Digital Rhetoric Behind & Beyond the Screen

Seminar Leaders:

Jim Brown, Rutgers University-Camden
Casey Boyle, University of Texas at Austin
Steph Ceraso, University of Virginia

From smart homes to smart cities, digital processes now underlie our everyday lives in ways that are difficult to see. While the computer screen has long served as a way to understand the demarcation between digital and non-digital, online and offline, we have entered a situation in which the line is fuzzier than ever. In response, this seminar asks: What does the rhetorician do now that digital rhetorics can no longer be confined to screens? The proposition for this seminar is that digital rhetoric now extends beyond our traditional avenues of inquiry and underlies areas we once thought to be non-digital. New scholarship demonstrates that “digital rhetoric” is no longer easily locatable as it now pervades discussions of hardware, software, physical & ubiquitous computing, digital audio, haptic interfaces, wearable devices, and even the general infrastructural shifts brought about by communication technology. These new foci open up difficult questions for rhetoric, ethics, and politics. Given these tectonic shifts, how do techniques of persuasion, communication, control, and resistance function in these new technological environs? If digital technology is no longer seen as a mere tool but rather as an ambient condition, which rhetorical strategies should we now amplify and which shall we allow to fade? The time is now for examining digital rhetorics as a set of practices that include screens but persist behind and reach beyond them.

The seminar will explore concerns for this expanded digital rhetoric through a mix of theory and practice. We will pair scholarship in digital rhetoric and adjacent fields (e.g., media studies, infrastructure theory, sonic studies) with practice in a series of hands-on exercises. In combining a conception of the “technological” as both theory and practice, we propose and respond to questions about emerging methodologies, shifting disciplinarity, and fluctuating ethics that an expanded digital rhetoric poses for academics working in an age of ambient technology.

Seminar participants will examine a shared reading list through discussion and group annotation, engage in a series of hands-on activities (activities which may include: prototyping with Arduinos and Raspberry Pis, creating ad hoc networks, and field recording/sonic design), and workshop individual projects. Ultimately, the seminar offers an opportunity for its participants to accelerate individual projects as well as to help sketch out an itinerary for advancing digital rhetorical theory and practice.

Tentative Readings will include selections by: David Rieder, Keller Easterling, Seb Franklin, Rob Kitchin, Isabel Pedersen, Salome Voegelin,Yuk Hui, Tony Sampson, Sara Hendren, Jonathan Sterne, Brandon LaBelle, Laura Marks, Heidi Rae Cooley, Finn Brunton & Helen Nissenbaum, Jason Farman, and Elizabeth Losh.

Questions should be directed to James Brown, jim.brown@rutgers.edu