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Title:Crafting citizens: material rhetoric, cultural intermediaries, and the Amazwi Abesifazane South African national quilt project
Author(s):Webber, Martha
Director of Research:Mortensen, Peter L.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Mortensen, Peter L.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Prendergast, Catherine J.; Schaffner, Spencer W.; Nguyen, Mimi T.
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):material rhetoric
South Africa
nongovernmental organizations
Abstract:Create Africa South (CAS), a South African nonprofit organization, formed in 2000 after facilitating a weeklong “memory cloth” workshop where sixty women gathered, shared their experiences and inscribed them in text and cloth together. Their narratives responded to the theme, “A Day I Will Never Forget,” and CAS founders soon realized the stories the women shared through multimodal composition provided healing for the women and archived untold histories of apartheid and the transition to a democratic South Africa. The organization has archived more than 2,500 cloths in the project they named Amazwi Abesifazane (Zulu for “Voices of Women,” hereafter referred to as VOW). The embroidered cloths – framed with an image of the cloth maker and her textual narrative in its original language and English translation – have traveled to exhibitions across the United States and Europe. This dissertation engages analytical and narrative forms to examine the “memory cloth” workshop initiative and a recent Parliamentary intervention that shifted the workshop theme to “What Does Democracy Mean to Me?” and positioned the project as an alternative to alphabetic English literacy for rural South African women. State and nonprofit literacy programs are critical sites of multimodal composition where literacy sponsorship exists locally and globally, directly and indirectly, and across transnational advocacy networks. The participants of the VOW project use a range of composition technologies to represent the narratives – from needle and thread to website design and database software, depending on their position within the project. CAS and Parliament project facilitators compose texts such as grant proposals, sponsorship presentations, and project websites to scaffold the cloths for a range of audiences. In doing so, the organizations function as literacy intermediaries who exert representational power over the women cloth makers, their subjectivity, and literate ability. These representations may work to effect political action and further project sustainability, sometimes in opposition to the cloth maker and her direct interests. I argue the concept of the “literacy intermediary” challenges and critically supplements the concepts of the “literacy sponsor” and “literacy mediator” to account for these discrete representational acts, the relationships intermediaries attempt to forge through them, and their global circulation. As an organizational ethnography that connects the practices of South African organizations participating in two March 2008 quilt workshops to sites including the South African Parliament and an American UNESCO-sponsored art exhibition, the dissertation contributes to current critical conversations on cross-cultural rhetoric, its circulation and real or imagined connections to economic and political development. In this introductory chapter I establish the basis and significance for studying the Amazi project from a rhetoric and composition disciplinary approach as well as outline my methodology for research collection and write up. I situate the use of creative nonfiction writing forms in the discipline in order to identify precedents who articulate the value of joining (or in Eldred’s mind, re-joining) creative composition style to the academic writing our field produces. In the next section, Interchapter A, I demonstrate these creative practices with an essay, “Literacies of Difference,” that works to understand my early literate development, with a focus on my introduction to literacies about differences in race and ability, and their impact on my scholarly identity. The first chapter, “Crafting Citizens through Contemporary Craft Rhetoric Projects” works to define craft rhetoric projects, cultural intermediaries, and the practices these intermediaries engage as craft rhetoric project facilitators. First I ground my definition and interest in craft rhetoric projects in the field’s “material turn,” or rhetoric and composition’s interest in the material processes and economies in which rhetorical meaning is composed and received. I work to provide a robust picture of craft rhetoric projects by analyzing three relatively recent projects that have all received important critical attention: Chilean “resistance” arpilleras, the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and the Clothesline Project. Moreover, these three case studies demonstrate the varying levels of intermediation that individual organizations or project founders may apply to create rhetorical meaning. The case studies also reveal three processes of intermediation (centralizing material, framing meaning, and crafting citizenship) that I describe as both significant in terms of the work they do to accomplish rhetorical meaning for craft rhetoric projects and those who participate in them. Interchapter B, “Mrs. Gambushe,” composes a sketch of a contemporary crafter’s life in South Africa to show at least one context in which South African craft is taking place in a community. The profile narrates my early working relationship with Mrs. Eunice Gambushe as well as some events from our trip traveling to the Mpumalanga province to co-facilitate two cloth workshops over two weeks in March 2008. Without universalizing her story, this interchapter works to show some of the typical social and economic challenges and opportunities structuring the craft industry in contemporary South Africa. The second body chapter, “Create Africa South and the Amazwi Abesifazane Voices of Women Project,” begins an extended case study of the Amazi project that continues over two chapters. Taking up the Amazwi project, I consider it within the framework of craft rhetoric projects and cultural intermediaries that I built in the first chapter. Drawing comparisons between the representational and memorial work the Chilean arpilleras, AIDS quilt panels, and the Clothesline Project t-shirts accomplished, I also embed the Amazwi project within the cultural context of reconciliation and healing that is specifically characteristic of post-apartheid South Africa. Connecting the work that CAS accomplishes as a cultural intermediary to centralize material, frame meaning, and craft citizenship for project participants and audiences, I argue that CAS consistently fails to centralize and frame the meaning they claim to for the Amazwi project. I work to prove this is largely due to the project exhibition format and location. CAS engages in choices that craft agentic abilities for the memory cloths, but craft a form of citizenship for South African women that suggests their understanding of themselves may always be tied to the trauma of Apartheid and the democratic transition. Interchapter C, “Mahushu Township,” brings the questions I raise about digitally divided composition practices and about “low” technologies most saliently to bear. I describe the process of conducting a cloth workshop (the second one without PMP resources) in a rural township where my presence as a white, American researcher unloosened informal expressions of “apartheid” almost twenty years after the end of legal forms of racial segregation in South Africa. Finally, I also address difficulties of research (such as hunger and limited access to potable water) that one rarely encounters or reads advice on how to prepare for in research methodology texts. In the third and final body chapter, “Literacy Intermediaries and the ‘Voices of Women’ South African National Quilt Project,” I analyze the role of the PMP as an intermediary for the “Voices of Women” project when they approached CAS to collaborate on a national quilt project in 2007. Recognizing the more institutionalized and therefore more powerful role of the PMP as a cultural intermediary, I demonstrate how the PMP re-framed the meaning of the “Voices of Women” workshop shifting from an emphasis on historical experience to conceptions of literacy and democracy. This shift, I argue, also crafted limited forms of citizenship available to women that not only presented the national government as the primary relationship to develop in order to effect change and access the social goods of a new South Africa, but also suggesting that the most engaged citizens of the “new” South Africa will speak English. When the PMP crafted participation in the “Voices of Women” project as an alternative to that desirable English literacy (the PMP, after all, would take on the role of English “translation” for the project), they assumed the role of a literacy intermediary – a powerful type of literacy sponsor, particular in a postcolonial era. If the third chapter raises ethical concerns about the practices and networks of literacy intermediation between postcolonial governments, global ideologies surrounding literacy, and “developable” subjects, then the fourth interchapter raises ethical concerns about the role as research. I call into question the role of researchers to account for those practices amidst fieldwork events that may disrupt researchers’ beliefs in the hidden motives and final ends of research. The interchapter, “Research as Atonement,” reads the film adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel, Atonement, against critical moments during my research trips to question the “empowerment” drive of contemporary scholarship. My conclusion works to consider the broader significance of craft rhetoric projects as I outline critical areas of scholarship that need to be further developed to understand the critical history of these projects: how they are explicitly and implicitly connected to conceptions of citizen-making; how these projects have been involved in cross-cultural “citizenship development” for at least 150 years; how structures of intermediation form to facilitate craft rhetoric projects; and how these projects may affirm or counter conventional ideas about the identities of crafters and handcrafted items. Finally, I outline how incorporating research about craft rhetoric projects and the rhetoric of intermediaries into my pedagogy models the complex structures of citizenship and engagement they are already navigating and will continue to navigate in their professional and personal lives. Ultimately, my conclusion advocates for community based learning pedagogy where students can write for community-based organizations at the same time they develop robust sills to identify and critique the intermediating processes that raise important ethical questions. Overall, this dissertation argues contemporary rhetoric and composition scholarship must recognize that rhetorical practice and engagement is transnational, occurs across significant socio-economic levels, and involves organizations with significant rhetorical access. My conclusion only begins to suggest a structure for the connection between participant observation research (such as organizational ethnography) and the development of community-based and service learning opportunities that are reciprocal and ethical.
Issue Date:2013-08-22
Rights Information:Copyright 2013 Martha Webber
Date Available in IDEALS:2013-08-22
Date Deposited:2013-08

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