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New Materialist Rhetorics

Workshop Leaders:

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, from A Rhetoric of Motives, that in all partly verbal and nonverbal situations, "the nonverbal element also persuades by reason of its symbolic character." 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 materialityprior to symbolicity, as the tacit grounds of symbolicity, and as it enters the symbolicpersuades, and if so how. This initial orientation generates a host of questions for the workshop and its participants to engage: Is materiality inherently 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 prior work in materialism (Marx, Heidegger, Foucault), representative readings from the fields of science and technology studies (Bruno Latour, Annemarie Mol, John Law), and work in new materialism (Karen Barad, Elizabeth Grosz, Jane Bennett), discussing how they impact questions of rhetoric and persuasion. Second, we will help participants develop their own materialist-oriented projects. Participants will submit brief proposals for their new materialist work, and time will be devoted to collaborative feedback. Third, we will close out the workshop by charting chart future research questions, problems, and directions for new materialisms.

Questions should be directed to Thomas Rickert, trickert@purdue.edu


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