Genealogy Project
3rd Generation – 2nd Generation Author: Hawhee

Miller, Carolyn. “Opportunity, Opportunism, and Progress: Kairos in the Rhetoric of Technology.” Argumentation 8.1 (1994): 81-96. Print.

Executive Summary:
Miller claims that kairos serves “as both a powerful theme within technological discourse and as an analytical concept that explains some of the suasory force by which such discourse maintains itself and its position in our culture” (81).  In pursuing this claim, she does a couple of things:
a.    She discusses the difference between rhetoric as constructive vs. rhetoric as responsive.  Miller views the kairotic moment as central to an understanding of rhetoric as constructive in that kairos explains the “dynamic relationship between discourse and situation, to the qualitative nature of the situation itself as it is shaped in and by discourse” (83).
b.    Kairos as central to technology because it emphasizes change, development, progress – all notions central to the ways we conceptualize technology.  (83)
c.    As an analytic concept, kairos is useful because:

  • a.    It combines both realist and constructivist understandings of situation and emphasizes the interplay between the two.
  • b.    It can conceive of change as both continuous and discontinuous.  Kairos’ ability to exploit the discontinuous places an emphasis on the epiphanic moment of miracle – the breakthrough.  Kairos’ ability to exploit the continuous places an emphasis on the constructive nature of kairos to “make an opportunity at any time, from situational resources that can be constructed a variety of ways (83).
  • c.    Kairos has a temporal-spatial dimension in that it includes the potentialities of time and place.

d.    She discusses the spatial (technology as “state of the art” “bottleneck” “barrier” “push/pull”)

  • a.    In extending this push/pull metaphor, Miller extends her analysis to argue that the push (scientific development) and the pull (market demand) are both kairotic in that they are justifiable in the kairotic moment.

e.    She discusses the temporal (technological era, tech revolution, tech age)

  • a.    Miller’s discussion of the temporal relies on a discussion of the “S” curve.

f.    In the discourse of technological change, there are some interesting conversations:

  • a.    Change is deterministic in that the “preceding technical situation alone is determinative” of future innovation (88) – and hence, out of control.
  • b.    Yet, change is not deterministic because of the existence of human interventions and acts of human genius.

g.    To encapsulate this argument about technological progress, Miller notes that “the ideology of progress and the ideology of technology out-of-control are thus complementary kairotic constructions:  they both read from a series of changing moments a trajectory into the future and a message about appropriate action at the present” (89)
h.    After laying out the discourses of technological progress, Miller gets into a discussion of technological forecasting.  In brief, technological forecasting is a self-justifying process whereby technologists, by speculating about the future, can shape the future of technology (and can also manage the forces that spin technology toward the brink of human annihilation).  In this discussion, a couple of points arise:

  • a.    Technological forecasting “takes advantage of (or makes advantage of) the realist-constructivist ambivalence in kairos:  the forecaster can threaten objectively inevitable future and simultaneously offer a way to reconstruct it.
  • b.    In this sense, technological forecasters are like sophists – they struggle with epistemological and political uncertainty and the need for reasoned action in the face of uncertainty (91).
  1. i.    In reflecting on the piece, Miller contends “As a construction, the kairotic dimension of discourse offers both assurance about the unknown by extrapolation from the here and now and also control f the uncertain by opportunistic shaping of both present and future.

1.    Miller notes, “As an opening, kairos becomes a rhetorical void, a gap, a ‘problem-space’ that a rhetor can occupy for advantage” (84).  This seems to talk to Hawhee’s notion of the “inbetweenness” and potential of the kairotic moment.
2.    The kairotic location of maximum acceleration, when discussing the “S” curve of technological growth might have an analog in Shirkey’s “long tail.”

1.    Close textual analysis
2.    Metaphoric analysis

Major Influences:
1.    Martino, Joseph P.:  1972b,  ‘Forecasting the Progress of Technology,’ in Martino (ed.), 13-23.
2.    Miller, Carolyn R.: 1992, ‘Kairos in the Rhetoric of Science,’ in Steven P. Witte, Neil Nakadate, and Roger Cherry (eds.) A Rhetoric of Doing: Essays Honoring James L. Kinneavy, SIU Press, 310-327.***
3.    Poulakos, John:  1983, ‘Toward a Sophistic Definition of Rhetoric,’  Philosophy and Rhetoric 16, 35-48.***
4.    Vatz, Richard E.: 1973, ‘The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation,’ Philosophy and Rhetoric 6, 154-161.
Key Questions/Concerns:
1.    How is the Sophistic reading of kairos an appropriate concept for realizing technological discourses of change?
2.    How do discourses of continuity and discontinuity play out in technological discourse?  How are these discourses related to kairos?

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