RSA Special Issue Abstracts

During the 1960s, when departments of English had little knowledge of or regard for “rhetoric,” a small community of “autodidacts,” including Richard Young, Ross Winterowd, Edward P. J. Corbett, James Kinneavy, and Richard Ohmann, gathered to foster rhetorical knowledge. The group was joined by other scholars in academic fields, such as speech communications, philosophy, and linguistics (including Donald C. Bryan and George Yoos), similarly interested in rhetorical studies. Having grown organically and informally—with an interdisciplinary interest—the Rhetoric Society of America (RSA) currently has approximately 1,500 members. The organization held its first, formal meeting at the 1968 Conference on College Composition and Communication in Minneapolis, the year it began publishing its Rhetoric Society Newsletter. In 1975, the Newsletter became the academic journal, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, and in 1984, the Society held its first RSA conference. This essay, drawing on anecdotal accounts, details the history of the organization’s origins and growth.


The Body: An Abstract and Actual Rhetorical Concept
Karma R. Chávez

The body has always been an implicit concern for rhetorical studies. This essay suggests that that implicit concern has mostly relied on an abstract, and specific, concept of the body. It is only through bodily difference in contrast to the unspoken, yet specified, white, cisgender, able-bodied, heterosexual male standard that particular bodies come to matter. The essay ends with a discussion of the body of the black civil rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer, in order to enact a “textual stare” at the field of rhetoric. This stare calls the field to be more attentive to what kinds of rhetorical performance are accepted on their own terms and what kinds deserve scrutiny.


The Digital: Rhetoric Behind and Beyond the Screen
Casey Boyle , James J. Brown Jr. & Steph Ceraso

Rhetoricians first saw “the digital” flickering on screens but now feel its effects transducing our most fundamental of social practices. This essay traces digital emergence on screens and through networks and further into everyday life through infrastructures and algorithms. We argue that while “the digital” may have once been but one more example of the available means of persuasion, “digital rhetoric” has become an ambient condition.

Energy: Rhetoric’s Vitality
Chris Ingraham 

From its outset in antiquity, rhetorical energy has been a protean concept: energeia concerning the vitality of speech, and the related enargeia referring to vivid description. Recent interest in affect, the Anthropocene, new materialism, and the more-than-human has only made “energy” more salient, yet more promiscuously evoked than ever. Notwithstanding the concept’s centrality to some major works of contemporary scholarship, the importance of energy to rhetoric has remained widely underexplored. This essay traces some of the quiet history that energy has played in the rhetorical tradition and charts some points of its ongoing importance.


Genre: Permanence and Change
Carolyn R. Miller,Amy J. Devitt & Victoria J. Gallagher

During the past 30 years, genre conceptualized as social action has been a generative framework for scholars, teachers, and rhetors alike. As a mid-level, mediating concept, genre balances stability and innovation, connecting theory and practice, agency and structure, form and substance. Genre is multimodal,providing an analytical and explanatory framework across semiotic modes and media and thus across communication technologies; multidisciplinary, of interest across traditions of rhetoric, as well as many other disciplines; multidimensional, incorporating many perspectives on situated, mediated, motivated communicative interaction; and multimethodological, yielding to multiple empirical and interpretive approaches. Because genre both shapes and is shaped by its communities, it provides insight into both ideological conformity and resistance, lends itself to multiple pedagogical agendas, and provokes questions about media, materiality, ethics, circulation, affect, and comparison.


Kairos: On the Limits to Our (Rhetorical) Situation
William C. Trapani & Chandra A. Maldonado

In Ancient times and in the contemporary moment, kairos has operated as a keyword for theorizing rhetoric and its potential. Aligning ourselves with these endeavors we take stock of varying iterations of the kairotic not to artificially force a singular conception of the term, but to hold such resolutions at bay. We assess efforts to realign kairos with challenges to the ontological priority of rhetorical actors and trace recent theoretical articulations that further decenter human agency by relocating the kairotic in ecological/contextual forces. We assert the need to maintain invention and eventfulness as crucial elements of the kairotic so as to insist that rhetoric be understood as a practice that exceeds socio-anthropological “adaptation” to those conditions. Through a series of propositions we hold hope for an inventive and evental kairotic stance that likewise avoids naïve conceptions of sovereign subjectivity.


Memory: Ars Memoriae, Collective Memory, and the Fortunes of Rhetoric
Bradford Vivian

This essay delineates essential features of memory as a salient topos of rhetorical literature, both classical and modern. This essay also considers how both the arts of rhetoric and memory alike underwent cultural devaluation in Western modernity only to reappear in altered forms as compelling objects of analysis. In doing so, the essay contends that current enthusiasms for the study of collective memory in communication and composition studies alike signify forms of simultaneous connection and disconnection with the historical role of rhetoric in the classical art of memory.


Public: A Network of Relationships
Robert Asen

This essay makes sense of rhetorical scholarship on publics by interpreting publics as networks of relationships. I begin by considering how the concept of relationship has circulated as a prominent theme in the foundational scholarship on which contemporary scholars often draw. I then discuss how scholarship on multiple public spheres and counterpublics explores advocates’ efforts to reconstruct relationships in pursuit of inclusion, justice, and equality. I conclude by explicating neoliberal publics as a prominent contemporary challenge to robust relationships and critical public engagement. Against contemporary scholarship and practice that emphasizes fluidity, diversity, and transformation, a neoliberal public asserts its own universality, claiming that market relations represent an intrinsic, common orientation to public engagement and that markets treat everyone the same.


Sound: Resonance as Rhetorical
Byron Hawk

Sound has typically been approached as an object of study that gets rhetorical theory applied to it in order to interpret its meaning. Both sound and theory remain unchanged. Understood as vibration that materially affects bodies, however, a sonic orientation toward rhetoric has the potential to further develop theoretical models of situatedness and newer rhetorical concepts such as resonance.