“Secrecy, Surveillance, and Settler Colonialism”: A Rhetoric Society of America Workshop (May 25-27, 2023)

Hi folks,

On alternating years, the Rhetoric Society of America hosts seminars and workshops for faculty and graduate students. This upcoming year, Dr. Michael Lechuga of the University of New Mexico and I will be leading a two-day workshop from May 25-27. The sessions will be held at Pennsylvania State University in College Park, with limited remote access. I’m writing now because the deadline to apply for this (and all other) sessions is approaching on October 15, 2022. Please follow this link to apply! As that site notes, applicants will be notified of your acceptance into a particular session (or multiple sessions) by November 15, 2022.

Below, you’ll find a description of our session on “Secrecy, Surveillance, and Settler Colonialism,” (also available via the hyperlink). I hope you’ll check it out!

Best wishes,


Secrecy, Surveillance, and Settler Colonialism

Our topical focus is the rhetoric of settler colonialism with emphasis on erasure, disinformation, and conspiratorial reasoning, as exemplified by the dehumanization of migrants at the Mexico/US border, the “Stop the Steal” January 6, 2021, white supremacist insurrection, and the infiltration of colonialist themes in popular science fiction narratives. We invite participants to think through the connections between events like the January 6 insurrection, gun violence, and pandemic politics as explained through the lens of settler colonialism. Our workshop focuses on how the critical frameworks of psychoanalysis and assemblage theory are instrumental for rhetoricians’ understanding of the lasting legacy of settler colonialism in the United States. Together, we (Lechuga and Hallsby) represent expertise in both rhetorical criticism, assemblage/affect theory (Lechuga), and psychoanalysis (Hallsby). We offer attendees an affect-driven framework for emerging rhetorical scholars, designed with the specific goal of attending to Settler Colonialism’s ideological, material, and unconscious formations. 

Participants should expect to complete some assigned readings ahead of time and to submit a (2pp) statement about what they are already researching. During the session, we aim to discuss how the frameworks introduced during the workshop might be enlisted to revise or approach these topics. Position papers should also include a statement of participants’ goals for the workshop (e.g., creating a syllabus, conference paper, journal submission/revision, white papers/public facing, advocacy). The workshop will be divided between lecture and break-out groups/discussions. During break-out discussions, participants will also have the option to work individually or in a group (i.e., they may choose to be either self-directed or collaborate with others working on similar projects.)

Whereas Rhetorical Studies conventionally emphasizes the rhetorical situation/ecology as a general contextual framework for persuasion, representation, and power, we would advance arguments for understanding rhetoric’s persisting habitus as a Settler Situation, a set of recurring/repeating historical contexts appealing to topoi of jingoistic conquest, extraction economies, and racial purity. We offer the following framing questions: (1) How do we read and measure settler-colonial narratives/events? What is the archive of settler colonialism? If the archive is secret, what tools or techniques do rhetoricians have available to read it? (2) How does the Settler Situation redefine the conventional boundaries of the rhetorical text? What aspects of rhetoric’s conventional focus on public address and representation are retained by this framework and which are transformed by it? (3) How do (psychoanalytic/assemblage-based) theories of affect account for the combined psychological and material injury created by contemporary nationalist discourses? (4) How do present-but-unarticulated or unacknowledged affects produce recurring patterns of historical trauma? What can rhetorical studies contribute to the understanding of these historical patterns? 

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