Thursday, April 28, 2011

Into the Academy

I am set to join the faculty of a small private university this summer, as an assistant professor within the institution's School of Communications and Information Systems. I will share more information about this position and its duties in coming weeks. This blog post focuses on why I am accepting an academic appointment and how it might help me as a writer.

The decision to accept and embrace a university position is not financial, political, ideological, or idealistic. The pay is, well, academic. I've never been a "classroom radical" with a political agenda. As for idealism, I'm generally considered a curmudgeonly cynic.

No, this is a selfish choice made for a desire to improve myself.

For the last six months, I have peen pondering if I should alter my career path. After considering a return to the corporate life, I have decided to remain focused on my first passion: writing. Currently, I am a freelance writer, often exploring the relationship between technology and society in essays and creative works. I enjoy sitting and writing for hours; I thought I could do nothing else and be satisfied with life. But something was missing that I couldn't explain. When I talk to groups about writing, I get excited and energized. After most public appearances, which necessarily means time away from my desk, I find I write more than I did before the appearance (but following a little bit of physical rest).

There was only one logical path for me: return to teaching and embrace it as a foundation for writing.

My motivation for pursuing the doctoral degree was curiosity. I am interested in how technology affects the writing and production / publishing processes. Writing has evolved with publishing technologies, which means we are in the midst of yet another major shift in writing methods thanks to social media. The doctorate was also meant to be a safety net, allowing me to teach part-time while writing. Now, it appears teaching and writing should be closer to equal in my life because they are interconnected.

I love writing. I am fascinated by technology. I enjoy teaching. Accepting a university post that will allow me to mix and match my passions was too great an opportunity to decline.

About this Blog: The Rhetoric of…

Rogue Rhetorician is a place for me to explore rhetorical theory and instruction. This research is both a vocational and avocational pursuit. According to my employment contract, I am an "Assistant Professor of English and Communication Skills, specializing in Rhetoric/Professional and Technical Writing within the School of Communications and Information Systems" at a private university. (I should write an analysis of what job titles and organizational structures convey to internal and external audiences.) I am a prolific creative writer, a proud member of the Dramatists Guild of America.

Too often the popular media, and therefore the public at large, associate "rhetoric" with politics. Rhetorical studies examine the "art and science of effective communication." For rhetoricians, the term is not associated solely with lying, obfuscating, misleading, and manipulating. I cannot deny that we must study the negative forms of communication, but we do much more than that within the academic discipline. I've often wondered if the first human conversations didn't include insults, but we can and should be better than our base impulses.

My research does not focus on political rhetoric, though analyses of policy debates are unavoidable. We could explore the generalization "All acts are political," but I prefer "All communication is rhetorical." Specifically, my research interests in rhetorical theory include:
  • Rhetoric of fiction: how creative writers, directors, and others employ rhetorical techniques to guide audiences.
  • Rhetoric of visual design: how designers shape perceptions and frame arguments, especially via emerging technologies. 
  • Rhetoric of science: how scientific communities attempt to use rhetorical techniques, especially in research fields associated with disabilities and education.
  • Rhetoric of disability: how public policy debates are shaped by the rhetorical choices of self-advocacy movements, especially online.
The preceding list reflects the order of my passions. Writing and visual design are my primary fields of research. As a professor, I try to avoid the common problem of over-specialization, while also conducting meaningful scholarship in my discipline. Too often our research is divorced from public discourse, so I attempt to explain to my students that rhetorical studies develop critical thinking skills essential to creation, innovation, and social participation.

I maintain several blogs and websites, each with a slightly different focus. I do this because I learned long ago to perform audience analysis and tailor my content to a niche. The blogs and websites I maintain, with my wife's assistance, include:
  • Tameri Guide for Writers (and its WordPress Blog): A website and blog dedicated to creative writing for the mass market. We make no pretensions of serving literary fiction or academic authors. My wife and I both contribute blog postings. 
  • The Existential Primer: A history of existentialism, particularly as the philosophical movement affected literature and the arts. The primer is not comprehensive; by definition, it is only an introduction to a sliver of Continental thought. 
  • Poet Ponders Digital Pedagogy: A Blogger site where we explore how technology affects teaching, with a focus on writing instruction. The discussions address how particular software and hardware products contribute to writing instruction. 
  • Rogue Rhetorician: The site you are reading.
In general, the sites listed above are the most likely to be of interest to writers and educators. Other sites I maintain or to which I contribute are unlikely to be relevant to readers of Rogue Rhetorician. (Then again, maybe you want to see photos of my cats?)