I like to check out the “what’s new” stacks at the front of the library when I’m waiting for the circulation staff to dig my InterLibrary Loan books out of whatever secret ILL dungeon they’re kept in. Usually my search is only moderately fruitful, but recently I happened upon a book with a familiar-sounding title: Theorizing Digital Rhetoric (2018, eds. Aaron Hess and Amber Davisson). I checked it out and hauled it and my other finds back to the office. Flipping through, I was struck by the fact that
I only recognized one or two of the names in the edited collection’s TOC, and soon came to realize that this was a Digital Rhetoric text out of comm studies, not my more familiar grounds of digital rhetoric nee tech comm and computers and writing. I (at least feel like) I read a great deal of scholarship in digital rhetoric, so the feeling was weird.
Further skimming had me wondering how different these two digital rhetorics really are. After all, we publish in (some) of the same journals, and there’s certainly plenty of interdisciplinarity in the two fields. But what do the reference lists say? There were citations I was expecting to see and not seeing, and so my researcher curiosity was piqued. Having come fairly hot off a reading of Network Sense: Methods for Visualizing a Discipline and having a years-long methodological bent towards distant reading, I decided on a quick citation analysis to try to do a little network sensing of my own.
In addition to Theorizing Digital Rhetoric (I pulled the full list of citations down from the ebook preview PDF), I pulled citations from Douglas Eyman’s (2015) Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice. For this first step, I was just curious and only looked at two texts (now noted, respectively, as TDR and DR). For the next step (yes, this project will continue), I’d like to add all citations from the Perspectives and Definitions of Digital Rhetoric special issue of Enculturation (issue 23). And then on from there.
As noted above, this is just a first prod for curiosity’s sake, and probably doesn’t mean too much. There are about a zillion limitations to the data I collected, beginning with the notion that I’m comparing apples and oranges: DR is a single-author text, and TDR is an edited collection with 22 authors. While DR has a reference list of over 300 texts, TDR’s was over twice that number. Also, this data is limited to reference lists, and can’t stand in for a more sophisticated, granular look at *how* (and how often) they are cited in the bodies. Finally, the data’s not very rich–at this point, my database doesn’t go past first authors and titles.
All this hedging means I’m not getting too excited and racing off to press yet; but I am curious, and do think there’s something to be seen in the looking. Comparing the lists is a distant reading, a proto-venn diagram of two digital rhetorics. You might even call the result a central reading list for digital rhetoric theory in the two (?) fields. A common ground.
On with the findings:
Briefly, the list included over 900 individual citations. I pulled out all duplicate citations from TDR; the overlapping list I’m describing in this post is all about co-occurrence, not frequency.
33 of 900 citations were exact matches: the same text from the same author cited in both books. (I don’t have the exact number at the moment, but the list of common authors cited in both books without the same text requirement is not significantly longer.)
Among these shared names are what I would consider “classic” interdisciplinary overlaps in rhetoric, internet, and media theory: Burke, Gurak, McLuhan, Lanham, and Manovich, and others you might read in a new media or digital rhetoric survey.
27 of the 33 overlapping citations are books. 23 of those books were single-authored (33 authors on the list in all, counting second or third authors on the few multi-author pieces). 7 of the 33 citations were of female authors.
Only 6 of the overlapping citations were of journal articles:
- Lloyd Bitzer, The rhetorical situation (P&R)
- Aaron Hess, In digital remembrance: Vernacular memory and the rhetorical construction of web memorials (MC&S)
- Jenny Edbauer Rice, Unframing models of public distribution: From rhetorical situation to rhetorical ecologies (RSQ)
- Carolyn Miller, Genre as social action. (QJS)
- James Porter, Recovering delivery for digital rhetoric (C&C)
- James Zappen, Digital rhetoric: Toward an integrated theory (TCQ)
On the overlapped list, 5 authors showed up on the list for two different publications, giving them a particular center of gravity on the two reference lists:
- Burke (both Rhetoric of Motives and Language as Symbolic Action)
- Landow (both Hypertext, and Hyper/Text/Theory)
- Lanham (Electronic Word and Economics of Attention)
- Rheingold (Virtual Community and Smart Mobs)
- Bolter, Jay David (though one is the dual-authored Remediation and the other is Writing Space)
Other texts that grabbed my attention for a variety of reasons:
- Collin Brooke, Lingua Fracta. I just like this book and was happy to see it showed up on the overlap list; it’s a pretty damn important book of digital rhetoric theory in its own right.
- Carolyn Miller shows up seven times on reference lists in Theorizing Digital Rhetoric. (Genre as social action is in both TDR and DR, but “What Can Automation Tell Us About Agency?” is Millers’ most-often cited article in TDR). She comes in third for frequency on reference lists in TDR, only after Kenneth Burke (15 times, because it’s Comm Studies) and Aaron Hess (10 times; he is one of the collection’s co-editors).
There are certainly many more questions here than answers. Does this mean anything at all? Would this overlap list make for a good reading list fodder (heavily excerpted) in a digital rhetoric course? What are the central texts in the various versions of digital rhetoric that we work from? What’s the long tail really look like? Are there two digital rhetorics, or one? That is, are the citation lists reasonably separate, as many citation lists on specialized topics must be, or are they far apart, showing an odd gap in two fields claiming the same space?
All questions I’m looking forward to chasing down.