map :: introduction :: core text :: authors :: what is CHAT? :: references


re-situating and re-mediating the canons:

a cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity

a collaborative core text


Paul Prior :: Janine Solberg :: Patrick Berry :: Hannah Bellwoar :: Bill Chewning :: Karen J. Lunsford :: Liz Rohan :: Kevin Roozen :: Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau :: Jody Shipka :: Derek Van Ittersum :: Joyce Walker

An earlier version of this argument was presented February 6, 2005 by Paul Prior in a plenary talk at the Santa Barbara Conference, Writing Research in the Making.


Delivery problems

Re-mediating and
re-distributing delivery

The rhetorical scene

Take 1: Revising the canons

Society and socialization

Take 2: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity

Mapping literate activity

Using CHAT to form new canons

From the core text to the data nodes


map button


Take 2: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity

The canons of classical rhetoric, then, offer us a snapshot, a synchronic rhetoric, too situated in particular homogeneous worlds and not situated enough in emergent, laminated histories, too centered on the producer rather than the system, too focused on language at the expense of a full semiotics. We turn here to cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT; see, e.g., Cole, 1996; Engestrom, 1993; Scribner, 1997; Wertsch, 1991; Wertsch, del Rio, & Alvarez, 1995) to provide a richer framework for conceptualizing rhetorical activity. By CHAT, we mean the emergent synthesis that has brought together Vygotskyan psychology, Voloshinovian and Bakhtinian semiotics, Latour's actor-network theory, and situated, phenomenological work in sociology and anthropology. CHAT argues that activity is situated in concrete interactions that are simultaneously improvised locally and mediated by historically-provided tools and practices, which range from machines, made-objects, semiotic means (e.g., languages, genres, iconographies), and institutions to structured environments, domesticated animals and plants, and, indeed, people themselves. Mediated activity means that action and cognition are distributed over time and space and among people, artifacts, and environments and thus also laminated, as multiple frames or fields co-exist in any situated act. In activity, people are socialized (brought into alignment with others) as they appropriate cultural resources, but also individuated as their particular appropriations historically accumulate to form a particular individual. Through appropriation and individuation, socialization also opens up a space for cultural change, for a personalization of the social. Cultural-historical activity theory points to a concrete, historical rhetoric. Where Aristotle asks what the commonplaces of the people are, a cultural-historical approach asks how people, institutions, and artifacts are made in history. This cultural-historical approach suggests that, rather than revising and reinterpreting the classical canons, it is time to begin remapping the territory of rhetorical activity.

Remapping Rhetorical Activity: Take 2

Literate Activity
Functional Systems
People Laminated Chronotopes
Artifacts Embodied
Practices Represented
Institutions Embedded

In the broadest context, this remapping begins (at the lower right) with laminated chronotopes, the time-spaces Bakhtin (1981) first described. Chronotopes can be understood as embodied activity-in-the-world, representational worlds, and chronotopes embedded in material and semiotic artifacts. Within these interpenetrated chronotopes, we then identify functional systems (Hutchins, 1995a). Functional systems—typified and fleeting—tie together people, artifacts, practices, institutions, communities, and ecologies around some array of current objectives, conscious and not (see Prior, 1998, and Prior and Shipka, 2003, for fuller accounts of laminated chronotopes and functional systems). The critical point here is that once socialization, Burke's (1950) body of identifications, has entered into the space of rhetorical activity, then the full range of material-social ecologies have to be on the table as well. (We would suggest Latour's 1987 Science in Action and Bazerman's 1999 The Languages of Edison's Light as foundational texts for these new cultural-historical, rhetorical canons.) Finally, within functional systems, we then turn to a map of literate activity. We placed this part of the map on the left and highest because it is closest in scale to the classical canons and closest to how we see our remapping being used for rhetorical practice and rhetorical instruction.