Hacking Rhetoric

About the course

Class description

From 1337 H4x0rs (‘elite hackers’) to script-kiddies, cyber-terrorists to government agents, hacktivists to trolls, hackers are an increasingly visible presence in modern society. Computer hacking has recently been called the greatest threat to the United States’ economic and national security, but it’s also been the driving force behind great commercial innovations and proved an effective weapon against hostile nations. Hackers are heroes and villains, white hats and black hats – and the most epic hacks quickly become legends. This course engages with the public rhetoric around hacking, hacking as a rhetorical practice and the rhetoric of hacked texts, asking questions like: How do hackers promote, justify and defend their practices? How do critics attack them? And how do hacks themselves act as rhetorical texts?

To answer these questions, we will survey the philosophy and culture of hacking, engage in rhetorical analysis of various hackers and hacked texts, and, ultimately, become hackers ourselves. We’ll begin the semester by examining the history and ethics of hacker culture, with a focus on gaining research and technical skills, as well as a shared vocabulary (‘Research’). We’ll then learn tools for rhetorical analysis, focusing on the way hackers use rhetoric through case studies (‘Analyse’). Finally, we will become hackers, putting into practice the ethics, politics and rhetorics we’ve studied as we engage in a selection of computer hacking processes (‘Make’).


You’ll access most of your assigned readings from this site. Many of the readings are links to external sites; you’ll receive a password in class to access files hosted here. You do need access to the following required reference texts:

They Say, I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein (ISBN 978-0-393-93361-1)

Easy Writer by Andrea Lunsford (ISBN 978-0-312-65031-5)