Media Theory, Digital Rhetoric, Posthumanism, New Materialism, Media Infrastructure, Digital Pedagogy

Research Directions

Since 1995 I have been studying the ways in which digital media technologies have shaped communication and rhetorical practices. My work intersects research in digital rhetoric and media studies. The new materialist, digital rhetorical method I have developed extends from post-Deleuzian theories including Latour, DeLanda, and Massumi, posthumanists/new materialists such as Bradiotti, Bennett and Barad, and media scholars such as Parikka, Mattern, and Ernst.

Selected Publications

(Please contact me if you have difficulty accessing my scholarship.)

Rhetorics of the Digital Nonhumanities

(Southern Illinois UP)

Drawing on posthuman, new materialist, and nonhuman theory/philosophy/rhetoric in connection with digital rhetoric, media study, and the digital humanities, I develop a “new materialist digital rhetorical method” and employ it to study how relations among humans and nonhumans in digital media ecologies give rise to new/shifting rhetorical capacities.

Synthetic Speech and Negotiation: AI’s Nonhuman Rhetoric

(Journal Article, Enculturation 2020)

Developments in artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and speech synthesis have improved the capacity of digital assistants, such as Siri, Google, and Alexa, to converse with their human users. As compared to earlier versions, newer digital assistants better understand what people say and respond in more pleasing, less robotic speech. Parallel research puts these same capacities to work in teaching AIs to be effective negotiators by recognizing a connection between natural language use and bargaining. In such scenarios, we might ask if digital assistants are becoming rhetorical agents, or, more precisely, which kinds of rhetorical capacities they are developing.

Composing with Deliberate Speed: Writing Humanities’ Future Sensorium

(Book Chapter, Rhetorical Speculations: Emerging Technologies and the Future and Potential of Rhetoric 2019)

As I discuss here, new materialist rhetorics offer some insight into how one might resituate, though not eliminate, conscious human deliberation as a part of a larger media-cognitive ecology. The ensuing investigation relies upon a particular kind of speculative thinking that emerges from new materialist and realist philosophies. By its nature, speculation deals with uncertainty. In an empirical process, speculations about uncertainties are measured. Speculations can only be entertained or investigated to the extent that they can become known through empirical study. On the other side of the campus, idealist, hermeneutic claims to knowledge are always speculative in their acknowledgement that interpretation is variable and subjective. As I explore in this chapter, a new materialist or realist speculation offers a third possibility, different from both empiricist-objective and idealist-subjective speculation. 

Prospects and Regrets of an EdTech Gold Rush

(Book Chapter, MOOCs and their Afterlives 2019)

Expectations about the role that MOOCs might play in higher education remain intertwined with conventional understandings of how learning happens and might be measured. Another approach to online pedagogy might begin with the premise that changing the technologies with which faculty and students work will alter their capacities for teaching and learning. This approach might be termed “posthuman” for the way it shifts the focus from individual humans to their media environments. Taking up the classical, rhetorical concepts of kairos and metanoia (opportunity and regret), this chapter investigates MOOCs not as a mechanism for solving existing educational challenges but rather as creating an environment in which pedagogy must be reinvented.  The chapter looks specifically at two MOOCs designed to teach first-year composition and then turns to practices in video games to develop a practice of prospecting, of searching for and constructing new learning practices. 

Big Data Assemblies: Composing’s Nonhuman Ecology

(Book Chapter, Assembling Composition 2017)

This chapter investigates assemblage theory, as articulated in the work of Deleuze and Guattari and later developed by Manuel DeLanda and others, as it pertains to the investigation of digital composing. Assemblage theory proposes an ontology that is fundamentally different from the anthropocentric view of symbolic action that has largely shaped rhetoric and composition, offering in its stead a nonhuman conception of cognition, agency, and expression that investigates rhetoric as an activity that precedes and exceeds humans. Digital networks have made the nonhuman dimensions of rhetorical-compositional activity more visible, but our conventional rhetorical approaches struggle to account for technology, except as an extension or limitation of human agency or as a tool for some ideological end. This chapter will consider how “big data” analysis, combined with assemblage theory, might reframe our understanding of composing and help us see human activity as participating in a larger media ecology.

Digital Humanities Now and the Possibilities of a Speculative Digital Rhetoric

(Book Chapter, Rhetoric and the Digital Humanities 2015)

This chapter examines connections between big data digital humanities projects (the Digital Humanities Now project in particular), digital rhetoric, and the philosophies of speculative realism (focusing on Bruno Latour). It addresses the critique that digital humanities are under-theorized and connects these critiques with those made against speculative realism’s use of scientific and mathematical concepts. Finally it proposes how a speculative digital rhetoric might contribute to a network analysis of informal, online scholarly work.