A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

Ways of Knowing and Doing in Digital Rhetoric: A Primer

Matthew Davis, University of Massachusetts Boston
Stephen J. McElroy, Florida State University
Rory Lee, Ball State University

(Published November 22, 2016)

In April 2015, members from the emerging field of Digital Rhetoric convened at Indiana University for the inaugural Indiana Digital Rhetoric Symposium [IDRS].  The purpose of the Symposium was, according to its website, “to foster conversations at the intersections of rhetoric, media, and technology” by “(1) explor[ing] Perspectives and Definitions of Digital Rhetoric and (2) articulat[ing] the ways in which digital rhetoric connects to, yet is distinct from, digital humanities” (link).  As a practical matter, the Symposium offered an opportunity for key figures in the field to interact and dialogue with one another in an effort to understand better and define more clearly how we know and do Digital Rhetoric. As members of this nascent field, we are interested in exploring how others who do work in Digital Rhetoric describe their individual experiences and how those experiences begin to frame the contours of the field. (In fact, our choice of the term field is itself inflected by the discourse of the conference, as you’ll see.)  

In this audio-video project, we endeavored to define and map the best practices in the field of Digital Rhetoric by interviewing those present at the Symposium.  To that end, we asked 23 different scholars 10 questions about their research, pedagogy, and scholarly influences.  In particular, we inquired into the ways scholars in Digital Rhetoric define, teach, theorize, assess, support, experience, and engage in digital rhetoric and how these practices and ways of thinking are similar to yet different from work in Digital Humanities and Rhetoric and Composition more broadly. As we generated and identified the questions we wanted to pose to interviewees, we tried to be mindful of how our project might be productively situated among these fields—even as it seeks primarily to contribute to the growing body of scholarship in Digital Rhetoric. 

We see this project as resonant with the influential work of Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein’s collection, Debates in the Digital Humanities (2012), which aims to define, theorize, critique, practice, and teach the digital humanities. Similarly, we hope that this project builds on the work of Jim Ridolfo and William Hart-Davidson’s Rhetoric and the Digital Humanities (2014), where some of our interviewees (and a range of others as well) seek to outline research methods and methodologies, identify “interdisciplinary connections” between rhetoric and digital humanities, and forecast future trends. And, of course, we follow closely on the heels of Douglas Eyman’s Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice (2015), which provides an overview of the scholarly and pedagogical work that takes place in Digital Rhetoric and situates that work in historical contexts both personal and professional. Working with the emerging scholarship on digital rhetoric provided a scholarly context; other multimodal projects in Rhetoric & Composition that use audio and video to incorporate multiple voices and perspectives on the same topic, question, or set of questions—among them Todd Taylor’s Take 20 (2007) and Claire Lauer’s “What’s in a Name?” (2012)—served as both inspiration and method.

In conducting these interviews, we learned that there is considerable variation in how interviewees approach, understand, and apply digital rhetoric. For some, digital rhetoric is most certainly a new and distinct field; for others, it’s an extension of rhetoric—one that mirrors the move from a focus on oral to a focus on print cultures. For others, defining digital rhetoric is too traditional an approach: digital rhetoric is what digital rhetoric does.  In addition, we discovered a number of interesting convergences and divergences in perspectives regarding what digital rhetoric’s goals might be, who can or should practice it, what value it has, and how it fits (or doesn’t) with Digital Humanities.

For this special issue of enculturation, then, we have worked to provide a quick overview of these perspectives in order to share a sense of their range and scope—a sort of teaser for the larger project. In this video, you’ll see a selection of responses to four of our ten questions:

(1) How do you define digital rhetoric?

(2) How does digital rhetoric differ from the digital humanities?

(3) What makes one a digital rhetorician?

(4)  What text or scholar do you assign your students in digital rhetoric?

We have also created an outtakes reel that can be seen in the introduction to this special issue, in part as a light-hearted thanks to everyone who made the interviews possible. Here we would like to offer a more serious and extended ‘thank you’ to the organizers of the Symposium for providing us a space and a welcome atmosphere for collecting these interviews; we’d also like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the interview participants, who were very generous with their time and their thinking. 

Ways of Knowing & Doing in Digital Rhetoric 

Works Cited

“About IDRS.” Indiana Digital Rhetoric Symposium. Indiana University Bloomington. http://idrs.indiana.edu/about.

Gold, Matthew K. and Lauren F. Klein, editors. Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016. U of Minnesota P, 2016.

Ridolfo, Jim and William Hart-Davidson. Editors. Rhetoric and the Digital Humanities. U of Chicago P, 2014.

Eyman, Douglas. Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice. U of Michigan P, 2015. Digital Humanities.

Taylor, Todd. Take 20. macmillanlearning.com, Bedford / St. Martin, 2007. http://www.macmillanlearning.com/catalog/static/bsm/take20.

Lauer, Claire. “What’s in a Name.” Kairos, vol. 17, no. 1, 2012. http://technorhetoric.net/17.1/inventio/lauer/index.html

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