Mini Projects

Mini-Project 1.24

Below is a Storyboard That comic in response to Malafouris’ push back against Cartesianism.

Mini-project (1.31)

This collage (above) represents popular approaches to personifying objects or things. I am drawing a distinction between anthropomorphism and personification of objects here purposefully, in order to examine a rhetorical visual approach to account for the agency of objects.

Jane Bennett’s argument in Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things is based in her field of political science, but it’s import extends to rhetoric pretty clearly. She argues that giving the force of things their due might help us understand political events more fully. Likewise, Bill Brown’s “thing theory” serves as means of recognizing what things mean and do (in relation to the human experiencing the thing) in art and literature. Both theorists draw from Heidegger’s das Ding (the thing) as well as Bruno Latour’s push to see agency among nonhuman actants.

But how is that vitality among things conceived rhetorically? What means do human agents use and respond to conceive of a worldview that recognizes the “force of things”? I want to explore how the visuals (and imagery) help or hinder our conception of material vitality (maybe tying it to the ways Bloom criticizes empathy as still being more about identifying self rather than other)?

Or, another direction I might like to explore is this: where does “thing theory” and vibrant matter exist in digital reproductions of text?

Mini-Project 2.7

Here is the link to my Coggle:

Proposal for Final Project

The problem I’d like to tackle here is how scholars conceive of the agentic quality of materiality that helps construct meaning in a rhetorical event when that rhetorical event is purely digital. Essentially, I’m asking: how does the material nature of the digital platform affect (i.e., act as an agent) the meaning of the text?

Scholars have done a good job of bringing the materiality of the medium, generally, to the forefront of our consciousness, particularly book history scholars who argue for the significance of the materiality of the codex book (source). The media with less of a clear (and widely accepted) foothold in materialism is the digitally transferred text. By extension, then, how we account for the material nature of the digitally-mediated text as agentic is less concrete.

I presume that the material nature of the digitally produced and consumed text is equally as agentic as the material nature of the codex text; however, I hope to test this thinking by applying it to a particular object of study—, a digital social annotation tool. I intend to explore its digital materiality as a means of conceiving the agency of the digital medium.

The research into the “pictorial turn” helps set a precedent for arguing for meaning in places that have traditionally not acknowledged certain elements as essential to critical meaning-making. For example, Wysocki sets a precedent for challenging scholars to see visual signs and symbols as key meaning-making entities and her approach helps me imagine something similar for my own project.  

Technically, I’m considering a screen cast as well as still images to help describe that material and embodied interaction that invites for readers. I’d like to play with Adobe Spark as a platform for building an inherently multimodal text.

Sources to start with:

Allen-Robertson. J.  (2015). The materiality of digital media: The hard disk drive, phonograph, magnetic tape and optical media in technical close-up. New Media and Society.

Barad, Karen (2003). Posthumanist performativity: Toward An understanding of how matter comes to matter. Signs Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28(3):801-831. 

Gries, L. (2011). Agential matters: Tumbleweed, women-pens, citizens-hope, and rhetorical actancy. In Ecology, writing theory, and new media.

Gries, L. (2015). Still Life with Rhetoric: A New Materialist Approach for Visual Rhetoric. 

Mini-project 2.14

Applying Visual Methodologies

Question: How do students read a visual image when the context is not immediately familiar to them?

Photographer: Hoepker, 2001

I chose to examine student reading practices using this famous Hoepker image of 9/11 because , while it’s a pretty famous image, it’s context isn’t immediately perceived by students in my current courses (this originally surprised me).

I chose to apply the method of audience studies, explored by Rose in chapter 9. I am perpetually fascinated with the role of the reader/listener/viewer in the rhetorical situation and this method speaks to putting that person at the center of the rhetorical event, as a “discrete site of meaning-making” (Rose, p. 200). Hall’s theory of parallel processes of encoding and decoding help me categorize their responses.

To I asked students to narrate their reading process as they encountered the visual image. Students were asked to respond to these questions: What do you first see when you encounter this image? How do you begin to read this image?  

Students’ responses included (note they were also asked to go on to draw conclusions about the message being sent in the image, though I am not including that data here):

-billowing cloud of black smoke against blue sky.

-the postures of the people

-the pollution in the distance

-the emotions on the people’s faces

-the woman having a good time despite the danger of pollution

-the smoke, the pollution

-brightly colored clothes of the people

Questions I asked of these responses:

Do I see a clear pattern in students processes of decoding?

Some are reading denotatively at first. Noticing color, contrast, foreground and background.

Many, however, immediately jumped to interpretations, possibly unaware of the denotative level of interpretation that went into developing that interpretation. Those interpretations are particularly interesting in that they consistently came back as reports of pollution and the dangers of environmental damage.

Are their readings preferred, oppositional or a mix of both (negotiated)?

I’m not sure how I could use their denotative reading processes as evidence of a hegemonic or counter-hegemonic reading; however, their interpretations seemed to have applied their own contemporary hegemonic assumptions to the image. Students read the smoke as evidence of pollution and environmental damage, paralleling contemporary concerns of environmentalism and the common critique of Americans who seem to be oblivious to the destruction around them.

Mini-project 2.21

While this small icon of a AA battery that fills with energy has become symbolic (in the Perician sense) in that its meaning is a product of widespread agreement over its meaning, it is not literally a fair representation of the mechanisms of stored energy. Energy is not measured in volume, as a cup of milk might be; rather, it is measured in the relationship between positively charged ions and negatively charged electrodes.

If electricity is all about magnetism, and charging our phones really means charging up the positively-charged lithium ions in order to attract to the negatively-charged electrodes, the power we get is about the difference between those positive and negatively-charged electrodes (voltage, or “difference of potential”). When our phone’s battery “dies,” it is because of the absence of those positive charged ions at the site of the negatively charged electrodes. Or, another way to say it, “a common way to measure battery capacity is through mAH. It stands for a milliampere hour, and it measures the rate of electron flow through the electrical conductor” (Hildenbrand, 2018).

In this way, the volume metaphor doesn’t allow us to conceive of the forces that impact the phone’s ability to handle the charge/discharge cycle and the number of charged ions that can be attracted.

To assess whether this is a visual metaphor at all, we can turn to Carroll’s (1994) identifying features: the battery icon is meant to invite a consideration of the physically noncompossible elements—the filling of a container (source domain) as a means to understand the target domain or, in this case, the relationship between positively charged ions and negative electrodes. Further, this visual icon is homospatial (though I’m barely holding on to Carroll’s application of this term to the visual metaphor) in that the symbol represents or unifies the host of composite pieces that don’t literally co-exist. This sort of visual symbol does indeed invite exploration of the source and target domain (making it metaphorical).

The question may be whether this novel metaphor (as Ortiz et al., 2017, make mention of) is incongruent with our understandings of electrical potential. Or, is this metaphor incompatible (as Ziemkiewicz & Kosara, 2008, examine), disrupting our understanding of the ways batteries gain a charge? Maybe, as Lakoff and Johnson (1980) might argue, this visual metaphor simply makes palatable a concept that is otherwise too complex to quickly grasp literally.

To take a cognitive approach to this metaphor application, I contend that in a case such as the battery icon on our cell phones, we might find a new category to introduce to Ortiz et al. (2017)—one that sees metaphor as potentially simpler for brain processing than the literal.

Works Cited (outside our course readings)

Hildenbrand, J. (2018). Why does battery life get worse over time?: The chemistry that can provide power from metals makes those metals degrade over time and there’s not much we can do about it. Android Central. Retrieved on 17 February, 2019, from:

Mini-project 2.28

Though I’m tempted to apply Foss’ visual rhetorical approach to this image, that is one I’m far more familiar with and I’d like to try something a bit different to examine this image, a bit more challenging for me: Barbatsis’ narrative theory.

Barbatsis is borrowing the questions and methods of narrative theorists and applying them to visual narrative theories. She’s fostering an appreciation of the way visual narrative helps us make sense of the disordered, raw experience of this world and asserts that the visual is a powerful way to constitute reality, not just record it.

With Barbatsis’ theory, we have to approach the narrative being told in this image on three axes: its narrative logic, its syntactical features, and the relationships formed in the telling of this story.

Step One: narrative logic.

Walter Fisher’s two basic principles are coherence or “narrative probability” (or if things that happen in the story have a probability of happening in real life…a form of internal coherence) and fidelity/truthfulnessor “narrative fidelity” (whether the components of a story represent social reality, p. 333).

Coherence. Do the things that happen in this story that have a probability of happening in real life? Certainly. While the collection of attentive animals is unrealistic, we do expect these animals to be on a farm. We do expect animals to be killed. We expect someone does the killing (though it’s more likely to be a machine on a large farm). We do expect cats to be excluded from that fate.

Fidelity. Do the components in the story represent social reality? We do certainly expect that farmers raise animals in order to kill them for human and other animal consumption. We know collectively that animals are treated differently in our culture and that there is a hypocrisy in our relationship to animals. We just don’t typically see it juxtaposed (animals that we deem companions vs. animals we deem food) so explicitly.

Step Two: syntactical structures of descriptive and literal.

Descriptive structure: We see a farmer (or butcher), petting his cat who is personified with a bib tied around his neck, seemingly preparing for a meal. The farmer’s smock is blood stained and he holds a knife in his left hand. His attention is clearly on the cat and the cat’s comfort. The cat is heavy (or at least not starving) and has a bowl sitting empty in front of him. The vector of the man’s knife (to borrow Zettl’s term) is leading our eyes to the victims in this scene—the farm animals (a pig, a horse, a cow, a donkey, a sheep, a turkey, two ducks, two chickens and six baby chicks) placed in hierarchical order, from largest to smallest in the z-axis of the image’s frame (largest is furthest from staged camera lens while the chickens are closest). The animals appear attentive to the farmer and his intentions and their faces appear stoic, if not fearful.

Literal structure: the image is drawn, not a realistic representation. The colors are not saturated the way they would normally be on a farm. Rather, they are almost cartoon-like. The contrast of the yellow field in the foreground and background are striking against the pink sky, which seems surreal to me. The intertextual allusions to Animal Farm feel pretty obvious, though the book had no images like this (so is it the theme that makes for the intertextual allusion?). I also am reminded of Charlotte’s Web (again, the movie images) and the emotion of connecting to farm animals collected together in a barn. We see only the small area of the barn door and just outside that barn door. The tension of what’s about to happen is palpable.

Step Three: Relationship of the human components of the transaction.

Chatman’s discursive personages helps us analyze the components of relationships formed by the story image.

Real Imager: no idea (nor do I think it matters, in the same way that Foss notes rhetoricians don’t typically dwell on intentions).

Implied Imager: Western citizens who are likely to be meat eaters and to have pets who are fed meat-based foods.

Implied Viewer: The complicit American who doesn’t stop to think about

Real Viewer: me, a meat-eating American citizen with dogs and chickens and lizards (who all eat the meat of other animals, though the chickens don’t require meat)

The audience’s sense of being told something (stemming from a “teller”) comes from the way the picture is made. That means visuals use meaning-making “literal syntactical” (Frye) elements such as:

  • Scale (spatial organization as field of view). The cat’s size is directly juxtaposed against the farm animals size, marking the absurdity of causing death to so many animals for the sake of one small creature.
  • Angle (level of view). We are immediately present with the close-up angle. I imagine this is meant to put us in direct complacency with the impending action. We have brought this reality into being. We must watch the consequences directly.
  • Perspective (depth of view). Viewer sees the action as imminent in that all (the man, the cat, the animals) are in our most immediate frame and the rest of the farm is in the fuzzy distance. We are not made to be interested in the farm other than this animal-human interaction.
  • Light and shadow (contrast of view). The lighting is surreal, cartoonish. It does not reflect a chiaroscuro effect with shadows or impending doom. The light is artificial, maybe to evoke a sense that our hierarchies of the food chain are also artificial and surreal. Perhaps, the lighting is an intentional allusion to Charlotte’s Web (the movie) where we are immediately connected to barn animals as characters with complex connections to one another and human-like experiences.

What is left out in Barbatsis’ theory, though, is the purpose of the image beyond the aesthetic. For me, this analysis reveals the highly rhetorical structure of narrative. The story is being told, but being told with a purpose (I presume the creator has a rhetorical intention), functioning rhetorically on its viewers (to use Foss’ terms). According to Foss, “experiencing a work at an aesthetic level might mean enjoying its color, sensing its form, or valuing its texture. There is no purpose governing the experience other than simply having the experience” (Foss, p. 145). I’m not sure I believe that there is such a work—one that does not operate, in some way, on a rhetorical scale.

Mini project 3.7

Conjecture over artifacts of Visual Argument

I feel reticent to admit this, but the readings so far have revealed a subconscious bias I have against the visual. I’ve been repeatedly reminded of an National Writing Project conference at Wellesley where we were asked to read a chapter from a textbook in a discipline far from our own. I read from a Geology text and admitted to my peer group that I skipped all the visuals because I was sure they didn’t really matter; if the idea mattered, I reasoned, they’d use words. I clearly still have some of those same old-school biases (that would make Neil Postman proud) but that don’t serve me well in understanding what I rationally know is a critical component of rhetoric—the visual.

I do see examples of visual argument. In fact, I see visual arguments in ways that Blair dismisses. The Benetton ads, for example, seem to most clearly argue for buying Benetton (though context plays a role in deciphering that claim) because Benetton stands for equality and is, therefore, a socially conscientious company. Maybe a hypothetical syllogism could be distilled, such as: If you want to buy from a socially aware company, then buy Benetton, because they are stand for equality. Blair disagrees here. I concede that context plays a huge role in distilling this Benetton ad into an argument, but as Birdsell and Groarke make clear, contextual cues are critical to all arguments—verbal or visual or otherwise (p. 5).  

But a problem does exist in the relative consistency of interpreting visual argument. At this point, I suspect this is a problem of lacking a common vocabulary with which to discuss the elements of a visual (or as Birdsell & Groarke claim, a full theory was lacking back in 1996). If a visual argument does have a claim and evidence to support that claim, how do we account for the components or cues that add up to that complex network of assertions?

Proving Visual Argumentation

As Birdsell and Groarke (1996) assert, any account of visual argumentation must account for four things:

  • Identify the internal elements of a visual image
  • Understand the contexts in which images are interpreted
  • Establish the consistency of an interpretation of the visual
  • Chart changes in visual perspectives over time

To prove those elements of argumentation exist in the following visual example, I applied Birdsell and Groarke’s schema to the following image:

I can identify the internal elements of a visual image by narrating the cues, such as the child that can consistently be interpreted as upset (with wet eyes and the countenance of fear in the face of a young person who presents as male). The child is rendered realistically, yet the hand around the child’s throat is transparent, constituted and outlined and given shape by written words. Those words, while some are visible (such as “moron” and “you’re” and “fool”), most are not visible and none of the actual words being written matter to the argument. The font, in fact, matters more to interpretation, I suspect. The words use a familiar (to an English-speaking audience) alphabet and are written in a black and angular font (a point that Kinross might appreciate). The action of the hand, constituted by some collection of words, is what matters most. The collection of visual cues present us with the argument and the evidence.

I see the context in which the images are interpreted as one in which shifting ideas of what constitutes child abuse mark an exigence for such an argument. My own 3rd-grade teacher threatened us with a large wooden paddle, drilled with holes, that he repeatedly reminded us made the sting of a swat much worse. No one complained. Parents weren’t outraged. I don’t even remember mentioning the paddle board to my mother. We knew we could be hit at any time and that was normal. Only a few decades later and this sort of behavior seems outlandish. The context has changed to expand definitions of child abuse.

The consistency of an interpretation of the visual is harder for me to justify individually. However, I imagine I could poll 50 people and find a strong and consistent thread of interpretation.

As far as changes in visual perspectives over time, I can only assume that this image would conjure a slightly less empathetic response in varied cultures (cultures where verbal abuse isn’t a common point of advocacy), varied points in history (times when the concept of children’s rights seemed superfluous) and maybe even in varied circumstances (I can imagine times of war, for example, when the concerns over safety outweigh concerns for emotional health).

Applying Hall’s Encoding/Decoding Approach to a Cultural Studies Methodology

I chose to apply Hall’s model of encoding/decoding (a cultural studies methodology) to this image (because it’s new to me and seems highly relevant). Hall asserts that meaning is contextual and a product of ideologies. He claims that a viewer is “hailed” by an image and that the viewers “respond to the hailing [by recognizing] the social position that has been constructed in encoding the image/discourse” (O’Donnell, p. 527).

Further, this method allows for multiple meanings, a recognition that meaning is not fixed, but derived from larger social systems of representation that inform the “complex practices of looking and seeing…rest on complex conditions of existence” (Evans and Hall, qtd. in O’Donnell, p. 528).

To help apply this approach, I asked my 15-year-old son, Truinn, to look closely at this image for a few minutes and then describe what he sees. I interviewed him, but with very little prompting. Rather, I asked him two questions. First, can you walk me through what you see here while you’re looking at the image? Then, because he seemed stuck, I asked him if he thinks the image is trying to tell him something.

A few key lines from his unprompted response:

I asked him to talk through what he sees as he’s seeing it: “I see an upset kid, a small kid, with a grown hand around his neck. He’s crying. His eyes are watering.”

“I don’t know what any of the words say. I can’t read them” Though he flips the laptop screen, trying to get close enough to read them. He can’t.

In response to my question (when he feels stuck) “Do you think it’s trying to say anything overall?” He says, “I have no clue.” However, after a few seconds of silence, he adds that “hate on a child is wrong. You should support him, not challenge him and force him into things.”

To address a few of Hall’s specific questions:

How are we limited in our ways of seeing? Our experience in this life is a source of information as well as a limitation to our ways of seeing. My son has not been placed in a position of dominance over a child yet and, therefore, does not identify strongly with social concerns like verbal abuse against a child. He’s also not been verbally abused (I hope) by his own primary caretakers and may not see the severity of the emotional damage done. He’s grown up in a far more sheltered environment than either of his parents. He’s also not been subjected yet to the larger conversation around physical and verbal abuse of a child and the shifting ways we’ve viewed child abuse in the last several decades. He’s not as sensitive to the exigence of the argument here.

Can we place ourselves inside the image, identifying with it? My son undoubtedly takes a subjective position of identifying with the child in the image (whereas I identify more with the grown person’s hand). He sees the persuasion as a warning against forcing a child to do things. Specifically, warnings against challenging the child and forcing him into things. His position seems to be asymmetrical to the intended encoded positioning because he is a child and this image seems pointed directly at the adult who may be responsible for verbal abuse (i.e., represented metonymically by the adult hand in the image). I would guess that the meaning he interpreted is incomplete, if compared to the meaning intended.  

Is there meaning that is different from what we expected to find in a representation? Yes. I might have argued that this image is a clearly a social advocacy claim insisting that we see the consequences of verbal abuse and physical abuse as parallel.  

Interestingly, by my son’s account, there is no argument in that there is not a claim backed by evidence here. Likewise, I see an argument here. I see a claim (verbal abuse is a serious) and analogous evidence (because it is just as harmful to a child as physical abuse, specifically choking).


Can a visual argument be made or discussed without linguistic reference? Not yet. We extend knowledge when we attach it first to a known entity. In this case, the logocentrism is our known entty and the visual is the yet-to-be-known.

Mini project 3.21–Ad4e75Bx2YmrfRCBPAYk63Ak

Mini project 3.28

Final Project Presentation 4.11

Coggle Mapping of Final Research Project


Boscolo, P., Arfe, B. and Quarisa, M. (2007). Improving the quality of students’ academic writing: An intervention study.” Studies in Higher Education 32(4), pg. 419–38. CrossRef, doi:10.1080/03075070701476092.

Burkhard, R. (2006). Learning from architects: Complementary concept mapping approaches. Information Visualization 5, pg. 225-234.

Buzan, T. (2018). Mind map mastery: The complete guide to learning and using the most powerful thinking tool in the universe. Watkins Media Company: UK.

Canas, A. (2003). A Summary of Literature Pertaining to the Use of Concept Mapping Techniques and Technologies for Education and Performance Support. Prepared for Chief of Naval Education & Training, Institute for Human & Machine Cognition, Retrieved from:

Canas, A., Carff, R., Hill, G., Carvalho, M., Arguedas, M, Eskridge, T., Lott, J. and Carvajal, R. (2005). Concept maps: Integrating knowledge and information visualization. In Sigmar-Olaf Tergan and Tanja Keller (Eds.) Knowledge and Information Visualization: Searching for Synergies, pg. 205-219.

Chabris, C. and Kosslyn, S. (2005). Representational correspondence as a basic principle of diagram design. In Sigmar-Olaf Tergan and Tanja Keller (Eds.) Knowledge and Information Visualization: Searching for Synergies, pg. 36-57.

Densereau, D.F. (2005). Node-link mapping principles for visualizing knowledge and information. In Sigmar-Olaf Tergan and Tanja Keller (Eds.) Knowledge and Information Visualization: Searching for Synergies, pg. 61-79.

Eppler, M. (2006). A Comparison between Concept Maps, Mind Maps, Conceptual Diagrams, and Visual Metaphors as Complementary Tools for Knowledge Construction and Sharing. Information Visualization, vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 202–10. CrossRef, doi:10.1057/palgrave.ivs.9500131.

Kress, G. and Van Leeuwen, T. (2016). Reading Images: The grammar of visual design. Routledge: New York.

Lenz Taguchi, H. (2012). A diffractive and Deleuzian approach to analyzing interview data. Feminist Theory, 13, pg. 265-281.  

Mazzei, L. (2014). Beyond an easy sense: A diffractive analysis. Qualitative Inquiry, 20(6), pg. 742-746.

Novak, J. and Canas, A. (2003). The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them. CMAP. Prepared for Chief of Naval Education & Training, Institute for Human & Machine Cognition,

Novak, J. and Canas, A. (2006). The origins of the concept mapping tool and the continuing evolution of the tool. Information Visualization 5, 175-185.

Novak, J. and Canas, A. (2006). The theory underlying concept maps and how to construct them, Technical Report IHMC Cmap Tools, Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. Available: http://cmap.

Rose, G. (2007). Content analysis. Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials (2nd ed.), pg. 59-73.

Tergan, S., Keller, T., and Burkhard, R. (2006). Integrating knowledge and information: Digital concept maps as a bridging technology. Information Visualization 5, pg. 167-174.

Mini Project 4.18

The following Coggle map organizes the sources and theories that inform my journey through Visual Rhetoric.

Mini-project 4.25