Thinking with Bruno Latour in Rhetoric and Composition. Co-Edited with Paul Lynch (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015).
In the past few years, the fields of rhetoric and composition have witnessed an explosion of interest in the work of Bruno Latour. This Latourian turn is notable not only for its suddenness, but also its intensity. Beginning in technical and professional communication, and now continuing within other areas of rhetoric and writing studies, the influence of Latour’s work is expanding at a rapid rate. Scholars from every corner of the field have begun to deliberate over what Latour means for the study of persuasion and written communication. The work of the present collection is to assemble leading and emerging scholars in order to continue and focus that debate. The chapters of Thinking with Bruno Latour in Rhetoric and Composition discern, rearticulate, and occasionally critique rhetoric and composition’s growing interest in Latour. The contributions offered in this collection are multifarious; they include work on topics such as agency, argument, rhetorical history, pedagogy, and technology, among many others. While the chapters feature a wide variety of interests and concerns, they all share the hope that Latour can challenge rhetoric and composition to rethink some of its most basic assumptions. This volume will find a wide audience in rhetorical studies, both in English and communication. It is sure to become the standard introduction on Latour for the field, an introduction that will appeal not only to those scholars already interested in Latour, but also those approaching Latour for the first time.
Equipment for Living: The Literary Reviews of Kenneth Burke. Co-Edited with Ryan Weber West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2010.
Kenneth Burke has been widely praised as one of the sharpest readers of Shakespeare, Freud, and Marx, among others. He was also well known for turning his many book reviews into essays and excursions of his own, in the interest of tracking down the implications of terminologies and concepts, all the while grappling with some of the greatest minds of the twentieth century. Equipment for Living: The Literary Reviews of Kenneth Burke collects the bulk of his literary reviews, many of them reprinted here for the first time and positioning them as scholarship in their own right. In over 150 reviews, Burke explores poetic, fictional, and critical works to discern the nature of aesthetics, rhetoric, communication, literary theory, sociology, and literature as equipment for living. Along the way, he encounters some of the finest literary and critical minds of his day, including writers such as William Carlos Williams, e. e. cummings, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Thomas Mann, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Shirley Jackson, Henry Miller, and Marianne Moore; and critics and philosophers such as John Dewey, J. L. Austin, Marshall McLuhan, Edmund Wilson, I. A. Richards, Denis Donoghue, Wayne Booth, Harold Bloom, Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank, and Alfred North Whitehead. This collection organizes reviews across the wide range of fields that Burke engages, including literature, literary criticism, history, politics, philosophy, sociology, and biography.
Peer Reviewed Publications
"Paying Attention with Cache." enculturation 23
In multiplying composition’s objects in response to our disciplinary turn to the digital, we can branch out in any number of directions. In this short essay, I re-focus on attention: an object that continues to organize rhetoric and composition. Within and without rhetoric, attention is frequently treated as a possession that must be captured and corralled. As a limited and therefore prized commodity, attention is what must be secured in order to entertain or educate—to move—an audience. Working with Bruno Latour, I argue that attention should be treated not as a (uniquely human) commodity, but as a composition progressively composed across human and nonhuman actors. Attention isn’t simply an a priori human possession, but is instead a contingent attunement tightly bound to material relations across bodies, environments, media, and other nonhumans.
"Geocomposition in Public Writing and Rhetoric Pedagogy." College Composition and Communication 67.4 (June 2016): 576-606.
The goal of geocomposition is to have students engage the oft-overlooked yet nevertheless vital features of place and the ways in which such features shape their own experiences. This article explores a collaborative, location-based composition project designed for students to rhetorically engage a responsive public through locative media: media that work in and through specific sites. The project was designed to explore how rhetoric and writing shape publics and how public places work to shape rhetorical activity. To investigate these questions, the collaborative project was built around the re-creational activity of geocaching.
"Ecologies of Race in the Public Rhetoric Classroom." Present Tense 5.3 (2016).
Talking about race is easy; doing it well is hard. It is so charged, so fraught: at times a toxic mixture of too much aggression and too much defensiveness. Teaching it, then, seems downright impossible both inside and outside of courses focused exclusively on it. Nevertheless, there are moments when we are compelled as teachers (of rhetoric) to take up race and racism as matters of concern. Presented here, in formally reworked versions of original course content, are three ways I pedagogically worked through race in terms of rhetoric. I keep the original content of the texts to capture where I was at and how I responded in and to the moment kairotically. I remediate the form of that content to better, more affectively perform what I was doing and the goals I set for it. I began by grounding the texts, these moments, in the concerns of the course: public rhetoric as a symbolic and material activity.
"Ecologies of Deception in Psychology and Rhetoric." Co-authored with Maarten Derksen. Quarterly Journal of Speech 101.4 (2016): 633-654.
This article explores agency through the combined lenses of rhetorical theory and experimental psychology, thus performing an important interdisciplinary gesture: to study the human experience culturally and scientifically. What we aim for is to introduce a specific strain of rhetorical theory to experimental psychology in order to make claims for the emergence of human agency, and to rethink and recast a term common to both rhetoric and psychology, namely deception. We argue that agency is emergent in experimental conditions as it likewise is in moments of rhetorical encounter. Via an analysis of the film Inception, the article builds toward an understanding of human agency outside the bounds of the subject/object split. Examining work on rhetorical ecologies and ambience on the one hand, and experimental social psychology on the other, the article argues that deception is not something that one person does to another, but rather is an emergent phenomenon within and across moments of encounter, whether they be complex rhetorical interactions or tightly controlled psychological experiments.
"A Version of Access." Co-authored with Casey Boyle. Technical Communication Quarterly 25.1 (2016): 29-47.
This project explores accessibility ontologically and proposes nonequal design as a way to include and encourage difference. After a brief introduction, Part One situates the possibility for a multiple versioned approach to (and of) accessibility. Reviewing rhetorical scholarship on disability and accessibility, we intensify rhetorical accessibility as a generative, sideways approach to accessibility and online scholarship. Part Two finds affinities for this sideways approach in STS where several figures have explored the ontological politics of multiple versions of reality. Part Three introduces three design principles–medium specificity, syncopation, and versioning–for enacting how an nonequal approach opens up generative possibilities for accessible online scholarship. The article concludes with a brief note about the potential that nonequal design might have for further developing accessibility.
"Speculative Usability." Co-Authored with Lars Söderlund. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 46.1 (2016): 125-146.
This article introduces Speculative Usability. Whereas traditional models of usability rely on the salient features of an object–user relationship focused around the uses for which the object was designed, the goal of Speculative Usability is to notice an object as it interacts with other objects (in addition to but including human users)and to be vulnerable to an object’s unintended effects. The payoff of this speculative approach is an increased inventional capacity for usability testing. This speculative treatment of usability is necessarily shot through with uncertainty. Indeed, the road to Speculative Usability must begin by making usabilityuncertain again. Speculative Usability attends not only to the surprising agency of nonhuman objects but also to the very uncertainties of usability itself.
"Deep Ambivalence and Wild Objects: Toward a Strange Environmental Rhetoric." Rhetoric Society Quarterly 45.4 (2015): 420-440.
Carl Herndl and Stuart Brown argue that the complexity of environmental rhetoric is such that its concerns are embedded in both our lived experiences and across many intellectual endeavors. To think through environmentalism, they suggest, is to think through rhetoric, and both entail crossing boundaries. Environmentalism and its concomitant rhetorics, however, frequently draw a bold line between humans and nonhuman nature, and so long as rhetoric remains wedded to the human and the human alone, environmental rhetoric will continue to miss the mark. A strange environmental rhetoric, which blurs the line between humans and nonhumans, calls for more relations and not less—not a removal of humans from the environment, but another way of comporting ourselves with environments.
"The Place(s) of Mentorship and Collaboration." Co-Authored with Katie Zabrowski. The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy 7 (2015).
This video production reflects on the place(s) where mentorship and collaboration occur between doctoral student Katie and her advisor Nathaniel. Featuring both of their voices, the video moves through the spaces in which they work and collaborate, seeking to understand how those spaces’ materiality and organization affect the mentoring that emerges within them. The video takes up this inquiry through a collaborative analysis of a shared working place—a local coffee roaster specializing in pour over brewing—as a material blueprint for a particular kind of mentorship marked first and foremost by collaboration.
"The Mechanics of New Media Science Writing: Articulation, Design, Hospitality, and Electracy." Co-produced with Christopher Grabau, Katherine Kavanaugh, and Katie Zabrowski. In Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 19.2 (2015).
This multimedia project converges around the practices and the metaphor of articulation in the context of new media science writing. The project employs the full etymological weight of articulation —which covers the linguistic, visual, embodied, and mechanical—to describe an advanced undergraduate course in science writing, which focused exclusively on new media storytelling. Articulation is used to address issues of authorship and the knowledge-making practices of science writing, the mechanical practices of new media writing, the pedagogical practices and assumptions at work in teaching new media writing, and the evolution of science literacy into science electracy. The project consists of an introductory video serving as a portal, two free standing podcasts, complete student examples, and students interviews. The goal of the project, reflected in its form and content, is to perform a convergence of the myriad ways in which articulation can and does happen, and to invite the audience to articulate the media as they see fit. The project works with scholarship in new media writing, the rhetoric of new media, instructional design, science literacy, and technical communication. The project is a collaborative effort, involving an instructional designer, and two graduate students enrolled in the course as participant observers, and myself.
"All of the Things: Engaging Complex Assemblages in Communication Design." Co-authored with Brian McNely. In SIGDOC '14: Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Conference on Design of Communication. New York: ACM.
In this paper, we compare sociocultural theories of communication and user experience design to scholarship from associative approaches, new materialisms, and object-oriented ontologies. We argue for a more expansive and symmetrical perspective on communication design—one that broadens the scope of potential actors that affect user experiences, and their effects on communicative activities. We posit three ways in which this perspective may be operationalized: (a) accounting for the missing masses, (b) designing for flat ontologies and radical symmetry, and (c) designing for interagentivity. Finally, we offer an initial heuristic for deploying such approaches and discuss scenarios in which they may prove fruitful.
"Tracing the Missing Masses: Symmetry, Vibrancy, and Public Rhetoric Pedagogy." Enculturation (17): 2014.
Public rhetoric scholarship and pedagogy keeps its analytical eyes on the mundane and the ecological. Engaging Bruno Latour’s principle of symmetry and Jane Bennett’s political ecology of things in light of public rhetoric scholarship and rhetorical studies’ intensified interest in things, this article seeks to bring more nonhuman objects into the rhetoric classroom. It does so by articulating a pedagogy designed to disclose rhetoric’s own missing masses.
"Dappled Discipline at Thirty: An Interview with Janice M. Lauer." Co-authored with Kyle Vealey. Rhetoric Review 33.2 (2014): 165-180.
2014 marks the thirtieth anniversary of Janice M. Lauer’ s “Composition Studies: Dappled Discipline,” in which Lauer looks back to the field’s “pioneering efforts” at cobbling together a disciplinary identity—as she articulated, the field of rhetoric and composition’s most important questions “would have remained isolated and unexplored as they had been for decades if it were not for . . . a shared trait of these early theorists—their willingness to take risks, to go beyond the boundaries of their traditional training into foreign domains in search of starting points, theoretical launching pads from which to begin investigat- ing these questions” (21). This interview reengages Lauer’s suggestion that the field’s early boundary-crossing transformed rhetoric and composition into a multifaceted and dappled discipline composed of a manifold of theoretical and onto-epistemological perspectives.
"Circumnavigation: An Interview with Thomas Rickert." Kairos 18.2 (2014).
On the evening of Monday, May 6, 2013, I sat down with Thomas Rickert at two breweries in Saint Louis, MO, to discuss his new book, Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Rickert’s book addresses the limitations of conceiving rhetoric as purely symbolic and human. Drawing on work in complexity and music, Rickert conceives of rhetoric as ambient. I chose an audio interview in an effort to attune the interview itself to ambience, in this case the sounds of bars: chatting, chairs dragged across the floor, outbursts of cheering, glasses clanking, peels of laughter, and our iPhones, which sonically mark the responses we received to the status updates and pictures we posted throughout the interview. This ambience shaped both the interview itself and its present digital form. The interview can be streamed in its entirety or as three separate parts. There is likewise a brief epilogue in which I reflect on the choices I have made and how those choices resonate with the concept of ambient rhetoric.
"Composing the Carpenter's Workshop." Co-authored with Jim Brown. O-Zone: A Journal of Object Oriented Studies 1.1 (2013): 27-36.
This short piece makes a case for rhetoric and composition as a vital ally of the larger object-oriented project, which is already interdisciplinary. The field’s interest in ecologies of writing and its pedagogical commitment to making strongly indicates that it can be yet another place to explore how objects carpenter one another and the world. An ecological approach to rhetoric and writing can fold together the work of making and relating, while keeping in place the withdrawn actuality of all objects.
"Ecological, Pedagogical Public Rhetoric." Co-authored with Ryan Weber. College Composition and Communication 63.2 (2011): 187-218 [lead article].
Operating within and for a segment of rhetoric and writing studies researchers and practitioners devoted to student engagement with local publics, this article articulates an approach to fostering student rhetorical engagement through sustained and rhetorically sophisticated advocacy. The article describes the pedagogy’s goals and theoretical framework and analyzes student samples from a course utilizing this pedagogy. The analysis is particularly focused on the ability of students to successfully adapt their advocacy to different, oftentimes competing, audiences. The article also discusses the outcomes of the course—both its failures and successes—in order to facilitate future attempts to foster meaningful student engagement with local publics.
"Future Convergences: Technical Communication Research as Cognitive Science." Technical Communication Quarterly 20.4 (2011): 412-442. Special 20th Anniversary Issue: Honoring the Past, Inventing the Future.
Cognitive scientist Andy Clark argues, “the study of mind might […] need to embrace a variety of different explanatory paradigms whose point of convergence lies in the production of intelligent behavior” (p. 95). This article offers up technical communication as just such a paradigm. It describes technical communication research past and present to argue that our disciplinary knowledge of tools, work environments, and assessment are necessary complements to a more robust science of mind.
"Productive Strife: Andy Clark’s Cognitive Science and Rhetorical Agonism." Co-authored with Jeremy Tirrell. Janus Head 12.1 (2011): 39-59.
This article posits that Andy Clark’s model of distributed cognition (or the extended mind) manifests in the agonism of social activity, and that a rhetorical perspective permits an understanding of human conflict as a productive and necessary element in collective responses to situations rather than as problems to be solved or noise to be eliminated. To support this assertion, the article draws connections between Clark's project and rhetorical theory. First, between Clark’s argument that cognition responds to situated environmental conditions and the classical concept ofkairos, which implies that the identity of the rhetor emerges in response to situated environmental conditions. Second, between Clark’s assertion that "the role of language is to guide and shape our own behavior" (Being There 195), and long-held position in rhetoric that language is not merely expressive but constitutive. Last, the article presents a current, practical humanities project that complements its theoretical perspective with real-world praxis. The text explored is the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which is a manifestation (even in its controversial status) of much of what Clark and rhetorical theorists have to say about productive agonism and the litigious nature of identity and of shared cognition.
"In Defense of Gut Feelings: Rhetorics of Decision-Making." Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society 1.2 (2011).
This article borrows Carolyn Miller’s critique of decision science to both chart the (still present) dangers of motivism (a term Wayne Booth uses to describe the failure to reason about values) and the reduction of action to knowledge (e.g., from should to can) in public life and to cultivate a response to decision science from within rhetoric’s pedagogy. If decision science is indeed influential, and Miller and contemporary manifestations argue that it is, then how might rhetorical studies create a counter-influence through education? After elaborating Miller’s critique and demonstrating decision science’s contemporary presence, the article forwards a rhetorical pedagogical response drawing on research in gut feelings.
"Productive Mess: First-Year Composition Takes the University's Agonism Online." Kairos 13.2 (2009): Praxis Section. Co-authored with Marc C. Santos, and Ryan P. Weber.
This webtext describes a pilot course that united four first-year composition courses around shared readings and online discussion addressing the physical and virtual university. The goal of the pilot was to foster previously impossible student interactions by exploring how discrete discussion roles shaped interaction and reputations among students. Ultimately, we wanted to provide a structured environment that facilitated independent student investigation and exchange. We hope that this research testifies to the fact that forums are not naturally pedagogically sound; rather, fostering meaningful digital encounters requires careful and thoughtful pedagogical planning.
"Some Assembly Required: The Latourian Collective and the Banal Work of Technical and Professional Communication." Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 38.3 (2008): 189-206 [lead article]. Nominated for a NCTE Scientific and Technical Communication Award.
In this article the author uses the critical vocabulary developed by Bruno Latour in his recent work Politics of Nature to offer an alternative way for technical and professional communicators to approach and articulate their work. Using the Discovery Channel's Mythbusters to explore Latour's vocabulary, the author positions technical and professional communication not simply as transmitting and translating, but instead as the collecting of articulated propositions about the common world in service of the common good, which thoroughly grounds its practice in rhetorical theory. Such a positioning also ascribes value to technical and professional communication without reinscribing the false dichotomy between science and politics.
Reviews and Essays
"Speculative Air Studies." Criticism 57.2 (2015): 333-341. Special issue on Critical Air Studies.
In this essay, I review Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing (2012) and Bennett’s Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (2010) alongside David MacAuley’s Jet Plane: How It Works (2012), which is devoted to a child’s experience of airplanes. While composed for different audiences in traditionally discrete contexts, all three books do critical, speculative work in providing explicit articulations and implicit performances of alternative ontologies from which Critical Air Studies might benefit. Gathered around Jet Plane, Vibrant Matter, and Alien Phenomenology, we can get a taste of a speculative Critical Air Studies: the philosophy of non-dualist ontologies and the politics of distributed, material assemblages. I begin with Bogost, move to Bennett, and then conclude with a reading of the children’s book, which productively, if implicitly, performs the philosophies of Bogost and Bennett.
Response to "One Train Can Hide Another." Co-Authored with Paul Lynch. College English 77.6 (July 2015): 581-586.
A response to “One Train Can Hide Another: Critical Materialism for Public Composition” by Tony Scott and Nancy Welch in College English 76.6 (2014).
Review of Beyond Reductionism: A Passion for Interdisciplinarity, Edited By Katharine N. Farrell, Tommaso Luzzati, and Sybile von den Hove. Impact 4.2 (Summer 2015).
Rhetorical Theory/Bruno Latour (Video Series). Enculturation: A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture. July 16. 2012.
With this series of video provocations, I am responding to what I feel is a surge of interest in Bruno Latour on the part of scholars in rhetorical theory. Beginning some time ago in technical and professional communication, the turn now to Latour in rhetorical theory more generally is notable not only for its suddenness, but also for its intensity. Panel discussions at the 2012 Conference and College Composition and Communication in St. Louis and the 2012 Rhetoric Society of America Conference in Philadelphia have attracted packed houses. Clearly, scholars of rhetoric are convinced that Latour has something to teach them.
Review of Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language, By Debra Hawhee. Rhetoric and Public Affairs 13.3 (2010): 519-522.
"Encomium of QWERTY." Co-authored with Jim Brown. In Rhetoric, Through Everyday Things. Eds. Scot Barnett and Casey Boyle. University of Alabama Press, 2016.
In “Things Without Honor,” Arthur Stanley Pease writes of the tradition of encomia devoted to “humbler topics, such as the lower animals, plants, or inanimate objects” (27). This kind of composing has since been designated adoxography, which means writing on a base or trivial topic. Pease argues, “To seek the causes of so long-continued and widespread an epidemic of apparent nonsense is perhaps not without its value” (30). Most importantly, though, Pease argues that such encomia are intimately connected to the workings of sophistic training: “what better training, from the sophistic standpoint, than this exercise of defending the indefensible or salvaging the universally rejected” (31). This chapter follows in this tradition of adoxography by offering an encomium of the QWERTY keyboard. The story of the QWERTY keyboard has been told in various places. While such stories have become commonplace, the story of QWERTY has not been told in the format we envision or with our motivations. In writing “The Encomium of QWERTY,” our aim is to treat QWERTY as Gorgias did Helen or as Erasmus did “folly.” By tracing its origins, histories, and materialities, our aim is to conduct a rhetorical analysis of the mundane, to celebrate as vital what has typically been viewed as a mere tool.
"Rhetorics of (Non)Symbolic Cultivation." In Ecology, Writing Theory, and New Media: Writing Ecology. Ed. Sid Dobrin. New York: Routledge, 2012. 34-50. Routledge Series in Rhetoric and Communication.
This chapter argues for an understanding of rhetoric as cultivation, attuned to both the symbolic and the nonsymbolic. It sees rhetoric as the means of social, biological, and environmental persuasion by which we cobble together both ourselves as a species and the places we inhabit. Using Kenneth Burke’s formulation of attitude as “the point of personal mediation between the realms of nonsymbolic motion and symbolic action” (ATH 394), (in addition to his action/motion distinction), it places rhetoric (as practice and as theory) at the boundaries of nature and culture in order to mark the “factor of rhetoric” in each. Nonreductively integrating nature and culture is an important, early step for ecological understandings of both rhetoric and writing. Since Plato, rhetoric and writing (as decidedly cultural and conventional activities) have been measured against a supposedly distinct and foundational nature. Burke’s attitude, positioned as it is at the boundaries of the symbolic and the nonsymbolic, productively and nonreductively rearticulates nature and culture. The chapter fleshes out this notion of cultivating rhetorics by drawing out from the work of Bruno Latour, Tim Ingold, and Jared Diamond how the materiality of both ecologies and their human inhabitants mutually cultivate one another.
"I Told U So! Classical and Contemporary Ethos and the Stabilization of Self." The Responsibilities of Rhetoric. Eds. Michelle Smith and Barbara Warnick. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2010. 281-288.
Classical notions of ethos work (intentionally or not) to stabilize a specific notion of the self as singular, insulated and authentic. Ethos, in Aristotelian schemes, is a tool for revealing this stable self to an audience. I critique this construction of ethos in order to explore other ethical constructions that are more reflective of rhetorical notions or conceptions of “self.” Cognitive scientist Andy Clark’s notion of the “soft self” offers an opportunity to reconsider ethos as relatively stable and self-authored. Clark’s work gives voice to the “role of context, culture, environment, and technology in the constitution of individual human persons.” A notion of the self constituted through the “mingling” of various contextual and contingent elements specifically invokes the sophistry of Gorgias and the productive, shape-shifting rhetoric he enacts. Refiguring ethos in this way, we find rhetoric responsible not just for the transmission of selves but for their very constitution.