“Adopting subjectivity as a defining value, therefore, is instructive. However, the multidimensionality of the instruction also reveals the need for a shift in paradigms, a need that I find especially evident with regard to the notion of ‘voice,’ as a central manifestation of subjectivity.”
Jacqueline Jones Royster

Jacqueline Jones Royster sets out three aims in her article, “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own.” The first of these is to present three “scenes” as “personal testimony as ‘subject'”; the second to “demonstrate that our critical approaches to voice, again as a central manifestation of subjectivity, are currently skewed toward voice as a spoken or written phenomenon”; and the third a “call for action in cross-boundary exchange is to refine theory and practice so that they include voicing as a phenomenon that is constructed and expressed visually and orally, and as a phenomenon that has import also in being a thing heard, perceived, and reconstructed” (30).

Royster cites her experiences as an ethnic minority who has often been placed in a subordinated position while members of the outside, dominant ethnic group–white people, one assumes–discussed the state, history, and challenges of being a member of her ethnic group. In discussing the frustration of this position, she writes:

“I have been compelled to listen to speakers, well-meaning though they may think they are, who signal to me rather clearly that subject position is everything. I have come to recognize, however, that when the subject matter is me and the voice is not mine, my sense of order and rightness is disrupted. In metaphoric fashion, these ‘authorities’ let me know, once again, that Columbus has discovered America and claims it now, claims it still for a European crown.” (Royster 31)

Here Royce identifies her frustration with being treated as a text without a voice. These encounters, she writes, “are definable through the lens of subjectivity, particularly in terms of the power and authority to speak and to make meaning” (31). Royce also identifies the problem that, when one does speak, one in the “subject matter” position may not be treated seriously–that they may be assumed to be performing an “appropriated” voice, or that they may be restricted to a narrow band of experience and expression (36).

Royce characterizes the stories she has shared:

“In sharing these three scenes, I emphasize that there is a pressing need to construct paradigms that permit us to engage in better practices in cross-boundary discourse, whether we are teaching, researching, writing, or talking with Others, whoever those Others happen to be. I would like to emphasize, again, that we look again at ‘voice’ and situate it within a world of symbols, sound, and sense, recognizing that this world operates symphonically.” (37-38)

She asks (38):

  • “How can we teach, engage in research, write about, and talk across boundaries with others, instead of for, about, and around them?”
  • “We need to talk, yes, and to talk back, yes, but when do we listen?”
  • “How do we listen? How do we demonstrate that we honor and respect the person talking and what that person is saying, or what the person might say if we valued someone other than ourselves having a turn to speak?”
  • “How do we translate listening into language and action, into the creation of an appropriate response? How do we really ‘talk back’ rather than talk also?”

Following this, she concludes that “The goal is better practices so that we can exchange perspectives, negotiate meaning, and create understanding with the intent of being in a good position to cooperate, when, like now, cooperation is absolutely necessary” (38).

As Royster comes to a close, she makes a call to action that still strikes home and holds appeal across, and perhaps beyond, our entire discipline:

“In addition to better practices in our classrooms, however, we can also question our ability to talk convincingly with deans, presidents, legislators, and the general public about what we do, how we do it, and why. We have not been conscientious about keeping lines of communication open, and we are now experiencing the consequences of talking primarily to ourselves as we watch funds being cut, programs being eliminated, and national agencies that are vital to our interests being bandied about as if they are post-it notes, randomly stuck on by some ill-informed spendthrift. We must learn to raise a politically active voice with a socially responsible mandate to make a rightful place for education in a country that seems always ready to place the needs of quality education on a sideboard instead of on the table. Seemingly, we have been forever content to let voices other than our own speak authoritatively about our areas of expertise and about us. It is time to speak for ourselves, in our own interests, in the interest of our work, and in the interest of our students.” (39)


Royster, Jacqueline Jones. “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own.” 1996. Cross-Talk in Comp Theory: A Reader. 2nd Ed. Ed. Victor Villanueva. Urbana: NCTE, 2003. Print.