In this assigned class text, the YouTube video “Ways of Knowing & Doing in Digital Rhetoric” by Stephen McElroy, interviewers asked “23 scholars in digital rhetoric” questions about digital rhetoric at “the 2015 Indiana Digital Rhetoric Symposium.” Each scholar was asked to define “digital rhetoric” in their own words, and I was shocked to find out how many different answers they came up with, especially for a space that was set up for interpreting digital rhetoric in a specific way.

Bill Hart-Davidson of Michigan State University noted that his definition “has changed this weekend,” which proves just how volatile the true nature of digital rhetoric is. According to Hart-Davidson, those at the symposium (and those who study digital rhetoric) are “wanting to contribute to a set of scholarly conversations about rhetoric, and using digital means to kind of explore those boundaries — to maybe push them back a little bit … maybe to reinforce some things that we’ve known for some time.”

However, Hart Davidson’s view did not seem to jive with Kristin Arola of Washington State University, who said that digital rhetoric involves “discovering the available means of persuasion in, around, through digital spaces,” which implies that there is something inherent to the tactics within the field of this form of rhetoric.

David Rieder of North Carolina State University argued that “rhetoric is really a process of creating immersive, suasive(?) environments based on data from the world that then feeds back onto one or more participants within a space or who are engaging with an object.” Rieder’s definition did not even touch on the “digital” part of digital rhetoric, while Matthew Demers’s (Archodos) definition stated, very clearly, that digital rhetoric includes “moving images, texts, discursive, non-discursive, sound, cut-and-paste — you name it — and can we find ways to figure out some kind of rigor, rules, guides to help us use it more effectively?” Demers not only spelled out each piece of digital rhetoric in his mind, but he also claimed that digital rhetoric can be “non-discursive,” while most of the other scholars interviewed mentioned discourse as the main (and most necessary) aspect of digital rhetoric.

Kathleen Blake Yancey of Florida State University said that digital rhetoric is “an art, a practice, a theory, a phenomenon that can be researched, so it assumes a public, it assumes an audience, it assumes a rhetor, it assumes some agency.” However, after watching this video, I do not feel any more enlightened on what this research looks like or who those assumed publics, audiences, or rhetors might be. How can we learn about digital rhetoric and its many issues, themes, influences, studies, etc. without having a solid definition of what digital rhetoric really is? Is it possible to study something without knowing its true, inherent nature?


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