Chalking as disruption and dialogue: a practical exploration of a rhetorical ecology at a southern, rural college

WCU Author/Contributor (non-WCU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Margaret V. Williams (Creator)
Western Carolina University (WCU )
Web Site:
Jonathan Bradshaw

Abstract: In this thesis, I explore how an informal form of discourse like sidewalk chalking functions as and within a rhetorical ecology, how ideas and texts circulate within such a complex system, and how this sometimes disruptive medium affects the potential for productive dialogue. By applying Margaret Syverson's four principles of rhetorical ecologies (distribution, embodiment, emergence, and enaction), we learn that chalking is an interconnected but informal system of sidewalk-based communication that uses playground chalk for writing or drawing messages, from art to insults, event notices to poetry, protests to love notes. It is a complex, dynamic system that includes other writers, other ideas, other texts, and other overlapping, entangled ecologies of the physical, social, historical, and cultural worlds we live in. Chalking is both social and material, and by mapping the interactions of and relationships between its human and nonhuman actors, we can explore the blurred boundaries of its rhetorical ecology and examine the disruptive potential within that ecology. Furthermore, we can uncover its practical uses: chalking can serve as visual rhetoric that can be studied in the composition classroom, connect students with the "real" world outside the classroom, and encourage them to engage in productive discourse. More broadly, informal discourse, however mundane it may seem, can guide or influence public rhetorics in often surprising, meaningful ways.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2018
Actor Network Theory, cultural geography, ethnography, rhetorical ecology, rhetorical field work, rhetorics
Rhetoric -- Philosophy
Communication -- Social aspects
Communication in social action

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