Recent Publications

"Tracing the Missing Masses: Symmetry, Vibrancy, and Public Rhetoric Pedagogy" Forthcoming in Enculturation (17): 2014.

Abstract: Public rhetoric scholarship and pedagogy keeps its analytical eyes on the mundane and the ecological. Engaging Bruno Latour’s principle of symmetry and Jane Bennett’s political ecology of things in light of public rhetoric scholarship and rhetorical studies’ intensified interest in things, this article seeks to bring more nonhuman objects into the rhetoric classroom. It does so by articulating a pedagogy designed to disclose rhetoric’s own missing masses.

“Dappled Discipline at Thirty: An Interview with Janice M. Lauer.” Co-authored with Kyle Vealey. Rhetoric Review 33.2 (2014): 165-180.

Abstract: 2014 marks the thirtieth anniversary of Janice M. Lauer’ s “Composition Studies: Dappled Discipline,” in which Lauer looks back to the field’s “pioneering efforts” at cobbling together a disciplinary identity—as she articulated, the field of rhetoric and composition’s most important questions “would have remained isolated and unexplored as they had been for decades if it were not for . . . a shared trait of these early theorists—their willingness to take risks, to go beyond the boundaries of their traditional training into foreign domains in search of starting points, theoretical launching pads from which to begin investigat- ing these questions” (21). This interview reengages Lauer’s suggestion that the field’s early boundary-crossing transformed rhetoric and composition into a multifaceted and dappled discipline composed of a manifold of theoretical and onto-epistemological perspectives.

“Circumnavigation: An Interview with Thomas Rickert.” Kairos 18.2 (2014).

Abstract: On the evening of Monday, May 6, 2013, I sat down with Thomas Rickert at two breweries in Saint Louis, MO, to discuss his new book, Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Rickert’s book addresses the limitations of conceiving rhetoric as purely symbolic and human. Drawing on work in complexity and music, Rickert conceives of rhetoric as ambient. I chose an audio interview in an effort to attune the interview itself to ambience, in this case the sounds of bars: chatting, chairs dragged across the floor, outbursts of cheering, glasses clanking, peels of laughter, and our iPhones, which sonically mark the responses we received to the status updates and pictures we posted throughout the interview. This ambience shaped both the interview itself and its present digital form. The interview can be streamed in its entirety or as three separate parts. There is likewise a brief epilogue in which I reflect on the choices I have made and how those choices resonate with the concept of ambient rhetoric.

"Composing the Carpenter's Workshop." Co-authored with Jim Brown. O-Zone: A Journal of Object Oriented Studies 1.1 (2013): 27-36.

Abstract: This short piece makes a case for rhetoric and composition as a vital ally of the larger object-oriented project, which is already interdisciplinary. The field’s interest in ecologies of writing and its pedagogical commitment to making strongly indicates that it can be yet another place to explore how objects carpenter one another and the world. An ecological approach to rhetoric and writing can fold together the work of making and relating, while keeping in place the withdrawn actuality of all objects.

“Ecological, Pedagogical Public Rhetoric.” Co-authored with Ryan Weber. College Composition and Communication 63.2 (2011): 187-218 [lead article].

Abstract: Operating within and for a segment of rhetoric and writing studies researchers and practitioners devoted to student engagement with local publics, this article articulates an approach to fostering student rhetorical engagement through sustained and rhetorically sophisticated advocacy. The article describes the pedagogy’s goals and theoretical framework and analyzes student samples from a course utilizing this pedagogy. The analysis is particularly focused on the ability of students to successfully adapt their advocacy to different, oftentimes competing, audiences. The article also discusses the outcomes of the course—both its failures and successes—in order to facilitate future attempts to foster meaningful student engagement with local publics.

"Future Convergences: Technical Communication Research as Cognitive Science.” Technical Communication Quarterly 20.4 (2011): 412-442. Special 20th Anniversary Issue: Honoring the Past, Inventing the Future.

Abstract: Cognitive scientist Andy Clark argues, “the study of mind might […] need to embrace a variety of different explanatory paradigms whose point of convergence lies in the production of intelligent behavior” (p. 95). This article offers up technical communication as just such a paradigm. It describes technical communication research past and present to argue that our disciplinary knowledge of tools, work environments, and assessment are necessary complements to a more robust science of mind.

“Rhetorics of (Non)Symbolic Cultivation.” In Ecology, Writing Theory, and New Media: Writing Ecology. Ed. Sid Dobrin. New York: Routledge, 2012. 34-50. Routledge Series in Rhetoric and Communication.

Abstract: This chapter argues for an understanding of rhetoric as cultivation, attuned to both the symbolic and the nonsymbolic. It sees rhetoric as the means of social, biological, and environmental persuasion by which we cobble together both ourselves as a species and the places we inhabit. Using Kenneth Burke’s formulation of attitude as “the point of personal mediation between the realms of nonsymbolic motion and symbolic action” (ATH 394), (in addition to his action/motion distinction), it places rhetoric (as practice and as theory) at the boundaries of nature and culture in order to mark the “factor of rhetoric” in each. Nonreductively integrating nature and culture is an important, early step for ecological understandings of both rhetoric and writing. Since Plato, rhetoric and writing (as decidedly cultural and conventional activities) have been measured against a supposedly distinct and foundational nature. Burke’s attitude, positioned as it is at the boundaries of the symbolic and the nonsymbolic, productively and nonreductively rearticulates nature and culture. The chapter fleshes out this notion of cultivating rhetorics by drawing out from the work of Bruno Latour, Tim Ingold, and Jared Diamond how the materiality of both ecologies and their human inhabitants mutually cultivate one another.

Rhetorical Theory/Bruno Latour (Video Series). Enculturation: A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture. July 16. 2012.

Abstract: With this series of video provocations, I am responding to what I feel is a surge of interest in Bruno Latour on the part of scholars in rhetorical theory. Beginning some time ago in technical and professional communication, the turn now to Latour in rhetorical theory more generally is notable not only for its suddenness, but also for its intensity. Panel discussions at the 2012 Conference and College Composition and Communication in St. Louis and the 2012 Rhetoric Society of America Conference in Philadelphia have attracted packed houses. Clearly, scholars of rhetoric are convinced that Latour has something to teach them.

“Alien Relationship" (Video Project). OO Frequency: An Object-Oriented Media Channel. O-Zone: A Journal of Object Oriented Studies. Spring 2012.

Abstract: Nathaniel Rivers, an Assistant Professor of English at Saint Louis University who teaches rhetorical theory and writing, engages in this video in an experiment in what Ian Bogost calls “carpentry” and what Jim Brown calls “rhetorical carpentry,” in order to reveal nonhuman/nonhuman relationships as they take place alongside human/human and human/nonhuman relationships. “Alien Relationship” combines text from Devin Johnston’s Creaturely and Other Essays, images taken using the Instagram App on Rivers’s iPhone, and a sound effect (“white noise in the house” from klankbeeld at Rivers discusses this video experiment in more detail at his weblog pure_sophist_monster HERE.

"Productive Strife: Andy Clark’s Cognitive Science and Rhetorical Agonism." Co-authored with Jeremy Tirrell. Janus Head 12.1 (2011): 39-59.

Abstract: This article posits that Andy Clark’s model of distributed cognition (or the extended mind) manifests in the agonism of social activity, and that a rhetorical perspective permits an understanding of human conflict as a productive and necessary element in collective responses to situations rather than as problems to be solved or noise to be eliminated. To support this assertion, the article draws connections between Clark's project and rhetorical theory. First, between Clark’s argument that cognition responds to situated environmental conditions and the classical concept of kairos, which implies that the identity of the rhetor emerges in response to situated environmental conditions. Second, between Clark’s assertion that "the role of language is to guide and shape our own behavior" (Being There 195), and long-held position in rhetoric that language is not merely expressive but constitutive. Last, the article presents a current, practical humanities project that complements its theoretical perspective with real-world praxis. The text explored is the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which is a manifestation (even in its controversial status) of much of what Clark and rhetorical theorists have to say about productive agonism and the litigious nature of identity and of shared cognition.

Equipment for Living: The Literary Reviews of Kenneth Burke. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2010.

Description: Kenneth Burke has been widely praised as one of the sharpest readers of Shakespeare, Freud, and Marx, among others. He was also well known for turning his many book reviews into essays and excursions of his own, in the interest of tracking down the implications of terminologies and concepts, all the while grappling with some of the greatest minds of the twentieth century. Equipment for Living: The Literary Reviews of Kenneth Burke collects the bulk of his literary reviews, many of them reprinted here for the first time and positioning them as scholarship in their own right. In over 150 reviews, Burke explores poetic, fictional, and critical works to discern the nature of aesthetics, rhetoric, communication, literary theory, sociology, and literature as equipment for living. Along the way, he encounters some of the finest literary and critical minds of his day, including writers such as William Carlos Williams, e. e. cummings, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Thomas Mann, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Shirley Jackson, Henry Miller, and Marianne Moore; and critics and philosophers such as John Dewey, J. L. Austin, Marshall McLuhan, Edmund Wilson, I. A. Richards, Denis Donoghue, Wayne Booth, Harold Bloom, Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank, and Alfred North Whitehead. This collection organizes reviews across the wide range of fields that Burke engages, including literature, literary criticism, history, politics, philosophy, sociology, and biography.

About the Editors: Nathaniel A. Rivers (PhD, Purdue University) is Assistant Professor of English at Georgetown University. Ryan P. Weber, (PhD, Purdue University) is Assistant Professor of English at Penn State Altoona. Together, they received the Emergent Scholar Award from the Kenneth Burke Society in 2005.

"In Defense of Gut Feelings: Rhetorics of Decision-Making." Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society 1.2 (2011).

Abstract: This article borrows Carolyn Miller’s critique of decision science to both chart the (still present) dangers of motivism (a term Wayne Booth uses to describe the failure to reason about values) and the reduction of action to knowledge (e.g., from should to can) in public life and to cultivate a response to decision science from within rhetoric’s pedagogy. If decision science is indeed influential, and Miller and contemporary manifestations argue that it is, then how might rhetorical studies create a counter-influence through education? After elaborating Miller’s critique and demonstrating decision science’s contemporary presence, the article forwards a rhetorical pedagogical response drawing on research in gut feelings.

Review of Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language, By Debra Hawhee. Rhetoric and Public Affairs 13.3 (2010): 519-522.

"I Told U So! Classical and Contemporary Ethos and the Stabilization of Self." The Responsibilities of Rhetoric. Eds. Michelle Smith and Barbara Warnick. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2010. 281-288.

Abstract: Classical notions of ethos work (intentionally or not) to stabilize a specific notion of the self as singular, insulated and authentic. Ethos, in Aristotelian schemes, is a tool for revealing this stable self to an audience. I critique this construction of ethos in order to explore other ethical constructions that are more reflective of rhetorical notions or conceptions of “self.” Cognitive scientist Andy Clark’s notion of the “soft self” offers an opportunity to reconsider ethos as relatively stable and self-authored. Clark’s work gives voice to the “role of context, culture, environment, and technology in the constitution of individual human persons.” A notion of the self constituted through the “mingling” of various contextual and contingent elements specifically invokes the sophistry of Gorgias and the productive, shape-shifting rhetoric he enacts. Refiguring ethos in this way, we find rhetoric responsible not just for the transmission of selves but for their very constitution.

"Productive Mess: First-Year Composition Takes the University's Agonism Online." Kairos 13.2 (2009): Praxis Section. Co-authored with Marc C. Santos, and Ryan P. Weber.

Abstract: This webtext describes a pilot course that united four first-year composition courses around shared readings and online discussion addressing the physical and virtual university. The goal of the pilot was to foster previously impossible student interactions by exploring how discrete discussion roles shaped interaction and reputations among students.

"Some Assembly Required: The Latourian Collective and the Banal Work of Technical and Professional Communication." Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 38.3 (2008): 189-206 [lead article]. Nominated for a NCTE Scientific and Technical Communication Award.

Abstract: In this article the author uses the critical vocabulary developed by Bruno Latour in his recent work Politics of Nature to offer an alternative way for technical and professional communicators to approach and articulate their work. Using the Discovery Channel's Mythbusters to explore Latour's vocabulary, the author positions technical and professional communication not simply as transmitting and translating, but instead as the collecting of articulated propositions about the common world in service of the common good, which thoroughly grounds its practice in rhetorical theory. Such a positioning also ascribes value to technical and professional communication without reinscribing the false dichotomy between science and politics.