Call: Chapters for ‘Sensory Rhetorics: (Re)Making Sense in Perilous Times’

[This isn’t a typical call for papers here, but there’s a clear connection to presence (and “digital technologies” are mentioned in one of the topic examples). –Matthew]

Call for Book Chapters

Sensory Rhetorics: (Re)Making Sense in Perilous Times
Steph Ceraso and Jon Stone, Eds.

Proposals and bios due by September 1, 2022
Book chapters due in February 2023

This collection aims to explore sensory rhetorics as a generative, capacious area of scholarly inquiry. There is a growing corpus of transdisciplinary scholarship on the senses, affect, and bodily ways of knowing/being (Massumi, Cvetkovich, Panagia, Ott). Sensory studies has also become an established field of thought (Howes, Jones, Pink). We are calling on scholars of rhetoric and communication to join this conversation by considering what rhetorical perspectives might offer sensory studies (broadly conceived), and how sensory studies might inform or challenge rhetorical perspectives. Sense, that imperfect barometer of rationality, is constantly being (re)made, composed through deliberate rhetorical acts. These acts result in new logics that include but also exceed language and traditional modes of meaning-making. Sensory rhetorics can thus offer unique paradigms of rationality and experience that put us in a better position to understand and speak back to current social, political, and cultural events.

This call for scholarship on sensory rhetorics feels urgent at a time when fact-based arguments increasingly fail to persuade. Democracy’s already precarious ideals—rational deliberation among them—are stretched to a near breaking-point in favor of obdurate political identity and demagoguery. The US legal system refuses to hold accountable perpetrators of violent and racist acts, and the Supreme Court continues to strip away citizens’ rights and bodily autonomy. Climate change deniers ignore scientific consensus despite witnessing rising temperatures and extreme weather events. Many refuse to wear masks or get vaccinated during a world-wide pandemic even as they see the virus fill hospitals and take the lives of loved ones. Anti-intellectualism is on the rise as nationalists attempt to trump social justice initiatives and rewrite history through acts of misrepresentation, intimidation, and outright lies. It just doesn’t make sense that those leading the climate deniers, election truthers, anti-maskers, and anti-intellectuals could be more persuasive than reason itself. But what if sense is exactly what is being made, composed through deliberate rhetorical acts? It is precisely this act of making sense—another way to articulate “sensory rhetorics”—that this collection intends to investigate.

In recent years rhetorical studies has certainly come to its senses. Though disciplinary scholarship on sensation is varied, one legible trajectory focuses on the body (Selzer & Crowley, Hawhee, Bennett & Dickerson). Springing from a rich geneology of feminist theory and method, work on rhetorical embodiment encourages scholars of speech and writing to reexamine rhetorics of perception and representation, particularly (though not limited to) the visual and sonic (Finnegan, Olson, Gunn, Hawk). Additionally, the turn toward embodiment expands efforts for greater diversity and inclusion. Rhetorical scholars counter myths and retheorize notions of normalized bodies, converging with work in disability (Dolmage, Yergeau, Cedillo), gender and sexuality (Carey, Jensen, VanHaitsma) and cultural rhetoric, decolonial, and critical race studies (Powell, Hidalgo, García & Cortez, Martinez, Ore). This scholarship collectively reconceives rhetorical subjectivity—moving away from paradigms privileging white, ableist, cis-, heterosexual perspectives and toward the bodies and sensations of historically marginalized populations. Materialist, digital, and environmental scholars in the field also offer a perspective that stretches beyond human bodies. Non-human machines, animals, environments, and ecosystems contribute to sense-making via complex rhetorical ontologies (Brown, Boyle, Pezzullo, Rice, Rickert). Further, we see enormous potential in emerging rhetoric scholarship on sensation given its intersectionality, transdisciplinarity, and social and political awareness—all things needed to counter the numerous problems mentioned above (Cram, Muller, Bruce, LeMesurier, Brooks).

Building upon this critical work, we are seeking essays that historicize, amplify, interrogate, and complicate how rhetoric “makes sense,” focusing specifically on the ways sensory rhetorics act as a suasive force in everyday life. We are concerned by the circumstances noted above, but also fascinated by and optimistic about rhetoric’s sense-making power—a power with implications that need not worsen already perilous times. In fact, we believe a fuller exploration of sensation and rhetoric’s co-constitutive relationship has the potential to forge new pathways for hope and understanding. It is important to note that our recent experiences with disease, war, and inequity have also inspired empathy, concern, and care, which are dynamic and powerful sensations indeed.

With the intersections of rhetoric and sensory studies in mind, we invite proposals addressing a range of questions, including but not limited to:

  • What histories and theories (from rhetoric and elsewhere) might inform a robust conceptualization of sensory rhetorics?
  • In what ways do sensory rhetorics—visual, sonic, tactile, olfactory, haptic—defy or redefine rationality, logic, and truth?
  • How do our bodily, sensory responses inform our beliefs? How might sensory rhetorics help us analyze or understand illogical behaviors?
  • What is really going on when someone has a “gut feeling” that convinces them to believe something or not?
  • What might a focus on the senses add to rhetorical theories, pedagogies, or methodologies?
  • What practical and/or theoretical distinctions might we make between rhetoric’s relationship to sensation and feeling?
  • What is the role of the senses in relation to evidence?
  • In what ways do sensory rhetorics circulate and operate via digital technologies?
  • In what ways do sensory rhetorics intersect or conflict with traditional notions of rhetoric as language and meaning-based?
  • What roles do sensory rhetorics play in America’s bitter political and social divisions? In cultural rhetorics more broadly?
  • How have rhetorics of antiracism failed and how might sensory rhetorics help us understand or overcome this failure?
  • What intersections might be made with sensory rhetorics in adjacent fields (such as digital, decolonial, feminist, and lgbtqia+ rhetorics to name a few) also interested in disrupting and/or revising “rational” rhetorical epistemologies?

While writers may choose to focus on a particular sensory mode (sound, vision, touch, etc.) for the purposes of a thorough examination, it is important to acknowledge the interconnectivity of sensory experience—the experiential impossibility of isolating the senses. Additionally, though this is an academic collection, we aim to attract a broader audience interested in better understanding “public feelings” and the political dimensions of sensory rhetorics (Cvetkovich). To that end, we want to encourage accessible, evocative, sensorially-rich writing.

Please send 250 word proposals and 50 word bios to Steph Ceraso ( and Jon Stone ( by September 1, 2022. We anticipate 5,000 word chapters will be due in February 2023. Feel free to reach out to the editors with questions or ideas before submitting your proposal.


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