Kundai Chirindo is a rhetorical scholar and teacher whose work focuses on how ideas of rhetoric relate to concepts of place and space. By thinking about how ideas of Africa are performed and staged in American public life, Kundai, in his published scholarship, rethinks core concepts like rhetoric, space/place, sociolinguistics, epistemology, and the environment that are fundamental in Rhetorical Studies. He wrote a dissertation on the ideas of Africa that circulated around the emergence of Barack Obama under the direction of Dave Tell at the University of Kansas. Of late, he is working on projects that all connect to one driving concern: what does it mean to think about rhetoric (or meaning making/sharing) in light of a species idea of the human and/or in the anthropocene?
An Interview with Kundai Chirindo
What was it that drew you to this field?
That’s a great story. A favorite question of mine is do you choose rhetoric or does rhetoric choose you, and I think in many ways the rhetoric chose me. I was involved with speech and debate in high school and when I got to college as an undergrad I was a communication studies major who was interested in rhetoric, so I have been in the field as far back as high school. I then went to the University of Kansas where I received my PhD. I studied rhetorical theory broadly from classical times to present times but I also took a lot of coursework in African and African American studies.
You studied both African American studies and rhetoric in grad school, how does that relate to your current research?
My research broadly is interested in rhetorical theory as it relates to notions of space and place. In particular I am interested in the performance, resilience, and persistence of ideas about Africa and the American public imaginary. My dissertation was on Barack Obama and the African idea and I used rhetorical concepts to think about how people associated or trafficked in Obama’s associations to different ideas of Africa. In other words I took the emergence of Barack Obama in 2005 to 2008 as an opportunity to think about how ideas of Africa are performed in American public life.
Have you had the opportunity to include students in your research?
I have and student research goes in a couple different directions for me. I’m really thrilled by the fact that a couple students I’ve had here at Lewis & Clark have successfully submitted competitive papers to conferences and I took a couple of people to the bi-ennial Rhetorical Society for America conference. We’ve placed competitive papers in the Festival of Scholars here at L&C, the Gender Studies Symposium, and I’m especially proud of the fact that every year I’ve been here at Lewis & Clark, I’ve had a finalist in the Dorothy Berkson gender studies writing competition. I’ve also collaborated with now four students on my survival rhetorics project, which started way back in 2012-2013 when a team of students helped me begin to read and think about survival rhetorics. I’m working with a student right now to look at five films by Rwandan filmmakers and trying to get a sense of how it is they imagine the trauma that was the Rwandan genocide and to think about how their authorship can inform our understanding of rhetoric in the aftermath of big national traumas.
Outside of your research and academia what are you passionate about?
A lot of things! I’m generally a cultural critic engaged in thinking a lot about the communities in which I live and the spaces that I occupy. I’m always attuned to and pay attention to invocations of Africa in public life and the things I’m interested in are not that far disconnected from the work that I actually do in my day job. I also love jazz music, I love golf, I am really really in love with coffee. I’m a fan of the outdoors, you can catch me out there with my son hiking often. And I love the city, I’m a big city person, I’m really concerned with and engaged in things going on around town from tasting apples and picking produce on Sauvie Island, to farmers markets, and entertainment in general.
BA (2004) & MA (2008) Bethel University, St. Paul, Minn; PhD (2012) University of Kansas
CORE 120–Communication and “the Environment”
RHMS 406–Race, Rhetoric, Resistance
RHMS 315–Comparative Rhetoric
RHMS 301–Rhetorical Criticism
RHMS 210–Public Discourse
RHMS 203–Rhetorical Theory
RHMS 100–Introduction to Rhetoric and Media Studies