I completed my dissertation, Enacting a Rhetoric of Inside-Outside Positionalities: From the Indexing Practice of Uchi/Soto to a Reiterative Process of Meaning-Making, under the direction of Professor LuMing Mao in 2013. There, I theorize a rhetoric of inside–outside positionalities, building on the uchi/soto (inside/outside) dynamic, a feature of Japanese language and social interactions. Inside–outside positionality offers new ways of understanding instances of meaning-making that occur during intercultural interactions, and highlights the importance of comparative approaches for engaging with global and local rhetorical traditions.
Since completing my doctorate, I have pursued lines of research touched on but not yet developed in my dissertation. These include further applying inside–outside positionality to rhetorical situations outside of Japan (such as in Appalachia, an application I am investigating with students in my graduate rhetoric course this semester). I am also developing a theory of nostalgia as a tool for supporting narratives of cultural continuity and for promoting intercultural and transnational connections.
Studies in comparative rhetoric and cross-cultural communication such as mine deepen our understanding of human communication and meaning-making. My work with the rhetoric of group identity—shaped by inside–outside positionality and affiliations born of nostalgia—provides students and scholars new ways of looking at meaning-making interactions between individuals, groups, and cultures.
I used my dissertation to delve into many different aspects of Japanese rhetoric, cultural and regional identity, and comparative rhetoric as a methodology. As I completed my project I was aware the ideas engaged in each chapter would better serve as parts of stand-alone articles and presentations rather than a single book project. Parts of my dissertation work appear in a special 2013 issue of Rhetoric Society Quarterly (41.3) on comparative rhetoric—an issue which was reprinted as a book, Comparative Rhetoric: The Art of Traversing Rhetorical Times, Places, and Spaces, in 2014—and in the Rhetoric Society of America Conference Proceedings, Re/Framing Identifications, published in 2014.
The RSQ article “Uchi/Soto in Japan: A Global Turn” introduces my theory of inside–outside positionalities. The article traces meaning-making processes inherent in intercultural contact through the example of the “invented tradition” of the Christmas cake in Japan. It demonstrates how inside–outside positionality destabilizes notions of cultural essence and expands understandings of the rhetoric that constructs and reconstructs group identity. I situate my reading of the Christmas cake as an example of a new comparative methodology, one that does not assume single points of origin for traditions but rather looks for intercultural ties and borrowings. The article also highlights the meaning-making power of notions of inside and outside, and how those shift with time and context, giving rise to new meanings and affiliations between and within groups, driving change in the performances of regional and group identities, such as the performance of Japanese identity.
My chapter in Re/Framing Identifications, “Both Insiders and Outsiders: Re/Framing Identification via Japanese Rhetoric,” compares Kenneth Burke’s theory of identification and the uchi/soto (inside/outside) dynamic, a concept developed by linguistic anthropologist Jane Bachnik, which I repurpose as a feature of Japanese rhetoric that highlights the nuances of shifting insider and outsider identities. Beyond offering another way to engage with Burke’s theory in particular, the piece demonstrates the value of engaging in comparative rhetorical study in general—that it pushes scholars of rhetoric to constantly question how much of any theory represents a universal, and how much is tightly culturally bound.
At the Rhetoric Society of America Conference in May 2016, I laid out a four-point heuristic for reading nostalgia in mass media texts such as film and television, along with four rhetorical uses of nostalgia that are particularly relevant to my ongoing research in comparative rhetoric. I further develop these four points (Idealization, Iconicity, Identification/Othering, and Desire) along with the four uses (Pleasure, Continuity, Critique, and Cross-cultural Connection) in my current writing projects. I make the case for studying nostalgia as a rhetorical mode that can be used for productive and critical ends, as a tool for building and maintaining affiliations within and between groups. In an article manuscript currently under review at JAC, “Nostalgia as a Rhetoric of Cross-Cultural Identification: Mediated Memory and Critique in Two Anime,” I take a closer look at two uses of nostalgia, critique and cross-cultural connections. Analyzing two Japanese anime, I demonstrate how each balances the celebration of the past found in nostalgia, with elements of internal critique that do not allow the celebration to become total. In contrast to views of nostalgia that link it to nationalist or isolationist trends, the anime represent how nostalgia can counter narratives of a mono-cultural heritage and instead foreground histories of cultural borrowing and exchange. Beyond providing close readings of two texts, the article provides a model for applying my heuristic for examining nostalgia and makes a case for the importance of serious study of transnational, mass media texts like anime.
Contributions of Research
My research, past and present, contributes to rhetoric and writing and the broader field of English studies in several ways:
- Rhetoric and literary study has paid increasing attention to affect and emotion as critical to theory and pedagogy. My work with nostalgia brings attention to another facet of emotion and the role it plays in inter-group communication and the rhetorics of place and identity.
- By engaging with Japanese anime and manga, as well as other mass culture texts, my work links fan studies with comparative rhetoric. By linking fan culture to comparative rhetoric, the interconnected nature of fan communities and productions becomes more apparent. Nostalgia adds another layer to what Henry Jenkins calls “participatory culture,” an element of fan culture that meshes well with invention and audience in composition and rhetoric classes.
- Looking at nostalgia operating cross-culturally highlights histories of interconnectivity. Examining the critical potential of nostalgia helps us to craft useable pasts that do not sacrifice ethical complexity.
- Continued attention to inside–outside positionality and its role in rhetorics of place and identity destabilizes notions of cultural essence and relativism. By attending to interconnectivity between cultures, it counters the potential for orientalism in our research.
- Inside–outside positionality offers ways of thinking about the classroom and research that highlight cultural interdependence. Its focus on the construction of affiliation and identity lends itself to detailed audience analyses and provides an invention tool for planning effective rhetorical appeals that consider those histories and affiliations.
Looking ahead, I plan to continue bringing inside-outside positionality and nostalgia into contact with fan studies. I hope to answer the question, is fandom inherently nostalgic? I believe that fans use nostalgia to drive their creativity in works such as fan fiction (fanfic), fan art, and cosplay (creating costumes, dressing, and performing the part of a character). Addressing fan communities’ experience and creative use of nostalgia will further add to our understanding of its productive, rhetorical potential. Fan communities are also interesting because they are less geographically bounded than other identity communities, but arise and flourish transculturally, enabled by mass communication technologies such as film, television, and the internet. Shared memories of media franchises binds these groups together, making them an ideal group to study to learn more about nostalgia’s influence on group members’ sense of affiliation and unity across regions. As a self-identified anime and manga fan, I hope to share the scholarly side of my interest with other fans. Working with graduate and undergraduate students as participant-researchers, I hope to use this research path as a way to foster interest in research and to get more fans engaged with scholarly communities as research partners, co-presenters, and co-authors.