"To balance our accounts of society, we simply have to turn our exclusive attention away from humans and look also at nonhumans."
-Bruno Latour, "Where are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts."
M.C. Escher. Mosaic II. 1957.
Rhetoric has traditionally been concerned with both agents and agencies: our abilities to move others to action by means of persuasion. Historically, this “our” has been human and this “persuasion” has been symbolic or discursive. That is, rhetoric is people getting other people to do things by means of speech, writing, and other forms of symbolic action (e.g., music and math). Recent work in rhetorical theory has begun to question this basic understanding of rhetoric. The problem in rhetoric that this course explores, then, is the place of the nonhuman and the non-symbolic in the work of persuasion. Organized around the biological classification (taxonomy) described by Carl Linnaeus—animal, vegetable, mineral—in his Systema Naturæ (1735), readings and assignments in this course theorize and analyze the rhetorical work done by nonhumans, including animals, plants, technologies, and environments (human or otherwise). Likewise, the course attempts to discern the non-symbolic means by which humans are persuaded, such as body language, pharmacology, and interior and industrial design. Course projects thus entail exploring and documenting, in a hands-on fashion, various nonhuman rhetorical agents and non-symbolic rhetorical agencies. For instance, a student might first analyze a pet in terms of how it shapes the family dynamic. Next, a student might observe a campus environment, documenting how that environment shapes its inhabitants (and how it might have been designed to do so). For their final object analysis, that student might then do the same for a technological device such as a toaster or a smart phone.

Following a brief primer in rhetorical theory, we proceed through three phases that articulate related objects and direct our attention to specific problems in rhetoric. These phases are not mutually exclusive; like Escher’s “Mosiac II,” which this course takes as its logo, the objects and processes the phases address necessarily bleed into one another.