Indiana Digital Rhetoric Symposium

About IDRS

Indiana University will be hosting the first Indiana Digital Rhetoric Symposium next spring (April 9-11, 2015). The 2.5-day event is designed to foster conversations at the intersections of rhetoric, media, and technology, and seeks to (1) explore Perspectives and Definitions of Digital Rhetoric and (2) articulate the ways in which digital rhetoric connects to, yet is distinct from, digital humanities. The conference will include a mix of invited speakers and selected presenters from an open call for proposals. The goal is to create a setting in which established and emerging scholars can critically explore the implications, possibilities, and gradations of digital rhetoric.

Situating the Symposium

In his 1992 work The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts, Richard Lanham makes a call for what he calls “digital rhetoric” as a way to mitigate anxieties in the humanities curriculum surrounding new electronic writing and communication practices. Pulling from nearly a decade of research in the fields of computers and composition—an often maligned, if not ignored history in larger humanities discussions—Lanham challenges humanists to develop new frameworks (consistent with the history of humanistic inquiry) for studying issues of aesthetics, representation, mediated experience, programming, and the like. Lanham borrows from postmodern art and poststructuralist theory as a way of introducing his ideas for a new approach to humanities curriculum, a kind of “digital rhetoric and the arts” situated at the intersections of rhetoric, media studies, and the emerging field of humanities computing (which would later evolve to the digital humanities as we currently understand it [c.f., Steven E. Jones The Emergence of the Digital Humanities]). In the twenty-years since Lanham’s call, and the nearly thirty years since the beginning of computers and writing research, digital rhetoric as an area of study has flourished. Not only has it benefited from the broader growth of rhetoric and composition, rhetoric and communication, media studies, and the digital humanities, but longstanding and top-notch journals like Kairos and Enculturation, as well as established and emerging blog sites such as Viz. at UT Austin and the Digital Rhetoric Collaborative at the University of Michigan, have helped solidify digital rhetoric as an emerging and critical area of interest within the broader humanities frame.

Unlike some of the more analytical and tool-based hermeneutic approaches championed in the digital humanities, digital rhetoric is more keenly attuned to matters of invention (heuretics) and the arts/acts of making centered around many practical applications for students and instructors--the implications of which are significant given the importance of social media platforms and digital media authorship across networks of communication in both academic and professional careers. As Keynote Speaker Elizabeth Losh indicates, “journalism, public relations, community organizing, political campaigning, education, law, and the arts have become very mindful of the importance of rhetorical sensitivity to these trends in communication technology, particularly with the rise of mobile and ubiquitous computing and the cultural prominence of companies such as Facebook and Twitter” (personal correspondence). This rhetorical sensitivity situates digital rhetoric as the crossroads of numerous engagements with digital media across the curriculum. What we are dealing with is no longer just humanities problems and modes of inquiry, but a larger corpus of integration grounded in practices of screen-mediated representation and the underlying systems central to those productive acts and our meaning making practices.

Recognizing the centrality of digital rhetoric for humanities-based research into digital media and culture, Co-Coordinators Justin Hodgson and Scot Barnett will host a three day symposium at Indiana University that aims to more precisely situate digital rhetoric (as a practice, as a field, as a mode of inquiry) in relation to these broader larger academic, professional, and industry frames. Speakers will examine digital rhetoric’s connections to and/or distinctions from digital humanities (both in the popular sense of digital humanities being everything that fits under the heading of “digital + humanities” as well as digital humanities’ specific roots in humanities computing). Speakers will also engage in conversations about the importance of digital rhetoric in relation to established and emerging communicative practices in an age of mobile and ubiquitous computing. Further, speakers will explore how digital rhetoric may help develop and lead new humanities curricula for the 21st century—picking up and extending Lanham’s call. The research presented will draw upon a wide range of research practices and disciplines, from programming (e.g., aesthetics of code) to philosophy (e.g., object oriented ontology), from media studies (e.g., immediacy, hypermediacy, and eversion) to ethnography (e.g., rhetorical practices and digital representation). The symposium will seek to highlight and work through a number of pressing issues for digital rhetoric going forward, including methods of invention and analysis (heuretics vs. hermeneutics), human and nonhuman agents and audiences, material vs. digital constructions (and their problematic nature), and the sometimes inconsistent epistemologies, ideologies, and ontologies that are presently influencing the development of digital rhetoric. The goal of this event is to establish (and challenge) the boundaries of digital rhetoric and to create a moment marking the second resurgence of rhetoric in the modern age.