Saturday, September 19, 2009

70. RSA Panel Proposal: Modern Rhetorical Theory (Challenges to the Borders of the Field)

Chair and Respondent:
David Beard, UM Duluth,
John Logie, UM Twin Cities,
Mark Huglen, UM Crookston,
Joe Erickson, Bowling Green State University,
Eden Leone, Bowling Green State University,
David Beard, UM Duluth,
David Gore, UM Duluth,

In October 2009, two dozen scholars got together at the University of Minnesota (sponsored by the UM-Duluth Departments of Writing and Communication through funding by the Institute for Advanced Study) for a colloquium on the contours of Modern Rhetoric. Some of those scholars are participating in the Supersession on Rhetoric and Modernism elsewhere on the RSA calendar. The scholars on this panel represent another subset of those scholars interested in the issues of border crossing in modern rhetorical studies.

Modern rhetorical studies is characterized by the tension between the Classical tradition (for example, in the Cornell School, in Corbett, and even in Kenneth Burke) and contemporary theory. There is widespread insistence that new technologies, new revelations in the human and physical sciences, and the changing, industrialized society requires other resources for rhetorical theory.
• We see this in I. A. Richards' turn to contemporary psychology and philosophy of language.
• We see this in Burke's embrace of Freud and of Marx.
• We see this in Communication's embrace of General Semantics and the Communications Movement.
• We see this in Composition's embrace of linguistics (and General Semantics, too).
• We see this in the tensions between literary rhetoric and classical rhetoric in Wayne Booth.
And these anecdotal examples are merely the best known, the most visible examples of impulses to revise or revisit or transgress the borders that typified rhetorical studies when unified under the classical tradition.

Short Paper Presentations as Follows:

"A/B/C/D/E/F . . . (Aristotle, Burke, Chaim, Deliberative, Epideictic, Forensic)”
John Logie, UM Twin Cities,
Research into the rhetoric of online social question and answer sites (examples include Yahoo! Answers and Metafilter) initially demonstrated that all of the questions submitted to these sites were readily reducible to a generalized adaptation of Aristotle’s three species of rhetoric: deliberative, epideictic, and forensic. This application of Aristotelian rhetoric to contemporary online discourse proved helpful, but ultimately inadequate to the task of analyzing and interpreting the rich social interactions found in these sites. A re-envisioning of Aristotle’s species informed by the theoretical attention indirectly or arguably non-persuasive rhetorical exchanges offers a sharpened sense of not only what is happening in online spaces, but also what we mean (or should mean) when we discuss the “difficult third case” of epideictic rhetoric. Both Kenneth Burke’s “identification” and Chaim Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca’s “adherence” underscore the importance of rhetorics directed at identifying, sharing, and stabilizing values and qualitative judgments. The embedded critique of Aristotle’s thin treatment of epideictic rhetoric in both Burke and Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca’s new rhetorics offer a strong foundation for rhetorical critics now crossing the borders between the terrestrial and the increasingly social virtual landscapes.

"Rhetoric and/or Persuasion: An examination of persuasion as one of rhetoric's effects and as a field of inquiry on its own, with an eye toward the Human Relations perspective"
Mark Huglen, UM Crookston,
Persuasion is a term under torsion in modern rhetorical studies. It is at once an effect of rhetorical practice, and so properly understood as a subset of rhetorical studies as understood within the classical tradition. At the same time, it has been a phenomenon under intense scrutiny from other, social scientific disciplines. This paper examines that torsion and the effect that it has had on pedagogy in persuasion courses in communication studies, before offering a Human Relations perspective, derived from Kenneth Burke, as a way to navigate these border disputes in rhetorical studies.

"Holding it all Together: The rhetorical potential of the network to link a fragmented field"
Joe Erickson, BGSU,
Since Albert Kitzhaber’s 1963 CCCCs keynote address, in which he rebuked the field of rhetoric and composition for valuing informal, practitioner-based knowledge rather than empirical, science based research, the field has embarked on what Stephen North refers to as a metaphorical “land rush” on empirical knowledge production. The move away from practitioner “lore” toward empirical knowledge eventually splintered along different methodological lines, though, resulting in decades of strife in the field about what should be considered disciplinary sanctioned knowledge. Many see the field’s lack of methodological coherence as a potential source of its ultimate demise; a field must have a fundamental knowledge base if it will hold together. Synthesizing discussions in actor-network theory and disciplinary identity construction, my paper will argue that disciplinary strife can itself serve as a cohering disciplinary foundation. I will illustrate my argument by connecting this discussion with recent scholarship on the rhetorical work that departmental websites, as a network, might play in modeling a stable, multimodal disciplinary identity.

"Rhetorical Studies and Popular Culture: The role of rhetoric in popular detective fiction and the pedagogy of persuasion"
Eden Leone, BGSU,
Tensions between "cultural studies" and "rhetorical studies" have been resolved, in a limited way, at the theoretical level through the creation of journals like Critical and Cultural Studies (published by the NCA). Cultural Studies, as a body of theory is legitimated as a field of study on its own, alongside rhetorical studies. We have yet to think through these borderlands, however, as we think through what it means to do genuine rhetorical criticism of popular culture texts. In my paper, I will offer an initial foray into such criticism by analyzing the role of rhetoric in popular detective fiction. Finally, I will argue that the narrative, logical, and rhetorical tactics that are commonly found in popular detective fiction can be helpful pedagogical tools for introducing challenging rhetorical concepts to novice writers.

“Modernity and Religion: Rhetoric negotiates the border between church and state, and faith and reason”
David Gore, UM Duluth,

Hobbes redefined the religious problem as a political problem. But somehow this did not free us from the bondage of irrational fears. We have also not escaped the need for belief. Smith and Hume have realized that we all must depend on faith. The problem with religion, for Smith and Hume, is that it grasps at knowledge that it is not possible to for man to have. But: none of this is a refutation of revelation. It is a turn toward studying man and the nature of man (the realm of rhetoric) instead of God and the nature of God. The turn to the modern may recenter rhetoric among ways of knowing, but it it does little to help us understand the place of religious knowledge among the other forms of knowledge; this paper articulates that absence, even if it cannot fill the lack.

“Reinventing Rhetoric in the 20th (and 21st) Centuries: Synthetic comments with reference to the work of I. A. Richards
David Beard, UM Duluth,
This panel has exemplified the problematic of rhetorical studies in the accelerating context of change since 1900. In many ways, I. A. Richards serves as an instructive anecdote to this work. Richards drew both from the classical tradition as well as from contemporary psychology and philosophy of language. Yet, as a beginning teacher at Magdalene College, he was denied a salary and forced to collect tuition at the door. Only years into his career would he finally achieve recognition for the value of his work. As we start the 21st century, we see rhetorical studies, drawing from both the classical tradition and contemporary theory, achieving that recognition.

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