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Materialist and Object-Oriented Rhetorics

Workshop Leader:

Thomas Rickert, Purdue University
Byron Hawk, University of South Carolina

The workshop will address the importance of new materialist thought for rhetorical theory. The predominant understanding of rhetoric is that it is a social and symbolic art. While material things are certainly around us and at issue, it is meaning, symbolicity, and persuasion as pursued by human beings that define rhetoric. Burke captures this understanding with his claim that in all partly verbal and nonverbal situations, "the nonverbal element also persuades by reason of its symbolic character" (RM 172). Matter matters and persuades only by means of symbolicity. Our workshop engages emerging scholarly movements that question this orientation. Our primary question will be whether materiality, both prior to symbolicity and as it enters the symbolic, persuades, and if so how. This initial orientation generates a host of questions for the workshop and its participants to engage: Is materiality inherently persuasive, and/or suasive, before it "means"? Are baseline realisms and social constructionism the only options for thinking the relation between language and world? If new perspectives on materialism are available, how do they impact rhetorical theory and practice? To what extent does rhetorical theory assume a dichotomy between the human "cultural" world and the material "natural" world, and if this division is dissolved, what then?

The workshop will proceed along three lines. First, we will look at important and representative readings from the fields of science and technology studies (Bruno Latour, John Law), new materialism (Karen Barad, Jane Bennett), and object-oriented ontology (Graham Harman, Levi Bryant), discussing how they address these kinds of questions. Second, we will help participants develop their own materialist-oriented projects. Participants will submit brief proposals for their materialist and objected-oriented work, and time will be devoted to collaborative feedback.

Lastly, the workshop will devote time to an "object lesson," where participants will pick an object related to their research proposals to examine and discuss prior to and during the workshop; it will be used to illuminate the works we read, stimulate discussion, and help make new materialisms concretely relevant to rhetoric.

Questions should be directed to Thomas Rickert at

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