RSA 2018 Proposal Acceptance!

Minneapolis, here I come. This is the full proposal under the cut. The piece will need some fine-tuning before May, to be sure.


Haunted Media and the Future of Rhetoric in Democracy


The CFP for the 2018 Rhetoric Society of America conference invites rhetoric and writing studies to address the history of our field, our responsibility to the present, and the possibilities for the future. For scholars of rhetoric, technology, and new media, this invitation parallels Jacques Derrida’s challenge in Echographies of Television to critically examine democracy in the context of our technological milieu: “everything that is affecting…the juridical concept of the state’s sovereignty today has a relation — an essential relation — to the media and is at times conditioned by…telepowers and teleknowledges” (Echographies of Television 35).


Media historian Jeffrey Sconce has coined the term “haunted media” to refer to the specific communication technologies that have been culturally ascribed an “uncanny” “agency” by undermining perceived binaries between the living/dead, human/nonhuman, passive/active, or collective/individuated consciousness. Since the nineteenth century, a network of interrelated social narratives and metaphors have constructed haunted media in historically specific ways. This concept of “haunted media” permeates political discourse around technology and American democracy in the twenty-first century. For example, the 2016 U.S. Presidential election generated cross-party media coverage of the supposed impact of software as a non-human political agent on electoral politics, drawing examples from automated social media accounts (“bots”) to algorithmically organized “filter bubbles.” Both technophobic and technophiliac rhetoric of software as non-human political agents intersect with wider narratives around agency, community, and citizenship.
This presentation argues for incorporating Jacques Derrida’s concept of hauntology into rhetorical analysis of the narratives that construct “haunted media.” In particular, it argues that hauntology underscores an inherently political dimension of haunted media. Using popular rhetoric around Twitterbots as a case study, I demonstrate two ways in which hauntology informs rhetoric and technology studies. First, a hauntological reading underscores that “automated” or “non-human” writing does not displace the human “subject,” but draws attention to how “the self” is always already displaced. Secondly, because hauntology is an ethical relationship, rhetorical studies inherits an ethical imperative to defamiliarize the object of study. Then, drawing on the work of Michelle Ballif and Michael Bernard-Donals, I argue that the ethical imperative to “defamiliarize” mobilizes the field of rhetoric in service of what Ballif has described as a “hauntological historiography;” a responsible address to the present that accounts for the non-living, non-human rhetor in the history and future of rhetorical theory.

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