Mere Rhetoric (general)

Remember when genres were easy? Second grade, we start learning about genres, about fiction and non-fiction (in fact one of my sister’s childhood brushes with literary greatness was asking whether Ray Bradbury enjoyed writing fiction or non-fiction best in a Q&A session after a reading.) A little while later, we learned more sophisticated genres—novel, poetry, drama, satire, fable, book report, coming-of-age story, faux epistolary, application letter, ethnogenesis, thesis. We tend to take genres for granted in our everyday, and even scholarly lives. But how do we learn to identify a genre when we see it? What goes into our interpretation of it? How—and when-- do we learn to write them ourselves? A branch of composition theory called Genre Theory investigations these questions and, in the process, uncovers more about the relationships among reading, writing and societal hegemony.


Genre has been around as a concept for a long time, not just in fourth grade, but back to the Greeks, which means back to—who else?—Aristotle. Aristotle had strong feelings about the sort of characteristics that lyric poetry and epic poetry, comedy and tragedy ought to contain. He wrote about much of this in a slim little volume called Poetics. These strict divisions between genres continued for a millennia, as Romans and later European Scholastics insisted that there was something different between an epic poem and a satire.


But what about a slightly satiric satire and a very satiric satire? What about satires about love or satires about politics? Were they different genres? This question flummoxed the taxonomies of the Enlightenment thinkers who studied genre. John Locke tried to break down genre to the atomic level and David Harltey went even further:

“How far the Number of Orders may go is impossible to say. I see no Contradiction in supposing it infinite, and a great Difficulty in stopping at any particular Size.”

In the 20th century, people began to look at genres not as just something that exists out there as a form, but as something that is constructed. We make something a genre when we call something a genre. But why should we even care to have genres? What’s the advantage of having a word called satire or for that matter dissertation, book review or podcast?


In 1984, Carolyn Miller examined this question from the perspective of rhetorical exigence. Lloyd Bitzer had written a text called “The Rhetorical Situation,” in which he argued that circumstances will present a moment of exigence, where audience, subject, everything is ripe for the rhetor to occupy the rhetorical moment. Miller continued from Bitzer’s idea to suggest that genres arise as people repeatedly come up against similar situations. If there’s a need for a group of people to say things in a certain way and that need comes up over and over again, that genre will spring into life as a shorthand for what the social situation required. Miller draws on the work of Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamison, who argued that it’s not so much that genres exist out there as fun taxonomies that we can fiddle around with, like Aristotle, but that genres, rather, tell us about the societies that produced them, about what their priorities are. For example, if biologists in the Enlightenment find themselves increasingly interested in knowing the methods and materials of an experiment, then each time a biologist writes he (and let’s be honest, it was usually a he) will begin to include more detailed information on methods and materials. Anticipating the needs or potential criticisms of his audience, the biologist will create a genre that answers those needs. Miller pointed out that these are perceived needs, not needs that exist somewhere else. Perceived needs, not needed needs. As she puts it, “At the center of action is a process of interpretation,” (156). Because the biologist wants his work to be read as a scientific article, not just a letter or a diary entry, he forms it in a way that lets it be read that way. You’ve probably run into this yourself when you were first writing a new genre: did you write your first literary analysis with a little too much summary because you were used to the genre of a book report? Have you ever written a cover letter or professional email in a way that was, for the situation, too breezy and casual? As Miller puts it, “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” (157). Studying genre, for the rhetorician, then means “genres can serve both as an index to cultural patters and as tools for exploring the achievements of particular speakers and writers; for the student, genres serve as keys to understanding how to participate in the actions of a community” (165).


Miller’s article launched a movement in rhetoric. Called Rhetorical Genre Studies, or RGS, these scholars examine genres as social actions, which occur over and over again to meet their rhetorical situation.


Berkenkotter and Huckin expanded Miller’s argument: "Our thesis is that genres are inherently dynamic rhetorical structures that can be manipulated according to the conditions of use and that genre knowledge is therefor best conceptualized as a form of situated cognition embedded in disciplinary activities" (78). Whew. Let’s break that down a bit. Essentially they’re saying that every discipline, say biology, is going to require its adherents to think a certain way when approaching one of those rhetorical situations. To use a non-biology example, think of the image of a volcano erupting. Everyone is running away, except the photojournalist who responds to the repeatable situation of natural disaster by reading it as “great chance for a shot’ instead of “This could kill me.” So the photographer runs towards, instead of away from the volcano because she is a photographer. Similarly, there’s nothing about a biological experiment that means that it has to be written about in a scientific paper—you could write a haiku, but if you’re a biologist wanting to write to other biologists in a biology journal, you’re probably going to write a scientific article.


As you’re probably realizing, genres rely heavily on communities. In fact, in their very excellent book Genre: An Introduction to History, Theory, Research and Pedagogy, Anis S. Bawarshi and Mary Jo Reiff point out: “Since part of what defines a genre is its placement within a system of genre relations within and between activity systems, genres cannot be defined or taught only through their formal features” (103). It’s not enough to say, “A scientific article includes a methods section.” You have to think about why biologists include method sections, how “doing biology writing” situates the author within a world that values description of methods. Because that may change. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed that genres will change as the discourse communities around them change. Charles Bazerman, who made a long study of the way that scientific articles have changed over 300 years, has said “Genres are not just forms. Genres are forms of life, ways of being.”



There’s a lot more that we could say about genre, but don’t have space here. There’s Anne Freadman notion of “uptake, ” for instance. And the work of Anis Barwashi. And lots more. But the critical thing is that genre theory describes how communities that overlap and change creating these “forms of life, ways of being” that can be recognizable, whether in a lab report, a literary analysis. Or, who knows, even a podcast.

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Genres.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT


Welcome to Mere Rhetoric: a podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, movements, and people that have shaped rhetorical history. I'm Mary Hedengren. 

Last time we did a podcast, I was at the Rhetorical Society of America's biannual meeting in San Antonio. Well now that the conference is over and everybody is home, I thought I might go through a few of the things that happened at this conference. 

The conference lasted from Friday all the way to Monday afternoon, and included a lot of interesting presentations. If you've never been to a rhetoric conference before, it can be kind of daunting to see all of the different types of papers. For example, we had papers on things like "Bordering on Obsolescense: The Fate of Race-Based Affirmative Action After Fisher v. Texas", "Queer Technotopias: Technology, Cyberspace, and Queer Politics in the Digital Age", or how about "The Gendered Borders of Sports Rhetoric". What about something a little bit more traditional, like "Rhetoric, Poetic, Aesthetic: Studies in Ancient Theory", or "Approaches to the Rhetoric of War" or "Rhetorics of Birth." There's so many different topics. And it would be impossible for me to give you a full range of all of the many different presentations from great scholars from around the country and around the world. But I'm going to talk about a couple of the presentations that many people were able to see.

They first is the keynote address by Linda Martin Alcoff. Alcoff is actually a philosopher -- she teaches in a philosophy department. But much of her work fits in with rhetoric. She gave the keynote address titled Whiteness on the Border: What Happens When the Walls Come Down, on Friday. And this topic addressed the future of whiteness as whites cease to be the majority, but still enjoy white privilege. As racial demographics in the U.S. shift in the next 20 years, Linda Martin Alcoff suggested the future of what whiteness is will change. We can't just say that we'll be in a post-racial society where race doesn't matter and only class is the difference, Alcoff says, because 

"We need race to explain how class functions."

While whites often describe themselves in complex percentages of European backgrounds -- 15% Swiss, 12% German -- they will have to give up on identifying as white and become what Alcoff calls "a particular among particulars," instead of the default race. In this situation, some white people are going to feel dissettled and feel like they're a minority surrounded by other minorities. She illustrates the displaced white figure through two films that talk about this anxiety: Dances with Wolves and Avatar. In both of these films, the white man becomes a fish out of water, recognizing the moral deficiencies of his previous experience, and clumsily trying to assimilate into an alien culture. In Avatar, the culture is literally alien, and the hero decides to stay in the culture. He integrates in a way to stay forever, instead of returning back to white culture as a figure of prophecy, like in Dances With Wolves. But somehow, he still maintains his super heroic white privilege; not just seamlessly integrating, but becoming the culture's preeminent warrior, and even savior. Although outnumbered and displaced in the alien culture, the hero retains privilege while still being a minority, like a white reconceptualization of a post-white majority America.

On Sunday, Krista Ratcliffe also talked a little bit about race and whiteness. Her address was called Aristotle, Enthymemes, and Rhetorical Listening. Rhetorical listening is Ratcliffe's idea that the audience kind of needs to be pulling its own weight in considerations of rhetoric. And it was first articulated in discussions of, again, whiteness. Ratcliffe's book, Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness, confronted the problem that many people -- especially white people -- have a difficult time resisting the pull of oppression. And so,

 "Rhetorical listening compels us to contemplate arguments based on the relation to culture and to engage the possibilities of bringing those differences together," 

in the words of one review. That's the identification stuff again, which may be familiar to those who are fans of Burke, is a sense that you connect and disconnect with different groups. In this address though, Ratcliffe expanded on rhetorical listening to discuss the enthymeme the enthymeme, if you're not familiar, is sometimes called the rhetorical syllogism. And the syllogism is a series of proofs leading to a conclusion. For example, you might have a formal proof that says 

"If it is raining, rain will get in, and it will be unpleasant." 

And then have another sub-point that says 

"If you close the window, rain won't get in." 

And then have a conclusion that says 

"Therefore, shut the window so that it doesn't get wet and unpleasant inside." 

Now in an enthymeme, you cut out one or two of those. So you might just tell somebody "Oh it's raining, shut the window," without stopping to explain to them that you need to shut the window so the rain doesn't get in, and that if the rain gets in, it will be unpleasant. So the enthymeme is this way of assuming that your audience has some sort of knowledge that will fill in the gaps. Now this comes into play really differently in terms, for example, of race. Different views and philosophies of race will interpret the phrase "race matters" in different ways. So if you're a white supremacist intent on essentializing and separating groups, you're going to say "race matters". Whereas "race matters" is going to mean something different to somebody who is doing work like the stuff Linda Martin Alcoff is doing: how race impacts cultural and class relations. You have to consider how the audience or author has constructed that particular enthymeme.

Well the Rhetoric Conference of 2014 had a lot to offer. It happens every two years, and there are a lot of projects besides just panel presentations. There were groups who were working together to workshop their stuff, there was an undergraduate research section, there were sections for professionals to meet together and graduate students to meet together. There were even reconsiderations of previous debates that had happened, where writers who had written to each other in their scholarship were able to respond to each other. Lots of great stuff. And I hope that we'll be able to see you next time in 2016 when the conference reconvenes in Atlanta, Georgia. I'm especially excited about this one because Greg Clark is in charge of it, and he was my old mentor. So I hope that we'll be able to see you in Atlanta in 2016.

[OUTRO MUSIC]         


Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_RSA_2014.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

Welcome back to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren, we today we continue our exploration of the baddies of rhetoric.


Last week we talked about Thomas Hobbes and his rhetoric-hating ways for our first villain of rhetoric. Next in our series of the badnicks of rhetoric is Peter Ramus, or, if you will, Petrus Ramus. Ramus came before Hobbes, and he’s definitely one of the people that rhetoricians point to as a villain


As James Jasinski once said, "the range of rhetoric began to be narrowed during the 16th century, thanks in part to the works of Peter Ramus.”


And who was this villain?

Ramus was born in Cuts, France. His father was a farmer and his grandfather a charcoal-burner. He became a servant to a rich scholar at the College de Navarre. Ramus was educated at home until he was 12 at which time he entered the Collège de Navarre in Paris. He graduated with a Master's Degree in 1536, defending a thesis on Aristotle. After graduation Ramus taught, first at the Collège de Mans, then at the Collège de l'Ave Maria in Paris where he taught until 1572.”



Walter Ong chonroicled the way in which Ramus kicked rhetoric down off in the trivium in his Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason The title of this book gives away pretty clearly what Ramus did: ramus wanted to decrease the importances of discourse to what he called reason. Remember when we talkeda bout the canons of rhetoric? In case you’re just joining us or you’ve forgotten: It’s what the Pirate says I alwys state my demands Invention, arrangement, style memory delivery. Ramus proposed moving the invention, arrangement and memory out of the rhelm of rhetoric into logic, under a new name: iudicium (judgment).


He redefined the trivium of grammar dialectic and rhetoric

“Grammar’s two parts are etymology and syntax; dialectic’s two parts are invention and arrangement; and the two parts of rhetoric are style and delivery.”



Ramus's goal is to show that many of the categories that Aristotle came up with regarding rhetoric, which Cicero and Quintilian and others followed, are either arbitrary or actually false, because the divisions divide the subject at the wrong joints. I think Ramus is, for the most part, right, though he is being a little more strict than the subject matter allows [per Aristotle].

Ramus says: Quintilian has added all kinds of things to rhetoric that do not belong to it. Rather, these things might be necessary in rhetoric, e.g., grammar, or must exist in the good orator, e.g., virtue, but these are not what rhetoric itself is about, as an art. Ramus identifies rhetoric with what earlier writers call eloquence, limiting its scope to style and delivery. Invention, order, and memory, he says, belong more properly to dialectic (which ends up being very similar to philosophy). In this way, rhetoric seems to be separated from both the audience and the pisteis of the argument. This makes sense, but only so long as it is remembered that rhetoric [eloquence] is nothing without dialectic as its counterpart [per Aristotle]. Ramus evidently believes that rhetoric can be taught apart from dialectic, even though speeches and even literature and poetry are constructed out of both. Dialectic and rhetoric work together in "stirring the emotions and causing delight" (Newlands 124), but training in ethics is the better place to go to learn about the emotions properly.


As walter Ong says

Prime inditement against Ramus as one whose work “could in no real sense be considered an advance or even a reform in logic” (5) because he was “living off the increment of intellectual capital belonging to others” (7)


“Ramist rhetoric […] is not a dialogue rhetoric at all, and Ramist dialectic has lost all sense of Socratic dialogue” (287), because, as Ramus says, “The art of dialectic is the teaching of how to discourse” (qtd. 160) and as for rhetoric “Ramist rhetoric relies more on ornamentation theory than perhaps any other rhetoric ever has “ (277).




In the place of rhetoric, Ramus recommended a type of logic that depends on what he called “Method”—“orderly pedagogical presentation of any subject by reputedly scientific descent from ‘general principles’ to ‘specials’” in bifurcated charts (11). These charts are familiar to us now, especially when we thinking about flow charts and technology branches. It’s also very familiar to those of us who grew up reading Choose Your Own Adcentures. It’s about splitting all of your options in to. For example Ramus creates a tree of cicero’s life. At the beginning, you have the two choices: life and death. Death is a dead end, but if you follow life, that splits into his birth and his parents on one hand and his learning on the other. Follow learning and you haveanother split between old age and youth. Follow old age and you’ll find his public career and his retirement. Following these branches, you can follow a yes or a no throughout Cicero’s life. This is a great sort of organization for computers to follow because of its bifurcation and it’s handy also when you’re following a taxonomy, but it isn’t the most useful for coming up with ideas that exists in non dialectical order. Still this method could be used for invention and memory, just as Ramus wanted.

According to Yeates (1966):

" of the chief aims of the Ramist movement for the reform and simplification of education was to provide a new and better way of memorising all subjects. This was to be done by a new method whereby every subject was to be arranged in ‘dialectical order’. This order was set out in schematic form in which the ‘general’ or inclusive aspects of the subject came first, descending thence through a series of dichotomised classifications to the ‘specials’ or individual aspects. Once a subject was set out in its dialectical order it was memorised in this order from the schematic presentation – the famous Ramist epitome." (p.232





“Ramus became a convert to Calvinism in the 1550s and in so doing became caught up in the politics associated with the French Wars of Religion between the Roman Catholics and the Calvinistic Huguenots. The Duc de Guise, a Catholic, took control of the royal family in Paris. This resulted in uprisings by the Calvinist Huguenots throughout France and a ruthless response by Duc de Guise. Near the end of 1562, the Calvinists were forced to leave Paris, and Ramus left with them.

In 1572, after spending time both in and out of Paris, Ramus planned to return permanently to Paris under protection of the King. Despite this protection, during the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in which a Roman Catholic mob attacked and murdered Protestant Huguenots, Ramus was assassinated. Following his death he became regarded by Protestants as a martyr.“


Ong argues that it was in part because of Ramus’ martyrdom that he became so popular in England and other Protestant


Ramus was incredibly influential for centuries, first in the Protestant continent, and then in England and America (47). Most importantly, perhaps, “Ramism assimilated logic to imagery and imagery to locig by reducing intelligence itself, more or less unconsciously, in terms for rather exclusively visual, spatial analogies” (286).


Ramus was influencial, but he also limited the role of rhetoric to eloquence, to the style and delivery of ideas rather than the invention of them. It would take centuries for rhetoricians to wrestle these elements of the canon back to the rhelm of rhetoric but the idea that rhetoric equals style is still with us. Just think of how often we hear politicians say their opponents have lots of hollow rhetoric without any good ideas.


Next week we’ll go even earlier to talk about the renaissance debates about rhetoric, so we’ll have a whole super team of rhetoric villains, all plotting to limit the scope or influence of rhetoric. If you have an idea for a series you’d like to hear on Mere Rhetoric, why not drop us a line at I’ll listen respectfully, because I am not personally a super villain.

Direct download: 15-08-12_-_Mere_Rhetoric_-_Ramus.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT


Welcome to mere rhetoric. The podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren


The original recording of this podcast in 2014 was especially timely because we’re going to talk about an important article that came out in College English 30 years ago this year: Stephen North’s Idea of a Writing Center


This essay has been hugely influencial in the rapidly growin and professionalizing field of writing center studies. Back in 1984, though, writing centers couldn’t get no respect. “Writing Labs” of the early 20th century were often responses to a defitioncy model of writing education—the students who were coming in were seen as remedial, and thus in need of one-on-one attention from tutors. This was a response of the same crises we talked about in the podcast on the Harvard Reports. By the 80s, writing center were becoming more abundant on campuses, but that doesn’t mean they were popular: often shunted to the literal basements of buildings, with creaky, leaky facilities and an underpaid non-tenure track director, writing centers were somehow expected to “fix” student writing. But even under such terrible circumstances, writing center theory was beging to develop, aided by such scholars as Muriel Harris and Stephen North.


Stephen North was a good candidate to have written such a manifesto as “The Idea of a Writing Center.” In the 1980s, North was a discipline-maker. His thorough taxonomy of composition research The Making of Knowledge in Composition has sometimes been tapped as the foundational manifesto for research in composition. We’ll probably talk about it later, but “The Idea of a Writing Center” was no less of a manifesto for writing center studies.


The first line of the article reads “This is an essay that began out of frustration.” The frustration is palpable as North addresses some of the complaints that writing centers have from—and he means this in a nice way—ignorant colleagues. Everyone is ignorant—everyone in the profession, even people in composition, are ignorant “They do not understand what does happen, what can happen in a writing center” (32). It’s not just that North feels misunderstood; it’s that this misunderstanding affects the students who come through his door day-by-day: “You cannot parcel out some portion of a given student for us to deal with,” he fumes against his colleagues in writing classes, “’you take care of editing, I’ll deal with invention”) Nor should you require that all of your students drop by with an early draft of a research paper to get a reading from a fresh audience. You should not scrawl, at the bottom of a failing paper ‘go to the writing center.’ Even those of you who, out of genine concenrn, bring students to a writing center, almost by the hand, to make sure they know we won’t hurt them—even you are essentially out of line.” Ow. Seems like a pretty long list of ways to misuse the writing center and even to modern audiences all of these techniques seem innocent enough. The main problem, North points out, is that “we are not here to serve, supplement, back up, complement, reinforce, or otherwise be defined by any expernal curriculm. (40). Unless you think North has it out for his colleagues, he admits that even his own writing center includes in its mission statement the description of the center as “a tutorial facility for those with special problems in composition” (34). If it’s possible to spit something out in a written article, North faily spits the words out in self-loathing. And the loathing is “the idea that a writing center can only be some sort of skills center, a fix-it shop” (35).

So if writing centers AREN’T just a support for composition, what is the “idea” of te writing center anyway? “We are here to talk to writers” (40). This definition makes the writing center an independent entity with its own purpose in the university, not just an appendage or fix-it shop for the composition classes. What a writing center is can be much larger. North sets out the definition for writing center that persists to this day : at a writing center “the object to to make sure that writer, not necessarily their texts, are what get changed by instruction. In axiom form it goes like this: our job is to produce better writers, not better writing” (38). Whhhoooo, I almost get chills. It’s a phrase you’ll hear a lot in writing cneters, “better writers, not better writing.” What it often means is that writing centers aren’t editing services or a way to improve an assignment or get an A in a class, but an educational cite themselves that hope to teach writing skills and processes that students can take with them in any class and even after graduation. In this sense, the writing center, as North says, “is going to be student-centers in the strictest sense of that term” (39). It will “being from where the student is, and move where the student moves” (39).



North suggests that writing centers are uniquely qualified to do this work, since the teaching of writing can take “place as much as possible during writing, during the acticity being learned” instead of before or after the writing (39). “The fact is,” North continues “not everyon’s interest in writing, their need or desire to write or learn to write coincides with the fifteen or thirty weeks they spend in writing courses—especially when, as is currently the case at so many institutions, those weeks are required” (42). Anyone who’s taught composition can attest that students sometimes have a hard time seeing the point of skills that their teachers immediately identify as critical for future writing, but with only the imperative of finishing the class, it can be hard for students to understand. At the writing center, North suggests, this is not the case, because the motivations become real. “Any given project” is the material that brings students in “that particular text, its success or failure” (38) motivates students. Students who are motivated by applying to law school or understanding a lab report are often suddenly willing to see the importance of writing skills. These students, “are suddenly willing—sometimes overwhelming so—to concern themselves with audience, purpose and persona and to revise over and over again” because “suddenly writing is a vehicle, a means to an end” (43).


The ideas from North’s “Idea of a writing center” have become commonplaces, both because they resonated with what was already happening in the Writing Lab Newsletter and other periodicals as , in North’s words, “writing center folk general are becoming more research-oriented” (44). That tradition has expanded, as peer-reviewed articles in writing centers studies supports a half-dozen journals as well as frequent publication in College English and College composition and communication. When North saw that writing center directors were meeting “as a recognized National Assembly” at the National Council of Teachers of English, he might have foreseen that writing center studies would balloon into the International Writing Center Association, a biennial conference that draws participants in hundreds, and all of the regional conferences affiliated with the IWCA…which reminds me.

One such conference is the south cettral (waazzup?) writing center association conference, which we hosted here at the Uniersity of Texas at Austin last February. I confess that my interest in this topic was partially inspired by the call for papers in this conference, which invoked the 30-yr anniversary of “the idea of a Writing Center.”


If you have a conference that you’re organizing in rhetoric and composition, send me an email over at and I’d love to give you a shout out on a future podcast.





Direct download: 15-08-12_-_Mere_Rhetoric_-_Ideas_of_Writing_Centers.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT


Welcome to Mere Rhetoric the podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, ideas and movement that have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and   the University of Texas’ Humanities Media Project supports the podcast and


A few weeks ago I was at an excellent lecture by Collin Brooke here at the university of Texas and he was talking about applying the master tropes to different models of networks. Then I thought--by Jove, the Master Tropes! What a brilliant idea for a podcast! So with all deference to Dr. Brooke, let’s dive into these four beauties of the world of tropes.


A trope, you may or not know, is a way of presenting thought in language. A trope is different from what’s called a figure because it doesn’t deal with arranging words, but rather arranging thought. For example, a figure might be something like hyperbaton, which is the the way that Yoda talks: “Patience you must have” just means “you must have patience” there’s not change in the thought behind the words, but the refiguring of the words creates interest, so Yoda says things like “Miss them do not” instead of do not miss them, but the ideas aren’t changed at all. That’s figures.


Occasionally, though, Yoda will use a trope. For example, once he said ““In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way.” This is, as it turns out, a metaphor: knowledge doesn’t actually cast a glow, but it does make things metaphorically clear. The words transform the ideas: light equals knowledge. It’s not that Yoda changed the words around--all considered this is pretty syntactically straight-forward for the sage-green sage--but he’s presented the ideas in a different way. This is a trope, not a figure.

It is, as a matter of fact, one of the four master tropes: Metaphor, Synecdoche, Metonymy and Irony.  It’s possible that these terms aren’t familiar to you, or only in a vague, AP English sort of way, so let me provide examples and definitions. Metaphor is the trope that is most familiar to us: knowledge is light, the Force is a river, many Storm troupers are a wall. So I’m going to skip over that. Synecdoche is--aside from being difficult to pronounce, using the part to represent the whole. I always think of that movie Synecdoche New York, where the guy builds a replica of New York for a movie. The standard examples include things like “earning your bread and butter” when you’re hopefully earning much more than that or “putting boots on the ground” when the military often needs soldiers, too, to fill those boots. I used to joke with my Mormon comedy group since everyone prays to “bless the hands that prepared this food,”  if there was a terrible accident in the kitchen and everyone died, at least the hands would be preserved. So you get the idea. Metonymy can sometimes be a little more confusing, because it, like Synecdoche, involves using a word associated with the idea to stand in for the idea itself. We say things like “the White House has issued a statement” when the building itself has done no such thing, or “Hollywood is corrupt” to represent the movie business generally. Some people will say that synecdoche is just a specific kind of metonymy, like how simile is a specific kind of metaphor. Finally, irony may seem like a simple, straightforward trope, but it can be notoriously complex, as Wayne Booth describes in greater detail in The Rhetoric of Irony. How we we know when someone is being ironic? How much is irony dependent on understanding cultural cues? Why do we say the opposite of what we mean as a way to say what we want? Tricky stuff all around.

The four master tropes are probably most familiar to rhetoricians as the essay found way in the back of Kenneth Burke’s Grammar of Methods, way way back as an appendix. There, Burke equates these over-arching tropes with different epistemic perspectives: metaphor correlates with perspective, metonymy with reduction, synecdoche with representation, and irony with dialectic. The way that we construct thought depends on how we use these four master tropes.

Remember when we talked about the Metaphors we live by? Well, Burke says that we don’t just live by metaphors individually, but also by the idea of metaphor, or by reduction, representation or dialectic. The tropes, instead of just being a way to make your writing more flowery, can be a critical part of invention, and how you see the world more generally. Are you inclined to think inductively, looking at a couple of examples of Sith lords and there after making generalizations about the group as a whole and their capacity to run a competent daycare? It’s possible to think in terms of irony, transpositioning one view of truth with an anti-thetical perspective: can Anikin be both on the dark side and not on the dark side? Can you both do and do not if you only try? These master tropes are not just ways of expressing ideas about the world, but coming to make ideas as well.

I’m a huge fan of Burke, but I’m afraid that I can’t give him credit for coming up with the idea of four master tropes that encompass other ways of figuring ideas. I’m sorry to say that that distinction goes to--ew--Petrus Ramus. Yes, Ramus, the mustache-twirling villain of rhetoric himself. Back when we did our series on the villains of rhetoric, Ramus was public enemy number one, removing invention from rhetoric and diminishing the whole affair to a series of branching “yes and no” questions and needless ornamentation. And yet it was Ramus, in his eagerness to classify everything into categories and subcategories who coined the idea of the master tropes back in 1549. Fortunately the idea was taken up by a more palatable figure of rhetorical history, Giambattista Vico, who in the 18th century, identified the master tropes as basic tropes, or fundamental tropes, being those to which all others are reducible.  

Since Burke, though, others have taken up the idea that these tropes of arranging ideas might become ways to think about the world in general. Hayden White, for instance, saw the master tropes as representing something about literature.




('mode of emplotment')


('mode of argument')


('mode of ideological implication')


















He constructed a table where each trope has its own genre, worldview and ideology. Metaphor, for instance, was about romance--or we might say fantasy--and was associated with formism and an ideology of anarchism because anything might apply as a metaphor. Metonymy was associated with comedy, organicism and conservatism--presumably because if you assume that “the White House” speaks for the country, you’re putting a lot of stock in the traditional power that dominates. Conversely, synecdoche was associated with tragedy, mechanism and radicalism. Irony, naturally enough, was the trope of satire and its world view of contextualism and liberalism. Once White had come up with this tidy table, he because to think about the tropes not just statically, but how they might evolve temporally, both in terms of an individual child’s development and in a civilization.

Metaphor was the earliest stage, corresponding to infants up to two years old and aligned with Foucault’s conceptualization of the Renaissance. Then metaphor gives way to metonymy, the domain of children from 2-7, which White lines up with the Classical period and the Enlightenment--very conservative and fond of straight-forward comedy. Next comes synecdoche of tweens and the modernist period--radically breaking from the past and finally, in crowning achievement, irony, the stage of teenagers and adults, corresponding to the post-modernist era, with its love of counterintuitive and contradictory thought.


Hayden White's Sequence of Tropes

Piagetian stages of cognitive development

White's alignment of Foucault's historical epochs


sensorimotor stage (birth to about 2 years)

Renaissance period (sixteenth century)


pre-operational stage (2 to 6/7 years)

Classical period (seventeenth and eighteenth centuries)


concrete operations stage (6/7 to 11/12 years)

Modern period (late eighteenth to early twentieth century)


formal operations stage (11/12 to adult)

Postmodern period

Others have highlighted the philosophical or historiographical possibilities of the mastertropes, including Jakobson and Foucault himself. Which brings me back to this fascinating, exploratory lecture by Collin Brooke.


Brooke suggested another correlation for the master tropes: not ways of thinking or periods of time, but networks of connection. Networks are a big stinking deal for digital humanists and new media rhetoricians like Brooke, and some of the different types of networks, brooke proposes, may correlate to the master tropes: hierarchies, for instance, are like metaphors, which correspond across groups--the padowan learner doesn’t really tell us much about the Jedi master who trains her, but you expect the role of that padowan learner to be similar to the role of another padowan who studies under another master. Synecdoche, though, can be seen in truly random networks. A network of 200 that is truly random, is representative of a network of 2000, or of 2 million. Some networks are neither analogous like metaphor or random like synecdoche. In situations that produce what’s been called the long tail--citations for example, some groups or people are more popular because they are more popular. the more people who fear Jabba the hut--peons, bounty hunters-- the more he is feared. It creates a snowball effect that is similar to metonymy. Brooke’s ideas are inchoate and he admits that he’s not sure what network might correlate to irony--it’s all a work in progress, afterall, but it goes to show that the organization appeal of the master tropes continues. The idea of tropes that rule all the other tropes and say something meaningful about the ways in which we construct and understand the world around us is a timeless appeal that goes all the way back to Vico--er, let’s just say Vico, okay.  Until next week--miss us you must not because patience you must have.


Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Master_Tropes.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT


Welcome to Mere Rhetoric the podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, ideas and movement that have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and   the University of Texas’ Humanities Media Project supports the podcast and



Today we’re doing a podcast on Dionysius of Halicarnassus, not least because it’s so fun to say his name. Some people just have the kind of name that makes you want to say it all out, in full. Say it with me: Dionysius of Halicarnassus. It’s lovely. Fortunately, we’ll lget to say Dionysius of Halicarnassus several times today.


Dionysius of Halicarnassus, being of Halicarnassus, was Greek, but he wasn’t one of the 5th century golden age Greek rhetoricians--he lived around 50-6 BC during the Roman empire. Indeed, he studied in Rome and gave lessons there as part of the Greek educational diaspora. Dionysius of Halicarnassus could be seen as a great reconsiler between Roman and Greek thought, or he could be seen as a stoolie for the romans. He wrote of the Romans as the heirs of Greek culture and was always talking up the qualities of the Romans.


But he did love Greek rhetoricians. He writes admiringlyof Greek poets like Homer and Sappho of Greek rhetoricians Isocrates and Lysius, and even of Dinarchus, whom most people thought was kind of a lousy rhetor and even Dionysius of Halicarnassus admits was “neither the inventor of an individual style … nor the perfector of styles whcih others had invented” (1). He compiledhis thoughts on rhetoric into a more-or-less treatise known to us rather unimaginatively as the Art of Rhetoric. Not to be confused with all of the other Arts of Rhetoric, but the one by Dionyius of Halicarnasus. In the Art of Rhetoric and On Literary Composition, he offers in-depth analysis of many of the greatest Greek rhetors and rhetoricians, giving long examples in his text. As a matter of fact, much of the fragments we have from folks like Sappho comes from Dionysius of Halicarnassus, because he loved to quote big chunks of text and then go back and describe what was happening in those texts, even down to the level of the sounds of the vowels. that’s the level of analysis you get from dionysius of Halicarnassus.


And rather not surprisingly. Dionysius of Halicarnassus cited big chunks of text because he was a firm believer of imitation. Imitation,in this case, wasn’t the same as mimesis. Let me describe the differences: For Aristotle, Mimesis was about looking to nature and imitation from nature. So you see a bowl of grapes, and you get your teeny, tiniest paintbrush and you paint thos grapes so realistically that someone walking by might jam their finger reaching out to grab one. that’s mimesis. Dionysian imitation, though, is about imitating an author. Or authors. So now instead of staring at a bowl of grapes, you might stare at a poem about a bowl of grapes. Pedagogically, you might first emulate the poem, trying to recreate the poem as closely as you can, then adapt the poem, maybe now instead of a poem about grapes you make it a poem about plums. then you might rework and improve the poem, cutting back the long winded parts, or where the original author used a lame analogy or something. But then, in your own work, you continue this process with not just one poem, but dozens of poems, and not just by one author, but by dozens of authors. Through careful reading and analysis, you can identify the styles and methods most appropriate to your situation. This was popular for the Romans and it’s popular with us. If you’re going to write a love poem today, for instance, you might write a sonnet because of the successful love poems of Plutarch and Shakespeare, and you might find yourself using similar kinds of tropes and figures as Plutarch and Shakespeare, cataloging the beauty of your beloved, or comparing them to an animal or flower.this is all Dionysian imitation on your part. The Dionysian imitation caught on in a big way among Latin writers. Quintilian was a fan and included imitation of authors in his own pedagogy. Dionysius of Halicarnassus’ 3-volume treatise, known to us as--surprise--on imitation became a relative best seller. It makes sense considering the politics of greco-roman relations: if the Golden Age rhetors, Isocrates and Lysius, really are teh best, they can serve as models for Roman writers. these Roman writers, though, can exceed the Greek models. Just like how Dionusus of Halicarnassus thought that Romans were the literal descendents of later Greeks, he found a way that their writing could be descended from Greek style.


It may sound weird to us to not value originality, but Romans were sort of world-weary, “nothing new to be said” sorts who recognized the long literary precedent of Greek and Egyptian writers. Dionysian imitation could give them a way to feel that they were taking this long history and improving on it. And that meant a lot to them.


If you, like Dionysius of Hallicarnassus, have a fun name to say, or if you know of a rhetorician who, like Dionysius of Hallicarnassus, has a fun name to say, why not drop us a line at Until next time, Dionysius of Hallicarnassus.


Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Dionysius.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:25am CDT

Welcome to Mere rhetoric, a pocast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and I’d like to take you back, back in time…




It was 1985. As Bowling for Soup would later describe the year, “there was U2 and Blondie, and Music still on MTV” And in the pages of College English a debate was raging. Two scholars, careful and smart, battling over a question that still haunts beginning composition instructors: should we teach punctuation to first year writing students? The debate between Martha Kolln and Patrick Hartwell describes some of the difficulties in navigating the question of teaching grammar and punctuation, but it doesn’t begin with the Hartwell-Kolln debate of the 80s: it begins with the Braddock Report of 1963.




            The Braddock report, or, more properly, “Research in Written Composition" by Braddock, Lloyd-Jones, and Schoer was commissed by the National Council of Teachers of English to answer the question of whether grammar instruction had any impact on improving student writing. And what they found was that, using one- and three-year studies, instructing in grammar  was “useless if not harmful” to the teaching of writing. And for many instructors, that sealed the deal. Grammar fell deeply out of favor. But the Braddock report wasn’t carefully applied: its full argument was that: "The teaching of formal grammar has a negligible or, because it usually displaces some instruction and practice in actual composition, even a harmful effect on the improvement of writing" (Braddock, Lloyd-Jones, and Schoer, 1963). The way grammar was being taught could be faulty without the practice of teaching grammar being problematic. In other words, to cite the 1960 Encyclopedia of Education Research “Diagramming sentences …teaching nothing beyond the ability to diagram.” Still, grammar was out.




            For Patrick Hartwell, that sealed the deal. In “Grammar, Grammars and the Teaching of Grammars,” he makes some strong claims against the teaching of grammar in composition. For one thing, he says that most errors don’t matter and those errors that do matter can usually be “caught” without knowing if they’re a predicate or a verbal adverb or whatever. Some of these errors will be caught ‘naturally,” Hartwell says, without anyone teaching explicitly. As he says, “If we think seriously about error and its relationship to the worship of forma l grammar study, we need to attempt some massive dislocation of our traditional thinking ,to shuck off our hyperliterate perception of the value of formal rules, and to regain the confidence in the tacit power of unconscious knowledge that our theory of language gives us.




Most students, reading their writing aloud, will correct in essence all errors of spelling, grammar, and, by intonation, punctuation, but usually without noticing that what they read departs from what they wrote.” If you can speak it, you can get it. Hartwell does admit that people who are coming at English from another language tradition may need more explicit help, but grammar can be cut from most classes without much harm being done. Hartwell cites research that spending time on grammar is useless and claims that “It is time that we, as teachers, formulate theories of language and literacy and let those theories guide our teaching, and it is time that we, as researchers,  move on to more interesting areas of inquiry.”  




Martha Kolln was not ready to move on. Kolln read Hartwell’s argument and gave it a big ol’ nu-uh. Students don’t just have an inborn sense of grammar because they don’t have an inborn sense of rhetoric.  She doesn’t think composition should be exclusively a grammar class, but she does believe in what she calls “rhetorical grammar.”




In her book of the same name, Martha Kolln tells us that punctuation is part of our voice, not just a “final, added-on step” (279). Some of these consequences are more delicate (“will that semi-colon create a more formal air than that dash?”), while others are more blunt (“if you use all caps here, your academic paper will look like an eight-grader’s text-message”). Kolln does a good job of not saying that certain things are off-limits—sentence fragments, passive voice, ellipsis.  Overall, these are choices, just like any rhetorical choice. So when Hartwell says that grammar shouldn’t be researched or taught in composition, she read his argument as saying “a subset of rhetorical choices shouldn’t be taught in composition.” And So she wrote a comment in to College English.




In this comment she agrees that composition shouldn’t be just about grammar and she agrees with the Braddock report that “formal grammar is not the best way to teach grammar” but “rhetorical grammar has a place in our composition class, because of course grammar is there” (877). And if the grammar is there, then it ought to be talked about intelligently. Kolln sees a lot of throwing the baby out with the proverbial bathwater in getting rid of all grammar instruction.




When people claim “ Our students should learn to write by writing-only by writing, by letting it all hang out. Let's not in-hibit their creativity by calling unnecessary attention to the structures they use; and we're certainly to have no "lessons" on sentence structure or parts of speech, on "formal gram-mar."






How foolish. How harmful. The result is a generation (or more) of students who have no language for discussing their language. We teach them terminology in every other field-in science and math and history and geography and computer science and physical education, in literature, and in French. But not in their own language.”




Well, Hartwell read Kolln’s argument and made the snappy reply “ther’s little to be accomplished by talking about paradigms” Zing!




I mean, is it okay if I take a sidebar and say that passions here are remarkably high? Both Kolln and Hartwell have deep-rooted passions about the teaching and study of grammar, calling each other’s perspectives “foolish”  and sniping at each other. It’s rare to find such academic vitriol, so when ever it comes up, you know there’s some intense feelings going on.




Anyway, Hartwell says that not teaching grammar doesn’t keep student from talking about grammar because, of course, they will do so naturally, because “every culure develops a remarkable rich metalinguistics vocabulary for discussion language” and current students are no exception. He also says that it’s better to err on his side of thigns because if, hypothetically, he and Kolln were to take a tour of writing instruction among practioners, “ we’d find it dripping with a kind of grammar instruction we both deplore.”






Okay, so after the furver of these grammar debates, where does that leave us? Strangely, the answer to that question depends on which generation “us” is. The Braddock reports did eventually filter down into the classrooms and for a while it looked that Hartwell won this one. During that while was when I went through high school, actually. I had a totally of 3 days of grammar instruction in high school, which came during a creative writing class, of all things. But I was never expected to know any grammar vocabulary beyond what it takes to fillout a MadLibs.




But that’s changed. Yesterday my mom—also a writing teacher—texted me to say that she had been helping her 12-year-old grandson diagram sentences. Diagram sentences! I didn’t know that had been happening since the fifties: bowling leagues, Tupperware parties and diagramming sentences and here’s my nephew, in a generally progressive school, diagramming sentences! I shouldn’t be too surprised, though—I’ve noticed that each year my freshmen student enter with more and more background in grammar. This has led to the odd situation where sometimes my students know more about formal grammar than I do.




If you have strong feelings about grammar one way or another, why not tell us all about it at And don’t worry too much about proofreading your email—I’m not going to send it back corrected.






Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Kolin_Hartwell_Final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:26pm CDT


Welcome to Mere Rhetoric the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements that have shaped rhetorical history. Contact us at or trought Twitter @mererhetoricked




And guys. Guys, today we address the last of the three traditional branches of rhetoric. This makes me sad. We had the Law and Order rush of judicial or forensic rhetoric and the pageantry of epideictic rhetoric and today we come to deliberative, or political rhetoric. And then we won’t have any more branches of rhetoric, because if there’s one thing Aristotle loved, it’s breaking things down into threes.




It is, of course, Aristotle who thought to divide rhetoric into the three genres of judicial, epideictic and deliberative and there’s nothing that says rhetoric always fits into these handy three categories, but it was convenient for Aristotle to do so. Think about it: Three branches of rhetoric. One of them, the judicial, focuses on the past—did the accused do something accuse-worthy? One of them—epideictic—focuses on the present—let’s celebrate how great this day is right now. And so one of them, deliberative rhetoric, will focus on the future. Judicial, epideictic, deliberative; past, present, future; law, community, policy.




It’s deliberative rhetoric that focuses on determining a future course to take. Traditionally, this was read strictly, as a matter of political debate by those who had authority to determine policy for a city state—should we go to war with Sparta? As Aristotle says, deliberative rhetoric "aims at establishing the expediency or the harmfulness of a proposed course of action; if he urges its acceptance, he does so on the ground that it will do good; if he urges its rejection, he does so on the ground that it will do harm."  Aristotle gave two pairs of criteria for practitioners of deliberative rhetoric to keep in mind as they chose their debates. First, the moral—is it good or is it unworthy? Good or unworthy includes ethical concerns, but not exclusively that. Remember that for Romans “virtue” meant “manly” and “gentleman” used to mean a rank and not a compliment, so in some ways, worthy has to do with a specific set of political and social ideals and not just some sort of kindness-first morality that seems more natural to contemporary readers. It may be “good” to go to war to avenge some perceived slight to the country’s aristocratic pride, if pride is considered a moral priority. Aristotle lists things that are “good” like good birth, bodily stature, wealth and reputation, which might seem a little shallow alongside ethical virtues like justice, courage and generosity.




The second pair of criteria are even more pragmatic: is it advantageous or disadvantageous? In this pairing, you can see these less squishy values becoming more important. The country needs money and war with Sparta will bring spoils and rewards. War with Sparta will increase our reputation as a fearsome city state. Things like that. So that’s Aristotle for you: deliberative rhetoric deals with the future, and you can argue about whether an act is good or whether it is advantageous.




But a lot has happened in the years and centuries and millennia since Aristotle. Mostly we keep going back to the divisions that Aristotle came up with, even though we have changed our ideas of democracy and deliberative rhetoric for that matter. Oh, but don’t worry—Aristotle isn’t the only person willing to divide things into three parts! G. Thomas Goodnight, a rhetoric professor at the University of Southern California, studies argumentation, especially deliberative rhetoric, and he decided that deliberative rhetoric can take place in what he calls three spheres—the public, the technical and the private. The public is the one that is most familiar to us.




We think of deliberative rhetoric as necessarily political, but that is not necessarily that case. If deliberative rhetoric just means “forward looking,” and “policy deciding” it doesn’t just have to be about whether we should go to war with Sparta—and not just because the city state of Sparta isn’t much of a threat anymore. No deliberative rhetoric can also include private arguments: from questions as trivial as “where should we go for lunch today?” To as important as “should our family accept that job in North Dakota?” and “should Billy join the marines?” These instances of deliberative rhetoric are usually informal—we have a speaker of the house, but we don’t have a speaker of the home. They are, however, no less important. Consider the impact during the 60s and 70s of a hundred thousand private deliberations over how to treat people of other races, or the family debates about moving to the city during the industrial revolution.  Private sphere deliberation matters.




Technical deliberation is the deliberative rhetoric that takes place among experts who have specialized knowledge of the subject matter.  For instance, you might think about a group might come up with professional standards or expectations like the rules of conduct for lawyers or teachers. They set rules of their own group. Technical deliberation might also result in suggests or recommendations for other groups. A group of climatologists, for example, might write a brief on climate change, or a congress of feminist scholars might make a declaration on pornography, something that everyone argues over until they can agree on a common stance. These experts can debate in a very technical and in-depth register.




When private and technical deliberation can’t get the job done, it’s time for public sphere deliberation. Goodnight classifies the public sphere as the "argument sphere that exists to handle disagreements transcending personal and technical disputes." Once things enter the public sphere of deliberation, Goodnight says it’s time to focus on the common good—not just what’s right for individuals or families, and not just for groups of experts, but for everyone  in the public.






And that’s the general gist of deliberative rhetoric.


Now if you’re as sad as I am that we’ve wrapped up the last of the 3 genres of rhetoric, then I have good news for you! All month long, the month of October is going to be devoted to deliberative and political rhetoric. That’s right, to lead up to America’s election day on the first Tuesday of November we’re going to talk about all kinds of ideas and issues about using rhetoric in politics, especially in a democracy. So strap on your star-spangled goggles, for a wild ride into the radical idea that we can talk about what we’re going to do before we do it.


Direct download: deliberative_rhetoric.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:12pm CDT

 Welcome to mere Rhetoric. The podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements that have shaped Rhetorical History. I'm Mary Hedengren. You can find mere Rhetoric on iTunes, or by directly subscribing from our rss feed. You can also find us on twitter at @mererhetoricked. Also you can email us at Now me recording this podcast in 2014 is especially timely, because we're going to talk about an important article that came in college english 30 years ago this year. Stephen North's "Idea of a Writing Center" This essay has been hugely influential in the rapidly growing and professionalized field of writing center studies. Back in 1984, though, writing centers couldn't get no respect. Writing labs of the early 20th century, were often responses to a deficiency model of writing education. The students who were coming in were seen as remedial. And thus in need of one on one attention from tutors before they could proceed in their composition classes. This was a response to the same crises that we talked about in the podcast about the Harvard reports. By the 1980's writing centers were becoming more abundant on campuses, but that doesn't mean they were popular. Often shunted to the literal basements of building, with creaky, leaky facilities and an underpaid, non 10 year track director, writing centers were somehow expected to fix students writing, but even under such terrible circumstances, writing center theory, was blossoming. Aided by such scholars as Murial Harris and Stephen North. Stephen North was a good candidate to have written such a manifesto as "The Idea of a Writing Center" In the 1980's, North was a discipline maker. His thorough taxonomy of composition research in "The Making of Knowledge and Composition" has sometimes been tapped as the foundational manifesto of research and composition. We'll probably talk about it in the future, but, the idea of a writing center was no less a manifesto, in the world of writing center studies. The first line of the article reads, "This is an essay that began out of frustration." The frustration is palpable, as North addresses some of the complaints that writing centers have, from, and he means this the nice way, "ignorant colleagues" Everyone is ignorant according to North. Everyone in the profession. Even people in composition are ignorant. They do not understand what does happen, what can happen, in a writing center, says North. And it's not just that North feels misunderstood, it's that this misunderstanding affects the students who come into his door every day. "You can not partial out some portion of a given student for us to deal with," he fumes against his colleagues in writing classes. "You take care of editing, I'll deal with invention. Nor should you require all of your students to drop by with an early draft of a research paper to get a reading from a fresh audience. You should not scrawl at the bottom of a failing paper 'go to the writing center' even those of you, who, out of genuine concern, bring students to a writing center, almost by the hand, to make sure they know that we won't hurt them. Even you are essentially out of line" Ow it seems like a long list of ways to misuse the writing center, and even to a modern audience, all these techniques seem innocent enough. "The main problem" North points out "is that we are not here to serve, supplement, back up, compliment, reinforce, or other wise, be defined by any external curriculum, unless you think North has it out for his colleagues, he even admits that his own writing center includes in it's mission statement, the description of the center as "a tutorial facility for those with special problems and composition" If it's possible to spit something out in a written scholarly article, North fully, spits out the words, in self loathing, and the loathing is that the idea of a writing center can be some sort of skills center, a fix it shop. So, if writing center's aren't just a support for composition, what is the idea of a writing center, anyway? North says "we are here to talk to writers" This definition makes the writing center an independent entity, with it's own purpose in the university. Not just an appendage or fix it shop for composition classes. What a writing center can be is much larger, and North sets out a definition for a writing center that persists to this day. At a writing center, "the object is to make sure that writers, not necessarily their texts, are what gets changed by instruction." In axiom form, it goes like this: Our job is to produce better writers, Not better writing. Ooooohhh. I almost get chills. It's a phrase you hear a lot in writing centers. Better writers, not better writing. What it often means is that writing centers aren't editing services or a way to improve an assignment, or even get an A in the class, but and educational site themselves, that hope to teach writing skills and process that students can take with them in any class and even after graduation. In this sense, the writing center, as North says, is going to be student centered in the strictest sense of the term. It will begin from where the student is and move where the students moves. North suggests that writing centers are uniquely qualified to do this work, since the teaching of writing can take place as much as possible, during writing. During the activity being learned. Instead of before or after the writing in a class. The fact is, North continues, not everyone's interest in writing their need of desire to write or learn to write, coincide with the 15 or 30 weeks they spend in writing courses. Especially when, as is currently the case at so many institutions, those weeks are required. Anyone who has taught composition can attest that students sometimes have a hard time, seeing the point of skills that their teachers immediately identify as critical for future writing. But then imperative of finishing the class, can be the only imperative for students, and so it can be hard for them to understand how these skills apply in other writing situations. On the contrary, at writing centers, North suggests, this is not the case at all, because the motivation is real. Any given project is the material that students bring in, and that particular text, it's success or failure, motivates the students. Students who are motivated by applying to law school or understanding a lab report, are often suddenly willing to see the importance of writing skills, that would have been abstract in a writing class. These students, as North says, are suddenly willing, sometimes overwhelmingly so, to concern themselves with audience, purpose, and persona, and to revise over and over again, because, suddenly writing is a vehicle. A means to an end. And when those ends are important to students, so will the means be. The ideas from North's idea of a writing center have become common place. Both because the resonate with what was already happening in the writing lab newsletter and other places, and also because they set a course that is followed on still today. Journals such as the writing lab newsletter and writing center journal, in North's words, Demonstrate that writing center folk in general, are becoming more research oriented. And that tradition has expanded as peer reviewed articles  and writing center studies support half a dozen journals, including one here out of UT called Praxis. Additional, there are articles often being published in journals like College English, and College Composition and Communication, that deal with different aspects of writing center studies. And when North saw that writing center directors were meeting, "as a recognized national assembly, at the national council of teachers of english" he might have foreseen that writing center studies would bloom into the international writing center association, a biannual conference that draws participants from around the world in the hundreds, and all of the regional conferences affiliated with IWCA, which reminds me, one such conference is the South Central WASSAP writing center association conference, which, actually we're hosting here at the University of Texas at Austin, this coming February. I confess that my interest in the topic of North's article was partially inspired by a call for papers for this very conference, which invokes a 30 year anniversary of the idea of the writing center. If you are interested in writing center studies, and would like to submit a proposal for the conference, please come check it out. Our website is, and you can find additional details there about the conference, and the call for papers, and specific dates. Things like that. Again, that's The deadline is October 15, so you have plenty of time to put together any ideas of what you think the idea of a writing can, and should be. I'm going to be one of the folks hosting the conference, so, I would love to see you all down here in Texas this winter, as we talk about the ideas of a writing center s and how much has changed in the last 30 years. 

Category:general -- posted at: 7:44pm CDT

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  Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, a Podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, terms, and movement, that have defined the history of rhetoric. Sponsored by the University of Texas, Student Chapter of the Rhetoric Society of America. I'm Mary Hedengren and today we're talking about Kenneth Burke. Kenneth Burke was a major rhetorician who lived from May 5, 1897-November 19,1993 Also, his middle name was Duva, and grandson wrote this song  Which isn't to say that Kenneth Burke was a bad father, I think he was just a better musician. But Burke didn't always want to be a Rhetorician. In fact, Rhetoric was kind of out of favor when he was academically coming of age. So it wasn't really something that he thought he could be doing. He wanted to be a poet, or maybe just a marxist bohemian living in Grenich Village. But events conspired to develop Burke into a Rhetorician. For one thing, he got the marxist's mad at him, when he suggested that they use the word "People" instead of "Worker" They almost threw him out of the entire meeting. Also, his poetry wasn't taking off. That made him begin to move away from politics and the production of poetry, and start thinking more about criticism. Burke's first critical work, Counter-statement, is still powerful today, as a response to new criticism, and the art for art sake crowd. Here he demonstrates the power of art on an audience, the rhetorically of art. In Gregory Clark's words, here he is less "concerned with seeing the arts thrive, than helping the people on the people on the other end of the art" As the form is received by the reader. He developed his aesthetic rhetorical connections when he wrote extensively on how literature is a sort of equipment for living, his phrase, giving the people the models of action, wisdom, and experimentation, that helped him deal with reality. From this auspicious start, Burke's importance for rhetorical studies, only took off more. His redefinitions of rhetoric as "symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that, by nature, respond to symbols" broke rhetoric out an arestaline understanding of rhetoric that had dominated for millenia. Burke's a Grammar of Motives, has as his epigraph adbellum, perafantum. I'm butchering the latin here, but you get the idea, toward the purification of war. He supposedly hand wrote the saying, mounted over his window frame where he worked in an obscured New Jersey farm house, far from typical academic hub bub. It's possible that what he meant by purification of war, is what, according to Burke scholar, James P. Zapen, Micheal S. Haleran, and Scott Wilbs, a gloss of a grammar of motives, studying, "the competitive use of the cooperative" which helps us to take delight in the human barnyard, on the other hand, and transend it by appreciation on the other. So, transcending binaries was a really big deal for Burke. One of his biggest ideas, in fact, was the Burkeian third term. So, for his purification of war let's imagine a war, a sandwich war. So you really really really want tuna sandwiches for lunch, and I think tuna fish is gross, I don't, but that's what makes it hypothetical. I want peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches for lunch. But you think they're too high in calories. We can argue all day, through lunch, and on empty stomach's, about which sandwich is better. But Burke would remind us that there is a third term that unites us. Sandwiches. We can both see eye to eye about sandwiches. The ability for people to connect and divide over similarities and differences, was fascinating for Burke. In fact, that leads us nicely to another one of his main ideas. Identification. In a Rhetoric of motives, not to be confused with a grammar of motives, or the never published, symbolic of motives. Burke describes how symbols don't just persuade people to do things, they also persuade people to an attitude. So when I tell you, well, at least we both agree on sandwiches for lunch, we haven't changed anything about our inability to choose a sandwich, but maybe i've changed your attitude, to me, to our lunch, to arguments in general. If i'm able to talk your language by speech, gesture, tonality, order image, attitude, idea. I'm doing what Burke calls, Identifying my ways with yours, and in that moment, we become consubstantial. Part of me is you, and part of you is me, as we engage in this identification. We are both "joined and separate, at once, a distinct substance, and consubstantial." Another big thing is Burke's pentadad. This way to interpret motives and intention is described in depth in a grammar of motives. The pentadid is this, One, act. Two, scene. Three agent. Four, agency. and Five, purpose. There you go, five major ideas, the pentadid. Later Burke would say that he wished he had added attitude as a sixth. But then it would have been like the sectadid, or something. Anyway, the example Burke gives is this. Say a guy trips you with his legs on the bus. Do you get angry? Well you might. But what if the guy had a broken leg? That changes the agent and the agency. Maybe he couldn't help. Maybe he's not such a bad guy. And if the purpose wasn't to humiliate you, but on accident, you might not think of it as insult. So in this sense, the pentadid, can impact human actions, communication. Was being tripped a deliberate, rhetorical insult? or wasn't it? The last big idea of Burke's is the terministic screen. This is the way we use language. Especially poetic language, and it determines how we see the reality around us. If we're used to seeing the world through certain terms, war, sandwich, bus. We'll only see those terms. Those terms, to use a catchphrase, both reflect and deflect the reality around us. So this is only a brief introduction Kenneth Burke, and there's lots more to say about him and his influence on rhetoric. I recommend checking out, which is a free resource of Kenneth Burke Scholarship, for more information. You also might want ot check out the work of some of the biggest Burke scholars. Jack Seltzer, at Penn State, and George at Texas Christian University. Gregory Clarke, who I quotted here, and who was one of my teachers back at Brigham Young University. And Elizabeth Wizer, who's at Ohio State. If you have any experiences with Kenny B, as I think we can call him now, or if you would like to another podcast about one of Burke's theories, please email me. My email address is just That's Until next time. Remember, Rhetoric is just more of prejoritave. It's a way to encounter life.   


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