The English word “technology” comes from two Greek concepts that have been central to the rhetorical tradition: techne and logos. Techne is often translated as “craft” or “art,” encompassing a broader set of principles and practices of creating objects, relationships, and meanings. Logos may be translated as “logic,” or “reasoning,” and refers to the human methods for thinking, discussing, and understanding. Aristotle wrote that humans live by both art (techne) and reasoning (logos).

It would not be difficult to convince someone that contemporary humans live by technology, as nearly every facet of our lives is augmented by the technological artifacts that we hold dear. But we can also imagine ways that humans think and act through technologies. We develop complex institutions and communities around technical artifacts, ways of thinking, and modes of living. We ask technologists to take leadership roles in society, granting them public expertise due to their technical achievements. Technologies supplement our senses, our memories, and our bodies. Even our language, the medium of our imaginations, develops in conversation with technological changes.     

Beyond a shared classical vocabulary, rhetoric and technology are both what rhetorical theorist Richard McKeon calls inventive arts: arts which produce human life. Thus, this seminar will address the two topics in conversation with one another, asking what rhetoric can teach us about technology, and what technology can teach us about rhetoric. We will examine these questions through three major themes: the rhetoricity of technological artifacts, rhetorical approaches to techno-scientific communities, and the relationships between rhetorical theory and technological paradigms.

This course is designed as a graduate seminar in rhetoric/communication.

Header image description: Screenshots from the film “Powers of Ten,” made by Charles and Ray Eames in 1968. From left-right beginning with the top row, the images show: a single human hand, a man laying on a picnic blanket, the blanket and surrounding grass viewed from the air, a show of the shoreline of Chicago from space, a cracked and orange surface, a microscopic image showing white intersecting rods, outer space, and an image of the earth.

Sample Schedule:

WeekTopicSelected Readings
1What is Technology?– McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message,” from Understanding Media, pp. 23-35
– Edwards, “Interlude: Metaphor and the Politics of Subjectivity,” from The Closed World, pp. 146-173
– Carey, “The Roots of Modern Media Analysis: Lewis Mumford and Marshall McLuhan,” from James Carey: A Critical Reader, pp. 34-59  
2What is Rhetoric?– Zarefsky, “Four Senses of Rhetorical History,”
– Glenn and Carcasson, “Rhetoric as Pedagogy” from The SAGE Handbook of Rhetorical Studies
– Murphy, “Theory and Public Address” in The Handbook of Rhetoric and Public Address  
3Rhetoric and Material(s)– McGee, “A Materialist’s Conception of Rhetoric”
– Gries, “A New Materialist Rhetorical Approach in Theory,” in Still Life with Rhetoric, p. 85-105
– Blair, Dickinson, and Ott, “Introduction,” in Places of Public Memory
– Barnett and Boyle, “Introduction,” in Rhetoric, Through Everyday Things, p. 1-16
– Lievrouw, “Materiality and Media in Communication and Technology Studies: An Unfinished Project,” from Media Technologies, pp. 21-51  
4Technology Artifacts as Rhetorical     (Theories and Methods)– Winner, “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” in The Whale and the Reactor p. 19-39
– Kluitenberg, “On the Archaeology of Imaginary Media, “ in Media Archaeology, 48-69.
– Brown and Rivers, “Encomium of QWERTY” in Rhetoric, Through Everyday Things  
5Technology Artifacts as Rhetorical    
(Case Studies)  
– Hallenbeck, Excerpts from Claiming the Bicycle: Women, Rhetoric and Technology in Nineteenth Century America
– Scott, Excerpts from Risky Rhetorics: AIDS and the Cultural Practices of HIV Testing
– Tell, “The Rise and Fall of a Mechanical Rhetoric, or, What Grain Elevators Teach us About Postmodernism”
6The Rhetoric of Technology Communities    – Kuhn, “The Priority of Paradigms,” in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
– Latour and Woolgar, Excerpts from Laboratory Life
– Jensen, “Improving Upon Nature” from Infertility
– Jack, “A Pedagogy of Sight: Microscopic Vision in Robert Hooke’s Micrographia
– Kinsella, “Rhetoric, Action, and Agency in Institutionalized Science and Technology”
7The Rhetoric of Techno-Society     (Theories/Methods)– Hayles, Excerpts from How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis
– Latour, Excerpts from We Were Never Modern
– Haraway, Excerpts from A Cyborg Manifesto
– Sterne, “Hello” and “Audile Technique and Media,” from The Audible Past, p. 1-19, and 137-177
– Galloway, “Software and Ideology,” from The Interface Effect, p. 54-77  
8The Rhetoric of Techno-Society     (Case Studies)– Hill, Excerpt from Advocating Weapons, War and Terrorism: Technological and Rhetorical Paradox
– Pfister, Excerpts from Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics
– Howard, “The Vernacular Web of Participatory Media”
8Technology and Rhetorical History– Peters, excerpt The Marvelous Clouds  
9Technology and Rhetorical Theory  – Rickart, Excerpts from Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being
– McKeon, “The Uses of Rhetoric in a Technological Age” from Rhetoric p. 1-24
– Burke, “Scientific Rhetoric” from The Word of Words
10ConclusionStudent Presentations and Wrap Up

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