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Women Debating Society: Negotiating Difference in Historical Argument Cultures

Woods, Carly Sarah (2011) Women Debating Society: Negotiating Difference in Historical Argument Cultures. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation explores the relationship between gender and argumentation, complicating narratives that cast debating as an exclusionary practice that solely privileges elite, educated, white men. Drawing on three case studies of women's participation in debate, I argue that debating societies functioned as venues for rhetorical education and performance. Each chapter aims to add to our understanding about debate within historical contexts, reveal insight about the women who debated, and develop or extend concepts within rhetorical and argumentation scholarship. The first case study traces the Ladies' Edinburgh Debating Society from 1865 to 1935. This community-based association balanced the desire to achieve ideal rational-critical debate with the need to accommodate and sustain involvement by "women of infinite variety," developing what I call an "intergenerational argument culture." The second case study explores the relationship between debate history and the history of rhetorical criticism by examining Marie Hochmuth Nichols's intercollegiate debate participation in Pittsburgh in the 1930's. Nichols's debate experience cultivated a sense of gendered rhetorical excellence and a sensibility toward criticism that she would later develop as a major figure in twentieth-century rhetorical studies. The final case study explores how the challenges of debating at a southern historically black college in the 1950's influenced Barbara Jordan's rhetorical strategies and political career. Debating allowed Jordan to recognize the importance of viewing the body as a rhetorical resource in negotiating and sustaining access to exclusionary spaces. Though these women came from different socioeconomic, educational, racial, and geographical backgrounds, all used the vehicle of debate to challenge prevailing social norms. They not only honed their critical thinking, writing, speaking, and reasoning abilities through debate participation; they also used their experiences in unexpected ways as they negotiated difference along the intersecting axes of gender, race, class, age, ability, and citizenship. The final chapter argues that the dominant conceptual metaphor of argument-as-war is insufficient in capturing the complex dynamics between gender and argumentation. Instead, I offer an alternative of argument-as-travel, a more flexible metaphor that acknowledges the range of diverse participation in debate and accounts for the methodological choices involved in doing feminist rhetorical historical scholarship.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Woods, Carly
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMitchell, Gordon Rgordonm@pitt.eduGORDONM
Committee MemberEnoch, Jessicajee34@pitt.eduJEE34
Committee MemberLyne, Johnjlyne@pitt.eduJLYNE
Committee MemberFlannery, Kathryn Tflannery@pitt.eduFLANNERY
Committee MemberZboray, Ronald Jzboray@pitt.eduZBORAY
Date: 30 January 2011
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 3 December 2010
Approval Date: 30 January 2011
Submission Date: 8 December 2010
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: argumentation; feminism; gender; debate; rhetorical history; argument culture
Other ID:, etd-12082010-003601
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 20:09
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:53


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