A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

Growing Up with Electracy

Sarah J. Arroyo, California State University at Long Beach

(Published November 22, 2016)

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“Growing up with Electracy” offers a glimpse into how Digital Rhetoric has developed for me over the past several years. I’m almost sure I was the only one at #IDRS who took the initial CFP literally; that is, in my presentation there, I literally explained my approach to digital rhetoric. My approach is theoretical, rhetorical, performative, and framed around Greg Ulmer’s concept of electracy. Electracy encompasses the cultural, institutional, pedagogical, and ideological implications inherent in the transition from a culture of print literacy to a culture saturated with electronic media, regardless of the presence of actual machines.

In “Growing up with Electracy,” I trace how digital rhetoric emerged for me over the past 15 years. In doing so, I hope to articulate these four points:

First, Ulmer’s concept of electracy is the central theoretical underpinning of my theory and practice of digital rhetoric. Everything I have written, produced, and taught is framed around electracy and aims to contribute to its growing rhetoric.

Second, electrate practices are inherently participatory; no one person or set of scholars is an “expert” on electracy. This may seem like a no-brainer, but the participatory practices that are now ubiquitous on- and offline open up countless possibilities for new ideas and creative practices to emerge.

Next, we learn technologies and new technological platforms simply through engaging with them. Play and performance are hallmarks of any course I teach and any scholarship I write or produce.

Finally, electracy is a way of life, not a set of skills. As many of my former students attest, once they discovered electracy, there was no going back. We cannot not be electrate.

As I mention in my book, Participatory Composition, I place the following quote from Ulmer’s Internet Invention on nearly every syllabus I create: “The students are helping to invent the future of writing. This attitude and relationship to learning has to be made explicit and encouraged, since students are unaccustomed to working in an experimental way” (7). This quote sums up in a nutshell the four points I just discussed: electracy is participatory, electracy requires play and performance, there are no masters of electracy, electracy is all around us and can’t simply be “turned off.”

When I first encountered electracy in Victor Vitanza’s Rhetoric/Poetics and Cultural/Digital Studies seminar in the spring of 2001, I had a dial-up internet connection and hadn’t fathomed how electracy could be transformed by the participatory turn the web soon took. Despite technological limitations, in that seminar we were tasked to think about how we might visualize the theories we studied through the medium of digital video, or how we would perform the work of cultural studies or cultural critique when no critical distance could be established. We did have the capability to produce digital video (but not necessarily share it), and we invented ways to practice performative scholarship.

Since then, I have been producing performative video scholarship and advocating for the value of it for and as digital rhetoric. I have developed what Ulmer and others were calling “post-criticism” into the concept of “participatory composition,” which blends Henry Jenkins’s articulation of “participatory culture” with electracy. I have also developed Ulmer’s earlier concept of “videocy,” or video intelligence, as an offshoot of electracy appropriate for the culture of video sharing and participatory practices that are now ubiquitous. My approach has developed alongside these practices, and in this piece, I aim to trace the movement and show a compilation of my own video scholarship, video collaborations, and student videos from the past decade. I’ve discovered that students repurpose footage from my published work to create new trajectories for my arguments that I otherwise would not have discovered. This practice is also collaborative because they are not simply citing my materials, but are instead creating electrate iterations of it. My goal for this project is to articulate a version of digital rhetoric—a participatory composition—that is inherently participatory and exemplifies a rhetoric for electracy.

Works Cited

Arroyo, Sarah J. Participatory Composition: Video Culture, Writing, and Electracy. Southern Illinois UP, 2013.

Arroyo, Sarah, and Bahareh Alaei. “The Dancing Floor.” Kairos, vol. 17, no. 2, 2013. kairos.technorhetoric.net/17.2/topoi/vitanza-kuhn/arroyo_alaei.html.

Jenkins, Henry, Ravi Purushotma, Margaret Weigel, Katie Clinton, and Alice J. Robinson. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. MIT P, 2009.

---. “Heuretics: Inventing Electracy.” https://heuretics.wordpress.com/

Ulmer, Gregory L. Heuretics: The Logic of Invention. Johns Hopkins UP, 1994.

---. Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy. Longman, 2003.

---. Teletheory: Grammatology in the Age of Video. Routledge, 1989.

---. “The Object of Post-Criticism.” The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, edited by Hal Foster, Bay P, 1983, pp. 83-108.