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

Using CHAT to form new canons

We intend this cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity, this scheme of literate activity in functional systems in laminated chronotopes, to replace the classical five canons as a map for rhetorical action. Why do we argue for this remapping? First, we believe that CHAT offers a richer map of activity. Where the classical canons mapped the situational, productive acts of a rhetor, this CHAT map points to a complex set of interlocking systems within which rhetors are formed, act, and navigate. Socialization, for example, is not represented as part of rhetorical activity by the classical canons. Rhetors drew on the commonplaces of the people, but the option of forming people and their commonplaces was off the map. If some readers might argue that classical rhetoricians were very attuned to learning, that their whole practice was predicated on the value of instruction, we would not disagree. As we noted at the beginning, our argument is that the classical canons did not offer a full mapping of the actual rhetorical activity of the ancients. A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity should bring into sharper relief dimensions of ancient practices as well as of ours today.

For researchers interested in analyzing rhetorical practice, this cultural-historical remapping retunes attention. As in Lave and Wenger's (1991) cultural-historical account of situated learning, this CHAT perspective integrates communication, learning, and social formation, seeing them not as separate categories, but as simultaneous, constant dimensions of any moment of life. This perspective tunes our attention to multimodality, not as a question of which mode a message might be placed in, but as a question of how multiple modes operate together in a single rhetorical act and of how extended chains of modal transformations may be linked in a rhetorical trajectory. This map, in short, argues for attending to the full range of multimodality and to material ecologies throughout the process. It's not about the web or television, and it's not electracy. It's about attending to semiosis in whatever materials at whatever point in the activity. Finally, this account is fundamentally rhizomatic, asking us to trace spatially and historically extended networks. These networks do not live in the boxes our cultures have defined for us, so researchers should study and act outside of such boxes (see Latour, 2005). Neither life nor rhetoric is composed of an archipelago of focal events, so researchers should be alert to extended semiotic campaigns, to interdiscursive connections across time, place, and social milieu.

In terms of rhetorical action and instruction, this cultural-historical remapping articulates an expanded space of rhetorical moves and contexts. In particular, whereas the history of rhetoric has focused on how rhetors take stock of the means of persuasion available in a rhetorical situation to craft and contextualize a message, a cultural-historical mapping opens up consideration of how rhetors and audiences are socialized, how means are made and black-boxed, and how situations are built and altered. Attending to the socialization of people, to black-boxing and to the profusion of semiotic objects seems like a purloined letter lying in our midst. We mentioned the far right, but also think of Disney, which is populating our world with t-shirts, stuffed animals, pajamas, coffee cups, TV shows, films, DVDs and CDs, mall stores, theme parks, books, and so on. When Disney wants to promote the next Britney Spears or the next Lion King, they do not have to make an isolated argument for a single product. They are working in a world populated with Disney artifacts that naturalize Disney, that incline people to attend favorably to whatever Disney offers next. As Umberto Eco (1997) argues, primary indexicality, getting people's attention, is a significant act itself and forms the semiotic ground for any further communication.

In short, we argue that a new set of canons is needed to re-situate rhetoric in complex sociohistoric worlds and to realize not simply a consistent multimodality, but a deep orientation to mediated activity and agency. Re-situating and re-mediating the canons takes us beyond any single setting and mode and offers a new map for an expansive attention to the rhetorical dimensions of all activity. Resituating the canons in this fashion is not a panacea for writing studies or rhetoric. We believe, however, that these revised canons are an artifact that will afford useful reworkings and expansions of the realm of rhetoric.