Reference Information

Spring 2011

James Collier
Office: 433 Shanks
Hours: 1:30-2:30 M,W and by appointment
(O) 231-8340; (C) on request

Course Description

Introductions to the rhetoric of science often begin with a trope — an invitation to ponder the dissonance when commingling the terms 'science' and 'rhetoric'. Seeking to resolve the discord, we begin to investigate our presuppositions regarding the nature of scientific and humanistic inquiry. Our investigation will proceed on an amending historical and philosophical appreciation for the development of rhetoric of science and technology as an academic field and as a site for interdisciplinary research. Initially, we will interrogate a prevailing methodological myth culled from Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar's Laboratory Life (1979). We will move from the first major publications in the rhetoric of science (e.g., Nelson, Mcgill and McCloskey's The Rhetoric of the Human Sciences, 1987), to breakthroughs in the field (Bazerman 1989, Gross 1990), to the beginnings of the rhetoric of technology (e.g., Miller 1994), to the so-called "science wars" (1996), and to "second wave" rhetoric of science and technology (Ceccarelli, 2001). Finally, in considering "rhetorical reclamation, " (Fuller 2003) we will attempt to navigate the Scylla of sophistry and Charybdis of scientific controversy.

Course Goals

• To examine the development of rhetoric of science and technology (RST) as an academic field;

• To form questions, identify keywords, pose responses, initiate discussion and lend syntheses on issues involving RST;

• To provide arguments on selected questions, and on objects of inquiry, related to RST;

• To analyze rhetoric, and rhetoric's relation to, sociological theory and method including ethnomethodology;

• To sharpen our critical understanding and judgments regarding how rhetoric configures, and is configured by, our critical understanding and judgments regarding science and technology.

Online Design

Before the age of content management systems a few well-intentioned, though often foolhardy and bewildered, educators made course websites. I was among them. As my bewilderment gave way to fascination, I continued to make course websites. Now the practice helps me plan the course, think through ideas and develop and organize materials. And as I find the romantic idea of a democratic open society on the Web hard to shake, I passively encourage the use of my materials, and meaningful participation on our wiki, by an interested pubic.

My background contributes to the idiosyncratic design found in our website. While the digital execution of my pedagogical motives seems quite clear (to me at least), the practical execution of my intentions in the site layout may not be as "crystalline" to the user. What follows, then, is a peak into my thinking (a bit scary, that) regarding how you might best access and use this site. In that spirit, allow me to indulge a too familiar simile.

I view the course website as our home. The home page is the front door through which one can, and perhaps should, should enter the course. I encourage bookmarking the home page and accessing our course materials directly and not through Scholar (it being an entrance found through the garage, perhaps) — unless you so choose.

The course calendar is the central room of our house. All activities run through the course calendar. I suggest checking the course calendar each time you access the site.

I view Scholar like a finished garage — a nice space for storage and to hang out, play and talk. Many neat tools (the gradebook, for example) inhabit the garage but, depending on the task, I prefer a hands-on approach. Thus I use Scholar in a limited capacity — for storing materials, for communication among individuals and groups, but not for conveying grades. For conveying grades, I use e-mail.

The wiki I see as an outdoor space — a front porch, maybe, or patio, which hosts thoughtful conversations and lively debates and where friends may visit as they will.

In sum, absent the more or less colorful description, I tend to privilege our website as the focus and organizing structure of our course. We will use the wiki regularly. Scholar we will use less regularly.

Please fully acquaint your self with the course website, Scholar, and the wiki and determine how you might best take advantage of the course resources and your learning goals through our online presence.

The Story of the Course

Every course tells a story. With due apologies and cautions for the following potted history, let me make explicit two issues guiding the course design so that, through their interrogation, we might craft a more cogent narrative.

The first issue regards the disciplining, if not the disciplinary formation, of the Rhetoric of Science and, somewhat more recently, the Rhetoric of Science and Technology (RST). RST's coalescence as a field follows a pattern evident in much contemporary academic work. The pattern emerges at the end of World War II with the publication of Vannevar Bush's report written at the request of President Roosevelt, and delivered to President Truman in 1945, Science, The Endless Frontier. The report concerned the place of science and technology in a post-war America. The war (as wars do) led to great scientific and technological progress. Bush argued that science in post-war America would need to retain and to expand its preeminent place in society. For Bush science was, and would be, an engine of American technological and economic progress. Consequently, the government should organize and fund scientific research through a federal agency — an agency that would become the National Science Foundation. In Science, The Endless Frontier we find a social contract struck between science and the state. And, perhaps, we find also the origins of our current scientistic attitudes toward research.

If, indeed, Science, The Endless Frontier trains our attention toward material forms of research, Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) describes the social structure and historical consciousness necessary to further discipline our research. Structure, one of the most widely cited academic books of the twentieth century, could be read as an instruction manual for how an area of inquiry might adopt the particular narrative and instrumental practices necessary to gain proper (... at least as serious as science) academic sanction. Inspired by Structure, and given the rise of the neo-liberal university, organizing inquiry into paradigms, or paradigm-like programs, appeared necessary for sustaining academic research. Paradigmatic organization and thought became ubiquitous in the social sciences and the humanities. A background assumption regarding paradigm-based research regards its constant progress; that is, progress needs to occur or, at least, appear to occur, in solving the problems identified in, or by, a paradigm's framework.

Progress resists easy or fixed definition. Still natural science, as Kuhn's historical analysis showed apparently, progresses. Through the lens of history, we see scientific progress demonstrated by theoretical advancements, by increasingly comprehensive and accurate predictions, and by empirical results. Such advances and results must certainly mean that we know more. And so, given this discernable model of epistemic progress, ought not all forms of academic inquiry emulate science?

To emulate science and demonstrate progress, a discipline might come to embrace, or more tightly embrace, empiricism. Too, an area of inquiry might take on a scientific patina by studying science in some way — using rhetoric perhaps. Or, an area of inquiry might promote and develop a "meta-science" or a science of science — using a social science, like anthropology, to study science scientifically.

In RST, and in RST's fellow traveler Science and Technology Studies (STS), we have, I believe, comparable cases of disciplining areas of inquiry. In the process disciplining, area of inquiry assume generally unacknowledged philosophical commitments to the methods and norms that characterize paradigms. Fields like RST and STS tell an eerily common story of their continuous rise (Steve Fuller uses the term "Panglossian" to help describe this attitude) and subsequent "turns" to neglected and, apparently, more explanatory methods and subjects. Example turns include the "linguistic turn," the "cognitive turn," the "social turn," the ... well, you get the idea. "Turning" or, rather, the proclamation that a turn has, or will, occur, signals a new, typically more progressive, research agenda in the field. RST turns as well — a turn toward technology, for example, or a turn toward neo-Aristotelian rhetoric.

Turns often accompany disputes. In RST, the dispute concerned the "globalization" of rhetoric. In STS, the dispute concerned "postmodern science" (the "science wars"). As the borders among disciplines in the humanities and social sciences remain porous, a dispute in one area can spill over into other areas. For example, the dispute over rhetoric's globalization affects not only RST, but also fields with rhetoric as a vital component. Methodenstreit is not a new phenomenon; however, I assume that in current academic inquiry the narrative of disciplinary progress overshadows and determines the outcome of any dispute. Thus, the outcome of disputes only strengthens a field and helps it to progress. While these disputes do have winners and losers, disciplinary history is written by the winners and, consequently, only progress results. In RST, for example, the globalization dispute led to a more sophisticated "second wave" of research. Initially, then, I want to put into play a critical exploration of the commonplace of disciplinary progress in examining the narrative of RST's development.

Laboratory Life provides the second area of our inquiry. We will study Laboratory Life's rhetoric and influence. The assumption guiding our study of Laboratory Life is the broad, deep and largely unrealized impact the book has on the current conduct of academic inquiry. Laboratory Life gives a kind of methodological and rhetorical blueprint for conducting inquiry that wants to be taken seriously; that is, inquiry that wants to enjoy the status afforded to empirical research. We will take the opportunity to perform a critical rhetorical analysis of Laboratory Life. I believe Latour and Woolgar offer a kind of methodological and rhetorical orientation that provide clues to the empirical, micro-analytic fetish currently dominating academic inquiry. This fetish influences the problems we see, the questions we form, the methods we use, the outcomes we accept, and what we understand as knowledge. Quite likely, I have overdetermined Laboratory Life's influence. However, our study of Laboratory Life will bring into relief our intuitions about how academic ideas gain currency, if inquiry can be purposely engineered and the depths of our realization about our ideological, methodological and epistemological influences. Ultimately, this area of the course takes up the question of rhetoric's reflexive potential — the ability for rhetoric to reveal and change our presuppositions about the conduct of academic inquiry.

I invite each of you to challenge the assumptions guiding this course and to challenge accepted notions of the conduct and purpose of academic inquiry. I look forward to beginning our story.


Grading Criteria

Leading Discussion: Question Formation, Keyword Entry, Class Discussion, Synthesis

Once during the semester, each group will pose questions and post keywords to the appropriate forum on the wiki will lead the class discussion. Each group member will revisit the questions, keywords and discussion and post a synthesis to the wiki. Members of the class will evaluate the presentation through an on-line form. Scores and comments will be forwarded to me. I will share comments, anonymously, with the presenters. I will provide an overall assessment of the presentation. (Please refer to the essay sequence assignment.)


Class members not leading a given week's discussion will provide 350-500 word responses to selected questions to the appropriate forum on the wiki As the responses are time sensitive, you will not have an opportunity for late submission. Responses will be evaluated, given the number completed, as follows:

    • 4 responses: A
    • 3 responses: B
    • 2 or fewer responses: F

Essays and Exams

I will provide feedback on Essay and Exam One. You may revise these assignments as many times as you wish during the term. I will average the grades. Given the timing of Essay and Exam Two, you will not have the opportunity to revise.

Rhetorical Analysis

In assessing your contribution to this assignment, I will focus on two areas. First, I will look to the general norms of academic argument regarding argumentative coherence, the use of evidence (citation), and cogency. Second, less formally, I will look to your contribution in making the overall piece hang together. I encourage full, equitable participation. We will discuss our ideas of what makes online academic writing and research work and, based on that discussion, I will evaluate your contribution to the overall success of our work. As online mass collaborative writing is in its infancy, I will reward generously your pioneering spirit and enthusiasm. Risk brings reward.


Texts are listed in the order of their appearance in the course:

    Nelson, Megill and McCloskey (eds.). The Rhetoric of the Human Sciences. University of Wisconsin Press 1987, ISBN: 0299110249

    Latour and Woolger. Laboratory Life. Princeton University Press, 1986, ISBN: 069102832X

    Gross and Keith (eds.). Rhetorical Hermeneutics. SUNY 1997, ISBN: 079143110

    Ceccarelli, Leah. Shaping Science With Rhetoric. University of Chicago Press, 2001 ISBN: 0226099075

    Gross, Alan. Starring the Text. Southern Illinois University Press; 2006, ISBN: 0809326965

Honor System

This course follows university policies pertaining to academic honesty and plagiarism. If you any have questions please ask me, or consult the Graduate Honor System web site.

Principles of Community

This course adheres to Virginia Tech's Principles of Community. If you have any questions, please ask me or consult the Principles of Community web site.

Rhetoric of Science and Technology