The Available Means of Persuasion: Mapping a Theory and Pedagogy of Multimodal Public Rhetoric

by David M. Sheridan, Jim Ridolfo, Anthony J. Michel

Review by April Conway, Bowling Green State University


a lab full of computers a blue sphere with an odd light in the center

Graduate students and instructors interested in teaching new media and multimodal formats would benefit from reading The Available Means of Persuasion because of the sections dedicated to pedagogical practices, including an appendix that outlines a sequence of multimodal public rhetoric assignments. New media instructors will also appreciate the sustained argument that multimodal/new media rhetorics are here to stay, even as they continue to change. Furthermore, those scholars wishing to bridge or who already link their pedagogies to public rhetorics will appreciate the heuristics for critical reflectiveness provided, heuristics meant to be used both in rhetoric and composition classrooms and in broader cultural applications (p. 38). Additionally, the authors offered explicit comparisons of rhetorical practices between the classroom and the public sphere in lists and tables (p. 111), and in case studies using a variety of texts and materials, such as the 360degrees website that can be used to teach issues such as perspective and design related to public rhetorics.

The fact that The Available Means of Persuasion is published in print and as an Adobe e‐book—modes that don’t lend themselves to practices of recomposition and velocity—demonstrates one limitation of the book. Yet, the authors prepared their manuscript in a multimodal fashion. Thus, there are images of documents, screenshots, comics made of photographs, and stills from a documentary to complement the alphabetic text that predominates the layout. Sheridan, Ridolfo, and Michel thus illustrated a practice of multimodal composition that, while not new, complements their arguments of multimodal practices while also demonstrating the current variability of multimodal possibilities, in addition to the rhetorical depths these practices lend.

Underscoring the entire book is the concept of “poetic world making,” a term borrowed from Michael Warner that, according to the authors, offers “a model in which all public rhetors… play a role in the production of culture through imaginative and ethical use of words, images, and sounds” (xvii). Not only does poetic world making highlight the possibilities and means of multimodal public rhetorics, but it seeks to complicate the binary perception of rhetoric (the rational and the political) and poetics (the imaginative and the personal) (pp. 149–151). Rather, multimodal public rhetorics operate at an intersection of these points. The authors argue that multimodal forms are productive aspects of rhetoric, and their use of poetic world making substantiates that: Since every citizen has an individual and collective stake in public spaces, which are also host to discourses and material realities, such spaces are unavoidably emotionally charged. Operating along an intersectional spectrum of rational/imaginative/public/personal, the authors of The Available Means of Persuasion demonstrate how multimodal public rhetorics offer possibilities to meet the challenges of such spaces.