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Digital Rhetoric

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Digital rhetoric is a term that was initially brought into official existence by Richard Lanham in the fall of 1989. Eyman believes that Lanham set the scene for the future of digital rhetoric and left it open, in a sense, for interpretation and the morphing of the ‘actual’ definition. The ‘official’ definition of digital rhetoric is constantly morphing, being analyzed, and critiqued in certain ways by varying scholars who perceive the definition in a different light.

Hypertext in Digital Rhetoric

Doug Eyman pulls from a variety of different people in order to try to encapsulate the definition of digital rhetoric, seemingly without using much of his own words. He uses George Landlow to portray the connection between hypertext and its varying forms. As George Landlow states in “Hyper/Text/Theory”, “In contrast to print technology, which foregrounds the physical separateness of each text, hypertext reifies the connections between works and thus presents each work as fundamentally connected to others. Hypertext, in other words, embodies or instantiates Roland Barthes’s notions of the individual text as the center of a network.” Eyman takes this point to continue into another quote, highlighting electronic linking and its eventual transition and creation into a metatext. This choice of quote seemingly pushes the possible definition of digital rhetoric and its focus on the importance of understanding varying digital literacies.

The Components of Digital Spaces

Doug Eyman has his own thoughts regarding digital rhetoric but in this specific portion of his book, “Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice”, he intertwines the thoughts of others to create a synthesis.  James Zappen has a prevalent voice in the definition, with his specific focus on the characteristics of digital spaces and the communication within. Zappen states “Studies of the new digital media explain some of the basic characteristics of communication in digital spaces and some of their attendant difficulties. Such basic characteristics function as both affordances and constraints and so help to explain how the new media support and enable the transformation of the old rhetoric of persuasion into a new digital rhetoric that encourages self-expression, participation, and creative collaboration.” Understanding the components of digital spaces is important in understanding what digital rhetoric truly means.

Reliance on Rhetoric Relations

A quote made by Kathleen Welch, which focuses on the importance of visual elements. “Classical rhetoric as a comprehensive system of discourse theory remains unique among the rhetorical theories available to us because it depends on the relationships among rhetoric, history, politics, educational institutions, and, perhaps most important, the everyday uses of languages that arise from ideological positioning. It treats not only public and private discourse but also the intricate and interdependent relationships between articulation and thought. And it does so in a way that offers powerful alternatives.” Welch brings up a valid point in noting that what is available is heavily reliant on things that have a relation to the rhetoric at hand. Her definition helps to push Eyman in a certain direction while also marinating her words with those of others.

What does Digital Rhetoric Mean to Me?

In my prior blog post, “Digital Literacy”, I discuss how Eyman believes digital literacy to be a culmination of multiple things, focusing on the comprehension of the digital world and all its accompanies. In order to truly grasp the concept of digital rhetoric, it’s important to understand digital literacies and to toggle in Eyman as a base. The term as a whole is quite complex, but in a definition that makes sense to me, it is having the ability to understand digital spaces and communicate within them while simultaneously being able to convey known digital literacies through digital platforms.


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