Presenting about constellations: a cultural rhetorics publishing space at FemRhet

A couple weeks ago at the Feminisms and Rhetorics conference in Dayton, OH, I presented my paper “Working with/in constellations: Orienting to Feminist Scholarly Publishing Practices.” My presentation, with other co-presenters (Malea Powell and Alex Hidalgo) on the panel, focused on the newly established journal constellations: a cultural rhetorics publishing space, which is the first pilot project out of Michigan State University’s Digital Publishing Lab (DPL). In this blog post, I want to provide some excerpts from my presentation that can summarize some of the main ideas and what constellations, as well as the DPL, is doing and hopes to do.

My presentation traced the people and events that led to the journal’s creation. In a number of ways, feminist and cultural rhetorics ways of thinking created foundations for decisions on various aspects of the journal. For me, three key concepts are apparent: collaboration, relationality, and constellating.

One of the most valuable things I have found about addressing patriarchy is the feminist idea of collaboration—a very different notion from what Jacqueline Royster and Gesa Kirsch note as the “dominant image in the history of rhetoric” of “an individual genius at work alone and often in solitude” (43). For me, productive collaboration involves clear and respectful communication with individuals to confirm that they are getting the support and help they need to complete their tasks. It doesn’t mean assuming certain people, usually women, will take on the heavy labor or the emotional labor of the others, while men take credit for the work. Collaboration, for me, also includes the notion of rhetorical listening, where Jacqueline Royster notes in “When the First Voice You Hear is Not Your Own”—“The goal is better practices so that we can exchange perspectives, negotiate meaning, and create understanding with the intent of being in a good position to cooperate” (38). Listening in collaborative efforts, however, also requires astute consciousness of one’s embodiment in relation to others and the necessary and expected labor others are doing. The task at hand is important, but the mental and emotional labor needed in the process is particularly important to me.

The ideas of relations and constellating are what undergird the making of cultures and practices. In his argument for a paradigm of Indigenous research, Shawn Wilson notes, “The relationships that may be easiest to describe are the ones that we share with other people. While most people will recognize the importance of families, all forms of interpersonal relationships take on special significance within Indigenous communities.” Wilson also notes the value of relations with the environment/land, the cosmos, and ideas. Acknowledging, engaging, valuing, and honoring all these relations is foundational for Indigenous communities. This relates closely with the idea of constellating, which we might say is a practice that identifies and creates a community. Constellating is an accumulation of knowledge and labor to create a cultural community. Relationality, arguably, is the sustaining force once the cultural community is established. Collaboration and rhetorical listening is the foundation that grounds relationality.

So, we might think of the journal as a cultural community—one that brings collaboration, relationality, and constellation to the forefront. And, like all cultural communities, it has a history and accumulation of people, things, ideas, and events. The beginning of its story, unsurprisingly, is in the field of cultural rhetorics, which, in addition to emphasizing relations and constellating, is generally anchored in the belief that all cultures are rhetorical and all rhetorics are cultural. This belief forms a set of methodologies, theories, and practices that draws attention to the intricate ways meaning emerges in human practices.

One of the ways to initiate constellations was to establish the Cultural Rhetorics Consortium, which Malea Powell took on. This inter/national professional organization for the 21st century is where scholarship and teaching in cultural rhetorics can flourish, but it also is what Malea refers to as a “scholarly collective.” This term, she has remarked, is a new kind of scholarly community dedicated to deliberate mentorship, support and growth of its members in a radically inclusive and visible way through collective decision-making, and collectively constructed spaces for knowledge-making and sharing. One of its goals is to create a new model for scholarly mentoring, publishing, and leadership development.

The Consortium board consists of 10 junior and senior faculty across eight institutions. This board made the decision to support constellations with the aim to enact the consortium’s goals on both the front-end and back-end with digital publishing. In doing so, we (the editorial board of constellations) hope to foreground not only the presentation layer of publishing but also the usually invisible structures and practices of the publication process. This foregrounding, we believe, is aimed at the kind of mentorship and collaboration that enriches the intellectual life of all participants in the process and academia writ large. So, two of the focuses for the Consortium with the journal is to bring to the forefront mentoring and invisible labor.

Our aim is to build not just a new online journal or a new publishing platform, but sustainable structures and work processes that honor the bodies and labor involved. And we hope constellations can be an example that inspires others to develop and practice more inclusive, digital publication models.


Royster, Jacqueline. “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 47, no. 1, 1996, pp. 29-40.

Royster, Jacqueline, and Gesa Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.

Wilson, Shawn. Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods. Halifax & Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing, 2008.