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The Conceit of Context

Resituating Domains in Rhetorical Studies


Edited By Charles E. Morris III and Kendall R. Phillips

This edited volume features essays derived from presentations delivered at the 15th Biennial Public Address Conference held at Syracuse University in October 2016, as well as additional material. The Conceit of Context explores the often invoked—indeed a central term in the history of rhetorical studies—but less often engaged concept of context. In this volume, we center the notion of context as the site of engagement, critique, and imagination, seeking to deepen the critical and political promise of context in the study of public discourse.

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25 Rhetorical Field Methods and the Logic of Immersion (Damien Smith Pfister)


Damien Smith Pfister

In January 2016, I traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada, to conduct field work at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in support of a new project arc on rhetorics of wearable computers. I was hoping to take photos and videos, gather promotional materials, conduct interviews, and record product demonstrators address technopublics about the virtues of their wares. As I planned for this trip, I began to style myself as a researcher who had moved beyond the textualism of the ethnographer’s notebook and toward a richer contextualism enabled by digital recording technologies. My intricate plan—IRB and CES approved—was to engage in audio and video ethnography of the event, gathering sounds and moving images that I might later compile into a short form documentary or an audio essay. This approach seemed a natural extension of the work that I had just completed with two colleagues, Joshua P. Ewalt and Jessy J. Ohl, on what we call “field methods in the tradition of imitatio.”1 Inspired by the scholarship on rhetoric and fieldwork by Samantha Senda-Cook, Danielle Endres, Aaron Hess, and Michael Middleton,2 Pete Simonson’s conception of “rhetorical scenes,”3 and Lee Gutkind’s work on creative nonfiction,4 we documented and then dramatized our experience with the Occupy Lincoln moment in a five act play that drew from experiences in the field but creatively composited and reinterpreted them. We situated this composition and reinterpretation in the rhetorical tradition of imitatio, embracing the mimetic...

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