Response to Crowley & Hawhee’s “Stasis Theory: Asking the Right Questions”

The authors begin their article with a description of stasis, which they translate to mean “a stand.”  While to “take a stand” seems like a powerful individual move, the word’s meaning shifts when applied to argumentative struggles between two people.  Here, stasis seems the opposite of “to take a stand”; it is described as “the place where two opposing forces come together” (53).  Crowley and Hawhee build their approach to stasis theory on this metaphor of uniting or coming together.  Here, rather than overview the details of their theory, I’d like to think about the implications of bringing argumentative “sides” together:  What is the value or danger in uniting?  Really, what I want to do is situate their theory alongside Mary Louise Pratt’s idea of contact zones and Joseph Harris’ response to it.

Harris’ Afterword(s) to A Teaching Subject (1997) challenges and extends Pratt’s idea that teachers should teach within contact zones, or the uncomfortable spaces that reveal our cultural differences.  Harris argues contact zone classrooms place too much emphasis on difference and argument and too little emphasis on negotiation and positive, collective change.  Rather than totally “shooting down” contact zones, however, Harris reveals their tendency to divide people and then suggests a solution.  Classrooms, he says, should look “less like a battle and more like a negotiation” (120).  To accomplish this, teacher-researchers must focus their attention on classroom praxis rather than theory, creating “a forum where students themselves can articulate (and thus perhaps also become more responsive to) differences among themselves” (123).  Traditional interpretations of Pratt’s contact zone ask students to read cultural texts by professional writers rather than learn how to navigate the tense, awkward waters of their own cultural locations and biases.  Harris reveals the limitations of battling through bias and asks us instead to “come into contact with each other because [we] have claims and interests that extend beyond the borders of [our] own safe houses, neighborhoods, disciplines, or communities” (124).  We don’t understand each other by our differences alone; we must share some commonalities that encourage us to interact in the first place.

Crowley and Hawhee’s conception of stasis situates itself nicely between both Harris and Pratt:  “The process of working through questions of conjecture, definition, and quality, in order, will help rhetors to find the points about which they and their audience agree; it will also establish the point from which they must begin the argument—the point where they disagree” (68).  I agree that we must offer our students opportunities to negotiate, rather than merely battle, their social positions.  Today, in world that keeps shrinking via technology, I think the balance of dis/agreement is more important than ever.  Our need for community—and the alternative ease with which communities can become exclusive and hurtful—find “common ground” here in the idea of stasis.

Copyright Kathryn Trauth Taylor

About taylo206

I am an Assistant Professor of Composition, Rhetoric and Professional Writing at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
This entry was posted in Teaching Approaches, Theories of Composition and Rhetoric. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Response to Crowley & Hawhee’s “Stasis Theory: Asking the Right Questions”

  1. J.H. Adams says:

    Do they give a good overview of stasis theory in the book? I was disappointed when we never talked about it in our rhetoric course and although I have the book on my shelf, I haven’t managed to find time to take a look through it yet.

  2. Katie Taylor says:

    Yeah, their chapter on stasis theory is a nice read–well contextualized and explained. My mentor here said that it’s the best overview he knows of. 🙂 Miss you, JHA!

  3. J.H. Adams says:

    You too, Katie, you too.

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