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Rhetorical constellations: On the materiality and mobility of arrangement and invention

Joshua P Ewalt, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Motivated by the questions of the new mobilities paradigm of social scientific scholarship and new materialist theory, Rhetorical Constellations: On the Materiality and Mobility of Arrangement and Invention offers a re-thinking of rhetorical activity that attunes to rhetorical events as emergent not entirely from the human self, nor entirely from the flow of discourse, but rather from an arrangement of the moving materials of place (discursive and non-discursive, human and non-human, affective and technological). I argue that rhetoric is something that happens to place, if place is understood not as a socially-constructed alternative to space, but as a constellation of material mobilities, always intermingling, hybridizing, and becoming-different. Specifically, I define rhetorical constellations of mobilities as "particular arrangements of moving materials into complex multiplicities which problematize the relationship between a community of matter's present, its past, and/or future, and, through their arrangements, generate new articulations of moving matter." Through the use of rhetorical field methods at three public events in the Great Plains – the 2014 Willa Cather Spring Conference in Red Cloud, Nebraska, the Genoa U.S. Indian Industrial School Museum in Genoa, Nebraska, and the Land Institute's Prairie Festival in Salina, Kansas – I develop an account of rhetorical constellations of mobilities and illustrate the framework's value for generating social change. Moreover, I evoke and address a series of corollary issues: the cycles of arrangement and invention that characterize rhetorical constellations; the inventive-function of serendipitous encounters; the co-incident inventions of rhetorical constellations that circulate within and transform digital and analogical ecologies; and the idea that any moment of social change is the product of an emergent articulation of mobile histories, arranging and inventing over time. As much as this framework hinders a certain type of action (the kind of action that begins with a rhetor composing discourse in order to affect change in society), it enables another type, one which seems to offer a more collective understanding of agency: A process of becoming entangled in the constellations of mobilities that make up a place and thus aiding in the emergence of a rhetorical moment, or series of rhetorical moments.

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Recommended Citation

Ewalt, Joshua P, "Rhetorical constellations: On the materiality and mobility of arrangement and invention" (2015). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3689846.