Posthumanism first appears as antithetical, nearly impossible, for rhetoric. In place of the polis and politics, it offers matter, microbes, machines; instead of the symbol-using animals, it foregrounds cells, systems, cybernetics. The prospect of posthumanist rhetoric thus seems to signify, at best, a paradox, a contradiction in terms. And yet, in the past decade as scholars (re)map and (re)imagine previously taken-for-granted categories that organize the rhetorical inquiry—language, bodies, materiality, agency, responsibility, ethics—they increasingly draw on posthumanist theories to do so (Brooke 2000, Mucklebauer & Hawhee 2000, Mara & Hawk 2009).
Despite this turn to the posthuman, however, humanist par excellence Kenneth Burke remains a towering figure in rhetorical studies. His body of work still anchors many of our field's most basic precepts: extended or challenged, dismissed or developed, co-opted or simply copied, Burke is a figure with whom we feel we must commune. And yet, Burke’s body of work is multiple. There are, Burke scholars never tired of pronouncing, many Kenneth Burkes. “There are as many Burkes as there are books and essays by him and probably more Burkes than there are books because there are often many Burkes in one book” (Rueckert 1994, p. 3). And it is this very multiplicity, we’d suggest, that offers one way in which posthumanism can commune with Burkeology. Rather than merely map posthumanist rhetorics on to Burke’s body of work or conduct Burkean analyses of posthumanist projects, then, we propose a collection where the purposeful interanimation of Burke and posthumanist rhetorics allows us to imagine rhetorical futures otherwise unthinkable, impossible.
Geocomposition (In progress). Submission Date: 2017
Rhetoric moves (in) the world. As rhetoric moves it bumps into things, generating effects. Rhetoric shapes and becomes a part of the environment. Rhetoric composes connections: its agonism produces publics. Rhetoric moves, linking people, places, and things. Geocomposition is rhetoric on the move in order to compose the multiple layers of a place. Not simply rhetoric about places (as either meaning making or analysis) but rhetoric (as moving) in order to compose places. Geocomposition is an activity that takes place through locative media: media that work in and through specific sites. It is a digitally mediated activity. Rhetoric is moving people in/to place, and geocomposition wagers that such movement is achieved in part by rhetorically sensitive texts composed with and across digital and analog media. Rhetoric and composition tied to place through locative media—in short, geocomposition—can make writing classrooms particularly transformative.
The Strange Defense of Rhetoric (In progress). Submission Date: 2018
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.
"Anchirhetoricis latouri." Response Piece in Rhetoric Society Quarterly Forum on Bruno Latour (Under review, 3000 words).
In his interview with Lynda Walsh, Bruno Latour cautions, “I have no claim to know anything about the field of rhetoric; it’s just that French pupils used to learn it [in school]” (emphasis added). Disconnected from rhetoric’s disciplines, Latour has forged his own way, fashioning himself an ally invested in the multifaceted ways rhetoric is at work in collectively composing the common world. He is not of our field and yet he speaks to and about what we are interested in. There is nothing radically new about Latour’s rhetoric, but there is something necessarily different, and that difference might make a difference to how we understand and engage rhetoric. He offers a convergent rhetoric that is at once both familiar and strange. Latour’s rhetoric, then, is something not revolutionary but rather something evolutionary.
"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
“Augmented Publics.” Co-authored with Casey Boyle (Accepted with revisions for Circulation, Rhetoric, and Writing. Eds. Laurie Gries and Collin Brooke. 6,500 words).
One of the chief virtues of locative media is the way they reshape our relationships to public places: from how we get from one point to another, through how we redefine longstanding monuments, to how we engage and interact with one another. Our chapter argues that locative media help us attune to and participate in a public’s wider circulation. Through three case studies, we show that any given public--a city in our project--can be understood as constituted through circulations, which can be productively understood and engaged through tactical engagements with locative media. The circulation that characterizes publics can be observed through three locative media activities: the map, the cache, and the ingress. The first instance establishes how real time mapping applications--now commonplace--have unsettled our stable notions of place and have now begun to condition us toward places as dynamic interactions (Rice 2008; Swarts 2012). Second, tracing the practice of geocaching offers an opportunity to develop situational awareness of public space (McNely 2014). Finally, Google’s locative media game Ingress is explored as a means to attune city dwellers to the repeating character of public place in that it obliges its users to return and resituate places. Together, these three cases help cultivate the rhetorical skills needed to navigate and negotiate public as a circulatory project. Ultimately, we argue that locative media not only help us trace a public in circulation but that such devices also compel us to place circulation in rhetorical practice.
"Brewing Influence: The Mixology of Morals." Co-authored with Katie Dickman. Contributed chapter to Cookery. Eds. Donovan Conley and Justin Eckstein.
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.
"New Materialisms, Networks, and Humanities Research." Co-authored with Jenny Bay, Laurie Gries and Derek Mueller. Accepted for inclusion in Networked Humanities. Eds. Brian McNely and Jeff Rice.
As an interdisciplinary theory being taken up across multiple fields such as political science, women’s studies, social science, history, and, as of late, rhetorical studies, new materialism is pushing humanities research in exciting directions. Networked relations are foundational to new materialism in that new materialists are committed to models and methods that privilege immanent and emergent relationality. In this chapter, we shed light on how new materialism can push humanities research in productive directions and where the humanities might push back. As new materialist rhetoricians, we are committed to exploring how the propensities, affordances, and affectivities of nonhuman entities co-constitute and help (re)assemble collective life. We are also committed to experimenting with new research methods that can reinvigorate the humanities in this unique historical moment. As a collaborative endeavor, we offer four vignettes that explore how we might employ new materialisms across a variety of disciplinary contexts.
"Better Footprints." Invited contribution for Rhetoric’s Materialities: Ecological Orientations. Eds. GeorgeF. McHendry, Jr., Justine Wells, Bridie McGreavy, and Samantha Senda-Cook (Submitted, 7,500 words).
After briefly tracing the emergence and persistence of the footprint trope, I then read it through (and against) an alternate ontology in order to intensify the trope’s ontological dimensions and limitations. What ways of being in the world does the footprint—and its implicit invitation to tread lightly—de/prescribe, and how does that ontology itself do rhetorical work that may in fact run counter to the sentiments of its proponents? The chapter concludes with an affirmative recovery of the footprint trope in service of a more robust environmentalism. With this chapter, I want to think more intensely about our footprints. For instance, I want to re-emphasize movement, embodiment, place and inscription, which are all sidelined or even implicitly disparaged by our particular employment of footprint. What is it to place one’s feet and to inscribe with one’s own body? In making environmentalism a question of a footprint’s size, do we lose the nuance of kind, of quality? Privileging the quantitative over the qualitative potentially undermines other available means of persuasion. I want to think about/with the footprint metaphor beyond size and measurement—not because such approaches are wrong, but because they severely limit our ability to think through the trails we make, the paths we trace as we move with/in an environment, which is something more than an already existing container.
"A Predestination for Posthumanism" Co-authored with Steve Katz for inclusion in Ambiguous Bodies: Kenneth Burke and Posthumanism (Forthcoming Fall 2017).
This chapter works with Burkean predestination, not as a nascent posthumanism, for we will make no claim for Burke as a posthumanist, but instead as possible equipment for posthuman living from a thinker who moved around in the milieu of symbols, brains, bodies, and machines. Burke’s concerns are nevertheless posthumanism’s concerns. Burke draws different boundaries, but he does so across the same territory in ways that reveal that landscape.