The Discipline of Religion: Structure, Meaning, Rhetoric

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This set of criteria maps relatively well to a rhetorical approach to text-as-discourse, although the questions of acceptability and the focus on appropriateness in terms of situation make clear that de Beaugrande and Dressler are concerned only with rhetorically successful texts, rather than all texts regardless of the quality of their arguments. So, from the field of linguistics we have a consideration of the rhetorical features of text as a representation of discourse.

To these criteria, we can draw on semiotics to add the experience of text-as- designed discourse. In Literacy in the New Media Age , Gunther Kress proposes a theory of text that includes three categories of text aesthetically valued, culturally significant, and mundane , each of which is expressly the result of specific design choices:.

Kress also makes two important observations about text. This syncs nicely with our definition of rhetoric as the means to move the audience into a state of action often articulated specifically as social action, although it can certainly also be used to prompt individual action. Texts have rhetorical features, originate in and propel social action, and are designed material objects; these qualities provide the primary means of relationship between text and rhetoric-as-use.

Stephen Mailloux clarifies this relationship both in terms of rhetoric as analytic method and productive art:. Rhetoric deals with effects of texts, persuasive and tropological. A production or performance model of rhetoric gives advice to rhetors concerning probable effects on their intended audiences.

In contrast. While it is a given that text like writing is itself a technology, the affordances of digital production are leading to the development of textual forms that synthesize and enact multiple technologies and media, expanding the notion of text beyond even the fairly broad definitions of discourse-in-material-form presented here. But the notion of texts that have a kind of agency e. However, he does sketch out the important connections between postmodern theory, digital arts, and classical rhetoric and finishes the essay by suggesting that an important next move would be to examine the ethics of digital text.

One of the drawbacks of this larger collection is that it begins with a chapter that situates his work within literary studies rather than rhetoric, and carries forward this reliance on literary theory, thus implying that digital rhetoric grows out of that subset of rhetorical studies that is the study of literature—rather than the broader and more theoretically robust field of rhetoric as a whole.

Lanham thus continues a move that connects digital texts and literary studies, following the lead of the hypertext theorists he cites in his essay e. Early theorists who considered the rhetoric of digital texts focused on hypertext, contrasting hypertextual work with print texts and examining the implications of linking electronic documents in digital networks. While hypertext theory is an important precursor of digital rhetoric, it was fairly limited both in terms of the range of theories used to elucidate what hypertext ideally could accomplish and the focus on a fairly narrow construction of hypertext as a specific form.

Nonetheless, it is important to gloss this work here, particularly since some contemporary scholars continue to conflate hypertext theory and digital rhetoric. In contrast to print technology, which foregrounds the physical separateness of each text, hypertext reifies the connections between works and thus presents each work as fundamentally connected to others.

He goes on to examine what he sees as the fundamental difference and the place at which new forms of rhetorical activity occur—the hypertext link:. Electronic linking, which generates the fundamental characteristics of hypertext, changes many of the characteristics of text that derive from print, particularly from the physical isolation of the printed work. By inserting the individual text into a network of other texts, this information medium creates a new kind of textual entity—a metatext or hypermedia corpus.

As digital technologies have continued to develop at an amazingly brisk pace , the possibilities of constructing hypertext work that includes a variety of media—video, audio, animation, interactive processes—has further marked the departure from our traditional notions of print documents while simultaneously retaining print-based forms within these hypermedia compositions. Thus there has been an increased interest in exploring the possibilities of visual rhetoric s as they are foregrounded in digital media.

And as James Zappen notes:. Studies of the new digital media explain some of the basic characteristics of communication in digital spaces and some of their attendant difficulties. Such basic characteristics function as both affordances and constraints and so help to explain how the new media support and enable the transformation of the old rhetoric of persuasion into a new digital rhetoric that encourages self-expression, participation, and creative collaboration.

Classical rhetoric as a comprehensive system of discourse theory remains unique among the rhetorical theories available to us because it depends on the relationships among rhetoric, history, politics, educational institutions, and, perhaps most important, the everyday uses of languages that arise from ideological positioning. It treats not only public and private discourse but also the intricate and interdependent relationships between articulation and thought.

And it does so in a way that offers powerful alternatives to the normalized way of viewing knowledge in the modern period. In order to effectively meet both of her goals, she argues that we should not begin with Aristotle, as most other scholars have, but to go back to the Sophists, and to Isocrates in particular:.

I would argue that contemporary approaches to rhetoric have already reconstructed classical rhetoric into such a comprehensive system, but this approach is part of a larger surge in scholarly interest in the Sophists and a reevaluation of their usefulness for new forms of composition, particularly those at the intersections of visual and verbal rhetorical forms see, in particular, Covino [] and McComskey [].

The primary drawback is that she focuses primarily on a noninteractive form of video, which lends itself more to analysis than production, and does not extend her argument fully to networked digital computers as tools and media of rhetorical production. But since the advent of networked, multimedia communication, critics and theorists some of whom I have cited above have been struggling to develop a rhetorical theory that can account for multimodal communication, and the advent of digital networks and media has brought forth several attempts to harness the power of rhetoric as both an analytic and a mode of production for creating persuasive communicative works enacted via these new forms of media and distribution.

While several attempts have been made to construct such a program, most have focused on particular aspects of digital production or the critique of digital works. These four elements cover most of the work done by scholars whose work might be categorized as digital rhetoric, and the framework presented here holds up well when considering work published after —and I will return to it as a useful taxonomy with a few additions for a more current articulation of the purview and practices of digital rhetoric.

For each element or theme, Zappen reviews the theme presented in three or four works, drawing from a range of disciplines and fields, including communications, literacy studies, sociology, and computers and writing. As I hope will be clear in the next three chapters of this book, digital rhetoric is not tied to a single discipline and, I will suggest, is strengthened by drawing on theories and methods from multiple disciplines and fields while remaining true to its foundation in rhetoric.

For Warnick, the aim of rhetoric is explicit persuasion and its primary methods for accomplishing this task is through forms of appeal; additionally, the text focuses on analysis through rhetorical criticism and only sketches the value of rhetoric for digital production. Rhetorical forms in online media also include coproduced media discourse, online political campaigns and parody, epideictic discourse in online memorials, and other forms of appeal. Often these are hybrid discourses involving information and aesthetic elements as well as rhetoric, but one of their aims will be more or less explicit appeal to purported audiences in specific communication contexts.

Despite or perhaps because of these moves to constrain the functions and methods of rhetoric, Warnick provides a solid foundation for the analytic approach of digital rhetoric that is both compelling and quite accessible. Because her approach focuses on a reception model of media use, Warnick focuses on the ways that ethos may be built for a user community of a particular site but does not extend her analysis to production.

Religion and Morality

This sense of interactivity particularly the notion of text-based interactivity seems to me to elide the differences between dialogic communication reader-to-text and user-to-user interaction and interactivity as a quality of digital media. Readers do not just passively receive information; rather, they interact with the text. By contributing their own thoughts and experiences, readers work with authors to create a unique reading experience.

In the case studies of this chapter, Warnick looks at user-to-user interaction and the opportunities for coproduction of knowledge via websites that facilitate online discussions; contributions of text, image, and video; and organizing tools for face-to-face meetings the sites in question are moveon. This approach is deeply problematic for digital rhetoric, as it essentially argues that the interactive functions of digital systems are a priori arhetorical; this is a limiting move that is similar to characterizing design decisions as outside of the scope of rhetorical analysis neither of which is a move I can support.

In the final section of Rhetoric Online , Warnick considers the role of intertextuality in online environments, primarily using political parody and parody advertisements as examples. Warnick starts with an overview of intertextuality as developed by Kristeva and informed by Bakhtin, which she extends to multimedia compositions precisely as previous scholars applied the term to hypertext in the late s and s.

In Persuasive Games , Bogost first calls out a gap in digital rhetoric, arguing that simply applying traditional rhetorical methods are not sufficient for the analysis of new media forms such as computer games and simulations :. Email, websites, message boards, blogs, and wikis are examples of these targets. To be sure, all of these digital forms can function rhetorically, and they are worthy of study; like visual rhetoricians, digital rhetoricians hope to revise and reinvent rhetorical theory for a new medium.

Bogost further argues that a whole new branch of rhetoric should be established—one that, like visual rhetoric, takes on analytic methods that are specific to the media and forms that are being critiqued. Procedurality refers to a way of creating, explaining, or understanding processes.

And processes define the way things work: the methods, techniques, and logics that drive the operation of systems, from mechanical systems like engines to organizational systems like high schools to conceptual systems like religious faith. However, Bogost makes a compelling case for applying rhetorical principles to a range of digital texts although the primary—and most compelling—examples are games. He starts by making distinctions among forms of rhetoric based on their application:. Just as verbal rhetoric is useful for both the orator and the audience, and just as written rhetoric is useful for both the writer and the reader, so procedural rhetoric is useful for both the programmer and the user, the game designer and the player.

Procedural rhetoric is a technique for making arguments with computational systems and for unpacking computational arguments others have created. By showing this disconnect between theory and current practice, Bogost reinforces an argument that I will be making in the following sections of this book—namely that digital texts require not just an updating of traditional theory but the development of new rhetorical theories and methods designed to specifically account for the features of digital texts, precisely as Bogost has done here.

Claiming Identity in the Study of Religion - Equinox Publishing

The majority of Persuasive Games makes the case for procedural rhetoric through examples that show how it can be used as a method of analysis and, as a game designer himself, Bogost also shows how it informs rhetorical production. One of the key values in this approach is the possibility of revealing the underlying structures and ideologies of certain digital texts—a move that is a central practice of contemporary rhetorical criticism. Losh presents the most detailed and comprehensive definition of digital rhetoric within current literature, and her study should be considered a foundational text for the field.

There are, however, some elements with which I disagree, in particular the attempt to connect rhetoric and mathematically based theories from information science which have proved problematic in the past as well, when similar moves have been made for traditional approaches to oral and print communication. This portion of her chapter is similar to the approach taken by Warnick in the sense that the focus is upon the uses of rhetoric in the public sphere.

For each of these fields, Losh points out the ways in which digital rhetoric is being employed and how digital affordances and constraints affect rhetorical moves made by governments and large organizations when communicating with a range of audiences.


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While it is instructive to see where digital rhetoric practices are taking place, I do not see this as part of a definition of digital rhetoric so much as it is an example of an analysis of rhetoric as it plays out in specific digital contexts. The third definition focuses on digital rhetoric as a field of study, the consideration of which is one of the purposes of this project. This history is situated, in part, as an extension of media studies which connects back to McLuhan , but more so to literary studies. In formulating a disciplinary realm for digital rhetoric, Lanham appeases the traditionalists by attempting to integrate new media studies into a longer rhetorical history.

Yet, at the same time, he is alerting his colleagues that a fundamental paradigm shift is taking place in the present moment. The first of these critiques is answered by her own work in Virtualpolitik. I find the second critique somewhat more problematic. While it is likely that network theory is certainly useful and, indeed, many more recent works in digital rhetoric and related fields have appropriated theories and methods from network theory, e. They showed that strategies of formal logic and quantification clearly did not belong within the realm of rhetoric at all when it came to the actual practice of rhetorical argumentation.

Slack, Miller, and Doak forcefully argued against the model of technical communicator-as-transmitter, instead positing that rhetoricians in the field of technical communication should be seen as both translators of information and as articulators in the Stuart Hall sense within the communication network.

Social and Rhetorical Techniques Examined

Slack, Miller, and Doak described the communication theory based on the Shannon-Weaver model as the transmission view of communication because it was developed as a technological schema for transmitting a message from one point to another using telecommunication devices. In this transmission view, there is no need for rhetoric, as persuasion is not part of the model. In fact, meaning is not a part of the model either, as the focus is the transmission of a message as information regardless of content. Gilbert Simondon , who calls this a technical theory of communication, makes the fairly obvious critique that a model that sees only a single channel of transmission between only two points must necessarily eliminate most of the complexity of actual human communication.

While many of the later chapters in this text do provide useful approaches to developing new theories for digital rhetoric, the first chapter wherein she introduces the Shannon-Weaver model and argues that it can be read in ways that provide a new way of considering digital communication ultimately leads to a rephrasing of rhetoric, but in technical terms.

When Terranova states that. On the one hand, it is about a resistance to informational forms of power as they involve techniques of manipulation and containment of the virtuality of the social; and on the other hand, it implies a collective engagement with the potential of such informational flows as they displace culture ad help us to see it as the site of a reinvention of life 37 ,. I would suggest that this description could just as easily refer to rhetoric itself and digital rhetoric in particular, as it is applied to information flows.

Electronic technologies have led to electronic consciousness, an awareness. The main drawback to this approach, and to the current call for its uptake in the humanities and in computers and writing in particular, is its reliance on formal argumentation schema—this is rhetoric-as-argument only, which is as reductive as rhetoric-as-ornamentation, but in the opposite direction. Computational rhetoric as a model for integrating methods from computer science, linguistics, and rhetoric does have much to offer as a facet of digital rhetoric and I would suggest that some of the issues that arise within computational rhetoric, such as the consideration of whether nonhuman agents can engage in rhetorical communication [13] is an important question for digital rhetoric as well.

The term technorhetoric or techno-rhetoric and the related scholarly identity of technorhetorician gained popularity in the computers and writing field in the late s, promoted as a term that evoked both an interest in rhetorics of technology and rhetoric as technology in the sense that it is rooted in techne. In the end, I return to the definition with which I started, but now carrying a richer understanding of the key terms—rhetoric, digital, and text—that feature in that definition:.

I would add, following Zappen , that the primary activities within the field of digital rhetoric include.

In addition to explicating a definition of digital rhetoric by examining the terms that make up the definition, the way that digital rhetoric functions via theory, method, and practice, the ways in which it constructs itself as a field of inquiry, and the history of the theories, fields, methods, and approaches that have led to our current understanding of the term, it is important also to situate the field within the network of related fields and activities.

I have selected a number of fields that are closely connected to or inform digital rhetoric there are others, and a more comprehensive network map of these fields and their interrelationships is the aim of a future project, but the ones I have selected play key roles in my understanding of how digital rhetoric functions as an emerging field in its own right. The fields that I address here are:. I will complete my inventory with an overview of the relationship of digital rhetoric to two broad interdisciplinary approaches in the humanities and social sciences respectively : digital humanities and Internet studies.

Digital literacy is a requirement of digital rhetoric—that is, just as print literacy is necessary for a writer to deploy traditional rhetorical moves, the same is true of digital writing practices. Digital literacy is more complex in some ways because it requires the user to be able to read and write with a number of sign systems e. The question for digital rhetoric, however, is one of relationships: how do we define digital literacy in both functional and critical terms and how does it impact the field of digital rhetoric? Kress very specifically differentiates literacy as oriented to writing, although he acknowledges that computer technologies problematize this artificial distinction between modes.