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Community Literacy and the Rhetoric of Public Engagement

Linda Flower

Publication Year: 2008

Community Literacy and the Rhetoric of Public Engagement explores the critical practice of intercultural inquiry and rhetorical problem-solving that encourages urban writers and college mentors alike to take literate action. Author Linda Flower documents an innovative experiment in community literacy, the Community Literacy Center in Pittsburgh, and posits a powerful and distinctively rhetorical model of community engagement and pedagogy for both marginalized and privileged writers and speakers. In addition, she articulates a theory of local publics and explores the transformative potential of alternative discourses and counter-public performances.  

In presenting a comprehensive pedagogy for literate action, the volume offers strategies for talking and collaborating across difference, for conducting an intercultural inquiry that draws out situated knowledge and rival interpretations of shared problems, and for writing and speaking to advocate for personal and public transformation. Flower describes the competing scripts for social engagement, empowerment, public deliberation, and agency that characterize the interdisciplinary debate over models of social engagement.

Extending the Community Literacy Center’s initial vision of community literacy first published a decade ago, Community Literacy and the Rhetoric of Public Engagement makes an important contribution to theoretical conversations about the nature of the public sphere while providing practical instruction in how all people can speak publicly for values and visions of change.




Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book is more than anything an acknowledgment of the work of others. I feel privileged to have been a part of the people who made up the Community Literacy Center. It was a source of lasting relationships, joyously exhausting experiences, and intellectual inspiration that became a seedbed for new ideas. ...

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Prologue: The Rhetoric of Engagement

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pp. 1-6

The call to social, political, and cultural engagement has exerted a magnetic influence on the emerging field of rhetoric and composition, which responded with not one but a family of rhetorics. Since the 1990s, the dominant paradigm within this academically sponsored rhetoric of engagement has been the discourse of cultural critique. ...

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Part 1. A Community/University Collaboration

A book on community literacy calls out for definitions—just what do you mean by literacy, and what, among the loudly competing images of community, do you have in mind? We, however, start with Mrs. Baskins and a group of college mentors in a van ride touring both an urban neighborhood and its multiple symbolic communities. ...

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1. What Is Community Literacy?

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pp. 9-43

This is a book about social engagement and personal agency expressed in an experiment in local public rhetoric. It asks, How does one fashion a rhetoric of making a difference within an intercultural community? Paradoxically, this hope of making a difference collaboratively begins in the inescapable dilemma of difference and the desire to bridge that troubled water. ...

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2. Taking Literate Action

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pp. 44-72

The Community Literacy Center mentors we left in the previous chapter stood poised at the beginning of an experiment in civic engagement. Like them, the CLC itself would need to articulate in principle what it was discovering in practice. Standing in the context of other work in composition, critical literacy, and service-learning, ...

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Part 2. Theoretical Frameworks and Working Theories

The next three chapters are about the multiple theoretical frameworks that stand as challenging and shaping voices behind community literacy. These frameworks were evident in the diverse literate practices, the competing ideas, and unspoken assumptions that mentors, literacy leaders, and teens brought to the CLC. ...

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3. Images of Engagement in Composition Studies

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pp. 75-99

The teenagers, parents, neighbors, teachers, and vice principals who came to the Community Literacy Center events were sometimes perplexed when they tried to place the community-literacy publications and performance in the context of literate practices they knew and expected—the dutiful, correct, personal essay of public schooling, ...

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4. Who Am I? What Am I Doing Here?

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pp. 100-122

Like many of you reading this, my background has made me a person of privilege, drawn by the hope of making a difference in the larger community and for others. Yet, I recognize that by the standards of identity politics, I have little right to speak on the behalf of a marginalized urban community. ...

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5. Images of Empowerment

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pp. 123-150

The rhetoric of making a difference is the work of empowered people. But empowerment, like the notion of community, can mean a set of very different things in practice. It all depends on how you answer three key questions: Who is being empowered? To what end? By what means? ...

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Part 3. Rhetorical Tools in the Rhetoric of Making a Difference

Rhetoric places its bets on the power of transformative knowledge, on knowing that how we represent and re-represent our shared reality can change that reality. Community literacy goes about the rhetoric of engagement in a distinctive grass-roots fashion in which transformative knowledge is constructed one person at a time ...

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6. Intercultural Inquiry and the Transformation of Service

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pp. 153-171

The revival of community service on college campuses appears to offer an alternative to the hubris of university expertise and the ineffectuality of academic critique.1 Community outreach brings idealism and social consciousness into the academy. ...

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7. The Search for Situated Knowledge

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pp. 172-187

Designing a community-outreach project around inquiry is a first step to the collaborative construction of transformed knowledge. However, the desire for dialogue is rarely enough without a dedicated search for difference. ...

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8. Taking Rhetorical Agency

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pp. 188-215

Cornel West calls his readers to affirm the agency and capability of the powerless—of the socially disenfranchised people that we tend to represent as victims, clients, or objects of someone else’s oppression or our charity. ...

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9. Affirming a Contested Agency

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pp. 216-229

I want to propose a paradox. People who stand within circles of privilege (like myself and many readers of this book) may also be standing in need of empowerment. What we need in this case is not a space to express our identity or the power to resist pressures upon it but the capacity to speak publicly for something of value in a committed but critical way. ...

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10. Intercultural Inquiry: A Brief Guide

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pp. 230-242

Community literacy ends up speaking through many kinds of “texts”—from reflective essays to newsletters, booklets, flyers, brochures, newspapers, technical reports, proposals, policy documents, documentaries, digital storytelling, and multimedia productions. They can circulate by hand, in public meetings, to mailing lists, over e-mail, on the Web, ...


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pp. 243-260


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pp. 261-274


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pp. 275-281

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Author Bio, Back Cover

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pp. 295-296

Linda Flower is a professor of rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon University. Her previous books include Problem Solving Strategies for Writing in College and Community and The Construction of Negotiated Meaning, on social cognitive processes in writing, and Learning to Rival, on intercultural inquiry. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780809386994
E-ISBN-10: 0809386992
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809328529
Print-ISBN-10: 0809386992

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 8
Publication Year: 2008