Notes: Carolyn Skinner, Women Physicians & Professional Ethos in Nineteenth Century America

Skinner, Carolyn. (2014). Women physicians & professional ethos in nineteenth century America. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Summary:

Skinner discusses the complications of women physicians in nineteenth century America creating professional ethos.

Quotations:

“[E]thos often is not crafted in response to a coherent and identifiable set of audience values but instead is composed in a dynamic context that includes multiple competing ideas about the “best” virtues; consequently, ethos formation frequently involves value negotiations as well as reciprocity between rhetor and audience identity constructs” (p. 175).

Reflection:

This is becoming a bit of a recurring question, but I’m wondering about moments in which these cordial appeals for acknowledgement are not possible or only perpetuate problems. I’m not trying to say this is a gap in Skinner’s text as it was not a part of her project—her work contributes a great deal to reconsidering ethos and particularly a feminist ethos in complicated and nuanced ways. What I’m wondering is how, within that framework of a feminist ethos that she offers us, is there space for rhetoric’s insufficiency or failure, or a rhetoric of refusal.

We learn a lot of how the conditions of women physicians and how they negotiate ethos and/through professionalism. This negotiation happens in locations that are hostile to these women. But still, what we see is a mutual engagement that is inherent in the word negotiation (p. 175).

If we must attend to the conditions that allow for persons to engage in rhetorical negotiation, what conditions need to be present for refusal? For, what the only rhetorical term I have at my disposal for this, kakoethos?

I’m still working on this project looking at ACT UP activists and what’s striking is their refusal to participate in negotiation. What they perform instead is an ardent insistence that they be seen and heard on their own terms, silencing the dominant discourse that systemically silenced them. What conditions need to be met for this mode of rhetorical action that refutes traditional conceptions of how ethos participates.

 

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