Teaching Rhetoric with Technology

By: Mark Crane  

This paper analyzes the uses and abuses of digital rhetorics by the forces of fascism, exploring one of the abiding fears of teachers of rhetoric: that our methodologies, datasets, theories, and instruction are being put to use in the service of powerful institutions and organizations that are disengaged with the values of the humanities. These institutions may range from corporations such as Google, engaged in the construction of a censorship-enabled Chinese search engine, or political organizations that aggressively recruit youth to the cause of fascism in its many forms. As humanities teachers and scholars, we both crave and fear the validation that the use and abuse of our rhetorical products entails. Hart-Davidson and Ridolfo, in their intriguing #rhetops project (RSA 2016) describe the abuses of rhetoric in asymmetrical conflicts, citing as examples the outsourcing of social media propaganda by Daesh (ISIL/ISIS), the rise of fake news bots and their influence on U.S. politics, the looming threat of autonomous writing technologies, and the fragmentation of authorship. I trace some of the historical antecedents of these legitimate anxieties, and add to the list another potential threat, that of the misappropriation of digital, rhetorical tools and theories by violent political opportunists. The line between a tool and a weapon is often tentatively determined by ideology. This study explores that line and the ethics and problems associated with arming or empowering our students with powerful digital tools.

Rhetoric, Discourse, Teaching, Fakenews, Fascism, Humanities
Reading, Writing, Literacy, and Learning
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Mark Crane

Associate Professor, English , Utah Valley University, United States
United States