New Piece on Big Data Rhetoric

June 22nd, 2012

For Sweetland’s Digital Rhetoric Collaborative (DRC), I just published an invited piece, titled “The Thing about Networks, or Big Data Rhetoric,” that focuses on what digital rhetoric means to me. The piece is part of a “blog carnival,” with all members of the DRC’s board addressing the same question.

For the piece, I wrote about infographics as arguments, including how sites like facilitate infographic production on the fly using readily available data drawn from social networks. (Example infographic pictured left, using tweets from the #dhsi2012 hashtag.) Building out from infographics as but one example of how to study big data rhetoric, I conclude with this series of pressing questions for digital rhetoric studies:

At the current moment, digital rhetoric is meaningful to me because data is routinely entering into the most banal and everyday composition processes. Considering things like infographics on the fly, scholars must now ask: (1) What is the rhetoric of big data? For whom is data useful, under what assumptions, for what audiences, and to what effects? (2) How can we approach big data rhetorically? In a moment when data is visualized in real-time (e.g., Google Real-Time Analytics), how do we talk about process and persuasion? How do we reflect? How do we situate or orient ourselves? (3) How does big data argue? How are the logics of quantification combined with the aesthetics of information design and the strategies of narrative? When do people refer to visualizations as “beautiful” and why? (4) What are the rhetorical strategies of abstract expressions? To what extent do we need to be familiar with how new media are actually made, stored, and circulated? Are visualizations about “wrangling” information, or about something else entirely?

Read the entire piece over at