Rhetorics of Data: Collection, Consent, & Critical Digital Literacies

deadline for submissions: 
March 15, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Computers & Composition

CALL FOR PROPOSALS -- Special Issue of Computers and Composition

Rhetorics of Data: Collection, Consent, & Critical Digital Literacies


Guest Editors: Les Hutchinson (Michigan State University) and Maria Novotny (University of Wisconsin Oshkosh)


Given the extent of regular breaking news coverage of user privacy violations (such as the recent whistleblowing on the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica collaboration or the 2017 Equifax data breach), Rhetorics of Datapresents an opportunity for rhetorical action in regard to ethical questions about data collection, consent, and the need to acquire critical digital literacies as response. This special issue draws on the journal’s history of scholarship that has defined critical digital literacies with regard to data collection. In 2008, Stephanie Vie noticed that, despite students having a great deal of experience with digital technologies, they lacked “critical technological skills.” Then, drawing from Vie’s scholarship, Estee Beck (2015) argued that “if educators ask students to dig into digital spaces that use tracking technologies, then they also have some responsibility to teach students about invisible digital identities, how to become more informed about digital tracking, and how to possibly opt-out of behavioral marketing.” Kevin Brock and Dawn Shepherd (2016) noted that our discipline’s tendency to focus on the pragmatic nature of procedural rhetoric for how it promotes “code literacy” has lacked an attention to the rhetorical potential behind people’s social, political, and cultural uses of technology for persuasive means. John Gallagher (2017), too, believed that computers and writing educators have an obligation to teach students to consider algorithmic audiences when composing in the Internet. Following Gallagher’s argument, Dustin Edwards (2018) agreed that online writers should attend to digital audiences like algorithms, but they should also contend with larger institutional structures that have designed the algorithms that run platforms as well as the policies that shape users’ online experiences.


What has yet to be addressed by this critical conversation in the field is an attention to the correlation between consent and data. Our special issue specifically extends these conversations and connects to the call in the forthcoming Computers & Composition special issue Composing Algorithms: Writing (with) Rhetorical Machines by Aaron Beveridge, Sergio C. Figueiredo, and Steven K. Holmes. In their CFP, they argue that “We need to better understand the problems posed by algorithmic mediation, but we also need to get involved in making algorithms and studying them through computational and digital methods.” Our own special issue addresses this need by reflecting on the new scenes, methods, and pedagogies required for modeling critical digital literacy practices that promote user agency and consent surrounding rhetorics of data, which is often mediated through algorithms. We define critical digital literaciesas critical methods of inquiry that 1) identify ethical concerns or issues within a technological infrastructure, 2) understand the rhetorical implications of these concerns or issues for how they impact people (users and non-users), and 3) respond with a range of tactics that promote more ethical outcomes for use of these technologies. 


We offer this special issue as a designated space for contributors to both identify and understand how data operates rhetorically, but also that contributors offer action and response to issues concerning data collection. Data is more than a stagnant object; it is personal information collected through complex algorithms (Beck, 2015; Gallagher, 2017; Edwards, 2018) that often function without user knowledge, but is then commodified and appropriated across networks by political and corporate giants, and their unknown third-party affiliates. As Amidon and Reyman (2015) argue, user contributions are the very content that “‘writes’ the social web into existence,” and thus create enormous value.



This special issue seeks to build off of these conversations, asking questions such as:


  • How do we take up issues of data collection and ethics in our theories, teaching, research, and politics?
  • What theories can guide our pedagogies and research to implement critical digital literacies responses in our writing classrooms?
  • Where do we locate the impetus for critical digital literacies outside of the university and in our communities? 
  • What ethical approaches to data collection can we adopt to better protect others while we educate and research?
  • How are other fields examining and teaching critical digital literacies and what may rhetoric and composition earn and/or apply from such methods?
  • What role does data collection play in online writing environments, including (but not limited to) social media spaces and composing platforms like Google Docs?
  • How does the design and language of Terms of Service and Privacy Policies affect users of online technologies and platforms? What do users need for these policies to be more accessible? How can we teach these practices in our writing classrooms?


Contributions to this special issue will extend and forward these scholarly conversations by emphasizing the role of consent when enacting critical rhetorical action--response--in the classroom, in communities, and in our public sphere.


Examples of such responses could look like


  • the redesign of Terms of Service/Conditions and Privacy Policies to support user consent;
  • research gathered from community-based workshops that educate others on a particular privacy issue to promote critical digital literacy;
  • consensual website or app design;
  • service-learning assignments where students collaborate with a technological company to user test online safety of a digital product;
  • collaborative discussions regarding the creation of online spaces that promote intersectional resistance to marginalization and oppression;
  • and other critical, creative actions to ethical concerns surrounding data collection.




Proposals due: March 15, 2019

Preliminary decision on authors: May 15, 2019

First drafts of 6,000-7,000 words (not including bib/works cited) due: January 15, 2020

Feedback from editors on first drafts returned to author/s: March 15, 2020

Article revisions due: June 15, 2020

Article sent out for blind review: June 30, 2020

Feedback from blind review returned to author/s: September 1, 2020

Second article revisions due: January 1, 2021

Ready for copyediting: February 1, 2021

Publication: Fall 2021


*Our timeline provides the time and space for contributing authors to design classes to incorporate these foci for this upcoming academic year and/or obtain IRB for new research if needed. This is intentional as we understand our call, emphasizing response, may require additional research time.



Submission and Contact Details

Individuals, co-authors, or collectives should submit a 250-500 word proposal that clearly identifies an ethical, rhetorical issue concerning data collection and consent, proposes an engaged response for addressing this issue, a brief address of contribution to the field(s), and an overview of the article. Proposals should be submitted as .doc or .docx files to Les Hutchinson and Maria Novotny at rhetoricsofdata@gmail.com.


The editors enthusiastically encourage those interested to contact us for information or with any questions prior to submitting a proposal. Considering the special issue’s focus on response, we are happy to think through ideas together to ensure the success of the proposal.