Welcome to Part II of my NCA Teaser Posts. (Don’t worry. It’s only a two part series.) In addition to my excitement about Health Comm @ NCA, I’m also very much looking forward to a variety of Association for the Rhetoric of Science and Technology panels (not to mention the pre-conference). And without further ado, my shameless pitch for your to attend my panel. Here’s a short (5 page) precis of my talk…preceded of course by the time, date and location.

TITLE: Thick Theory and the Return of the Real: Ontology, Materiality, and the Rhetoric of Science

SESSION: ARST Best Student Papers Panel

WHEN: Monday, November 15 12:30

WHERE: Parc 55 Hotel, Filmore Room

Recent scholarship in rhetoric of science has argued that the material aspects of discourse warrant additional attention. This presentation argues that this work can be divided into two primary arguments: one that calls for increased focus on material-economic dimensions of institutions and one that seeks recognition for the role objects play in scientific inquiry. Scholarship from both the institutional-material and ontological-material camps rely on theory appropriated from critical/cultural and science and technology studies. Ultimately, this presentation argues that materialist research that articulates this extra-rhetorical theory to concepts from classical rhetoric offers the best way forward for rhetoric of science.

In its current form, rhetoric as a language of criticism is so thin and abstract that… it commands little sustained attention. (Goankar, 1997 p. 33)

RST currently lacks the philosophical vision to synthesize its knowledge into a coherent story about science and technology. (Collier, 2005 p. 296)

Taken in isolation the above paired epigraphs might suggest that little or nothing was accomplished in rhetoric of science in the near-decade of inquiry between 1997 and 2005. This is not the stand I wish to take—quite the opposite in fact. In this presentation, I will argue that the last decade has benefited from significant theoretical development in the rhetoric of science. More specifically, I argue that recent theoretical inquiry in the rhetoric of science has made significant strides in articulating rhetorical theory to critical/cultural studies and science and technology studies (STS). This research has focused largely on combining the analytic resources of rhetoric with critical/cultural and STS accounts of materiality. In making this argument, this presentation is an explicit effort to tend the garden. “Tending the garden” is Collier’s (2005) metaphor for philosophical and/or metacognitive work that seeks to take stock of the insights gained from diverse samples of empirical data. As Collier argues, rhetoric of science is, by and large, a case-study driven area of inquiry.

While I find that case-study research does, indeed, help to engender more robust theory through hammering it out on the anvil of in situ discourse, I agree with Collier that periodic reflection on what we have learned is critical to the development of rhetoric of science as a field. Subsequently, this presentation will be divided into three major sections: 1) an elucidation of recent calls for increased attention to materiality in rhetoric of science, 2) an exploration of how subsequent research has adapted theoretical resources from critical/cultural studies and STS, and 3) an argument suggesting one productive way to continue this research trajectory—namely, through detailed attention to how those critical/cultural and STS theories can be articulated to traditional rhetorical theory.

Twin Materialities

Traditionally rhetoric of science has focused—somewhat myopically—on internal scientific discourse to the exclusion of the institutional and the material. Recognizing this issue, many rhetoricians have called for a reincorporation of materiality in rhetorical studies. Of course, “materiality” means different things to different people. For some this call for materiality is a call for rhetoric to investigate the economic and institutional forces that surround discourse (Graham, 2009; Herndl, 2000; Kinsella, 2005; Scott, 2003). For others, however, the argument for materiality focuses on the objects of reality and might more aptly be described as an argument for a reincorporation of ontology (Graham, 2009; Herndl, 2000; Lynch, 2009; Marack, 2008). Indeed, these demands for a return to ontology and materiality in rhetorical studies of science are gaining volume and momentum. Recent calls for an embrace of reality, ontology, and/or materiality have been placed in rhetorically-oriented journals form a variety of disciplinary homes. These include articles placed in QJS, RSQ, TCQ, and even College English. Lynch’s work in QJS offers a particularly scathing critique of traditional rhetorical of science. Specifically, he argues that

our traditional theoretical resources, do not provide critics a framework within which to account for features of science separated from the public sphere. The absence of such a framework encourages rhetoricians to betray a trained incapacity to transform considerations of materiality into a species of social control or discourse. (p. 436)

As previously mentioned, responses to this “trained incapacity” can be divided into two primary theoretical areas: the institutional-material and the ontological-material. (Though it should not go without noting, that several of these theorists call for both at the same time.)

Arguments for an institutional-material rhetoric of science typically focus on large scientific institutions and the complicated socio-economic mechanisms that surround them. Scholars from this camp typically draw on resources from critical/cultural studies (Scott; Kinsella) and seek to criticize the leveraging of power in material-semiotic networks such as the military and medical industrial complexes. As Kinsella notes, “contemporary science and technology are characterized by unprecedented degrees of institutionalization, and that in these settings the locus of agency has shifted increasingly from the individual to large systems of power/knowledge” (p. 303). Interrogating these systems of power/knowledge requires new theoretical and methodological tools—tools that account for institutional-materiality. Recognizing this, Scott argues for a hybrid rhetorical-cultural study of science wherein the goal “is to map the connections and power relations among science’s heterogeneous actors” (p. 355). Reflecting on the affordances of this approach, Scott argues that,

it also departs from the traditional subordination of these notions to the individual text. Rather than accounting for cultural entanglements as a way to situate and elucidate texts, a rhetorical-cultural mapping discusses specific texts as a way to elucidate cultural entanglements. In such an approach, the shifting intertext itself becomes the primary object of study. (p. 355)

Alternately, the ontological-material camp tends to focus on laboratory and experimental discourse, and argues that rhetoric of science’s focus on published work neglects the rhetoric of the lab. Specifically these theorists suggest that the field’s traditional focus on hermeneutics and representation creates a situation wherein, “rhetorical studies… fails to give the object its due…”(Marback p. 53). Even more specifically for rhetoric of science, Herndl argues that rhetoric needs to embrace “a [new] model of science and scientific argument that integrates the social and the material with the discursive, but which does not abandon the real” (Herndl p. 217). Additionally, Lynch argues that rhetoricians of science tend to be blinded to objects through their own particular terministic screens which “deflect attention from material practice” (p. 442). Furthermore, he suggests that “separating the material in the rhetorical prevents rhetorical critics from considering the interanimation of the two and, more specifically, how the relationship with specific material elements influences rhetorical practice” (p. 442).

Theoretical Appropriations

Despite these divergent uses of materiality, the solution offered by many of these scholars is the same: articulation theory. Graham, Herndl, Scott, Lynch, Marack, and Kinsella all borrow theoretical resources from science studies theorists such as Latour, Haraway, Galison, and Fuller. Indeed such scholars have offered a cornucopia of engaging metaphors they use to help explain this idea of the material-semiotic. Addressing this question, Latour has offered theories of “hybrids” (1991), “collectives,” “assemblages”, “factishes” (1999), and “actor-networks” (2005). Pickering has explored “mangles” and “dances of agency.” And Haraway—queen of the metaphorical—has introduced STS scholars to “chimeras,” “cyborgs” (1991), “networks,” “cat’s cradles” (1997), and “companion species” (2003)—just to name a few.

It goes without saying that many of these concepts (and others) have been incorporated into rhetoric of science. However, their direct appropriation is not what interests me here. In this presentation, I argue that these theoretical constructs are most usefully deployed in rhetoric of science when they are articulated to traditional rhetorical theory. Many rhetoricians have productively used Latour’s actor-network theory to extend the scope of their inquiry, Winsor’s (2007) reinterpretation of Latour’s doctrine of enrollment as a mechanism of rhetorical agency is something altogether different. Similarly, Wilson and Herndl’s (2007) use of Star and Griesemer’s boundary object as rhetorical exigence or Stromer’s (2004) recasting of articulation under the canon of arrangement all accomplish something greater than a simple appropriation. In fact, I argue that these theoretical developments successfully counter Goankar’s charge concerning the thinness of rhetorical theory. Indeed, this work thickens that theory by linking it to highly productive resources in critical/cultural studies and STS. Though explicating a few of these theoretical moves in greater detail, this presentation ultimately will argue that the incorporation of extrarhetorical theory is not enough to meet the challenges leveled by Goankar and Collier. Instead, rhetoricians of science should actively seek out modes of articulation that can link appropriated theory to the rhetorical cannon. In so doing, rhetoricians can find productive theoretical apparatuses for exploring the material-semiotic networks that surround scientific discourse.Selected References

Collier, J.H. (2005). “Reclaiming rhetoric of science and technology: Knowing in and about the world. Technical Communication Quarterly, 14(3), 295-302.

Collins, H.M. & Evans, R. (2002). The third wave of science studies: Studies of expertise and experience. Social Studies of Science, 32(2), 235-296.

Graham, S. S. (2009). Agency and the rhetoric of medicine: Biomedical brain scans and the ontology of fibromyalgia. Technical Communication Quarterly, 18(4), 376-404.

Haraway, D. J. (1997). Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©_ Meets_OncoMouse™. New York: Routledge.

Haraway, D.J. (1991). A cyborg manifesto: Science, technology, and socialist-feminism in the late twentieth century,” in Simians, cyborgs and women: The reinvention of nature (pp. 149-181). New York; Routledge.

Haraway, D.J. (2003). Cyborgs to companion species: Refiguring kinship in technoscience. In D. Idhe & E. Selinger (Eds.). Chasing technoscience: Matrix for materiality (pp. 58-82). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Herndl, C. G. (2000). Rhetoric of science as non-modern practice. Selected Papers from the 2000 Rhetoric Society of America Conference, 215-221.

Kinsella, W.J. (2005). Rhetoric, action, and agency in institutionalized science and technology. Technical Communication Quarterly, 14(3), 303-313.

Latour, B. (1987). Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Latour, B. (1988). The Pasteurization of France. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Latour, B. (1991). We have never been modern. (C. Porter, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Latour, B. (1992). Where are the missing masses? The sociology of a few mundane artifacts. In W.E.

Bijker & J. Law (Eds.), Shaping technology/Building society: Studies in sociotechnical change (pp. 225-258). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Latour, B. (1999). Pandora’s hope: Essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Little, J. (2008). The role of analogy in George Gamow’s derivation of drop energy. Technical Communication Quarterly, 17(2), 220-238.

Lynch, J. (2009). Articulating scientific practice: Understanding Dean Hamer’s “gay gene” study as overlapping material, social, and rhetorical registers. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 95(4), 435-456.

Marack, R. (2008). Unclenching the fist: Embodying rhetoric and giving objects their due. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 38(1), 46-65.

Pickering, A. (1995). The Mangle of practice: Time, agency, and science. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Scott, J B. (2003). Extending rhetorical-cultural analysis: Transformations of home HIV testing. College English, 65(4), 349-367.

Selzer, J. (1993). Understanding scientific prose. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.