The Available Means of Persuasion: Mapping A Theory and Pedagogy of Multimodal Public Rhetoric
by David M. Sheridan, Jim Ridolfo, and Anthony J. Michel

Book Review by Rachel Dortin, the University of Findlay


Expanding Vocabulary:

Sheridan, Ridolfo, and Michel open their discussion of multimodal rhetoric by assuming “if kairos allows us to characterize the inventiveness of the prepared rhetor, public sphere allows us to frame the broader social contexts within which rhetors operate” (12).  In an age of rapid technological growth, we have two choices: to ignore or embrace changes to established rhetorical traditions. The authors refer to works by Eric Charles White and Diana George to reinforce the idea that deciding to update our traditional terminology is to act against the very nature of kairotic inventiveness. By making clear the “approach [they] advocate is not characterized by a single-minded allegiance to new media, but by a commitment to a deep process of rhetorical invention that takes into account all available options” (33), Sheridan, Ridolfo, and Michel advocate a movement that expands the traditional conception of the kairotic struggle. In their model, the struggle begins before a commitment is made to any particular medium, genre, or mode and also extends beyond the completion of the composition to include a focus on how the message reaches the audience.    


Just as the authors exposed the problem with negating the embrace of new forms of traditional concepts, they explain “public sphere…as a shorthand expression for a set of social practices that are complex, multifaceted, and dynamic – often chaotic and inelegant” (21), moreover urging us to move beyond the conception of the public sphere as a physical entity to encompass “multiple publics whose identities and desires lead them to exploit a wide range of expressive forms” (21).  To bring these two newly imagined words together, the authors craft a four-part heuristic which opens up the lines of inquiry they believe necessary to fully advance us to the level of a truly multimodal public sphere: semiotic potentials, cultural position, infrastructural accessibility and de/specialization (38).  Sheridan, Ridolfo, and Michel make evident that they view these categories as overlapping fields of inquiry designed to evoke reflection and “provide teachers, scholars, rhetors, and other stakeholders (parents, students, school board members, principals, deans, department chairs, etc.)” (39) with a means of opening up the kairotic possibilities in their newly defined manner.

Finally, the authors consider rhetorical velocity, or “the way rhetors strategize about the potential recomposition and redistribution of a text” (79).  With an increase in multimodality, authors must consider their work in a specific medium or genre as a potential starting place for revision in an alternate medium or genre.  As they begin to map a new theory and pedagogy for multimodal public rhetoric, the authors emphasize rhetorical velocity as something more important than ever before. In both praxis and education, one must always remain cognizant of the possible detriments and benefits of reconfiguration in multimodal compositions.