Archived Course: Digital Self and Rhetoric Spring 2015

Digital Self & Rhetoric

Digital rendering of a physical space as bounded in computer code

A chief concern for today’s networked age is how we develop, present, and manage our identities in digital spaces. We find easy examples for this concern in our understanding of how companies track our buying habits for precisely targeted marketing campaigns; in our fearing that our identities can be stolen for someone else’s financial gain, in our increasing awareness that security agencies monitor our activities. In each of these examples–and in many others we could list–our anxiety can be traced to not knowing what information we are producing and, further, not knowing who can access that information we produce. In short: we need to know more about how we are known.

While these concerns have intensified through the rise of digital networks and our increasing use of those networks, the underlying problems reach at least as far back as the birth of the western tradition.  In the long rhetorical tradition, concerns over self-presentation and practices for establishing good character have provided an ongoing task for becoming effective and engaged public citizens. As such, this course will draw heavily from rhetorical understandings of ethos–character, credibility, ethics–to develop an understanding of self-construction and self-presentation through digital media and online networks. The course, then, will be an opportunity to develop an understanding for and facility with how digital media can produce, collect, share, and shape identities and how we might use those digital media to further manage our online selves for academic, professional, and public purposes.


Complete descriptions for each assignment will be available after the start of the semester.

1 – Reading Responses – 15%

These will be ongoing short, focused responses (via text/audio/video) to our readings and will serve as a conversation starters for our class discussions (8 Formal Responses; several informal responses). While I will make informal comments on the responses throughout the semester, I will give formal, extended written feedback three times, each covering a set of responses.

Due: Often

2 – Case Study – 15%

Each student will be responsible for presenting one extended case study that analyzes a recent case/event relevant to our courses readings for that day/week. Each case study will include a 5-7 minute presentation and a one-page handout.

Due: Varies

3 – Professional Self Study – 30%

This assignment is designed to provide students an opportunity to develop a professional online persona. It will be composed of two parts: Part One, an assessment of work flow and production tools; Part Two, a tracing of an established person in your desired field; an online survey of public information; a response plan; a composed professional online persona (via professional website; LinkedIn, social networks, et al).

Due: Part One, Feb 12; Part Two, March 12

4 – Quantified Self(ie) – 40%

This is a (semester long) data collection and presentation project that asks you to record and present (reasonable/selective) account of your own activities in and through digital media. This assignment will include: a brief proposal; a short presentation; and a final report that uses information visualization techniques to present a coherent story of complex data.

DUE: May 8


Many of our assignments will be opportunities for us to research, collect, and present many examples of the kinds of data/media we will be reading about and discussing. We will make use of free and easily accessible software application to accomplish these tasks (i.e. video editing, information visualization, document design). No prior knowledge of these applications will be required, but students must be willing to explore and practice the software introduced in the course.

Required Texts and Materials

Marwick, Alice E. Status update: Celebrity, publicity, and branding in the social media age. Yale University Press, 2013.

Mayer-Schönberger, Viktor. Delete: the virtue of forgetting in the digital age. Princeton University Press, 2011.

Rainie, Harrison, and Barry Wellman. Networked: The new social operating system. MIT Press, 2012.

Rettberg, Jill Walker. Seeing Ourselves Through Technology. Palgrave Pivot, 2014

Rudder, Christian. Dataclysm: Who We Are When No One is Looking. Crown Publishers, 2014.

Several other readings will be made available via course site may include: Aristotle, On Rhetoric (selection); Jim Corder (selected essays); Michel Foucault, “Self-Writing”; Isocrates, Antidosis (selection); Nigel Thrift, “Lifeworld, Inc.”; Quintilian, Institutes of Oratory (selections).


Off Grid, Semaeopus Games, 2014.

Vaughn, Brian K.  and Marcos Martin, The Private Eye, Panel Syndicate, 2014.

Kitchen, Rob, The Data Revolution



[subject to change]

Part One – Ethos and You and Us and Them

Week One

T Jan 20 – Introductions and Expectations

In-Class Viewing & Discussion:

Deep Lab from Deepspeed media on Vimeo.

R Jan 22 – Aristotle on Ethos, Book 1, Ch 2; Book 3, CH7; Book 3, CH12

Week Two

T Jan 27  – Isocrates, (PDF)

R Jan 29 –  Corder, “Varieties of Ethical Argument, With Some Account of the Significance of Ethos in the Teaching of Composition” &  “Hunting for Ethos Where They Say it Can’t Be Found” (PDF)


Week Three

T Feb 3 –  Foucault “Self Writing” (PDF)

R Feb 5  – Seneca “Letters” (PDF); Gregg, “Getting Things Done®: Productivity, self-management and the order of things” (PDF)

Suggested Reading: Foucault, “Techniques of the Self” (PDF)


Week Four

T Feb 10 – Rettberg, Seeing Ourselves through Technology, CH1, “Written, Visual, and Quantitative Self Representations”

R Feb 12- Rettberg, Seeing Ourselves through Technology, CH3, “Serial Selfies” & Selfie City

DUE: Part One, Professional Self Study (Work Flow & Production Analysis)

Part Two – This is Your Self on Networks

Week Five

T Feb 17  – Burke, “Identification”; Raine/Wellman, Networked, CH1 “Networked Individualism” & “Interlude: A Day in a Connected Life”

R Feb 19 – Burke, “Terministic Screens” (PDF); Seeing Ourselves through Technology, CH2, “Filtered Reality”

In-class: Eli Pariser, Beware of Filter Bubbles

Case Studies (T= XXX; R= YYY)


Week Six

T Feb 24 – Marwick, Status Update, Introduction & CH3, “The Fabulous Lives of Micro-Celebrities”

R Feb 26 – Marwick, Status Update, CH4, “Self-Branding: The (Safe for Work) Self”

Case Studies (T= XXX; R= YYY)


Week Seven

T Mar 3  – Mayer-Schonberger, Delete,  CH1, “Failing to Forget the ‘Drunken Pirate” & CH 2, “The Role of Remembering and the Importance of Forgetting”

R Mar 5 – Mayer-Schonberger, Delete,  CH3, “The Demise of Forgetting–and Its Drivers”; & Rettberg, Seeing Ourselves through Technology, CH6, :Privacy and Surveillance

Case Studies (T= XXX; R= YYY)

Suggested Reading: The Private Eye; Kitchen “Ethical, Political, Social and Legal Concerns”

Week Eight

T Mar 10 – Marwick, Status Update 

R Mar 12 – Marwick, Status Update

Case Studies (T= XXX; R= YYY)

DUE: Part Two, Professional Self Study

March 16 -20 – Spring Break – No Classes

Part Three – Digital Self(ie)

 Week Nine

T Mar 24 – Corder, “Argument as Emergence, Rhetoric as Love” (PDF)

R Mar 26 –  Kitchen, “Conceptualizing Data” (PDF); Varnelis, “Eyes That Do Not See: Tracking the Self in the Age of the Data Center

Case Studies (T= XXX; R= YYY)


Week Ten

T Mar 31- Kitchen, “Data Analytics” (PDF)

R Apr 2 – Rettberg, Seeing Ourselves through Technology, CH4, “Automated Diaries”

Case Studies (T= XXX; R= YYY)

In-Class: Spreadsheets, Tracking Apps, & Information Viz Introductions


Week Eleven

T Apr 7 – Rettberg, Seeing Ourselves through Technology, CH5, “Quantified Selves”

In-Class: 99% Invisible – Feltron Annual Report & Nick Feltron

Case Studies (T= XXX; R= YYY)

R Apr 9 – Workshop: In-Class: Data Sources & Info Viz Practice

Case Studies (T= XXX; R= YYY)


Week Twelve

T Apr 14 – Rudder, Dataclysm CH 1-3 & Thrift, “Lifeworld, Inc.”

In-Class: Virtual Body and Data Body

R Apr 16 – Rudder, Dataclysm CH 10-13

Case Studies (T= XXX; R= YYY)


Week Thirteen

T Apr 21- Guest TBA

R Apr 23 – Workshop

Case Studies (T= XXX; R= YYY)

Week Fourteen

T Apr 28 – Workshop

R Apr 30 – Workshop


Week Fifteen

T May 5 – Presentations

R May 8  – Presentations