Bib: Rice, Jeff. (2008) “Urban Mappings: Rhetoric of the Network.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 38.2 (Spring 2008): 198-218.

Rice, Jeff. (2008) “Urban Mappings: Rhetoric of the Network.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 38.2 (Spring 2008): 198-218.

Jeff Rice proposes rhetoric of database-driven online mapping of spaces and names it the rhetoric of the network. Using an SNL skit about the quality of online mapping services, such as Google Maps and MapQuest, as a starting point, Rice outlines how these services use particular “types of informational arrangement for the purpose of invention.”

Not unlike Miller’s notion of novelty in the invention associated with topoi, upon which the rhetor draws, the database can be used to draw those arguments that are deemed the most appropriate for the situation. Rice proposes for arrangement to be the key to invention. This stands in clear contrast to the Ramist approach, here represented in Ong’s critique of the same. Rice cites Walter Ong in characterizing the Ramist approach to arrangement as being the logical process of navigating topoi to facilitate the most efficient path to understanding an argument. This, according to Rice citing Ong, presupposes that there is a preset order or arrangement and one just has to navigate it but one cannot rearrange it, effectively curbing invention.

Spatial layout on a print page can be said to determine the structure of ideas with tables and outlines, etc., as arrangement devices. Rice, though, suggests just the opposite for the rhetoric of the network, id est, there are no grids and tables that confine movement of spaces and places in a database; it rather leaves the navigational path open by not predetermining any structure of the arrangement. This means that the rhetor, or in our case the information seeker, is allowed an individualistic arrangement allowing for invention of new paths. Rice summarizes this thought by following Miller’s notion of the topos as a conceptual space that does not have completely predetermined content and, thus, can be seen as a starting point for renewed search. Rice contends that, “To search, […], one moves through places and spaces rather than set them up in them up in fixed data structures.”

Rice also explores Aristotle’s rejection of the relationship of place to movement and Clarke’s metaphor of travel in composition teaching. He likens Clarke’s question of how students can be made to write and read ‘on the road’ to mapping with a database. Rice goes to great lengths to explain the need to abandon the spatialization of space in the Ramist sense to allow for movement and interaction that can lead to invention. He examines Dickinson’s notion of commonality and proximity in navigating and traveling through space, explores Mitchell’s economy of presence, and investigates Lyotard’s concern about how knowledge is challenged through the shifts of information. Lyotard contends that in a database, “informational proximity should be used not to keep ideas apart, but rather to allow their connectivity even when those connections come from different bodies (disciplinary, ideological, compositional), often in unanticipated ways.” This, again, can be contrasted to the more rigid Ramist approach. Lyotard defines a rhetoric of the database as allowing for the imagination of new ways of connecting information that were not possible in previous ‘set-ups’.

The concept of the grand narrative serves Rice as a metaphor for the Ramist theory of pre-determined arrangement that stifles invention by excluding paths outside of the preset order. Lefebvre’s concept of the ‘blind field’ also symbolizes a notion of rigidity in space and place that is very similar to Clarke’s and Dickinson’s arguments, in that it is “the moment we focus attentively on the new field, the urban, but we see it with eyes, with concepts, that were shaped by the practices and theories of industrialization”. Rice puts Lefevre’s blind field opposite Mitchell’s economy of presence and aligns his own new rhetoric of the network with Mitchell’s concept.

Rice makes a compelling case for a new rhetoric of the network that allows for fluid arrangement leading to invention. According to Rice, networks are “bodies of relationships that shift as new bodies are introduced or subtracted.”  Rice cites Latour’s definition of a network as a tool that can be used not unlike other rhetorical tools associated with space, i.e., memory palaces, outlines, etc.  Networks afford us the option of arranging information in ways unrestricted by the rigidity of pre-determined arrangement. This concept allows for the arrangement based on the individually experienced relations to a space or place which conjures up the Foucauldian notion of discourse formation on an individualistic level smoothing the path to invention.


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