Apologies for taking so long to put up my last panel notes — kind of got a whole bunch of different things going on right now. I was also kind of anxious because, to be honest, it was one of the best panels I saw; Jim Ridolfo and David Sheridan and Tony Michel fit their presentations together really well thematically speaking; but I also liked it because I saw so much in it that intersected with my research interests and offered me some new and startling insights. All three focused, in one way or another, with the intersection of multimodal discourses with the discourse of the civic, as their panel’s subtitle (“Digital Rhetoric as a Civic Technology”) might demonstrate, but all three were very careful to acknowledge a sophisticated awareness of the many problems associated with the privileging of civic discourse, which made me happy — one so rarely sees, in our field, an acknowledgement that the public sphere was initially theorized as a bourgeois space.
Jim’s presentation, “Rhetorical Veloooocity!!!: The Economics of the Press Advisory and Tactics of Activist Delivery,” dealt with his work at Michigan State with the Worker Rights Consortium, composing activist press advisories with the knowledge and intent that the language of those advisories may be appropriated by the press. Basically, using the example of the sequence of rhetorical production and circulation of these releases, Jim demonstrated the deep connections between rhetorical delivery, re-seen economic theories — of production, distribution, consumption, appropriation, and re-production — and activist strategies for economic change. In fact, Jim argued, the rhetorical canon of delivery can be theorized through the lens of economy, including — in particular — the rhetorical situations in which the mass delivery, redistribution and re-appropriation of writings are the rhetorical objective. In the context of distribution defined as a tactic of delivery planned for economic circulation, Jim’s term “rhetorical velocity” refers to an accelerated delivery tactic (or cycle?) fostering the appropration of texts. He offered the example of a “News Advisory” sent to local papers concerning a protest event that used the words “students will dance vigorously”: two newspapers that actually sent reporters did not use those words, but the paper that did not send a reporter — only a photographer — described the event as “vigorous dancing,” and offered no reporter’s name on the news piece that ran following the event. Jim then showed a timeline demonstrating how quickly that cycle of appropriation operated: press release on Tuesday, event on Thursday, the appropriated-language news piece on Friday. In his conclusions, Jim compared the activist economy, the economy of the reporter, and the economy of media, all on immediate, near, and long-term scales, and noted that these three economies overlap in the ways different parties construct the economic value of a distributed text. Brilliant stuff, and this too-brief description doesn’t do it justice.
David Sheridan’s presentation on “Materializing Ethics and Multimodal Civic Rhetoric” described how different forms of production and semiotic affordances can open up shifting civic opportunities, working from the perspectives of the different but intersecting axes of understanding rhetoric as a material practice and rhetoric as an ethical practice. (And I know that sentence is a huge, mangled tangle of David’s language; I’m hoping he’ll set me straight.) In other words: how do material considerations intersect with rhetorical ethics?