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Indiana University Bloomington

Scot Barnett

Scot Barnett

Assistant Professor

PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2010

My research interests include histories and theories of rhetoric, digital rhetorics and the rhetorics of science and technology, and ethics and phenomenology. In my most current research, I am interested in how rhetoricians’ questions, intuitions, and refusals of the nonhuman (from animals and things to technologies and natural phenomena) have informed conceptions of rhetoric from antiquity to the present. Though rhetoric has often been defined in terms of language—and thus bound closely to the agencies of human speakers and writers—my work attempts to uncover and critically consider the unheralded roles nonhuman beings have played in establishing an understanding of rhetoric as specific to “the human barnyard,” as Kenneth Burke says.

My book, Toward Rhetorical Realism: Rhetoric, Ethics, and the Ontology of Things, explores some of the complicated roles nonhumans have played in rhetoric’s history. Specifically, the book traces several key discussions of reality and realism in the rhetorical tradition, from Aristotle’s metaphysical understandings of nature (phusis) and art (techne) to Kant, Ramus, and other Enlightenment thinkers who both revived and lamented rhetoric’s epistemological capacities—that is, its abilities to construct and shape our knowledge of the world. Though reality has long been invoked in our discussions of rhetoric, I argue in the book that these invocations have largely served to buttress the human’s unique and central place in the rhetorical scheme of things. Rather than argue against these uses and conceptions of reality, however, Toward Rhetorical Realism instead encourages rhetorical theorists to work squarely within the structures of the distinctions themselves, showing in each case how reality has always been part of the rhetorical tradition and how a comportment to that presence re/opens the way to a nascent and critically useful understanding of realism for rhetoric in the 21st century, a realism that isn’t naïve in the positivist sense but rather, and in keeping with the lessons learned through our linguistic understandings of rhetoric, “weird,” “contingent,” and “surprising.”

In addition to this book, I am also currently editing a book collection (with Casey Boyle from the University of Utah) that addresses rhetoric’s relationship to ontology. In Rhetorical Ontologies: Rhetoric Through Everyday Things, prominent scholars in the fields of rhetoric and composition consider the many ways everyday things—from the nineteenth-century stereoscope to the contemporary QWERTY keyboard—contribute persuasively to the gathering of social, political, and rhetorical worlds.