back and forth, from the hospital to the motel room, from the blue collar to the academic world.

[17] I'm going to do what I have been taught not to do and search for roots: I was born in Woodstock, Virginia. My family moved to Troutman, North Carolina when I was one. We all lived in a three bedroom yellow house, a rental, a half-wall separating my brother's and my room from my sister's. I don't remember everything, and as I grow older my memory seems to fade. I do remember my dad making us pizza with ketchup instead of pizza sauce. I remember it tasted terrible, but I didn't understand the concept of scarcity. It just didn't taste like pizza. I recall confronting him about it years later, jokingly. He looked down, frowned, and said "it's all we had." I also remember my dad coming home terribly depressed after work cleaning bathrooms at the local truck stop. I recall visiting him at the truck stop and knowing that my parents were unhappy about it, knowing emotionally. I remember work. Constant work. I remember my parents coming home exhausted. I remember my mom, a nursing assistant, bringing home fast food and telling us about her day at work; she was, and still is, the hardest working person I know. I remember my grandfather bringing us food when we needed groceries. I remember constant concerns about money. I remember stress.

[18] The two years that shaped me the most were those after we moved from Troutman to Statesville, North Carolina. We moved to "Valley Arms Apartments" and my five-person family lived in a two-bedroom apartment. My sister had one room, my brother and I another, and my parents slept on the couch. I remember the night my parents sent us to a fellow family's apartment because the upstairs neighbors had been engaged in domestic violence every night for a week. My parents didn't want us around when they called the cops. I remember driving thirty minutes to school and back so that we could be in the school we attended before we had to move. I only now wonder if race played a role in this decision. I remember a church bus picking the apartment kids up to go to Wendy's, and getting in the most important "fight" of my life on that bus. I remember how, even as children, everyone in that complex knew it wasn't a good place to be, how we were all trying to get out, how although we kids loved each other's company when playing sports, we respected when someone moved, when their family "got out." This was primarily an African American complex – I realized class and race are connected and that racial tension is real. These were not easy times, but my parents turned our experiences, even perhaps if unwittingly, into lessons about social justice.

[19] Eventually, we moved to Berrien Springs, Michigan when I was 12. Indeed, for me, the blue-collar life was a mobile life. I remember it was in Michigan when I first knew we were poor. There was something about the body being uprooted that made all the various variables that permeated our existence blatantly obvious. I remember, after the realization, yelling at my parents for it, wanting more, finding it unfair that I couldn't do the same things my friends were doing, wanting to go spend money. I remember reading the note my dad typed to me, on our typewriter (we didn't have a computer) explaining that he's sorry they couldn't give me what I wanted, and that he'd have preferred to vocalize this to my face, but he simply couldn't utter the words.

[20] After high school, I eventually left. But that leaving is not innocent, it can't be: Was it dissatisfaction with my family's life that made me want more? Was I entitled to more, and what are the ethics of that question? I eventually graduated high school and went to community college, a four-year college up north, which I paid for on my own, and eventually to Nebraska for my graduate degrees. But the question always remains: What if I had respected my family? What if I had said: "This is a good life. I'm happy here?" The move from blue collar to the academic world was dependent upon dissatisfaction with my family's life, a sense that I deserved better.

[21] For me, a rhetorical maneuver is rhetorical not because it opens up a space of freedom or choice, but because the movements of corporeal material territories alter the territories of the social materialities they enter into. Indeed, moving from the blue-collar world to academia is a maneuver because it involves the body moving between worlds, transforming that body's materiality (what it eats, how it thinks, how it moves, what other bodies it moves with). When the body enters into a new territorialization, it alters that territory, it reconfigures the territory's materiality, and both the multiplicity of the body and the multiplicity of the territory become different. Our presence as blue-collar bodies always produce new affects and that has both inspiring and potentially negative implications. By necessity, the inclusion of my body into academia, however slightly, changes the material composition of the territory. Thus, I think of the challenges I have experienced in academia not as personal challenges, but as moments when the lines of flight that compose this social formation become exceedingly and painfully apparent. Lines of flight hurt...for all of the parties involved – the affect at those moments is intense; it is what makes them vulnerable.

[22] Hence, I'd like to recount the times I've felt a line of flight most intensely rush to the surface: For the first few years I was in graduate school, I had this intense feeling that I was faking it all, that my success wasn't real, that soon I would be "caught." Everyone else seemed to perform the world so smoothly; they grew up around academia. This resonated all the way down to my clothing. When I first came to academia as a master's student, and I received my first top paper award, a colleague told my office mate: "He may look like a country bumpkin, but he's actually very smart." When I first started my master's degree, I wore flannel or something that doesn't match, or something from Walmart, and my clothes would always be commented upon with seemingly well-intentioned humor. I just didn't know better. When I started my PhD with a fellowship, another colleague told me that now that I have this new fellowship I would be able to "buy new clothes." My students often commented on my clothing during evaluations. It is painfully obvious to me that clothing is a line of flight. I now wear flannel often.

[23] Secondly, it occurs to me that constant chatter about our pasts can make us viable as resistant and threatening bodies; Our differences with our colleagues makes their bourgeois upbringings all too visible, which is terrifying for a critical theorist. For example, walking at an academic conference, a colleague, also an academic and fed up with my constant chatter about the differences in our class history, tells me that I am no longer blue collar, that I am white collar now, so I should get over it. I don't know what it's like to be a woman or gay. I've reached a line of flight. A line of flight occurs in knowing that I have to acclimate to this world if I want to feel like I belong, but knowing the more I acclimate, the further the past life slips away from my body. But these are the moments that we have to embrace, that we have to deal with, that we can pull to the surface in our maneuvers, which we can write about. But to do so, we can't forget where we came from. We can never say "We're white collar now, so we should just get over it." I will wear poor clothes and speak about my past. I'm still blue collar and when anyone thinks otherwise – who had their college paid for – I ask to compare student loan debt.

[24] I articulated the anecdote of the motel room and the hospital for a specific reason: Because of the symbolic value of the two places contained therein. While I am constantly moving away, moving elsewhere, in motel rooms, to cities for academic conferences, in motel rooms at academic conferences, my family unit, in all its solidarity, still remains rooted in place, at factories, in hospitals, hoping for something better, working hard day in and day out to keep the house that once represented their pursuit of that American Dream supposedly offered to all of us. When I do come back, I chastise them for having black mold in their house and demand that they rip out their carpet, and replace the drywall and studs, or I cannot sleep there any longer. I go away, again on the road. They stay and try to fix what they can't afford to fix, their carpet now ripped out.

[25] So we return and we come back. We come back and we return. We are here and there, but never just here or there. Rhetorical maneuvering begins as an imaginative process for the working class individual. Before we "speak out of place" as academics, we "speak out of place" as blue-collar kids. These are just some of the accidental and calculated choices that we have selected to perform. They align, we believe, with Phillips' understanding that "everyday life violations of one's subject position do occur, sometimes accidentally and sometimes with calculation." [25] Yet, although we might believe they are calculated or accidental, they are also conditioned by our conditions.

On Shaping Rhetoric's Disciplinary Boundaries

[26] Cheney argues that class has been "conspicuously absent" in matters of difference. [26] It is for these reasons that the trajectories of accounting for these narratives of bodily transformation have been aimed at the target of transforming Rhetorical praxis. Otherwise, our narratives are only self-serving. On the contrary, our performance of the multiplicity of subject position and rhetorical maneuvers, which Dicks contends affirms representations of class as performances predicated on a double bind of continual equivocation between "foregrounding" autonomy and dignity and "acknowledging subjugation," [27] considers how the naming of bodies works to extend a social space and reshapes sociocultural terrain. [28] To bring our initial claims back into focus, we have constructed and combined two auto-ethnographic narratives into a testimony for considering how our bodies may function as sites of transformative change that has significant implications for rhetorical epistemology and pedagogy. Here we offer a few suggestions for how academics, working class or otherwise, can consider potential Rhetorical reformulations based upon the process of becoming-rhetorician.


[27] How do we know what we know as it pertains to social class? Our first reformulation of Rhetorical praxis addresses epistemology. We purposefully place epistemology prior to pedagogy because we believe, along with scholars such as Stuber, that how we think about class influences how we talk and act about class. [29] To this point, Kenneth Burke has argued that names embody our attitudes. [30] Comparably, Berger and Luckmann reasoned that the names we assign to people, places, and things help us to understand the world we inhabit. [31] Put differently, "naming" is a symbolic act. [32] So how do we know what we know? Let us take poverty as an example.

[28] So what is poverty? What happens to those who struggle from month to month with living costs (i.e. education, housing, health care, etc.) but do not align with the government's definition of poverty? How do we account for this "missing class?" [33] Ruby K. Payne helps us distinguish between situational poverty, defined as a lack of resources brought on by a particular event (i.e. a death, divorce, etc.), and generational poverty, defined as poverty for at least two generations. [34] Payne's research suggests that if we desire to understand poverty more thoroughly, then we as educators must make adjustments, let us say rhetorical maneuvers, to first address how we know what we know about class and/or poverty, and second, to apply such understanding to education. In other words, we must interrogate our own epistemology. For those who live it, poverty is more than a social condition. Poverty is a way of life. Poverty is experienced within a rich array of sensorial impressions. In other words, poverty is given limited perspective when it is encountered only secondhand as a subject.

[29] Let us interrogate. How many of us as educators recycle our syllabi, whether readings or assignments, without much regard for the diversity of our students? Is it possible that prejudicial aspects of social class are embedded within our epistemological instruction? Are we merely breeding more elitist sensibilities? Payne's research instructs us to other possible alternatives. Put differently, drawing upon Karl Marx's oft-cited eleventh thesis on Feuerbach, "the point, however, is to change it" (158), Artz, Macek, and Cloud note: "As societies change, communication changes, and as communication changes in use by diverse contesting social groups, societies change." [35] In other words, Rhetoric must reformulate itself in order to remain not only relevant but also effective. Working class academics are uniquely positioned for such work. For just as our mobile oriented lives attest, we contend that our bodily transformations make the academic profession a place of social activism for social change—a place where we can theorize (literally, theoria as displacement) and methodologically (literally, meta hodos, or a "following after") transform Rhetoric. [36]


[30] What attitudes do we nurture with regards to how we speak and act regarding social class? Our second reformulation of Rhetorical praxis addresses pedagogy. We consider epistemology and pedagogy indivisible with a special emphasis being placed upon the order here outlined. More candidly, how do we tactically approach teaching a subject that people struggle to even talk about? Sayer, for instance, underscores the "unease" and "evasion" associated in talking with people about class. [37] So, logically, we should begin with discourse. We can help create more ease and invasion in discussing social class. Bageant draws our attention to the stakes of such an enterprise when he asks: "What about this latest generation of kids left to suffer the same multigenerational cycle of anti-intellectualism and passivity?" [38] For students, and perhaps for non-working class academics, determining what is real and unreal about social class are often political. As Kendall argues, the blurring between what is real and what is not encourages people to emulate the upper classes and shun the working class and the poor. [39]

[31] Pragmatically, we (rhetoricians/academics) have the opportunity to reformulate rhetorical discourse around class in the classroom, at academic conferences, scholarly writing, and most importantly, in our everyday interactions with others. Consider, for instance, Barbara Ehrenreich's foray into the realms of the working class world, when she notes: "In the rhetorical buildup to welfare reform" it is "uniformly assumed that a job was the ticket out of poverty and that the only thing holding back welfare recipients was their reluctance to get out and get one." [40] What Ehrenreich's experience attests to is that being "nickeled and dimed" and "not getting by" are indications of how well working class people are actually doing. As we contend, our epistemology—our knowledge of these burdens is a first step. Thereafter, we can do something about the issues and concerns therein. In doing so, we may very well be a significant part of enlivening rhetorical praxis and our students, who, as Kaufman attests, are constantly utilizing strategies in an attempt to transform their ascribed social-class position into an achieved social-class position. [41]


[32] In this essay, our memories and narratives have sought to resonate with John Durham Peters' notion of the "spirit worlds" [42] of Richard Hoggart's "nature of the uprooting" for "scholarship boys," [43] of Raymond Williams's defense of working-class "solidarity,"[44] and James W. Carey's "full disability scholarship." [45] In offering an account of rhetorical maneuvering, a multiplied narrative about origins, and reflections on changing rhetorical epistemology and pedagogy, we also spoke as advocates to confront the working class distrust of the "hollowness of theory in its social guise". [46] Put otherwise, we think this offers a useful testament to the importance of blue-collar subjectivities in developing theory. Having a range of interesting "meanings," [47] theory, etymologically, is derived from theoria (contemplation) and thea (sight). Pieced together, theory is a 'contemplation of what we see.' James Clifford intensifies this idea when in his "Notes on Travel and Travel Theory" he refers to theory (theorein) as a practice of travel, of displacement at a distance. For Clifford, movement is indicative of various modes of dwelling for "storytelling and theorizing" as a means to situating the self in a space or spaces. [48] One must leave "home" in order to theorize. Hence, if theory is a manner of seeing predicated upon displacement, it would stand to reason that those who are not, nor have never been socially displaced might see differently than those who have. More lucidly, the working class academic is uniquely positioned to theorize rhetorical assessment and possibility; we hope our narratives help slightly.

[33] In sum, what is in a name for the working class academic? For an answer to this question we turn to James Joseph ("Jim") Croce, whose song "I've Got A Name" [49] eloquently captures the focus of our interests. He writes/sings: "Like the pine trees lining the winding road, I got a name. Like the singing bird and the croaking toad, I got a name. And I carry it with me like my daddy did. But I'm living the dream that he kept hid. Moving me down the highway. Rolling me down the highway. Moving ahead so life won't pass me by." In short, our accounts of the bodily transformations we have encountered, the rhetorical maneuvers we have performed, and the possibilities of Rhetorical transformation that we have suggested are attempts to live the dreams that our fathers kept hid and move us ahead so life won't pass us by. What's your name? What's your story? "... Show your mettle, then, and make yourself a name in story." [50]


[1] On the history of the speech communication discipline, see William Work and Robert C. Jeffrey (Eds.), The Past is Prologue: A 75th Anniversary Publication of the Speech Communication Association (Washington D.C.: Speech Communication Association, 1989).

[2] Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Boston: MIT Press, 1991).

[3] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).

[4] Jacques Ranciere, The Names of History (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994).

[5] Greg Dickinson and Brian L. Ott, "Politics of Remembering," Spectra 50.1 & 2 (2014): 20.

[6] Walter Benjamin, "The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov," in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken, 1968), 86.

[7] Kendell Phillips, "Rhetorical Maneuvers," Philosophy and Rhetoric 39.4 (2006): 311.

[8] Ibid., 312.

[9] Ibid., 311.

[10] Ibid., 312.

[11] Stuart Hall, "On Postmodernism and Articulation: An Interview with Stuart Hall," in Stuart Hall, ed. D. Morley and D-K. Chen (London: Routledge, 1996), 277.

[12] David K. Shipler, The Working Poor: Invisible in America, (New York: Vintage, 2004), 3.

[13] Renny Christopher, "Rags to Riches to Suicide: Unhappy Narratives of Upward Mobility: Martin Eden, Bread Givers, Delia's Song, and Hunger of Memory," College Literature 29.4 (2002): 7.

[14] Joe Bageant, Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir, (Melbourne: Scribe, 2010).

[15] Jacob A. Riis, How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among Tenements of New York, (New York: Penguin, 1997).

[16] Alfred Lubrano, Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams, (New Jersey: Wiley, 2004), 1.

[17] J. Emmett Winn, "Moralizing Upward Mobility: Investigating the Myth of Class Mobility in Working Girl," Southern Communication Journal, 66.1 (2000): 40.

[18] Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984); quoted in Phillips, Rhetorical Maneuvers, 321.

[19] Phillips, Rhetorical Maneuvers, 317.

[20] Ibid, 312.

[21] bell hooks, Where We Stand: Class Matters, (New York: Routledge, 2000): 111.

[22] Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space: The Classic Look at How We Experience Intimate Places, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994).

[23] Vincent Serravallo, "Less Alienated Labor: A Source of Hope-Filled Mobility Socialization?" Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Vol. 33, No. 4, August (2004): 368.

[24] J. Ryan and C. Sackrey, Strangers in Paradise: Academics from the Working Class, (Boston: South End Press, 1984): 50. As Kristen Lucas notes, these messages are seldom delivered in straightforward, unambiguous ways; see Kristen Lucas, "Socializing Messages in Blue-Collar Families: Communicative Pathways to Social Mobility and Reproduction," Western Journal of Communication 75.1 (2011): 95.

[25] Phillips, Rhetorical Maneuvers, 317.

[26] George. Cheney, "Thinking Differently About Organizational Communication: Why, How, and Where?" Management Communication Quarterly 14 (2000): 136.

[27] Bella Dicks, "Performing the Hidden Injuries of Class in Coal-Mining Heritage," British Sociological Association, Volume 42.3 (2008): 436.

[28] Roger C. Aden, Paul Pearson, and Leah Sell, "Placing Townies: The Symbolic Work of Naming," Communication Quarterly 58.3 (2010): 279.

[29] Jenny Stuber, "Talk of Class: The Discursive Repertoires of White Working- and Upper-Middle-Class College Students," Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 35.3 (2006): 285.

[30] Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. (Berkeley: University of California Press,1973): 3.

[31] P.L. Berger, and T. Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality, (Garden City, NJ: Anchor, 1967).

[32] Raymie E. McKerrow, "Critical Rhetoric: Theory and Praxis," Communication Monographs, 56, 105 (1989); quoted in Roger C Aden, Paul Pearson, and Leah Sell, "Placing Townies: The Symbolic Work of Naming," Communication Quarterly, Vol. 58, No. 3, July-September (2010): 279.

[33] Katherine Newman and Victor Tan Chen, The Missing Class: Portraits of the Near Poor in America, (Boston: Beacon Press, 2007), 5.

[34] Ruby K. Payne, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, (Texas: aHa!, 1996), 47.

[35] Lee Artz, Steve Macek, and Dana L. Cloud, Marxism and Communication Studies: The Point is to Change It, (New York: Peter Lang, 2006): 18.

[36] See James Clifford, "'Notes on Travel and Theory', Traveling Theory, Traveling Theorists," Inscriptions 5 (1989): 177-88, available at «http://culturalstudies.ucsc.edu/PUBS/Inscriptions/vol_5/clifford.html»

[37] A. Sayer, "What Are You Worth? Why Class is an Embarrassing Subject" Sociological Research Online 7.3 (2002).

[38] Joe Bageant, Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America's Class War, (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007): 33.

[39] Diane Kendall, Framing Class: Media Representations of Wealth and Poverty in America, (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2011): 211.

[40] Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America, (New York: Picador, 2001): 196.

[41] Peter Kaufman, "Learning to Not Labor: How Working-Class Individuals Construct Middle-Class Identities," The Sociological Quarterly 44.3 (2003): 481.

[42] John Durham Peters, "Raymond Williams's Culture and Society as Research Method," in Mimi White and James Schwoch, Questions of Method in Cultural Studies, (John Wiley & Sons, (2008), 54.

[43] Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy (UK: Transaction, 1957), 225.

[44] Raymond Williams, Culture & Society: 1780-1950, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), 332.

[45] Jeremy Packer and Craig Robertson, Thinking With James Carey: Essays on Communications, Transportation, and History (New York: Peter Lang, 2006), 14.

[46] Paul Willis, Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), 57.

[47] Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 316.

[48] Clifford, "Notes on Travel and Theory."

[49] "I Got A Name" is featured on the B-Side of the "Alabama Rain" album (1973). In September of 1973, on the day before his song "I Got A Name" was to be released, Croce was killed in a plane crash.

[50] Homer, The Odyssey, Book 1. New York: Walter J. Black, 1944, p. 10.