Wrap Up for “Material and Digital Rhetorics: Openings for Feminist Action”


It’s time for our “Material and Digital Rhetorics: Openings for Feminist Action” blog carnival to come to a close. Thank you so much to our contributors for your thoughtful work! And a huge thanks to the editors of this carnival: Lauren Brentnell, Brandee Easter, Carleigh Davis, and Lauren Garskie.

In October when we shared our CFP on topics tied to feminist theory and practice, digital rhetoric, and new materialism, we had two goals in mind: (1) to better understand current feminist digital rhetoric concerns and (2) to consider what feminist new materialist perspectives offer to how we think about and define the work of digital rhetoric.

At the heart of this call, we aimed to gain a stronger awareness of what openings for feminist action may be possible in attending to our digital/material worlds. As this carnival comes to a close, three openings stand out:

(1) Subverting Technology for Feminist Means

Several posts in the series discuss how to challenge or reinvent technology for feminist purposes. For instance, Jen England describes her important work with the “Girlhood Remixed Technology Camp,” a camp where young girls are provided the time, space, and technologies to challenge harmful media portrayals and construct their own online identities. A. Nicole Pfannenstiel offers a lesson plan following from Wajcman’s “principle of openness”; her activity encourages students to disrupt the expected use of coding robots in order to support their own learning and composing practices. Both of these posts call for giving students time and space to consider how to resist existing and/or expected technological conditions. Neil Simpkins, on the other hand, focuses specifically on planners—a technology typically tied to capitalism and efficiency. Rather than viewing the planner as a typical to-do list with set times, Simpkins offered a look at how planners may be transformed to represent femme/feminist values and aesthetics.

(2) Feminist Engagement on Social Media

Other contributors focused more specifically on feminist engagement with social media. For example, Laura Sparks focused on the now defunct “SkineePix” application to discuss the malleability of the digital body in selfie posting. And both Karrieann Soto Vega and Jialei Jiang describe how social media is used as a tool for feminist-informed political activism: Vega describes how Facebook groups helped to create decolonial spaces of Puerto Rican activism, and Jiang examines the online discussions centered on minority representation that followed from the Slutwalk protests.

(3) Developing Ethics-focused Feminist Research Practices

Another trend in the series involved bringing a sense of feminist ethics to multimodal research practices. Rick Wysocki focuses on ethics by giving an overview of new materialist theory and describing how such perspectives may be used to approach the entangled nature of researcher/object of study, body/language (specifically in relation to queer archives). In “Alter to the Women of Rhetoric,” the collaborative and spiritual practices of Día de Muertos were incorporated into the feminist ethical work of recovering women’s voices. And Brandy Dieterle’s post reflects on the ethical concerns that arose during her IRB study on Instagram: Dieterle urges scholars to think more deeply about their personal ethics in digital research.

With these openings in mind, I want to briefly turn to the second aim of this carnival: what does a feminist new materialist perspective offer to digital rhetoric and how we define it? While there certainly isn’t space in this short post to answer this question in detail, I’ll share a few thoughts and questions.

As Rick Wysocki and Jialei Jiang’s posts summarize, feminist new materialist scholarship has called for a theoretical shift, or at the very least a new insistence that solely prioritizing concerns of subjectivity, representation, and the social/cultural may be limiting—and that more powerful transformations may be possible in thoroughly giving the material/object/thing it’s due. Feminist new materialism’s insistence that matter, matters also means a rejection of modernist/cartesian binaries such as subject/object, technology/human, body/mind, and digital/physical. It is less about binaries and more about interactions (or Barad’s intra-actions) or mediations.

This friction or tension between how we normally use language to create binaries was even felt during one of our editor meetings. At one point we even asked one another: “Does it matter if a website on digital rhetoric has posts that don’t specifically address digital technologies?”

“No…Right?” We all agreed.

And what’s the difference anyway?

While our conversation certainly follows in line with feminist rejection of “either/or” logic in favor of “both/and,” I believe it also speaks to the current state of human communication and what feminist new materialism may help us further consider in digital rhetorics: at this point, is there any purely non-digital context one communicates in? Or is there any time our face-to-face interactions are not impacted by our ongoing digital materialities and their context? (I’m thinking now especially of the “Altar to the Women of Rhetoric” and how this material rhetoric contrasts so sharply with digital forms of composing—making its argument all the more compelling.)

Perhaps digital rhetoric within a feminist/new materialist light may be just as much about understanding the ongoing logic and material effects within digital culture as it is about specifically focusing on communication or activity through the technologies themselves. (Neil Simpkins’ post on planners and Rick Wysocki’s on queer archives specifically come to mind here.) Such perspectives may open new opportunities to attend to the ethical and agential capacities of matter while furthering cyberfeminist/technofeminist aims of rematerializing the digital.

Let’s keep this conversation going. Feel free to share your thoughts, questions, and ideas in the comments below or tweet us @SweetlandDRC.

About Author(s)

Kristin Ravel is pursuing her PhD in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her research interests encompass multimodality, digital media studies, ethics in communication, and feminist theory.

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