The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle defined rhetoric as “the ability to discern the available means of persuasion in any given case.” Aristotle’s definition is interesting in that it encourages us to think about rhetoric as not only something that we do (i.e. persuading) but also something that we can analyze as an object of inquiry. Today, our “available means of persuasion” have grown to encompass a much larger set of practices, contexts, technologies, and individuals. Specifically, the unprecedented growth of digital media over the last two decades has had a major impact on the way that we act, think, read, and argue. Digital Rhetorics explores the rhetorical implications of this shift to digital writing.
Course readings and assignments engage students abilities to think rhetorically in a variety of media, genres, and situations. Students draw on ancient and contemporary rhetorical theories (e.g. dissoi logoi, paralepsis, etc.) as they develop their abilities to craft and facilitate effective arguments for a digital age.
By the end of the course, students should be able to:
- Identify argumentative strategies within online discourses
- Isolate the rhetorical affordances of a variety of online media and genres
- Argue from different perspectives
- Write clear, concise sentences suitable for online environments
- Adapt writing to different media and genres
- Integrate multimedia components (videos, images, etc.) into online documents
- Incorporate research into a written argument from a variety of sources
- Critique and revise documents for online publication
Is Anybody Buying This? (Analyzing Arguments)
For this assignment, you will need to track down an argument that you believe to be utter nonsense and explain the rhetorical techniques and contexts that convince people to “buy” this argument. In researching your argument, don’t rely on a single source or media. Search for occurrences of this argument in a variety of places, such as newspaper articles, news broadcasts, YouTube videos, memes, tweets, FB posts, etc. Once your analysis is written, you will then adapt it into a short 2-3 minute "explainer" video.
Dissoi Blogoi (Countering Arguments)
Ancient teachers of rhetoric would often travel from polis to polis offering their expertise in oratory and argumentation in exchange for money. Unlike the philosopher Plato, who advocated for dialectic, or productive discourse in search of a shared, general truth, the sophists taught rhetoric with little concern for such lofty philosophical aims. One of the most prominent sophists, Gorgias, was famous for his practice of “dissoi logoi,” or the ability to argue both sides of an argument in order to demonstrate his rhetorical prowess to his students and potential customers. For this assignment, you will enact a modern-day dissoi logoi (or dissoi blogoi) by writing from the perspective of two antagonistic blogging personas that you create in response to a controversial public issue. Using these personas, which you will design fake accounts for through Google’s free blogging platform, you will write four blog posts (two per account at 500 words apiece) in an online, back-and-forth rhetorical battle.
Digital Issues (Researching Arguments)
The rise of digital media in the 21st century has created lasting consequences within various aspects of modern society. Throughout this course, we have discussed the impact of digital technology within a variety of areas, such as education, sustainability, journalism, automation, and much more. For this assignment, students will isolate a particular area, perhaps within their own discipline, that has been (or will be) profoundly affected by digital technologies.
(Es)say it Like You Mean It (Experiencing Arguments)
We tend to think of writing an argument as the pursuit of a one-sided, rationally-motivated claim supported by empirical evidence. Although this is certainly true for many arguments (particular those that spark controversy in online spaces) this is not always the case. In fact, many of the most compelling, well-written arguments are the exact opposite: wandering, personal excursions into the multi-faceted complexity of an issue or idea supported by personal or anecdotal evidence. Using example personal essays and other writing guides, students will “essay” an argument about their personal experience(s) in regard to a specific issue, event, person, object, or space. The goal of this assignment is not to produce an airtight, rational argument, but rather to use writing as a tool for opening up (rather than closing off) new perspectives and ideas about this issue, event, person, or space.