Final Thoughts: Subjectivity and Politics in a New Era of Digital Rhetoric

Our goal in this project was to unearth and make visible the incipient ways of knowing and doing within the nascent subfield of digital rhetoric. Together, the set of responses to the four interview questions keyed to teaching—ones inquiring about outcomes, scholars/readings, assignments, and assessment—provide insight into and reveal the thinking about the development, implementation, and enactment of a pedagogy in and of digital rhetoric. Overall, this text does more than argue that there is a pedagogy forming within digital rhetoric; it frames that pedagogy through the collective voices of those doing and teaching digital rhetoric, offering a sort of three dimensional model across three axes—continuation/rupture, theory/practice, and text/network—as a way of mapping digital rhetoric pedagogy. Understanding digital rhetoric pedagogy this way gives shape to the central argument here: that the outcomes, scholars/readings, assignments, and assessment articulated throughout this webtext constitute a pedagogical way of knowing and doing in digital rhetoric that others can use in developing, revising, and/or refining their own teaching practices.

However, in the famous words of Kenneth Burke (1984), “A way of seeing is also a way of not seeing” (p. 70). So, to conclude, we point out several important aspects of work in digital rhetoric that remain unseen in the version of digital rhetoric pedagogy presented here. In highlighting what is not captured within our way of seeing here, we invite others in the subfield to explore what we have not. More specifically, we encourage others not only to pursue projects that build upon and dialogue with what is here but also to push against and contest the pedagogical representation of digital rhetoric offered here, particularly in terms of new developments in the technological and political landscape in the time since these interviews were conducted.

First, the ruptures within digital rhetoric that we identify here are primarily conceptual, that is, they chart generally the disjunction among ideas about, say, classical and digital rhetoric. There is much less rupture (and thereby more continuation) in terms of the rhetorical and media-compositional practices discussed in the piece. This continuation of compositional practices emerges, in all likelihood, from our focus on questions about outcomes, assignments, and assessment, all of which tend to be normative pedagogical practices. Better identifying media-compositional ruptures (e.g. virtual reality, physical computing, mobile technology, data visualization, and user experience) would require less normative questions and more sensitivity to anomalous teaching and research practices.

Secondly, although the approaches within outcomes, scholars/readings, assignments, and assessment are diverse and thus adaptable, they lack diversity. For instance, the goals and outcomes of the pedagogy we trace seldom explicitly attend to how issues of subjectivity impact digital rhetoric—not only its reception and production in our classroom but in wider networks as well. Moreover, the assignments interviewees shared rarely specifically ask students to explore or interrogate issues or representations of subjectivity. Relatedly, our convenient sample of participants not only underrepresents women and teacher-scholars of color but also neglects to do justice to the importance of disable-identified, trans, and genderqueer perspectives in our field. Almost all of the scholars suggested in the Readings/Scholars section are white, and the content of the texts recommended often avoid the implications of subjectivity in digital culture. Absent, in other words, are scholars of color and readings that discuss the intersections of subjectivity and technology (e.g. Selfe, 1996; Banks, 2006; Nakamura, 2007; Nakamura, Chow-White, & Nelson, 2011) or digital rhetorics by and of marginalized groups (e.g. Banks, 2012; Hidalgo, 2018; Yergeau, 2019).

Digital rhetoric is created by and affects all people, but not all people and voices are present within the pedagogy presented here. In his 1999 CCCC Chair’s Address, Victor Villanueva urged the larger field of rhetoric and composition to be more diverse in its professional population and in its scholarly inquiries. His call remains kairotic—both for the field generally and, as this webtext demonstrates, for the subfield of digital rhetoric in particular. Our best hope here is to visually and conceptually stage—though we regrettably and simultaneously also reproduce—the problematic dynamics embodied by the field of digital rhetoric.

Finally, while the attention devoted toward the medium’s impact on the message likely will not wane, the scholarly exigences that drive work in digital rhetoric more broadly are likely to shift away from problems around definition and more towards those around pedagogy, ethics, identity and subjectivity, embodiment, surveillance and privacy, authority, social habits, networks and ecologies, fake news and disinformation campaigns, and politics. In particular, our sense is that the in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, scholars and teachers of digital rhetoric have turned and will continue to turn their attention to politics: perhaps more specifically, in ways that attempt to capture what seems to have gone wrong, to document what feels to be a turning point in American and global political and public life, and to provide a sense of (and potentials for) the future. Any full account of digital rhetoric pedagogy will now, we think, have to account for this as well.

Future work will much more carefully attend to the “ways of not seeing” identified here. In particular, we have recently completed a follow-up study that we hope is much more attentive to the inventive and anomalous approaches to digital rhetorical compositional practices; more sensitive to subjectivity, difference, and the amplification of new voices; and more attuned to the importance of political developments for the subfield of digital rhetoric. This project, recorded at the Alabama Digital Rhetoric Symposium in early 2019, includes 18 interviews that we hope will continue to open avenues for exploring what digital rhetoric is and means for those of us who teach and research it.

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