Why Positionality & Intersectionality are Important Concepts for Rhetoric

Understanding positionality and intersectionality allows for better rhetorical listening as well as better rhetorical arguments. Positionality is defined as “a concept articulated by Linda Alcoff (1988) and others, namely that gender, race, class, and other aspects of our identities are markers of relational positions rather than essential qualities.”[1] Intersectionality is defined as, “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”[2] Both positionality and intersectionality can help people understand the viewpoints of others, their struggles, their privileges, their overall position in life due to their identity and the burdens or rewards that come from it. It also allows for one to better execute their ideas when fighting for certain equalities and allows people to think more holistically rather than individualistically. This is related to rhetoric and ethics because understanding the viewpoints of others and how their identity correlates with their thinking allows for stronger rhetorical debates because one can engage in proper rhetorical listening. The Western teachings of rhetoric subordinate listening as an afterthought, especially for those in a position of power. As stated in Krista Ratcliffe’s work Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness, “Western rhetorical theories themselves have traditionally slighted listening. Classical theories foreground a rhetor’s speaking and writing as means of persuading audiences; these theories are only secondarily concerned with how audiences should listen and hardly at all concerned with what Ballif calls the desires of particular audience members … One cultural bias that may partially account for our field’s neglect of listening is exposed in the work of Deborah Tannen: gender bias … A second cultural bias that may inform our neglect of listening emerges in the writings of Nikki Giovanni: race bias… a third cultural bias that may have influenced our field’s neglect of listening: U.S. culture privileges sight.”[3] The natural nature of patriarchy, racism, and other ills of society easily allow for some to be forced to, or more willing, to listen to others groups more than they themselves are heard. Some are able through privilege to disregard other’s position in life and how things affect them based on their race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. What ends up happening or what can happen is that those who do listen are passive when it comes to inequalities that are served to them and/or those who do not have to listen serve inequalities to others without questioning their actions. However, if one learns the concepts of intersectionality and positionality and understands the importance of them and the harm of not using them when engaging with others in society, rhetorical listening may develop naturally as a skill. Ratcliffe best says what makes rhetorical listening so vital – “As Fiumara suggests, listening within a stance of openness maps out an entirely different space in which to relate discourse … for when listening within an undivided logos, we do not simply read for what we can agree with or challenge, as is the habit of academic reading (in its multiple guises) … perhaps through listening, people can engage more possibilities for inventing arguments that bring differences together.”[4]





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