English 509A: Rhetoric, Technology, and Materiality

Instructor: Ian Hill
Section: 001
Term: 1
Meets: Wednesdays 10:00am-1:00pm

Although the intermingling of rhetoric, technology, and materiality was nascent in the mid-20th century writings of rhetoricians Kenneth Burke and Walter Ong, over the last several decades rhetorical inquiries into technology and materiality have developed in several discreet directions that owe few intellectual debts to each other, much less Burke and Ong. This course aims to reconnect various disparate strands of contemporary rhetorical criticism and theory by considering how they might fit together as one larger movement, and by situating rhetoric, technology, and materiality alongside relevant writings in Science and Technology Studies and contemporary philosophy. With Burke and Ong as starting points, the course will develop along several trajectories. From the standpoint of rhetorical criticism, we will examine how material artifacts affect the invention of “traditional” rhetoric and how people use technology to persuade by surveying some recent rhetorical scholarship about technological topics by the likes of Lisa Keränen, Bryan Taylor, and Celeste Condit. From the standpoint of rhetorical theory, we will survey the developing field of material rhetoric and its dependence on concepts of ideology and governmentality through the writings of rhetoricians like Michael Calvin McGee, Ron Greene, and Dana Cloud, as well as a recent special “forum” on the “ideological turn” in Western Journal of Communication. And from a philosophical standpoint, we will read several inquires into technological materiality that bear upon rhetoric, including Don Ihde’s Bodies in Technology and Jane Bennet’s Vibrant Matter. These three trajectories are intended to germinate inquiry into the future development of both rhetorical criticism and the theorization of rhetoric in relationship to technology and materiality.

A sample of readings:

  • Excerpts from the corpus of Kenneth Burke
  • Excerpts from the corpus of Walter Ong
  • Selections from Barbara Biesecker and John Lucaites, eds., Rhetoric, Materiality, and Politics (2009)
  • Joshua Gunn, et al., Forum: “Revisiting the Ideological Turn in Rhetorical Studies” in Western Journal of Communication (2011)
  • Lisa Keränen, “Concocting Viral Apocalypse: Catastrophic Risk and the Production of Bio(in)security” (2011)
  • Madeleine Akrich, “The Description of Technological Objects” (1992)
  • Dana Cloud, “The Materiality of Discourse as Oxymoron: A Challenge to Critical Rhetoric” (1994)
  • Celeste Condit, “The Materiality of Coding: Rhetoric, Genetics, and the Matter of Life” (1999)
  • Don Ihde, Bodies in Technology (2002)
  • Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (2010)