Eyman: “Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice”

Eyman, Douglas. “Defining and Locating Digital Rhetoric.” Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice. Digital Culture Books, University of Michigan. Web. 2015.

Digital rhetoric
New media
Digital literacy

Further Reading
Losh 2009
Bogost 2007
Kinney 2007
Davis and Shadle 2007
Manovich 2001
de Beaugrande and Dressler 1981
Kress 2003

Comprehensive review of literature surrounding the terminology and historical emergence of digital rhetoric.

Eyman begins by surveying definitions of digital rhetoric to turn toward a discussion of how the term is used and practiced as more generative than mere definition. He concedes (via Bissell and Herzberg) that a multiplicity of definitions may be useful to trace how historical usage shapes contemporary usage and practice. Aristotle begins this lineage with the five canons and an emphasis on persuasion followed by political and ethical conceptualizations of rhetoric through Augustine and Ramus in the Middle Ages, a rebirth in the renaissance, and renewed interest in the mid-20th century to a resurgence in contemporary disciplines. Eyman sees rhetoric as both analytic and productive, though the digital in “digital” rhetoric affords productivity particularly. Eyman weaves through a number of contemporary definitions and theories to argue that the “digital” in digital rhetoric performs three important functions, affords a revival of inquiry in realms such as memory and delivery, and provides its study with a broad range of interdisciplinary fields from which to draw.

Eyman works through definitions of “digital” (new media) and “text” (a “communication event” or discourse) after his discussion of “rhetoric” to to arrive at a discussion of “digital rhetoric.” That discussion begins with early theorizations of the digital through hypertextual studies, and subsequently critical code, visual rhetoric, new media, computational rhetoric, digital literacy, intertextuality (Bogost), procedural rhetoric, and more.

Key Quotes:
“While many rhetorical theorists focus primarily on the analytic capacity of rhetoric, it is the value for production that I see as a key resource for the formulation of digital rhetoric.”

“What distinguishes ‘digital rhetoric’ from the larger expression of ‘rhetoric’ more generally? I would argue that we need to articulate a specific formulation for digital rhetoric for three reasons: at the level of theory, it allows for the use of and alliance with other fields not typically associated with printed text or speech; it prompts a critical view of current rhetorical theories and methods and opens up the question of whether new theories and new methods can or should be developed; and it provides the boundary condition necessary for the emergence of a new field of study.”

“Texts have rhetorical features, originate in and propel social action, and are designed material objects; these qualities provide the primary means of relationship between text and rhetoric-as-use.”

“In Virtualpolitik: An Electronic History of Government Media-Making in a Time of War Scandal, Disaster, Miscommunication, and Mistakes (2009) … Losh presents the most detailed and comprehensive definition of digital rhetoric within current literature, and her study should be considered a foundational text for the field.”


Kirschenbaum: “What Is Digital humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?”

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. “What Is Digital humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” ADE Bulletin. Web. 2010.

Key Terms
Digital humanities
Humanities computing

This article attempts to answer “What is (or are) the “digital humanities”? In response to this question, Kirschenbaum kneads through definitions, institutional and scholarly structures (departments, journals, conferences, organizations), academic networks. Kirschenbaum sees the publication of Blackwell’s **Companion to Digital Humanities**, the formation of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations, and the NEH sponsored Digital Humanities Initiative as germinal moments in the accretion of a wider conceptualization of the digital humanities. The 2009 MLA conference stands out as an important moment for the digital humanities vis-à-vis English, with Kirschenbaum pointing to the backchannels of session conversation afforded by Twitter. In more direct answer, Kirschenbaum point to the textual nature of English Departments, a nature which meshes well analytical, text-processing operations abundant in the methods of the DH; a long relationship between computers and composition [no mention of C&W?], editorial theory, hypertext and electronic literature projects; cultural studies in English Departments.

Key Quotes
“In the space of a little more than five years digital humanities had gone from being a term of convenience used by a group of researchers who had already been working together for years to something like a movement.”

“Whatever else it might be then, the digital humanities today is about a scholarship (and a pedagogy) that is publicly visible in ways to which we are generally unaccus- tomed, a scholarship and pedagogy that are bound up with infrastructure in ways that are deeper and more explicit than we are generally accustomed to, a scholarship and pedagogy that are collaborative and depend on networks of people and that live an active 24/7 life online.”

Further Reading
Brian Croxall “The Absent Presence: Today’s Faculty”
Cynthia Self “Computers in English Departments: The Rhetoric of Technopower.”

Pruchnic: “A Natural History of Networks”

Pruchnic, Jeff. “A Natural History of Networks.” Inferential Kid. Tumbler. Web. 20 Aug 2013.

Key Terms

Pruchnic argues, through a “natural history,” for three broadly defined technological eras in western, Euro-centric societies, a pantometric (universalized measurements: time, weight, perspective, etc.), a prognometric (ushered in by calculus, focus on predicting), and a parametric (term from computer science, focus on individualizing and rapidly responding to consumer demand: Fordism + individualized). Pruchnic argues the pantometric helped foster and further a divide between the humanities (concerned with qualities) and the ascendant sciences (concerned with quantities). The prognometric era is (partially) characterized by actuarial tables, stock exchanges, and even baroque architecture. The parametric era affords algorithmic thinking and ways of “connecting time and space” in order to more quickly and intensely respond to niche spaces and demands. Proteinic traces the parametric through medicine (genome project), finance (arbitrage and algorithmic stock trading), education (process movement in het-comp and individualized learning more broadly), and media (focus on predicting by mass media, niche-marketing/distribution/circulation of content). Proteinic concludes by suggesting the future of the (digital) humanities exists in hybrid discourse with the natural and social sciences, and that there is likely “value in such projects as attempting, for instance, a “natural history” of networks.”

Key Quotes
“Indeed, the unparalleled ability for audiences to search and access media created by individuals with which they already share political dispositions, as well as for aggregative technologies and media portals to “push” such media based on data collected about their users, has instead likely resulted in a decline in an individual’s exposure to opposing viewpoints and of “rational-­‐‑critical” communicative interaction between individuals with partisan divisions. Indeed, the realm of contemporary niche-­‐‑media looks much less like a global village or universal agora, and much more like an ever more intense balkanization of our political or ideological landscape.”

“Technologies like counting boards and public clocks are notable for the ways in which the serve as both forms of representation as well as technologies for establishing relationships between individuals and items, functions through which they blurred the distinction between acts of (ostensibly immaterial) communication and material, physical functions of these devices in ways far more extreme than those of oral and visual discourse and earlier print technologies. For their part, even more recognizably static signifying media such as uniform musical notation and reliable cartographic projections were emblematic of an increasingly “executable” form of representational media, one in which its representational capacity was only useful insofar as it was operational for its users.”

However, more notable, at least in regards to our primary topic here, is the ways in which the emergence of pantometrics as cultural dominant, and the moment of cultural confusion caused by the blending of technics and media in pantometric forms and devices described above, impacted the evolution of the sciences and humanities as formal disciplines.

Further reading
Alfred Crosby (1997)
Alexander Galloway (2004)
Gordon Pask (1960)

A Quinary: Vocab Edition

This post is in response to Colin Brooke’s call for fives via his fantastic, eclectic, and always interesting inbox newsletter Rhetsy, a curated selection of rhetoric-related content from around the web.

I’m a fan of lists, even randomized ones, so Colin’s call was easy to heed. What isn’t so easy is settling on a list of what. I like to share my musical proclivities, so the last five stations of Pandora were tempting. So were the last five items added to my Amazon wish list. Five most used words in this semester’s syllabi were tempting, too, either those from the courses I’m teaching or those from the courses I’m taking. Lots of lists to chose from.

I’ve settled on the last five words entered into the vocabulary builder function on my Kindle. This decision was arrived at after talking with my bilingual wife, a fluent speaker of English born and bred speaking Spanish in Uruguay and Venezuela. Our conversation had to do with my propensity to take shortcuts in speech, relying heavily, at times, on cursing. George Carlin, of course, demonstrates the incredible versatility of the champion of dirty words, but I take Silvana’s point; my shorthand reliance on a few predictable, staccatic syllables is at times both a bit lazy and not the most elegant use of language. As someone who is ever-learning the English language (as am I, and all of us L1 speakers, really), Silvana implores me to broaden my vocabulary. Despite habits accrued over thirty-odd years, a good chunk of which I spent in a strictly Catholic household that constantly tempted me to utter forbidden words, I’m inclined to oblige, both for the betterment of my own lexis as well as for the unwritten duties of harmonious matrimony.

So here is my list of the five most recent entries into the vocab builder on my Kindle. They come from two novels I am currently reading (and trying desperately to finish before the buzz of the semester hits full force): Iron Council, the third installment of China Miéville’s mind-bending and brilliant steam-punk/sci-fi/fantasy Bas-Lag series; and The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell’s 1996 sci-fi novel which follows the story of a Jesuit, Puerto Rican linguist who travels to and returns from a distant planet.







Charney: “From Logocentrism to Ethocentrism”

Charney, Davida. “From Logocentrism to Ethocentrism: Historicizing Critiques of Writing Research.” Technical Communication Quarterly. 7.1 (1998): 9-32. Web.

Charney’s companion essay to “Empiricism is not a Four-Letter Word” continues a spirited defense of empirical/objective research methods, methods which are, she argues, often essentialized into categories that crumble upon close scrutiny.

Charney explores the history of empirical approaches which she begins with Braddock et al. From the 1960s through the early 1980s, empirical approaches were encouraged (despite relatively few studies) and critiqued. Interest grew in process and, concomitantly, rhetorical theory. Empirical methods employed during this time included:

  • textual analysis
  • rhetorical criticism
  • think-aloud protocols
  • ethnography
  • quasi-experiments

Charney locates a critical turn toward hermeneutics in Barton’s review of CCCC Chair’s addresses. Charney traces a lineage of empirical critiques through the 1980s and postulates Romanticism as the underlying impetus for the humanist study of composition. The critique of empiricism reaches its zenith through the 1990s, spurred strongly by Berlin and social constructionism.

Conclusion: “It seems that the stronger the relativism one adopts with respect to claims about the world (i.e., the more one rejects logocentrism), the more one may be inclined to essentialism about the character of people making claims about the world. In other words, the more one flees logocentrism, the more one may be com- pelled towards an equally unsatisfactory ethocentrism” (28).

“Neither Romanticism nor Classicism is fundamentally true or false, moral or immoral. Both outlooks are legitimate humanist perspectives—and both play a role in scientific discovery. Both may be and have been used to foster political and social justice. Both are capable of misappropriation by ideological tyrants. It is time to stop conflating methods and values. It is time to admit that while facts and methods may never be represented neutrally, the values associated with them are not preordained” (28).


empiricism, humanism, history, rhetoric, composition, logocentrism, ethnocentrism

Bibliographic Notes

Words: ~9,200

Pages: 22

References: 61

Affiliation: Texas-Austin

Charney: “Empiricism Is Not a Four-Letter Word”

Charney, Davida. “Empiricism Is Not a Four-Letter Word.” College Composition and Communication. 47.4 (1996): 567-593. Web.

Circumplex structure of personal values

Charney provides a vigorous defense of empiricism. Charney first shows how the lived world of research is more complex than generalize polemics against certain methods (i.e., empiricism does not necessarily equal positivism; “Objectivity then is not a fixed feature of particular methods [571]). Charney bristles at critiques that conflate and totalize Next, Charney responds to radical critiques of science and empiricism, showing how “dogmatic skepticism” (vs “absolute scientism”) can be traced through philosophy and then locates it in the field of composition (cf. Bizzell, Conners, Berlin), specifically showing counter-intended results in technical and professional writing (574). 

“Rhetorical theory reminds us that while facts may never be represented neutrally, the values associated with them are not preordained” (576).

Charney details the motivations behind objectivism (e.g., skeptical public, clear communication), and further explores the overstatements of critiques against science, including ironic assertions of being blind to social construction. Charney is most forceful in responses to empirical methods, which are characterized as detaching and elevating researchers over the people who are their objects of study. Such a rhetorical stance, Charney insists, produces “characterizations [that] smack of the worst kind of exclusionary identity politics” (581). Denigrating purity, Charney argues for mixed observational/qualitative and experimental/quantitative methods, citing their mingling as complementary overlap and methodological restraint (584-85).

Conclusion:  “Our over-reliance on qualitative studies and repeated disparagement of objective methods is creating a serious imbalance in studies of technical and professional writing-and the same may be true in composition studies as a whole” (589) … “To promote the growth of a complex and interconnected framework of knowledge and methods, we need both qualitative and quantitative empirical methods” (590).


empiricism, objectivity, ethnography, subjectivity, methods, research

Bibliographic Notes

Words: ~12,000

Pages: 26

References: 46

Affiliation: Penn State

Kirsch & Ritchie: “Beyond the Personal”

Kirsch, Gesa E. and Joy S. Ritchie. “Beyond the Personal: Theorizing a Politics of Location in Composition Research.” College Composition and Communication. 46.1 (1995): 7-29. Web.


Kirsch and Ritchie’s work here is drawn from a 4Cs workshop on feminism and composition. They and colleagues feel a tension between the feminist perspectives they bring to composition and the existing epistemologies and methodologies of composition that “often presuppose objectivity and gender-neutrality” (8). Kirsch and Ritchie use “politicas of location” to both inform their own multiple stances within the field, but also to explore, “how we do our research” and “who we are in our work” (9) through appeal to lived experience and rigorous reflexive analysis. Kirsch and Ritchie argue that naive appeals to experience risk essentializing and afford the same hierarchical frameworks of privilege they critique. Experience as knowledge, they argue, must be extended to locate the experience of others, “especially those previously excluded or devalued” and not just the self (13). Kirsch and Ritchie continue by exploring the power relationships(cf. Foucoult) and ethical issues inherent in academic work and (ethnographic and other) methods such as soliciting personal information, conducting interviews, etc. They end by arguing for a reconception of ethics as informed by a feminist perspective that resists homogenizing, essentializing, totalizing, away from an “ethic of principle” and toward an “ethic of care” (21) while always striving for transparent communication of the “provisional nature of knowledge that our work generates and the moral dilemmas inherent in research” (24) which is apparent both at the micro/personal scale and the macro/social scale.

Conclusion: “We believe researchers in composition must engage in the same kinds of discussions that feminist researchers are having in other disciplines concerning the ‘politics of location’ in research. We hope to advance that discussion by presenting some of the feminist critiques of philosophical, methodological, and ethical assumptions underlying traditional research” (9).


feminism, methods, epistemology, composition, reflection

Bibliographic Notes

Words: ~10,500

Pages: 22

References: 61

Affiliations: Kirsch: Wayne State; Ritchie: Nebraska-Lincoln