The Ways We Persuade: From Ancient to Digital Rhetoric @ Davis

Every writer communicates their work to an imagined audience, and their words are never neutral. Regardless of whether we are candid or covert about our intentions, all communication is persuasive. To better understand this truth, the Rhetoric @ Davis Research Cluster fosters interdisciplinary dialogue about the ways we persuade, take a stance, and urge others to consider our views in all our communications, written or spoken.

Renewed by the Davis Humanities Institute for the 2014-2015 academic year, the Rhetoric @ Davis Research Cluster will continue to host well-known scholars from a variety of disciplines to engage in topics related to rhetoric in both university and public settings. The cluster’s faculty coordinator is Chris Thaiss, a professor in the University Writing Program who also chairs the designated emphasis in Writing, Rhetoric, and Composition Studies. Thaiss works closely with Ph.D. students David Coad, from the School of Education, and Jenae Cohn in the Department of English, both instructors in the University Writing Program, in setting the cluster’s goals and mounting its events.

In 2014-2015, the cluster programming will engage “Rhetoric in the Disciplines” to focus on how key ideas in the study of rhetoric are applied and understood across academic disciplines. If rhetoric is the “art of knowledge-making,” then the Rhetoric @ Davis cluster believes that each academic field is informed by and can benefit from rhetorical principles.

The research cluster’s first event takes place on Thursday, October 27th at 4:30pm in Voorhies 126 with a public talk by Cheryl E. Ball. Ball is an associate professor of digital publishing at West Virginia University and the editor of the online, peer-reviewed, and open-access journal Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy.

Based on her nearly two decades of work as editor of Kairos, Ball will speak about the infrastructural considerations for digital composing and developing new pedagogical practices necessary to meet the needs of to meet the new competencies of writing and reading in a digital age. Her talk, titled “Embracing Design in Rhetoric’s Scholarly Publishing Infrastructure” will cover her research interests in multimodal composition, digital media publishing, and university writing pedagogy.

Cohn explains, in relation to Ball’s visit, that the Rhetoric @ Davis cluster is interested in expanding the definition of rhetoric from its ancient roots and into nonverbal modes. Data and visual rhetoric can communicate arguments differently, which compels us to consider how we engage with audiences in visually-dominated mediums, like design. Cohn notes the unique opportunity of making interdisciplinary connections through visual rhetoric, and how it can shape sociopolitical interactions.

In winter quarter, the cluster will bring Liz Losh to campus to discuss “hacktivist rhetoric” and how hacker culture and digital culture impact how people make choices politically. Losh is the director of the culture, art & technology program at UC San Diego and author of Virtualpolitik: An Electronic History of Government Media-Making in a Time of War, Scandal, Disaster, Miscommunication, and Mistakes (MIT Press, 2009). The spring quarter event will be oriented towards classical rhetoric, bringing the cluster back to the roots of the field and questioning how it can be applied and conceptualized in the present.

In order to distill the ideas and interventions after each event, the cluster hosts a round table conversation with faculty and students from across campus and beyond to make explicit how rhetorical communication applies to all fields. This innovative format allows for a deeper engagement with how rhetoric acts as knowledge-making. Coad and Cohn explain that these vital dialogues make more visible the exciting connections that are at the heart of the cluster: how do people create and shape ideas across the disciplines?


Stephanie Maroney, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral candidate in Cultural Studies