Boots in the Mud: Micro-Experiments with Material Rhetorics in Clam Harvesting
Tyler Quiring & Bridie McGreavy

Paper presented at the Rhetoric Society of America Conference, Atlanta, GA in May 2016

What it’s about: Using digital tools to feature the work of under-represented communities

Abstract: Clam harvesting, shellfish management, and attendant research practices are rhetorically produced by material ecologies of the intertidal ecosystems in which these practices occur, and material ecologies of rhetoric shape and constrain ethnographic process. For example, asking about the lived experience of clam digging from the relative comfort of a living room or coffee shop is materially and discursively distinct from posing similar questions on the mudflat. Such distinctions make different understandings of complex adaptive systems possible, and getting boots in the mud with harvesters fundamentally shapes what becomes available as research.

In an effort to understand and articulate these complex ecological possibilities, we draw from material rhetorics, process philosophy, and resilience theory to inform sensory ethnographic field methods. These methods are manifest in our micro-experiments focused on tidally-bound digs that we explore through a digital media project called “Clam Cam” where we are developing a method for situated recording to explore shellfish harvesting practices. We share preliminary results and conclude by reflecting on how this work supports sustainable modes of becoming in shellfish management.