Here’s the proposal I’ve submitted to the Association of Rhetoric and Writing conference in October to be held in Austin, Texas. Crossing my fingers that I’ll get in!
The Activist UnEssay: Assessing, Deliberating, Responding
Since the inception of the university, instructors of rhetoric and writing have historically endeavored to connect writing and language with the possibility of social change. Only recently, however, have undergraduate composition programs begun venturing to do the same within the digital-electrate apparatus, which presents unique affordances, challenges and opportunities. Contemporary students enter the academy with a variety of software and media literacies in their technological repertoires, but skills such as those cultivated in social web spaces are only infrequently discussed in a rhetorical context and rarely are harnessed in pursuit of inspiring social change through student rhetorical action. Rhetoric is a productive art, and as we head deeper into the information age, a new emphasis on understanding how digital discourses act and circulate that can be nurtured in first-year composition programs has the potential to be productive in new and undiscovered ways. Cultivating digital rhetorical dexterity challenges students to resist and subvert dominant structures of race, gender, class and sexual orientation in digital spaces that are more important than ever, as the polis is increasingly digital and a contemporary paideia must contain a digital-citizenship component. A gap has opened up within the long relationship between rhetoric and civics concerned with the ways in which digital artifacts, and the forms of rhetorical action they afford, can be utilized for purposes of social justice, cultural commentary and civic resistance. In this session, I’ll not only review the comparatively underexplored history of connecting digital rhetoric with civic action in composition classrooms, but I’ll also present a practical pedagogical strategy for enacting digital-civic participation in classrooms in the form of an assignment I’ve developed called the “Activist UnEssay.” The session outlines a conjecture, and strategies of implementation, of tremendous importance: ethical and empowered rhetorical action in civic-digital spaces can and should be nurtured through undergraduate rhetorical instruction.