Monday, March 29, 2010

Digital Rhetoric

Elizabeth Losh, Virtualpolitik: An Electronic History of Government Media-Making in a Time of War, Scandal, Disaster, Miscommunication, and Mistakes (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), with it long sub-title, offers something for everyone in an I-School. Losh states that “this is a book about public rhetoric and its subversion about the way that traditional institutions of knowledge do not always conform to social practices around information, and about how computer technology creates secondary purposes and secondary audiences never imagined by the original readers of an official message or the architects of a given system of state-sanctioned communication” (p. 4). Losh includes case studies about videogames and violence; interpreting digital rhetoric using both literary and computer science theories; military uses of videogames; what official government websites convey; what PowerPoint suggests about the rhetoric of display; e-mail and its use in whistleblowing; public health websites, simulations, and videogames and what these do to the notion of expertise; and the successful use by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of its Mars rover program.

What might be of particular interest is Losh’s efforts to be interdisciplinary: “This research is intended to bridge several fields that address the study of contemporary electronic communication, ones that predictably often do not talk to each other other. Rhetoric, Internet research, game studies, web design, information science, fair use and intellectual property law, and the study of popular culture as it relates to political discourse are all critical disciplines for this project” (p. 11). While this sounds like an approach that could be right at home in an I-School, Losh later (p. 327-328) briefly describes a shift from information sciences to information studies, a dominant paradigm she sees emerging, that encompasses more of a shift to the humanities away from the physical and biological sciences, computer science, and mathematics. From my vantage, this may or may not be what we see occurring in the new I-Schools. Clearly, we can discern what Losh describes in the current transforming of data curation to digital curation and the expansion of digital libraries to being more about libraries than digital. However, it still seems as if the domains Losh mentions earlier are very dominant in these schools, even if the cultural, social, and humanistic are more prevalent.

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