Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures
A Digital Rhetorician goes to AoIR
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 IMG_7760.JPGThis story is part of our ongoing WRAC Communications Team Editorial Series where we write about a topic of personal interest.

 By Les Hutchinson

AoIR is a funny event. Designated for Internet researchers, connoisseurs, and nerds, the Association of Internet Researchers conference meets once a year to discuss recent trends in academic Internet research. The theme for this year was “Digital Imaginaries,” which brought scholars from all over the world to sunny (read: hot!) Phoenix, Arizona to discuss how the Internet manifests various forms of digital imaginations.


I presented there with Estee Beck, Associate Professor and digital rhetorician at the University of Texas Arlington. Our paper was titled “Making Ethical Decisions: Seeing Twitter Bots as (Non) ‘Human Subjects’ when Including Them as Research Participants.” Our co-panelists were brilliant and gracious, as was our panel chair, the esteemed Charles Ess. With the help of our enthusiastic audience, everyone had a lively discussion and I believe we all benefited greatly from each person’s perspectives. WRAC professor and XA program director Liza Potts also chaired a fishbowl with Dawn Opel, Dawn Armfield and Cindy Tekobbe: “Where Experience Architecture and Internet Studies Meet: Fishing for Convergence.” Potts promoted the new XA program as invaluable for integration with the interdisciplinary field of Internet Studies.


As far as I know, we were the only rhetoric and composition scholars there. The lack of representation from our field at this conference, I believe, leaves a gap in Internet Studies research and scholarship. A gap that can be amended if more people from rhet/comp, and specifically cultural rhetoricians, attend AoIR and bring in perspectives from our field.



micha cárdenas gave the keynote: “Stitching Poetics: Networked Bodies and Algorithmic Identity.” Starting with a sort of choose-your-own-adventure poem, cárdenas opened AoIR with an interactive icebreaker, acknowledging both the timidity and inclination to play in her audience. The poem/game/portal was a science fiction story about a transwoman of color whose planet is dying. She called this poem/game/portal a transgender of color poetics about decolonization.


cárdenas used this form to situate the theme of her talk: a shifting of one’s location and one’s form as a survival strategy. She introduced necropolitics as a theoretical framework for her transgender of color poetics and discussed pivotal current transgender social justice movements such as #Justice4KeishaJenkins. cárdenas explained how this theoretical framework influences the reading of her art projects regarding Kevlar and the building of local autonomy networks to create safe spaces for transgender women of color, examples of which appear in her Transborder Immigrant Tool: Electronic Disturbance Theatre.


What particularly struck me about cárdenas’s keynote was her recognition of the indigenous people who are of the Arizonan land. This recognition echoed in me a reminder of Malea Powell’s 2012 CCCC Chair’s Address. I remember reading, and sadly missing, Powell’s address of the land of St. Louis where CCCC was that year. The echoing brought to mind the necessity of cultural rhetorics perspectives that make colonization, oppression, and racism known in everyday aggressions that often go unnoticed—work scholars like Powell and Angela Haas do in our field.




Inspired by cárdenas’s keynote and the social justice panel, members of AoIR decided to take a stand (click the links for context) against Arizona’s SB1070 and HB2281 for their oppressive and racist policies. I was not surprised by this inspiration because I know Internet Studies scholars care about these matters; numerous panels at the conference addressed social justice issues on an international scale.


But, more can be done.

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I say more can be done because even though we had a brilliant transgender woman as the keynote speaker, there still were no gender-neutral bathrooms at the conference this year. Additionally, the Embassy Suites Hilton Biltmore denied me access to a place to express my breast milk, which put undue stress on my health as I was physically responsible for feeding a newborn. Recently, I tagged @AoIR_org in a tweet regarding CCCC’s decision to provide a family room, a lactation space, and a childcare grant for next year’s conference attendees—a provision which would have given me the opportunity to attend all three days of AoIR instead of only one. In their gracious fashion, the President of AoIR, Jenny Stromer-Galley, acknowledged my tweet and responded with support and consideration.


It is for these reasons that I feel more rhetoric and composition scholars should attend the conference. Simply by addressing issues of access and oppression, more social justice issues will be acknowledged and addressed. I can only imagine how the interdisciplinary field of Internet Studies would grow and benefit from the intersectional, decolonial, and anti-oppressive work that we do.


I use “we” here because though I am earning my PhD in the digital rhetoric and professional writing concentration in WRAC, I still very much see myself as a cultural rhetorician. If anything affirms this, it is my desire to make spaces as accommodating as possible; it’s my desire that we recognize and fight injustice as it is rhetorically constructed whenever we see it occur. And though Internet Studies does this work, more can be done. More can be done with the help of cultural rhetoricians who are specifically--expertly--trained to do this work and will share their knowledge with the internet researcher community.


Most of us understand the inherent misogyny, racism, and classism built into technology both as a field of study and an instrument of culture. If we are ever to change this reality, then I believe we must make our recognition of oppressions known. And, since we are rhetoricians, we can do so with the eloquence and power of voices that will be heard. Please join me at future AoIR conferences and other interdisciplinary spaces where technology and culture meet. Our work is needed there.