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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Bennington

Teaching Embodied Rhetorics: How I Fight My College Students

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Welcome back to the Rhetorical Roundhouse blog! Last week, I talked about Karate Kid for some reason...oh, that's right, because I'm going insane trying to finish my dissertation! This week, I'm returning to my writing classroom I described a couple weeks ago. It's been a long time coming, but I've finally put together some video footage from a lecture I gave earlier this semester about the topic of "embodied rhetorics." I'd like to share some highlights from that today so other teachers out there might get some ideas about how to incorporate martial arts studies research in their classroom.

For context, the class I'm teaching is called "Expository Writing" but my section is heavily themed toward discourse about the body. Int he first couple of weeks, my students had to read some background readings on what rhetoric is and how it is understood. Two of these were Bitzer's 1968 article "The Rhetorical Situation" and Vatz's 1972 counterpoint "The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation" so you'll hear various connections to this concept. My goal for the discussion I'm sharing with you today was to introduce the concept of how rhetoric might come to be "embodied" in a number of ways. I've broken up my longer video into three sections: the first discusses bodies themselves and the ways we visually categorize them into groups, the second discusses artifacts that act as rhetorical extensions of the body (like clothing), and the third deals with how rhetorical concepts can become embedded or influence the development of cultural techniques (like the athletic habit-practices associated with martial arts training).

Part 1: Bodies Themselves as Rhetorical

In the first part of this lecture, I just wanted my students to call attention to the ways stereotypes and our own biases condition us to categorize people into political, socioeconomic, religious, cultural, and gendered groups. I usually use myself as an example because I don't get embarrassed that easily and I (hopefully) won't risk offending anyone by calling them out. I have to say, I was really impressed with the way my students just jumped right in to a conversation that many might find awkward.

Part 2: Rhetorical Extensions of the Body

Ok, let's face it, I talked about clothing because I wanted an excuse to wear my sweet rainbow coat. But I think the contrast between this coat and my suit jacket offers a compelling illustration for how frequently we adorn our bodies to try to either respond to the nature of a perceived rhetorical situation or to create our own. I was impressed with my students connecting the performance of clothing to the rhetorical term decorum and I was happy they found their way to the discussion of ascribing intention based on how a person decides to present their body.

But really though...this coat is amazing

Part 3: Rhetoric as Embodied in Athletic Practices like Martial Arts

Finally, I got to the point where I could share more of my specific research area with my students. We discussed how Ancient Greece combined bodily and cognitive education in the same space and how similar overlaps appear in Eastern rhetorical theory and martial arts. Again, I can't tell you how happy I was to have a group of students who were willing to let me punch them...I mean, willing to actively participate in a structured lesson about...ok, no, I meant what I said. I'm happy they played along :)

Thank you to my lovely student volunteers and thank you to all of my readers/watchers. I hope this maybe gives you some idea of how my research, training, and teaching connect. Maybe this will even inspire others of you to discuss or interact with embodied rhetorics differently in your classroom spaces.

Thanks as always for stopping by :)


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