Of Rhetoric and Men_Reading Notes

Okay, so the center of this week’s readings: rhetoric. Rhetoric in relation to genre, forms, types, boundaries, speech acts, cultural artifacts. The list of how to analyze rhetoric is endless and an old (very old) tradition. I started with Carolyn Miller’s two articles as she waded into attempts to define genres of rhetoric and identify “principles of selection” that help us to understand classifications: “Because classification sorts items on the basis of some set of similarities, the principle used for selecting similarities can tell us much about the classification. A classification of discourse will be rhetorically sound if it contributes to an understanding of how discourse works—that is, if it reflects the rhetorical experience of the people who create and interpret the discourse” (Miller, “Genre as Social Action” 152). Like Foucault’s principle of exclusion (I seem to keep coming back to this concept, don’t I?), I thought this was really interesting because it looks at why people sort things out as they do. I begin to wonder about what makes people choose categories as they do? How do they choose their criteria when doing analysis? It was interesting to read about how, in the Aristotelian model, there had only been three types of rhetorical genres, but that culture shapes what kinds of rhetorical genres exist and that we live in an age of instability. This instability is reflected by the wide variety of genres that exist, that the motivation for our rhetoric is “liquid,” and that “we hardly know how to engage each other in discourse”  (158).

To help myself keep track, I want to list the ways Miller defined “genre” (by drawing from other scholars and her own culmination:

  • “if genre represents action, it must involve situation and motive, because human action, whether symbolic or otherwise, is interpretable only against a context of situation and through the attributing of motives” (“Genre as Social Action” 152)
  • Based on Campbell’s and Jamieson’s definition: “’A genre,’ they write, ‘does not consist merely of a series of acts in which certain rhetorical forms recur…Instead, a genre is composed of a constellation of recognizable forms bound together by an internal dynamic’” which “’fuses’ substantive, stylistic, and situational characteristics. The fusion has the character of rhetorical ‘response to situational ‘demands’ perceived by the rhetor” (“Genre as Social Action” 152)
  •  Though she acknowledges that Bitzer does not use the term “genre” in his discussion of how “comparable situations occur, prompting comparable responses”—“Thus, inaugurals, eulogies, courtroom speeches, and the like have conventional forms because they arise in situations with similar structures and elements and because rhetors respond in similar ways, having learned from precedent what is appropriate and what effects their actions are likely to have on other people” (“Genre as Social Action” 153)
  •  Fisher’s four levels of “genre constitution”1)      “Distinguishes rhetoric from other types of discourse”2)     “Includes classifications within rhetoric, including (among other possibilities) the four motives”3)     “Contains rhetorical forms that are commonly identified as genres (eulogies, apologies, nominating speeches, etc.)”4)     “Consists of categories described in terms of style” (“Genre as Social Action” 154)
  • Her proposal, though, was that “the term ‘genre’ be limited to a particular type of discourse classification, a classification based in rhetorical practice and consequently open rather than closed and organized around situated actions (that is, pragmatic, rather than syntactic or semantic)” based on the classification of the “enthomethodological: it seeks to explicate knowledge that practice creates” (“Genre as Social Action” 155)
  • Genre as a “cultural artefact” — “The genre set represents a system of actions and interactions that have specific social locations and functions as well as repeated or recurrent value or function. It adumbrates a relationship between material particulars, instantiations of a genre of individual acts, and systems of value and signification” (“Rhetorical Community” 70)
  • “Genre…is the only one of these three resources [figures, narrative, and genre] that has specifically pragmatic power as social action. Narration and figurality are structural and semantic capabilities that become socially and rhetorically meaningful only within pragmatic activities like speech acts or genres…Genres, then in their structural dimension, are conventionalized and highly intricate ways of marshalling rhetorical resources such as narration and figuration. In their pragmatic dimension, genres only help real people in spatio-temporal communities do their work and carry out their purposes; they also help virtual communities, the relationships we carry around in our heads, to reproduce and reconstruct themselves, to continue their stories” (“Rhetorical Communities” 75)

“Form is perceived as the ways in which substance is symbolized. Campbell and Jamieson adopt Burke’s understanding of form as ‘an arousing and fulfillment of desires. A work has form in so far as one part of it leads a reader to anticipate another part, to be gratified by the sequence.’ Form shapes the response of the reader or listener to substance by providing instruction, so to speak, about how to perceive and interpret; this guidance disposes the audience to anticipate, to be gratified, to respond in a certain way” (Miller, “Genre as Social Action” 159). This was an interesting idea in that the very form, and not just the content, of the rhetorical genre (if I was reading this right) was designed to act as a guide for the reader. Do we recognize the form acting in this way? If we do, does that affect whether the guidance is effective or do we simply go along with the form because it is familiar? Do forms alter depending on the situation in which the rhetorical statement is being delivered? I began to think of Superbowl commercials and how their form of rhetoric draws in watchers, especially with the Coca-Cola commercial that aired and the different kinds of responses people had. The commercial put forth an image of multiculturalism, stirring patriotic spirit among those who are not the typical “white and male” Americans, and allowing Otherness to be part of a whole of just Us. From what I have seen on Facebook, viewers responded in (mainly) two ways: pride at the idea of a more accepting United States, and disdain for a commercial that had a traditional American song not sung in English, which also stirred patriotic pride in a different manner. Regardless of which stance the viewer took, the advertisement and their reaction was staunchly involved with nationalistic pride for the United States, and Coca-Cola representing itself as a company firmly linked to the U.S. even as it remains a global corporation. This example of rhetorical strategy being founded on patriotism to sell beverages brought home the idea of our era’s “liquid” motivation (sorry, I just had to do it), but also reminded me of Miller’s drawing on William Raymond’s definition of culture as a “‘particular way of life’  of a time and place, in all its complexities, experienced by a group that understands itself as an identifiable group” (Miller, “Rhetorical Community” 68). It was interesting to me how different kinds of advertisements promote different views of what it means to be a true American. For Ford commercials, the true American identity lies with the farmers, but the Coca-Cola commercial lingers on the multicultural elements that compose American identity, and both advertisers represent how our country sets itself up rhetorically. We are the Main Body, but, personally (and, sometimes, quietly), we each represent the Other (with a few vocal exceptions).

As a side note: Miller’s images were very helpful in breaking down her conversation about forms, actions, and substances, as well as the hierarchies of meaning put forth by her and a few of the theorists she draws upon.

Carolyn Miller_"Genre as Social". "Hierarchical relationships of substance, form, and meaning-as-action" (160)

Carolyn Miller_”Genre as Social”. “Hierarchical relationships of substance, form, and meaning-as-action” (160)

Miller_"Genre as Social Action". "Hierarchy of Meaning"

Miller_”Genre as Social Action”. “Hierarchy of Meaning” (162)

What really brought home the conversation between Miller’s two articles (and Bazerman’s, though I am going to save those for a second post while I stretch out my academic muscles with the idea of rhetorical genre and social action) was that of Susan Popham’s article “Forms as Boundary  Genres.” So much of the threads of thought in Miller’s pieces seemed abstract that to actually see the ideas in action through the various forms we as patients  fill out when we go see the doctor. I had not thought of a medical form as a rhetorical genre, but after reading her piece, I find that it makes sense and is even slightly alarming at how little we realize we are being turned into data by people standing right in front of us. When I am sick and at the doctor, I am not Summer but an entity with whatever ails me, and even then I become more data through billing. My illness/injury/checkup becomes more data that translates into how much my visit was worth. I really enjoyed reading how Popham puts Miller’s genres and Foucault’s concept of the in-fighting among disciplines into conversation with one another as a foundation to discuss boundary genres. Her analysis of medical forms has me thinking of what texts I know best that I could use to begin breaking down the concepts in the articles we have read/will read (most likely video games) and begin creating a network of concepts surrounding a particular text. I am curious to see whether video games can act as boundary genres and, if they can, how they would do so and which boundaries would they cross.

Digital Writing Assessment and Evaluation

Teaching Digital Composition_Taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder

Teaching Digital Composition_Course taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder

For this section, part of the weekend’s readings were the ForewordPreface, and Afterword. (I was also assigned to do an annotated bibliography entry on a section on Multimodal Writing Assessment, which I will link here). This collection represents a network of educators and others involved in writing who have come together, as Andrea Lunsford states in the Foreword,  “to alter our concept of assessment and to provide guidance as we negotiate the latest wave of changes in writing.” With the advent of computers and its full integration into the world of academics, especially with regards to composition, how instructors and students approach the act of writing and the reading of digital texts must alter to accommodate the variety of composition practices and information gathering. By posing questions, seeking artifacts, and crafting new theoretical and practical approaches to the issues that occur with digital composition, such as privacy and rubric styles, the authors of the various chapters and the editors of this digital text are collaborating on a project that may very well fulfill what Lunsford’s hope when she was introduced to her first personal computer. Their aim is a noble one–“From experienced digital writing instructors and administrators to those new to the field or new to a particular aspect of digital writing, this collection offers research and experience-based analyses on a wide variety of topics” (Preface)– but they also acknowledge areas and subjects that were not included in the text and mention scholars who and projects that deal with these excluded angles.

My favorite quote from these three pages was in the Afterword by Edward White: “But the inexorable march of technology and its integration into all of our lives has shaken my view. This pencil [the computer] has gotten out of hand and has entered our bloodstream.”  It’s fascinating how far most of us have fallen into dependency on computers, tablets, and smart phones for communication, note-taking, information gathering, and as memory archives. They certainly have entered our bloodstream, becoming extensions of ourselves in ways that science-fiction would squeal with glee and shudder with horror (depends on the story’s angle in regards to human-technology relationships). Though I do not shudder in horror at the links between people and the technologies they have come to depend on, I flinch at the idea of a computer being used to grade writing (White mentions the U. S. Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” initiative). Can a computer achieve such a state as to be able to take into account the variety of ways people approach writing, formation of content, writing styles? Or will writing only be assessed on its ability to be formulaic (this is me mentally frothing at the mouth at the idea that the five paragraph essay that has been so deeply entrenched in students who have, and still are, dealing with standardized testing), not because formula makes for better essays but because it is easier to grade? Digital composition should not be about how well computers encourage uniformity; it should be about how writers can use to the technology to enhance their texts.

“If, or when, economic pressures lead to the replacement of teachers responding to writing by machines as the audience for student writing, then the capacity of the machines will determine the construct of writing. Students will write to machines, a natural enough move for generations brought up challenging machines on computer games, rather than writing for their peers or their teachers” (White).

It's All in the Digital. Image hosted on 123RF

It’s All in the Digital. Image hosted on 123RF


Ah, More Vocabulary:

Heuristics – “involving or serving as an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving by experimental and especially trial-and-error methods”

Multimodality — “the integration of audio, video, and still images in texts” (McKee and DeVoss in the Preface to Digital Writing)

Illocutionary – ” relating to or being the communicative effect (as commanding or requesting) of an utterance”

To the Rhetor Goes the Music:


Bazerman, Charles. “Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems: How Texts Organize Activity and People.” What Writing Does and How It Does It: An Introduction to Analyzing Texts and Textual Practices. Web. 29 Jan 2013. [PDF]

Bazerman, Charles. “Systems of Genre and the Enactment of Social Intentions.” Genre and the New Rhetoric. Eds. Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway. Bristol, PA: Taylor & Francis. Web. 29 Jan 2013. [PDF]

McKee, Heidi A., and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss, Eds. Digital Writing: Assessment and Evaluation. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press, 2013. Web. 30 Jan 2014.

Miller, Carolyn R. “Genre as Social Action.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 70 (1984): 151-167. Web. 29 Jan. 2014. [PDF]

Miller, Carolyn R. “Rhetorical Community: The Cultural Basis of Genre.” Genre and the New Rhetoric. Eds. Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway. Bristol, PA: Taylor & Francis. Web. 29 Jan 2013. [PDF]

Popham, Susan L. “Forms as Boundary Genres in Medicine, Science, and Business.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 19.3 (2005): 279-303. Sage Publications. Web. 29 Jan 2013.

This entry was posted in ENGL894, Reading Notes and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Of Rhetoric and Men_Reading Notes

  1. Julia says:

    I love how these connections between theories and concepts are really coming into place for you. I think you are really growing a sense of how intertwined the epistemology of a field can be.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s