By Jason Crider, University of Florida
Katherine began work on “The Commercialization of Emotions: An Iconographic Tracking Report” in my Spring 2019 upper-division writing course, “Hypermedia and Digital Rhetorics” at the University of Florida. The class introduced students to some of the major concepts and conversations within the emerging field of digital rhetoric, building from theories in classical and contemporary rhetorical study. I often emphasized the ways that knowledge is constructed and contingent, and asked students to “stress test” contemporary theories about digital media, especially as they related to students’ lived experiences both on and offline. For the first major assignment of the class, students applied Laurie Gries’ methodology for tracking the online consequentiality of an iconic image, as detailed in her article “Iconographic Tracking: A Digital Research Method for Visual Rhetoric and Circulation Studies.” One of the many things I love about Gries’ iconographic tracking project is that she pairs her theory with a clear method, an invitation for others to use the tools that she’s assembled towards their own research goals. Gries’ method is clearly outlined and easy to replicate, and students tend to get quite invested in their projects when they start to see how the images they choose have been remixed and circulated online.
Iconographic tracking forces users to interact with the internet in a radically new way, one that may feel uncomfortable and counterintuitive at first, but that is quick to produce results. I’ve found that many students tend to already have a new materialist bent, especially when it comes to digital media, and Gries’ project gives them some vocabulary for it that almost always leads to engaging in-class discussions and exceptional student work. One of the assignment’s strengths is that it invites students to stress test Gries’ claims, to check not only if they work, but how they work. Students see Gries’ theory in action and the material effects that it produces, and are in turn asked to interpret their results. In many ways, Katherine’s report demonstrates the full potential of Gries’ method. Not only did she expertly employ iconographic tracking strategies to her image, she built from that dataset in order to create her own working theory of the famous photograph as it has been remixed and recontextualized online. By moving beyond simply interpreting the image towards an understanding of the implications behind the image’s networked consequentiality, Katherine’s project exhibits the deep inventive potential of digital research methods.