What one scholar or reading do you assign in digital rhetoric and why?
In response to our question about the scholars and readings that interviewees believed to be integral to their teaching of digital rhetoric, there were seven points of agreement as well as a variety of singular responses. Across these common and distinct responses, we witness an overwhelming emphasis on readings that outline and develop theoretical frameworks—in other words, readings on theory—and relatively few mentions of texts that emphasize or could be used to emphasize production, such as models or examples of digital rhetoric in action. Furthermore, interviewees pointed more often than not to print works rather than digital works. Part of the reason for these trends could be the wording of our question, but if we look across the responses to this question and those to the question on assignments, we can see the axes of continuation/rupture, theory/practice, and text/network mapped across both texts and tasks.
Consensus: Books of Theoretical Rupture & Continuation
The first point of consensus in terms of scholars/readings was Collin Brooke’s Lingua Fracta (2010). Casey Boyle favors Lingua Fracta because it “does a fantastic job of taking classical rhetoric and folding it right into new media technologies” by introducing students to the rhetorical canons as a heuristic, demonstrating their value, and remediating them in the digital era. Kevin Brock and James Brown concur, and Brown in particular notes that Brooke’s “method” of taking “the received terms of rhetorical theory and then remak[ing] them for these digital environments” is a useful model for students and for the subfield in general. So, although Brooke himself sees digital rhetoric as a rupture, some of those who recommend his work tend to do so for its potential to frame digital rhetoric as continuation. Kathleen Blake Yancey, on the other hand, suggests that Brooke’s book makes a case that digital rhetoric represents a rupture from traditional rhetoric, and as a whole, these conflicting perspectives on Brooke’s work capture well the tension between continuation and rupture that is present in the Outcomes video between Brooke and Thomas Rickert.
The second point of consensus was Jody Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole (2011). Jon Wargo, Brown, Matt Davis, and Rickert each see Shipka’s work as capacious in its treatment of new media. For them, Shipka highlights that multimodality, in its creation and dissemination, is not limited and confined to the digital realm—a point Brown expands on in the Outcomes video. In addition, Davis emphasizes the pedagogical usefulness of Shipka’s multimodal task-based framework as a lens to design assignments and their assessments: the multimodal task based framework is really where I'm at in terms of assignment design and even assessment. So I know that they're going to understand that you have a sort of open task and that part of the task is not just completing it but making certain purposeful choices along the way and being able to account for those choices. The pedagogical practice of having students defend their compositional and rhetorical choices is also an evaluative model that resurfaces and is discussed in more detail in the Assessments video. Speaking to the book’s theoretical and pedagogical value, Rickert draws comparisons to Sarah Arroyo’s work, Participatory Composition: Video Culture, Writing, and Electracy (2013), noting that the books “are both practical and theoretical in attempting to really work with what digital or new media forms make available and see where that leads us into innovative pedagogical forms.” Overall, then, and in addition to the way Shipka’s book forefronts materiality and proposes innovative assignment and assessment designs, interviewees feel compelled to single out and laud her work for its pedagogical benefits, ones that we might contemplate critically along the axis of theory/practice and that might signal a rupture in classroom composing practices and evaluation.
Repeated references of Marshall McLuhan’s work was the third point of consensus among interviewees. Brooke, Jeff Rice, and Justin Hodgson in particular identify McLuhan as being influential to their work and essential to their teaching of digital rhetoric. Hodgson says that his students read Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964) because of the ways in which it prompts students to question the act of mediation and to think about what that means not only in terms of technology as we think about it, but in terms of material culture, in terms of all these other ways in which we think about how we interact with objects and artifacts in the world and how that interaction is shaped by the various containers or messages and models that sort of shape—that sort of lend to this representation. In explaining his understanding of and appreciation for McLuhan, Rice says Roland Barthes’s work helped him to see McLuhan through the lens of “embrac[ing] contradiction,” which reminds him that “there's something that's kind of not to be taken so so seriously all the time about this.” Thus, and as was the case in part with Shipka, interviewees credit McLuhan for his theoretical eye toward materiality, one that asks us to consider not only the impact that the medium has on the message but also the extent to which a new medium might mark a rupture in the ways in which and the effects of how we communicate .
The fourth point of consensus was the importance and influence of Greg Ulmer’s work. Multiple interviewees frame Ulmer as a helpful scholar for teaching digital rhetoric, while others commend his work for its engagement with invention and electracy. For instance, Rickert notes that Ulmer “was one of the first to try to extract the logic of digitality and in extracting that logic apply it to new forms of writing.” Matt Demers cites Ulmer’s Heuretics: The Logic of Invention (1994) as being paramount to his own work, while Arroyo points to a collection of Ulmer’s selected works, Electracy (2015), edited by Ulmer, Saper, and Vitanza, as one she brings into the classroom.
The mentioning of work that is explicitly about or in dialogue with digital rhetoric constituted the fifth and sixth points of consensus. Jennifer Warfel Juszkiewicz, Doug Eyman, and Crystal VanKooten all acknowledge the importance of Liz Losh’s definitional work in digital rhetoric, while Yancey links it to the opening address of the Symposium as a means to underscore its historical and scholarly contribution: last night, Justin made the observation that there were three rhetoricians that helped define this area of inquiry, if you will: Lanham, Zappan, and Losh.
In particular, the interviewees recommend Losh’s Virtualpolitik: An Electronic History of Government Media-Making in a Time of War, Scandal, Disaster, Miscommunication, and Mistakes (2009), specifically her ‘Hacking Aristotle: What is Digital Rhetoric?’ chapter in which she provides four distinct definitions of digital rhetoric:
- The conventions of new digital genres that are used for everyday discourse, as well as for special occasions, in average people’s lives.
- Public rhetoric, often in the form of political messages from government institutions, which is represented or recorded through digital technology and disseminated via electronic distributed networks.
- The emerging scholarly discipline concerned with the rhetorical interpretation of computer-generated media as objects of study.
- Mathematical theories of communication from the field of information science, many of which attempt to quantify the amount of uncertainty in a given linguistic exchange or the likely paths through which messages travel (p. 47–48).
Although these definitions don’t explicitly address pedagogy, Losh’s work is considered foundational for teaching digital rhetoric because it offers ways to define digital rhetoric and potential content areas to address in teaching digital rhetoric.
As for Losh herself, she and VanKooten, as we do in the introduction, consider Doug Eyman’s Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice (2014) to be an important recent addition to the subfield: we're entering a great time for there to be books in digital rhetoric courses that are devoted to digital rhetoric, so I'm very excited about Doug Eyman's book on digital rhetoric because you know Doug has that context of having been in the field for a while. Together, both Losh’s and Eyman’s books act as examples for the types of work we might anticipate from a subfield in its inception, works that—like this one—inquire into and attempt to define the subfield and delineate its contours and best practices in ways that recognize and grapple with the tension of continuation and rupture.
The seventh and final point of consensus, which Yancey and Rory Lee cite, was Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s Remediation: Understanding New Media (1999). Yancey mentions that her graduate students have found Remediation to be “compatible with the work that they want to do in digital rhetoric.” Put otherwise, the theory of remediation offers a rich lens that lends itself to work in both scholarly and pedagogical contexts. In unpacking this theoretical lens, Lee articulates how remediation provides insight into how new media build upon and are defined according to their predecessors and how those media produce texts that intersect and are intertextual. For both, then, Remediation is useful for scholarship and pedagogy for the ways it historically positions and unpacks the digital as a continuation of technological and textual developments and of the media logics that inform them.
Dissensus: Idiosyncrasy and New Media Texts
The remaining answers interviewees shared represent an eclectic corpus of scholars and texts well suited to the teaching of digital rhetoric. Kristen Arola references Lisa Nakamura for her approach to “digital representations and affordances.” Bill Hart-Davidson discusses a piece by Jason Swarts on the distribution of content across environments, sites, and users and on the role that algorithms play in how content is selected. Davis points to RIP: Remix Manifesto (2008) and the musical act Girl Talk. Estee Beck extols the value in Claire Lauer’s (2012) Kairos piece “What’s in a Name?”, and McElroy cites the web documentary “Welcome to Pine Point” (2011). Finally, Collin Brooke, with an answer he considers “out of left field,” defends his selection of Jorge Luis Borges’ Labyrinths (1962).
In concluding this discussion of scholars and readings to assign in teaching digital rhetoric, we would be remiss if we did not make a few observations about the set of texts referenced here. First, and perhaps problematically, there is an absence of racial diversity in terms of representation: very few of the texts are written by scholars of color. It also suggests a need for us in digital rhetoric to increase our efforts to be more inclusive in the voices we teach and privilege in the classroom. If we don’t list texts by scholars of color as influential, we (unwittingly) suggest to our students that they are not.
Second, and perhaps paradoxically, most of the texts recommended for teaching digital rhetoric are not digital. Outside of RiP: A Remix Manifesto (a documentary), “What’s in a Name?” (a webtext), and “Welcome to Pine Point” (a web documentary), most texts are print. In some ways, this both speaks to the nascency of the subfield of digital rhetoric and is symptomatic of the academy’s reluctance to embrace and encourage digital publishing, which accentuates as well the presence of the axis of continuation/rupture in terms of what we consider to be digital rhetoric (or at least foundational to it).
Third, and also somewhat unexpected, is that some of the texts—for instance, Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole, the work of McLuhan, and Bolter and Grusin’s Remediation—are not ostensibly focused on rhetoric: Shipka’s book is keyed toward multimodal composing, pedagogy, and materiality, while McLuhan’s and Bolter and Grusin’s respective works attend to logics of and relationships between and among media. However, given that a common outcome in teaching digital rhetoric is fostering critical thinking about medium and mode, the inclusion of texts covering media and technology is both understandable and warranted. Moreover, and as is evident in the ways of thinking suggested via the axes of continuation/rupture, theory/practice, and text/network, the affordances of digital technologies—and their capability to complicate, challenge, and even transform our traditional notion of text—appear to underpin and permeate much of the pedagogical knowing and doing in digital rhetoric. These textual choices also suggest that, at this point in its development, digital rhetoric is, to some degree, outward facing: we look outside of the subfield for new, productive ideas, and work to make them applicable to both teaching and scholarship.
Overall, however, these scholars and texts attend to a diverse set of issues within digital rhetoric, such as the extent to which the digital is different and the degree to which traditional rhetorical concepts transfer (or not) into digital environments (i.e., continuation/rupture); the importance of materiality, technology, and media in composing and in the teaching of composition; and the means by which we define digital rhetoric and demarcate the best practice of the subfield.