Women, writing, and housework: A study of material rhetoric in everyday life

Jamie White-Farnham, University of Rhode Island


My dissertation investigates everyday writing in the context of housework. Using interview data from seven members of a Rhode Island chapter of the Red Hat Society, this study builds on the existing scholarship on women, writing, and housework in English Studies. I argue that the majority of feminist scholarship on writing and housework has been limited to considering housework as either an inspirational source about which women can write or a burden on women that precludes them from success in formal opportunities to write school and at work. However, in the wake of a growing number of studies on everyday writing and rhetoric, my study considers writing done in the context of housework, ie, writing practices used to do housework such as grocery lists and menus. To account for such practices, I rely on Bakhtinian dialogism as a rhetorical theory of the vernacular that includes everyday and marginalized forms of language. From this theoretical perspective, along with feminist research methodologies, I examine my participants' stories and artifacts. Chapter 2 describes my participants and explains my data sources, research methods, and frames for data analysis. Chapter 3 begins the data analysis by enumerating the rhetorical purposes of the red hats and costumes worn by the women in their roles as members of the Red Hat Society. In arguing that the women's costumes exemplify material rhetoric, or activist productions that intervene into and improve the lives of aging women, I identify and bridge two strands of scholarship on material rhetoric, one analytic and one productive. Chapter 4 traces my participants' uses of recipes across a variety of rhetorical purposes, from solitary cooking to participation in a community writing project. The participants' motivations to work with recipes reveal a tension between housework and literacy that stems in part from the women's backgrounds as professionals who came of age during the time that one participant refers to as “women's lib.” This tension foregrounds Chapter 5, which explores two main acquisition sources of housework writing, “rhetorical heirlooms” and workplace literacy appropriations.

Subject Area

Womens studies|Rhetoric

Recommended Citation

Jamie White-Farnham, "Women, writing, and housework: A study of material rhetoric in everyday life" (2011). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3450945.