Course Information


  • Number: ENGL 667
  • Title: Infrastructure Tales: Narrative, Persuasion, and the Built Environment of Modernity
  • Term: Spring 2018


  • Name: Andrew Pilsch
  • Contact:
  • Office Hours & Locations:
    • , T 1-4 LAAH 417

Course Description

The emergence of nonhuman rhetorical theory (eg Kennedy, Rickert, Cooper) has meant, amongst other things, recent attention paid to the role infrastructure plays in facilitating, sustaining, and ultimately shaping rhetorical performances both public and private. As such, this seminar will consider the often unseen aspects of the built environment as a ground for human (and nonhuman) rhetorical performance. Course content will primarily be drawn from the growing field of “infrastructure studies” and rhetorical adaptation of social-scientific and humanistic methods used to study the built world. Specifically, our seminar readings will focus on works that use narrative and tropes of storytelling as tools for mapping rhetorical engagement across and with infrastructure. Seminar members can expect to participate in the emergence of a new mode of rhetorical theory that has started appearing in recent conferences and journal articles. Readings may include works by Nicole Starosielski (on oceanic telecommunication cables), Bruno Latour (on trains), Matthew Kirschenbaum (on word processing), Jonathan Sterne (on MP3s), John Law (on airplanes), Janet Abbate (on Internet architecture), and Bernard Seigert (on doors).


Assignment Values

Assignment Due Date Value
Participation Continuous 10%
Exit Ticket Weekly 10%
Book Review 04/05/2018 30%
Conference Paper 04/26/2018 15%
Seminar Paper 05/03/2018 45%

Assignment Descriptions


To get credit for participation, you need to say at least one thing of substance per week in seminar. Such substantive statements can include answering someone’s question with your own reading of the text, pointing out additional supporting claims, showing at length a comparison between the text and something else we have read, or asking a question that generates further discussion.

I will be keeping track of who speaks in class.

Exit Ticket

At the end of each class, I will give you five minutes to write an exit ticket, registering your attendance in class. An exit ticket is a 3”x5” notecard on which you write:

  1. Your name
  2. One of the following:
    • An issue we did not address that you would like addressed
    • A question you have based on today’s discussion
    • A point you still do not understand that you want clarified
    • A question you wanted to ask but did not

I will collect these cards at the end of class and, based on your feedback, will structure the beginning of next week’s seminar accordingly.

You will be required to bring a 3”x5” notecard with you to each class.

Book Review

For this class, you will be required to review a book that touches on the topic of infrastructure. I have compiled a list here, though you may speak to me in office hours about a different text. Have a target journal in mind, though keep in mind that most book reviews are around 750 words in length. Your review should situate the book in the field covered by your target journal, while critiquing the specific accomplishments and impact of the book itself.

On book review day (designated on the schedule), you must bring four printed copies of your review to class for group evaluation and upload the rough draft to eCampus (before class). We will workshop these in class.

After you have received feedback from your group, you may choose to revise your review before submitting your final version, due one week after the review.

Seminar Paper

For your seminar paper, you will be asked to explore some aspect of infrastructure in your field of study. I realize that most of you will not be working in rhetoric and/or composition as your research field, so I want to read papers that expand on infrastructural topics in your area of expertise. Alternately, if you would like, you may develop a theoretical or methodological concern or theme from the readings themselves, and thus intervene in the development of infrastructure studies as a field.

Seminar papers should be 20 pages (give or take 5 pages), include sources documented in MLA format, and should constitute a polished, focused, and sustained argument on a particular topic.

Conference Paper

During the last week of class (or two depending on enrollment), you will present 10 minute versions of your paper. You will need to condense your entire argument into a shorter form and may end up offering an overview or report on the longer essay.

You will group yourselves into panels of 3 to 4 and, working together, submit an abstract for your panel, just as you would for a conference. Based on this submission, I will give you a report on if I would except the panel or not and how you might improve upon it. Whether accepted or rejected, your panel will present as a group on the last day of class and take questions from the audience. One of you will need to chair the panel.


To Buy

The following books are available at the university book store.

  • Bruno Latour, Aramis, or, The love of technology (Harvard UP, 1996)
  • Gabriella Coleman, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy (Verso, 2014)

Free eBooks

The following eBooks are available from the library, but feel free to purchase them, if you prefer paper copies.

School Supplies

  • 12 3”x5” notecards

Books to Review

Here are some books on the study of infrastructure that we are not reading that could work for your book review. If nothing interests you, please contact me to discuss what else you would like to write about.

  • *Once Upon an Algorithm: How Stories Explain Computing * by Martin Erwig
  • MP3: The Meaning of a Format by Jonathan Sterne
  • A Vast Machine by Paul N. Edwards
  • Molecular Red by McKenzie Wark
  • Mechanization Takes Command by Sigfried Gideon (reprint edition)
  • Still Life with Rhetoric by Laurie E. Gries
  • Rhetoric, Through Everyday Things ed. Scot Barnett and Casey Boyle
  • The Available Means of Persuasion: Mapping a Theory and Pedagogy of Multimodal Public Rhetoric by David M. Sheridan, Jim Ridolfo, and Anthony J. Michel
  • Extrastatecraft by Keller Easterling
  • The Container Principle by Alexander Klose
  • Paper Knowledge by Lisa Gittelman
  • World Projects: Global Information Before World War I by Markus Krajewski
  • The Geology of Media by Jussi Parikka
  • Technosystem by Andrew Feenberg
  • Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life by Adam Greenfield
  • Life in the Age of Drone Warfare ed. Lisa Parks & Caren Kaplan
  • Cultural Techniques: Grids, Filters, Doors, and Other Articulations of the Real by Bernhard Siegert
  • The Grid: Biography of an American Technology by Julie A. Cohn


Week 1 – What Is Infrastructure?

Week 2 – Why Storytelling?

Thu 01/25

Week 3 – What Does this Have to do with Rhetoric?

Week 4 – How Does Rhetoric Circulate?

Thu 02/08

Week 5 – Where is Rhetoric Stored?

Week 6 – What Becomes of the Polis?

Thu 02/22

Week 7 – What Else Could Have Been?

Thu 03/01

Week 8 – Why Do Technologies Fail?

Thu 03/08

  • Bruno Latour, Aramis
  • Benjamin Bratton, “Interface Layer” in The Stack alt

Week 9

Thu 03/15

No Class

Spring Break

Week 10 – How Does Infrastructure Shape Writing?

Thu 03/22

Week 11 – What is a Book Review?

Thu 03/29

  • Book Review Day!
  • Rough Book Report Due
  • Bring Four Print Copies To Class

Week 12 – Is Infrastructure Exciting?

Thu 04/05

  • Ridley Scott, The Martian
  • Final Book Report Due

Week 13 – Who Builds the Future?

Thu 04/12

Week 14 – Where is the New Politics?

Thu 04/19

  • Anna Watkins Fisher, “User Be Used”
  • Gabriella Coleman, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy
  • Benjamin Bratton, “The Black Stack” in The Stack alt

Week 15 – What do you think?

Thu 04/26

  • Conference Presentations