Keywords for Rhetoric and Communication Studies


In his 1976 influential work Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976), cultural theorist Raymond Williams introduced the concept of keywords as a method for identifying pivotal concepts in an area of inquiry. Scholars have since harnessed this approach in order to identify key words that are critical to certain fields and shaped by disciplinary commitments. Because concepts are neither static nor timeless, such an approach also reveals how concepts in a field have changed over time and been reshaped by shifting ways of thinking, knowing, and embodying. The keywords approach then serves as a reflexive and proactive way to document, understand, and (re)shape our respective fields.

Keywords for Rhetoric and Communication Studies provides a lens into the concepts and ideas that shape two capacious and interconnected academic fields. Rather than provide a single definition of these disciplines, this digital book offers a network of keywords that shapes our interdisciplinary modes of inquiry. While several chapters address keywords that are more common in the field such as discourse, ethos, and messages, chapters such as buzzword, hybridity, and metadata make an argument for emerging keywords that we need to move from the periphery to the center. One goal of this book is to demonstrate how these keywords are interconnected and shape what we know and how we know.

The book is not exhaustive, nor designed to be. The keywords approach “is not a dictionary or glossary of a particular academic subject. It is not a series of footnotes to dictionary histories or definitions of a number of words. It is, rather, the records of an inquiry into a vocabulary,” as Williams notes (Williams, 1976, p.15). No single keyword defines a field. Rather, the process of using keywords together while acknowledging their interconnectedness offers exciting ways to understand and embody our world.

In order to design into the form of the book the reflexive, networked logic of a keywords approach, this book is created in Scalar. Seniors in the University of Richmond’s Department of Rhetoric and Communication Studies 2019 Capstone course selected two keywords to contribute drawing on their four years of coursework in the major. Along with adding media, they hyperlinked to relevant keywords as well as sources on the internet. The network of hyperlinks conveys the conceptual connectedness that undergirds Rhetoric and Communication.

The book’s form also reflects the shifting ways we communicate. Harnessing the affordances of an open source publishing platform, each contributor used the functionalities of digital writing such as hyperlinking and embedding media. Each contributor also created a short video essay for one of their selected keywords. Drawing on visual rhetoric and media studies, these video essays aren’t designed to be complementary or supplementary to the text, but a critical component of the essay itself.

Identifying the keywords for Rhetoric and Communication Studies is an ongoing project. As a result, this book will never be “finished”. Future majors will contribute to this book and build on the foundation set by the Class of 2019 Rhetoric and Communication Studies major. A foundation that would not be possible without the intellectual curiosity and generosity of the Class of 2019. 

Finally, thank you to the faculty and staff of RHCS. Such a project is possible because of the curiosity and experimentation that infuses each and every one of our courses along with the support of our administrative coordinator Robin Mundle.

- Dr. Lauren Tilton, April 2019

For more information about the course, please visit the course website.