Do We Need a New Digital Rhetoric?

Today’s post on digital rhetoric in the classroom, is written with Mike Lehman. You can learn more about the rhetorical situation and ideology in the writing class from Mike here.

“It’s all about Circulation!”                      “No, it’s all about Innovation!”


In the second chapter from Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice, Douglas Eyman summarizes in length the intersecting concepts of digital rhetoric and classical rhetoric that leads him to a conceptual frame of digital ecologies and circulation.  Eyman looks at two approaches to digital rhetoric:  the notion that digital rhetoric requires new theories, and the method of applying classical theories of rhetoric to digital texts.  While Eyman primarily uses Aristotelian constructions of rhetorical method, he sees them as principles rather than rules.  He believes this is important because “principles are always interpreted and adjusted for situations.”  The importance in seeing this distinction is that it marks digital and classical rhetoric as “porous,” both being changed in the application of the different methods required of each.  Through looking at each category of classical rhetoric, Eyman shows how contemporary rhetoricians have adapted these categories into digital rhetorics.  Primarily, he shows that invention, arrangement, style, delivery, and memory all act as social engagements within a public and social context rather than individual endeavors that end in a completed task.

Eyman uses the ability for classical and digital rhetoric to use, rearticulate, and develop mutually through application in multiple rhetorics to show how both can be conceived of as connecting nodes in networks that encompass the long duree of rhetorical thought.   The conception of rhetoric as a large network leads to a theorization of circulation, economy, and ecology.  Eyman views network spaces and digital rhetoric as an economy with a specific form of circulation that increases the social and cultural capital of the text.  He notes that ecology is a form of social communication and interaction that provides a useful framework for circulation.  For Eyman, these circulatory frames are not just a “flow of material,” but continually changing forms that “add value” because digital texts can be augmented, used, and reused in multiple forms.  

Our summaries and tweets in connection to Eyman’s chapter can be seen as a form of his ecological system and concept of digital circulation.  Eyman’s text, available through Michigan Publishing via the University of Michigan’s Library gives open access to a text that recirculates classical and contemporary theories of rhetoric on a newer platform.  For our purposes, we circulate the text through individual blog posts and tweets that both re-distribute and infuse Eyman’s theories with our own using multiple platforms that reify and recirculate the concepts.  The circulation of his text through our own platforms and interpretations builds its cultural capital within the academic community through the number of citations across the web.  

Pedagogical Application: Cultural Archives

In this project, we situate digital platforms as rhetorical texts in order to bridge the gap between preexisting student experience and archival work. The first part presents social media as a cultural archive while the second introduces students to special collections.

For the first part, present YouTube videos as cultural artifacts that can be analyzed rhetorically and curated for the use of others. Students will build a YouTube playlist exhibiting a specific theme. Once the playlists are complete, everyone will present the playlist to the class as though they are the curator of an exhibit and include a rhetorical analysis of one of the cultural artifacts.

For the second part, three visits to special collections are scheduled. During the first visit, the librarian gives an introduction to special collections and explains how to safely handle rare books. By the second visit, students will come into special collections with many early printed books already set out on the tables. They are given time to look over these books and will have chosen one by the end of the class. For the chosen book, they will write a five-page bibliography that describes the book as a material object. Until the paper is due, students are given as much access to their particular book as they need. During the third class, the students share with each other what they have discovered about their books in short presentations. If students are willing, copies of their papers are given to the librarian to help supplement the catalogue.*

Discussion Questions

1. Quoting Killingsworth, Eyman notes that “for the cyberhuman of the postmodern world, the body is not the core of identity so much as an element in a distributed identity that includes machines as well as other people. The problem of thus identifying the body with machines is that we may come to think of the body—and, by extension, other people—as something we use. Becoming users of the body rather than a body itself, we are prone to overuse or even abuse the body.” What was your reaction to this claim? How does it relate to your personal experience of digital rhetoric? How would you work with concepts like this in an educational environment?

2. Eyman also points out that there is an interest in agency in digital rhetorical construction. Since, as Eyman notes, people construct identities around pre-digital ethnic and national categories, how do we create inclusive classrooms that imagine something outside these pre-determined constructions? What impact could this have on Blackboard or Canvas use in the online classroom?

3. As digital natives, younger students may already enter the university with experience in the platforms that Eyman describes. Considering this, how can we as educators balance integrating digital platforms in the rhet/comp classroom with academic forms designed to prepare students for discipline requirements?

* The second part of the project is influenced by Rebecca Olson’s History of the Book Course

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