Rhetorical Touch: Disability, Identification, Haptics

Rhetorical Touch: Disability, Identification, Haptics

Rhetorical Touch: Disability, Identification, Haptics

Rhetorical Touch: Disability, Identification, Haptics


Rhetorical Touch argues for an understanding of touch as a rhetorical art by approaching the sense of touch through the kinds of bodies and minds that rhetorical history and theory have tended to exclude. In resistance to a rhetorical tradition focused on shaping able bodies and neurotypical minds, Shannon Walters explores how people with various disabilities--psychological, cognitive, and physical--employ touch to establish themselves as communicators and to connect with disabled and nondisabled audiences. In doing so, she argues for a theory of rhetoric that understands and values touch as rhetorical.

Essential to her argument is a redefinition of key concepts and terms--the rhetorical situation, rhetorical identification, and the appeals of ethos (character), pathos (emotion), and logos (logic or message). By connecting Empedoclean and sophistic theories to Aristotelian rhetoric and Burkean approaches, Walters's methods mobilize a wide range of key figures in rhetorical history and theory in response to the context of disability. Using Empedocles' tactile approach to logos, Walters shows how the iterative writing processes of people with psychological disabilities shape crucial spaces for identification based on touch in online and real life spaces. Mobilizing the touch-based properties of the rhetorical practice of metis, Walters demonstrates how rhetors with autism approach the crafting of ethos in generative and embodied ways. Rereading the rhetorical practice of kairos in relation to the proximity between bodies, Walters demonstrates how writers with physical disabilities move beyond approaches of pathos based on pity and inspiration. The volume also includes a classroom-based exploration of the discourses and assumptions regarding bodies in relation to haptic, or touch-based, technologies.

Because the sense of touch is the most persistent of the senses, Walters argues that in contexts of disability and in situations in which people with and without disabilities interact, touch can be a particularly vital instrument for creating meaning, connection, and partial identification. She contends that a rhetoric thus reshaped stretches contemporary rhetoric and composition studies to respond to the contributions of disabled rhetors and transforms the traditional rhetorical appeals and canons. Ultimately, Walters argues, a rhetoric of touch allows for a richer understanding of the communication processes of a wide range of rhetors who use embodied strategies.


In Rhetorical Touch: Disability, Identification, Haptics, Shannon Walters explores the long history of touch as a topic and as a figure in rhetorical theory, starting with the fifth-century B.C.E. sophist and teacher of rhetoric Empedocles, who taught Gorgias, who in turn debates Socrates in Plato’s dialogue Gorgias. Touch reappears through the rhetorical theorizing of Aristotle and Kenneth Burke. Touch, argues Walters, is a neglected sense in rhetorical theory that on closer inspection may be seen to infuse the language and conceptual structure of rhetoric. At the same time, Walters shows how touch for a person experiencing disability, physical or neurological, informs the life world of the disabled person, and at the same time how touch becomes itself rhetorical, a resource for identification with others, and a way of knowing, feeling, and communicating—both a limit and a resource. Walters proposes a theoretical understanding that relates the elements of traditional rhetoric—ethos, pathos, and logos—to the tactile rhetoric of sophistic theory—felt logos, mētic-ethos (embodied intelligence), and kairotic-pathos, as an appeal by bodies in close contact. This conception, Walters shows, has the merit of being able to explain and facilitate the communication of the disabled and of the temporarily abled. Walters explores in detail the way touch is used as a rhetoric and as a theme of rhetoric by disability advocates, and by such cultural figures as Helen Keller and Temple Grandin, among others.


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