Geocomposition (In Progress). Submission Date: 2018

Geoglyph in Acre region of the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Jenny Watling.

Geoglyph in Acre region of the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Jenny Watling.

Geocomposition articulates a media practice that materially composes place through movement (drawing on the work of anthropologist Tim Ingold). Disciplinarily, Geocomposition engages the field of digital rhetoric, exploring (and exploiting) what’s collectively known as locative media: an assemblage of handheld smart-devices, GPS satellites, and location-aware applications that work in and through both locations and movements along those locations. The word locative, which suggests both location and locomotion, proffers a compelling point of departure. The merging or enmeshment of movement and place is central to Geocomposition, which simultaneously emphasizes both. Locative combines words for place and to call, suggesting a calling or a summoning of place: it is an active, evocative connotation. There is a link as well to locomotion, with loco being the ablation of locus. With the suffix motion, it means moving from a place. Moving from and summoning suggests a fruitful tension operating in Geocomposition’s employment of locative media.

Geocomposition forwards a rhetorical mode of composing locatively attuned and so inclined to its asignifying dimensions, which “[focus] on forces, actions, and effects” (Muckelbauer, 239). John Muckelbauer writes, “at least in its classical incarnations, rhetoric seems largely indifferent to signification and the process of either producing or interpreting a meaning” (239). When engaging in rhetorical activity, when trying “to persuade the polis of something,” the primary aim is “to get them to do something” (239). Rhetoric, first and foremost, addresses suasion. As rhetoric moves it bumps into things, modulating affects. Rhetoric shapes and becomes a part of locations. Geocomposition is moving rhetoric (mobile and mobilizing) composing the multiple layers of place. Not simply rhetoric about places (as either meaning making or analysis) but rhetoric moving to compose place.

The later half of Geocomposition traces geocaching as an exemplary practice of locatively mediated rhetoric. Geocaching is “an outdoor recreational activity,” wherein participants use GPS devices to “hide and seek containers, called ‘geocaches’ or ‘caches.’” Geocaching takes place in rural as well as urban locations: from a fake log hidden in a clump of tress to a small, magnetic container affixed to the underside of a bus stop bench. Geocachers use both paper logs and a mobile application to track their finds. Geocomposition argues that this mediated movement of people hiding and seeking composes the locations they are also moving through. A geocache does not merely add significance to a place; the cache makes the place as such, and that place is continually trans-formed by the iterative composing of geocaching. Geocaches—composed discursively, arbitrated collectively, and found through embodied, digital action—constitute a rhetorical practice that composes places by materially moving those who participate in it.

The Strange Defense of Rhetoric (In progress). Submission Date: 2019

The argument of this book is rather a simple one. Taking the province and scope of rhetoric as its matter of concern, it builds from Richard Lanham’s articulation of a Strong Defense of rhetoric, developing what it humbly dubs a strange defense of rhetoric. This strange defense of rhetoric articulates work in rhetorical theory with the work of thinkers such as Bruno Latour in science studies, Tim Ingold in anthropology, and Andy Clark in cognitive science, in order to invite more actors into the continual composition of rhetoric. It argues that rhetoric and its key terms (e.g., kairos, attention, and agency) are always at stake in rhetorical interaction—they are effects rather than causes. In the strange defense, rhetoric is itself always at risk.

Article/Essay Projects

"Big Data, A Rhetorical Thing." Co-authored with Lars Söderlund and Mark Hannah (Under review, 9,000 words).

This article treats large-scale data collection, or Big Data, not as an aspect of rhetoric or a proof within rhetoric, but as a rhetoric in and of itself: as a thing which shapes how we think about issues of the public, how we talk about the public, how we argue in and about the public, and finally, what that public looks like. To approach the rhetoricity of Big Data specifically and productively, this article examines the National Security Agency’s (NSA) enrollment of Big Data and the public rhetoric generated by it. The discourse around this manifestation of Big Data, this thing, presents a timely opportunity to both trace and intervene into this public rhetoric.

"In the Material: Towards Rhetorics of Cultivation" (Under review, 9,500 words).

Rhetoric’s relationship to the material is under much positive scrutiny within rhetorical studies. As a field increasingly intimate with its material contours, this article argues that we should place rhetorical studies out in the world of brains, bodies, and environments. In short, the material (or, more specifically, the material that matters for human becoming) does not arrive to rhetoric without rhetoric, but already implicated in a vital, rhetorical dynamic. What we know as “human nature,” for instance, continually emerges by virtue of rhetorical cultivation within social, biological, and environmental dramas. Fully emplaced within these material dramas, this article positions materiality itself—the body, the mind, and human environments—is, in part, rhetorically cultivated. It thus defines rhetoric as the cultivation of human nature. Rhetoric thus defined challenges the tendency to treat as “natural” things like human development, cognitive function, and physical ability, which could be otherwise.

Book Chapter Projects

"Brewing Influence: The Mixology of Morals." Co-authored with Katie Dickman. Contributed chapter to Cookery. Eds. Donovan Conley and Justin Eckstein. 

Dancing woman with two crotales. Tondo of an Attic red-figure  kylix , 510–500 BC. From Capua. Wikimedia Commons.

Dancing woman with two crotales. Tondo of an Attic red-figure kylix, 510–500 BC. From Capua. Wikimedia Commons.

Alcohol is more than the signification we pour into it. It is also a thing that pours itself into us, and we are often, as the legal designation eloquently puts it, under the influence. This influence is of course a risk (to life and limb and liver), but it is a risk that leverages and generates fruitful forms of sociality that emerge through the activity of inebriation. Indeed, when we drink we are not so much under the influence as taking part in its generation—a drinker must drink to become drunk, and the drink drunk must inebriate. Debra Hawhee (2015) has written of the need to “consider more deeply the constitutive roles of sensation in participatory, rhetorical acts.” The influence of inebriation and its concomitant moods is such a sensation. Furthermore, considering the constitutive role of sensation requires engaging just how a sensation is generated among and across bodies in environments. In particular, alcohol works together with human bodies to create the conditions for a range of risky rhetorical performances. These conditions mirror the mechanisms by which alcohol’s inebriating capacities are formed—namely, brewing and distilling—which include processes of “contamination” by yeast. Tracing the collectivities of rhetorical ingredients that create and those that actualize such potentialities, we mark the effects of imbibing as a kind of productive rhetorical contamination. Attending to alcohol in this way invites us to consider how particular sets of material relations generate specific forms of social production, and thereby allow us to more fully engage our material rhetorical preferences.