C&W Session G6: Establishing Spaces of Wonder: Participation and Advocacy Online, On the Ground, and in the Classroom



Frank Macarthy, Illinois State University
Julie Bates, Illinois State University
Sarah Warren-Riley, Illinois State University


The most important and valuable aspect of C&W for me is the awareness of and purposeful moves toward social justice being made by digital rhetorics researchers in this community. This panel was no exception. The research being conducted by Frank Macarthy, Julie Bates, and Sarah Warren-Riley at Illinois State University is rigorous, thought-provoking, and most importantly, justice-centered.

The panel began with Frank Macarthy’s intricate discussions of cyberfeminist interventions in augmented reality technologies. As a self-identified techno-feminist, Macarthy explained that technology designers, marketers, researchers, and users can benefit from intricately recognizing the power structures embedded in all tools and technologies, even (and perhaps more importantly) when these technologies intend to simulate human activity.

Macarthy presented examples of the latest augmented reality technologies, showing us how these tools position human bodies in relation to each other and to their surrounding material environments as they allow humans to virtually “switch bodies,” visit new places, and gain new experiences. Through these examples, Macarthy presented both a feminist rhetorical analysis and a call to action–urging digital rhetoricians to not lose sight of feminist epistemologies when engaging in digital simulation. By keeping feminism at the forefront of technology design, Macarthy argued, we can continue building new and exciting experiences while purposely fighting against harm and misrepresentation.

Next, Sarah Warren-Riley described a course that she designed under the guidance of Dr. Elise Verzosa Hurley at Illinois State. In this course, Warren-Riley drew on her background as a non-profit director and community organizer to help students think about how advocacy plays out in digital spaces. Using examples ranging from cat videos to digital social movements, Warren-Riley made a powerful statement that continues to stick with me much after the conference:

“There’s a difference between advocacy and activism. All texts advocate for something; activism is intentional action for change”–Sarah Warren-Riley

In thinking about what our digital conversations advocate for, Warren-Riley helps her students understand how digital advocacy contributes and shapes to material representations of (and consequences for) different groups of people. Spreading and sharing information online may seem like a meaningless activity that many people engage in daily, but, as Warren-Riley reminds her students (and attendees at her panel), these digital conversations contribute to broader perceptions of issues like race, class, ability, sexual orientation, and difference. Therefore, Warren-Riley designed a course to help students interrogate what makes information “go viral,” and what assumptions, perceptions, and prejudices may be extended through a simple “share,” “like,” or comment.

The panel concluded with Julie Bates’ powerful discussion of community activists fighting for justice in Flint, Michigan. Through a discussion of what she terms “An Interventionary Rhetoric,” Bates illustrated the different tactics used by Flint organizers to amplify the embodied oppression and violence being enacted on their bodies throughout the ongoing water crisis.

Although the labor of Flint community members often remains invisible in broader conversations about the water crisis, Bates reminded us that community members whose bodies continue to experience violence and oppression are the same individuals who brought national attention to the ongoing crisis. By sharing images of toxic water and detrimental conditions as well as testimonies of their embodied experiences and daily realities, Flint residents are the ones who circulate information about and for their community, even when authorities attempt to dilute and ignore these messages. Through her intricate and empathetic analysis of on the ground and social media activism created by and for Flint residents, Bates reminded conference attendees that environmental justice activism often rests on the shoulders of those experiencing injustice. Therefore, as social justice activists and researchers, it’s up to us in communities like C&W to continue recognizing the labor of interventionary rhetoric, using our resources to amplify movements that are already taking place without recognition.

I left this panel moved, teary-eyed, and motivated, while simultaneously remaining grateful for the work that C&W researchers continue to enact, support, and inspire. What stands out to me above anything else in the brilliant work of this panel is the sincere, empathetic commitment that Macarthy, Warren-Riley, and Bates bring to their work. It was clear from listening to their powerful stories and rigorous methodologies that this wasn’t about completing a project or earning a degree for them. Rather, the work shared in this panel served as an expressed commitment to a career grounded in social justice advocacy, where these projects served as powerful introductions to the work that these scholars have and will continue to do as researchers, teachers, and human beings.

About Author

Laura Gonzales

Laura Gonzales is an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Writing Studies at the University of Texas, El Paso. Her research focuses on highlighting the benefits of linguistic diversity in professional and academic spaces.

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