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Jennifer Sano-Franchini: Rhetoric, Writing and Racialization

Jennifer Sano-Franchini

Jennifer Sano-Franchini grew up in Hawai‘i—not a bad place to call home. The new West Virginia University Gaziano Family Legacy Professor of Rhetoric and Writing and associate professor of English completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Hawai‘i. She left the tropics and went on to pursue a doctorate in Rhetoric and Writing, with a concentration in Cultural Rhetorics, at Michigan State. From there, she took a tenure track position at Virginia Tech. In Fall 2022, she began her first semester at Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.

I plan to continue my research on the cultural politics of user experience design, Asian American rhetoric, and the rhetorical work of institutions.

Sano-Franchini’s doctoral research focused on YouTube videos about the practice of East Asian blepharoplasty (cosmetic eyelid surgery). She specifically looked at the tropes through which people across cultures rationalized the decision to get or not get the surgery, as well as the temporal logics on which those tropes rely. 

Q: What conclusions came out of your dissertation?

A: I identified five tropes and five temporal logics through which people rationalize the decision to get the surgery. So, for example, one of those tropes was “racialization,” or, where people said that Asians get the surgery to “look more white.” Another trope was that of “pragmatization,” or where people said they wanted to get the surgery for better career opportunities. I then used these findings to create a framework for culturally reflexive design. Ultimately, I show how such an approach can enable professional writers to unpack certain assumptions about technological body modification and the cultural practices of Asian and Asian American subjects, as well as how to write about such issues with care and reflexivity.

Q: Why rhetoric and writing?

A: I first became interested in rhetoric and writing studies after I took a course during my master’s in Rhetorical Criticism and American Popular Music. As someone who was very into music—I was a classically trained pianist and college radio deejay back in the day—I was excited to find an area in English where I could study and write about something that I was really interested in. Later during my M.A., I took a course on Rhetoric: East and West that compared ancient Greco-Roman, ancient Chinese, and Asian American rhetorics, and that showed me how there might be space in the field for my own perspective as an Asian American woman.

I later became interested in professional writing after coming to find that there was an area of study that takes a critical approach to something I had already been doing in my day job as a document designer and professional writer. One of the things I love most about professional and technical writing is how it focuses on the seemingly mundane, taken-for-granted types of writing that we encounter all the time in our everyday lives, but that most people tend to overlook, showing how these kinds of writing actually guide our behavior, including how we engage with technology, access material resources, and interact with one another and the world around us.

Q: Where will your Eberly research take you?

A: I plan to continue my research on the cultural politics of user experience design, Asian American rhetoric, and the rhetorical work of institutions. Currently, I’m guest editing a special issue of the journal Technical Communication on digital interface analysis and social justice. I am also working with a team of researchers on a project that uses focus groups to study how teachers of professional and technical writing who assign service-learning projects engage with social justice issues. With time, I hope to learn more about Monongalia County and the surrounding area, in the hopes of finding ways that my research interests in digital literacy and professional writing can more directly engage and support the broader community in which we live and work. 

Q: What do you hope to give your students?

A: I hope to equip students to write in professional and public contexts and engage with digital technologies with care, reflexivity, and attention to issues of power and equity. 

Q: Now, what about this divisive ham and pineapple pizza situation?

A: I’m OK with it if it’s there, but it’s not something I’d order for myself. What I’m absolutely not okay with is calling it “Hawaiian” pizza.

Q: Any West Virginia-themed tidbits?

A: Don Knotts is my birthday twin!

Written by Laura Roberts