How Rhetorical Are English and Communications Majors?
Miller, Thomas P
The special issue of Rhetoric Society Quarterly on the Alliance of Rhetoric Societies Conference raises provocative questions about how rhetoricians can work across boundaries that separate their disciplines. The articles on rhetorical history, agency, and teaching become even more interesting when read in the context of papers from the conference itself (http: //www.rhetoncalliance.org/). The conference seems to have been organized better than most. Participants spent less time reading talks at each other and more on talking with each other about four sets of questions, including these on teaching: “What does it mean to teach rhetoric? What does it mean to teach composition and performance seriously? What is the relationship between rhetoric and composition? Should they be distinguished?” The website for the conference includes over a hundred position statements along with plenaries and responses by leading figures such as Wayne Booth, Patricia Bizzell, and Jackie Royster.1 This interesting archive documents how scholars came together to rediscover their shared commitment to teaching. Pedagogy reportedly served as the converging point of reference for the discussions of the histories of rhetoric, the models agency that we have inherited, and the purposes to be achieved by crossing institutional boundaries. Royster’s “Reflection on Pedagogy in Three Frames,” Booth’s response, and Walker’s argument for denning the rhetorical tradition by its pedagogical purposes provide complementary counterpoints to Hauser’s discussion of civic pedagogy in the special issue of RSQ. Hauser’s article stresses a theme from the conference: “what makes rhetoric rhetoric is its teaching tradition,” and his article calls for developing “sustainable structures” to support collaborations on rhetorical approaches to pedagogy.
The Alliance of Rhetoric Societies emerged out of discussions that Fred Antczak initiated when he was president of the Rhetoric Society of America in 2000. Related discussions have also appeared in the pages of Rhetoric Society Quarterly. In “Disciplinary Identities: On the Rhetorical Paths Between English and Communication Studies” (2000), Steven Mailloux called for a “multidisciplinary coalition of rhetoricians” to foster studies of “rhetorical hermeneutics” as a “metacritical rhetoric for disciplinary practitioners” (11-12). Respondents from both fields followed up to discuss “Rhetorical Paths in English and Communications Studies” (Leff, Keith, Nystrand, Miller). This title was also used to frame an essay by Sharon Crowley in 2004 that compares the marginalized standing of composition courses with the peripheral position of rhetoric in basic public speaking courses. Crowley argues that the gap between composition and communications widened in the 1950s, when literary-minded professors further isolated composition courses by dismissing the collaborations with communications that had led to the founding of the Conference on College Composition and Communication in 1949. Two decades later the Rhetoric Society of America was founded, and its journal has published many pieces exploring the shared traditions and diverging histories of communications and English, including Maureen Goggin’s “The Tangled Roots of Literature, Speech Communication, Linguistics, Rhetoric/Composition, and Creative Writing” (1999), which surveys points of reference for considering how rhetoricians from across the academy might reestablish working relations.
The ARS conference and the articles in RSQ mark a pragmatic turn in discussions among rhetoricians in communications, English and elsewhere. This turn to attend to the pragmatics of rhetorical studies is consistent with ” the broader pedagogical impetus of the rhetorical tradition, as discussed in the first plenary on pedagogy by Jerzy Axer at the ARS conference (which is unfortunately not included on the website for the conference). Walker’s response provides an incisive and insightful analysis of the history of rhetoric as a “teaching tradition.” According to Walker, that tradition is not notable for its ideas or beauties but for the civic “experience” it enacted, or rather dramatized for students (9-1.0). Royster’s concern for histories that work from our difference and Hauser’s call for sustainable structures to support cross-disciplinary collaborations can be seen as dialectical counterpoints in a pragmatic turn that challenges us to think historically and act strategically to advance institutional reforms to consolidate and expand the teaching of rhetoric as a civic art. In this article, I want to focus on the pragmatic contexts we face by surveying the institutional structures of communications and English, the positions of rhetorical studies in varied types of institutions, and the ways those differing contexts shape the purposes of rhetorical studies.
To set out a rhetorical stance on the pragmatics of rhetorical studies, I want to look down from histories of ideas and scholarly accounts of rhetoric to examine what practitioners on the ground do, how it is situated, and what purposes it serves. An example of how the pragmatics of the two areas of work have historically defined each other is provided by the opposition of journalism and creative writing. In many English departments a century or so ago, rhetoric became confined to basic skills courses with the departure of journalists and rhetoricians concerned with public address. Their historical migration into speech departments left composition and “creative writing” as disciplinary polarities without journalistic genres and other forms of public discourse to mediate between them. The disciplinary discontinuity between creative writing and more openly pragmatic forms of writing has been lessened somewhat by the recent interest in “creative nonfiction,” but that term often functions as a disciplinary place marker to set off literary from journalistic writing, as becomes clear at those pragmatic junctures where such distinctions get made, as for example when one hires a writer to teach.
If one comes from a department with a prestigious creative writing program, one will likely have heard lesser writers dismissed for being merely journalistic or simply popular. Such disciplinary distinctions become more contested when one works in an English department that still includes journalism majors, as is not uncommon in more broadly based and smaller institutions. The varying curricular positions of journalism are but one example of how the boundaries between communications and English differ in institutions where disciplines are less departmentalized. These institutional differences have generally been ignored in discussions of how rhetoricians might work across disciplinary boundaries, perhaps because disciplines tend to be more clearly demarcated in research institutions, and leading scholarly commentators tend to work in such institutions. Leading academics tend to identify their professional standing with scholarly organizations and journals that position themselves above the pragmatics of particular institutions. If we are to build sustainable structures for fostering collaborations on the teaching of rhetoric, those structures need to be founded on a recognition that the teaching of rhetoric differs in varied sorts of institutions. We need to pay much closer attention to the pragmatic needs and purposes of differing groups of students, the resources and constraints of varied types of institutions, and the histories and civic potentials of particular localities and constituencies. Such pragmatic concerns are fundamental to developing a civic philosophy of rhetorical studies that has strategic value for teachers and students. As rhetoricians, we understand the strategic power of attending to practical resources of particular situations, and a rhetorical stance on rhetorical studies needs to put that understanding to use.
Before turning to how rhetorical studies are positioned in undergraduate programs in English and communications, we need to acknowledge some pragmatic differences between the fields.
As evident here, the disciplines have followed strikingly different trajectories: BAs in communications almost tripled in the 1970s, while BAs in English dropped by almost half. This drop left English even more dependent on composition, contributing to the rise of graduate studies in rhetoric and composition. While majors in English rebounded and then remained flat, the total number of college graduates increased almost fifty percent between 1970 and 2000. Meanwhile, BAs in communications rose over five fold-from less than a fifth to more than all those in English. Another pragmatic distinction between the fields can be drawn by looking at the proportions of graduates to undergraduates. With a proportion of 1/150, communications is structured more like business (1/250) than English (1/50), which has a proportion of PhDs to BAs more like psychology (1/16) than communications. Such statistics may seem removed from what a discipline is about, but they shape the pragmatics of what it does. As a practical case in point, in my own institution a communications department with eleven professors last year graduated 323 BAs, while over sixty English professors worked with just over two hundred BAs. These institutional baselines shape how rhetoric figures into the two fields, as can be seen from surveying undergraduate programs in each.
What is English About, Beside Literature?
More research has been done on curricula in English than in communications, perhaps because English is more cohesive than the “sprawling, diffuse and sometimes hostile and divided” field of communications, which as Michael Leff has noted, ranges across journalism, advertising, media studies, and organizational and public relations (90). The four corners of English include English education, language studies, writing, and literature, though the latter has so overshadowed the rest that the leading professional organization, the Modern Language Association, tends to equate English studies with literary studies. The discontinuity between the discipline’s sense of itself as a field of study and actual work in the field is evident in the fact that two thirds of undergraduate courses are in writing, half are in composition, and only one quarter are in literature (Huber table 17).
According to MLA surveys in 1984 and 1991, most departments with concentrations in the major have had ones in writing, typically in creative or technical writing (a dichotomy that is sometimes mediated by journalism in the ways already noted). In the 1980s undergraduate and graduate studies of composition and rhetoric expanded, though curricular collaborations with communications seem to have declined. That trend becomes even more notable when differences among institutions are considered.
One way to reflect upon how rhetoric might figure into English majors is to assess general disciplinary trends against differing institutional contexts and student needs. One way to do that is to consider how curricula differ by types of institutions. Particularly noteworthy are those broadly-based institutions that evolved from teachers colleges because they are situated at critical junctures in the public educational system. These institutions are particularly strategic in assessing the pragmatic potentials of rhetorical studies in English because English studies have an expansive educational base, insofar as they are the most widely taught subject from grammar school through college. English departments have often ignored the challenges and opportunities presented by the large numbers of majors who will become teachers. The lack of attention to English education is a key part of the historic alienation of English studies from the pragmatic capacities of its institutional base. In English as elsewhere, professors claimed professional standing a century ago by distancing themselves from teachers to form specialized fields of scholarly expertise. The disciplining of higher education served research faculty well, but it marginalized the professional standing of pedagogically engaged generalists, including many teachers of writing and speaking (see Connors). While these developments may seem removed from current disciplinary trends, some graduate programs in rhetoric and composition were reformed from English education programs (as is the one where I work), and the historical nexus of English education, language studies, and rhetoric and composition remains vital to majors in more broadly based institutions.
While most departments (56%) offered concentrations in more than literature, the percentages increase with the size of the institution, with 71.1% of institutions of more than 15,000 having other majors, as compared to only 38.9% of those with fewer than 2,000. While it is not surprising that larger institutions offer more courses, large institutions were actually less likely than mid-sized public institutions and joint programs with fields such as communications to require linguistics, the history of language, rhetoric, and advanced writing course. Huber attributes this pattern to the emphasis on English education majors in these institutions. Related factors also explain why writing courses make up a higher percentage of the curricula in public (72%) than in private colleges (53%). I will return to these factors after reviewing surveys of communications majors.
What are Communications?
Departments in communications tend to offer far more varied majors than those in English. While English majors have expanded beyond the restricted genres included in a modern conception of literature, communications have not had a similarly restrictive set of canonical texts or disciplinary hierarchies. Majors range across media studies and mass communications through speech and oral interpretation to organizational and cultural studies. Unlike the typical English department, communications can be a program, a department, even a college, which may include journalism, broadcasting, and the performing arts (an association arising from the performative dimensions of speech). Such a program may retain rhetorical touchstones or associations, but they are rarely foregrounded as a shared point of departure for the wide-ranging concerns of the fields of study.
The most detailed study of communications curricula I know of was done by Smith and Turner in 1993. They surveyed the catalogues of 856 respondents (a response rate of 50% of the identified institutions). Smith and Turner surveyed curricula to assess if students were being taught the skills that were presumed to be needed in the jobs that communications graduates enter in business, education, health professions, and social work. Given this range, Smith and Turner came up with a surprisingly cohesive set of outcomes: “interpersonal communication, small group meetings, interviewing, understanding of theory, organizational communication patterns, persuasion, and public speaking” (35).
Smith and Turner found that 79.6% of colleges have either a speech or communications department (with two thirds of those having the latter). Only 17% of departments in institutions with more than 10,000 students offered majors ranging across multiple degrees, as compared to 40% of those with enrollments between 1,000 and 5,000. Smaller institutions tended to have “multidisciplinary departments offering the most diverse degree options” (45). This situation calls upon us to reflect upon how the pragmatics of interdisciplinarity differ in those institutions where disciplines are not tightly departmentalized. Along these same lines, it is useful to note that traditional speech departments were less likely to have multiple majors than those designated communications departments.
The most commonly offered courses in communications as surveyed by Smith and Turner provide a benchmark for assessing the institutional standing of rhetorical studies. Another benchmark is provided by a survey by William Wardrope in 1999 of 148 departments’ curricula, which were drawn from the 420 listed in a National Communications Association directory (a response rate of 35%). The lists differ in ways that merit note:
Most common communications courses in Smith and Turner:
Public Speaking 81%, Intro. to Broadcasting 67%, Interpersonal Com. 67%, Survey 66%, Practicum 66%, Oral Interpretation 60%, Debate 57%, TV/Production 57% Organizational Com 53%, Communication Theory 53%, Public Relations 53%, Radio/Production 50%, Rhetoric/Public Address 48%, Broadcasting News 47%, Persuasion 42%, and Group Communications 42%.
Most common courses according to Wardropc:
Interpersonal Communication 71.6%
Group Discussion 68.2%
Communication Theory 66.2%
Organizational Com. 66.2%
Public Speaking 64.1%
Argumentation and Debate 60.8%
Multicultural Communication 54.7%
Communication Research Methods 50%
Rhetorical Criticism 47.9%
Business and Professional Speaking 45.9%
Rhetoric courses are apparently offered in roughly half of programs, but the configuration of rhetorical studies seems rather uncertain. One survey identifies rhetoric with criticism, and the other with public address. The differences between the surveys extend into most other areas. Unlike in English, most courses do not seem to fall into clearly set categories. Does this apparent indeterminacy suggest that the field is not only wider but also more open to negotiation?
One area of notable collaboration between communication and composition is technical communications. This area was surveyed in 1999 by Earl McDowell, who claimed that such programs had increased five fold in the previous twenty years. According to the sixty responses that McDowell received to a survey of the 148 programs listed in the Society for Technical Communications, rhetoric was being required in 40% of technical communications programs. This figure is about twenty percent less than the frequencies found by the two previously cited surveys. Does this difference suggest that rhetoric is losing its standing as a result of trends that here and elsewhere may be identified with an emphasis on vocational training and new technologies?
What’s Rhetorical in Communications and English?
To answer such questions, I surveyed the on-line course catalogues of one hundred four-year institutions that were randomly selected from the Carnegie Foundation Categories to create a stratified sample. I wanted to bracket the tendency to look to research universities to define what a discipline does. Research faculty such as myself play disproportionate roles in the reproductive systems of disciplinesthe graduate programs, professional associations, and scholarly journals that produce disciplinary expertise and practitioners. These venues give a decisive voice to faculty who may have little experience, and even open disdain for institutions with ‘lower standards.’ Such research faculty are granted time for scholarly work, while those from more ‘comprehensive’ institutions have heavier teaching and service loads that frequently consign them to the audience in scholarly forums. This situation helps to explain the gap between what graduate programs prepare practitioners to do and what they actually do when they move to less research-oriented institutions. Attending to such disciplinary disjunctures may help us develop a more pragmatic sense of what our disciplines could do together.
Any survey of catalogues (or administrators) provides but one perspective on a curriculum-the curriculum as instituted, as compared to the curriculum as taught, as learned or assessed. I will return to this point in the conclusion, but it is important to underline that rhetoric courses can not be easily categorized even in course catalogues. My survey only includes courses that have rhetoric in the title, meaning that courses that may stress rhetorical theories or criticism may not be counted in the sample. Nonetheless, I found nearly the same frequency of rhetoric courses as the previously cited surveys, with the difference perhaps attributable to the lower offerings in the broader-based institutions included in my sample. In any case, my survey is at best suggestive and not conclusive (especially given the small sample).
Communications and English are less departmentalized in less research-oriented institutions. Such departments are more diversely configured, with humanities departments common and journalism not uncommon in English. While 45% of all institutions offer a course in rhetoric, only 8% offer more than an isolated course (with most of those in doctoral institutions). Rhetoric courses are twice as common in communications (40%) as in English majors (20%).
The most common rhetoric courses in the sample
(number of courses found)
Rhetorical Theory (24)
Rhetorical Criticism (13)
Rhetoric and Public Address (12)
History of Rhetoric (5)
Classical Rhetoric (2)
Rhetoric and Composition (16)
Rhetoric and Comp. Theory (5)
History of Rhetoric (2)
Political Rhetorics (2)
Of course tables of numbers can only provide a limited sense of what rhetoric is about, or what institutional work it does. Most of the rhetoric courses in English identify it with composition, while in communications rhetoric is identified with critical or theoretical studies, often with appeals to classical authorities, as in this example:
COM 4111. Theory and Criticism of Rhetorical Communication Study of the classical foundation of rhetorical theory with emphasis on Greek and Roman contributions and theorists. A study of methodologies of rhetorical criticism including those of the classical-traditional, experiential, new rhetoric and contemporary. Application of rhetorical theory and criticism to actual rhetorical events and situations.
Appalachain State University
Attempts to quantify such examples inevitably misrepresent their distinctive qualities. After all, how can one account for a program that invokes but does not teach rhetoric, as in the Applied Communications major at Gonzaga University?
The Applied Communication Studies major combines the classical liberal arts tradition of rhetoric with contemporary trends in Speech Communication with special emphasis on organizational studies and leadership. The major is founded on the Jesuit ideal of producing leaders who excel in “Ars eloquentiae,”-the ability to communicate effectively in professional settings. More specifically, the program serves students who plan to pursue a career in public service, non-profit administration, teaching, government, business or law. Experienced faculty provide foundational courses for those who plan to attend graduate school in communication or related subjects. The major is a blend of the academic and the practical since it is designed to make students better communicators, not merely by developing interpersonal and public speaking skills but by having them understand the centrality of communication in the development of thought and culture.
This description has broadly historical yet locally situated resonances. As a Jesuit institution, Gonzaga sets out the purposes of studying communications by invoking rhetoric as a liberal art. Though a course in rhetoric is not apparently taught, rhetoric serves as a touchstone to appeal to the aspirations of students who look to “applied” studies as the promise of a “career.” These aspirations are here channeled into “nonprofit” “public service,” with “business” passed over between “government” and “law” and subordinated to the humanistic values of the liberal arts. The pragmatic possibilities of varied disciplinary ideologies can be seen in the descriptions of other programs of study in the sample.
So what Difference Does Rhetoric Make?
Here are the course descriptions from one of the English majors at an MA 2 institution-the most common type of higher educational institution in the United States, and the same type that Huber found often had majors with more rhetoric, linguistics and English education:
Rhetorical and Applied English, St Cloud University
191. Introduction to Rhetorical and Analytical Writing Analytical reading, writing, and critical reasoning in , various rhetorical situations. . . .
300. Introduction to English Studies English as afield of study with emphasis on literary and rhetorical analysis. Strategies by which we interpret and create texts, including poetry, fiction, drama, and essay.
310. Early American Literature Through 1830 Studies in American authors and literary and rhetorical traditions from the beginning to 1830.
311. American Literature: 18301900 Studies in American literary and rhetorical traditions and movements. . .
315. Advanced Studies in American Indian Literature In-depth study of some aspect or genre of American Indian literature such as rhetorical or popular prose, poetry, short fiction, the novel, or the autobiography.
331. Advanced Expository Writing Exploration of principles and practices of essay and expository writing. May include investigation, interpretation, analysis, or reflection. Focus on disinterested “exposition. “
332. Writing in the Professions Study and practice in the writing required in business, industry, and government…
333. Advanced Rhetorical Writing A rhetorical approach to writing and to the evaluation of various forms of written discourse.
403/503. Computers and English Impact of computers in humanities and English studies: history, theory, and practice of electronically mediated communication; print and electronic literacies; modes of discourse and theories of language, community, and self.
431/531. The Rhetoric of Style Historical and conceptual study of written style . . . from perspective of rhetorical effectiveness. . .
432/532. Specialized Professional Writing Advanced study and practice of writing in selected areas. Variable content may include technical and scientific writing, proposal writing, government report writing, and administrative writing.
433. Theories of Rhetoric and Writing Investigation of rhetorical theories and concepts from both historical and contemporary perspectives and how they shape practices of literacy and writing. Focus on writing as theoretical construct.
490. Senior Seminar Capstone experience for English BA majors. Students will assemble a portfolio demonstrating integration of knowledge, skills, and concepts from their major program. Research project and a paper.
497. Internship Department approved and directed field experience with an approved agency. Learning contract required. In the Rhetorical and Applied Writing major.
(http://bulletin.stcloudstatK.edu/ugb/ programs/engl.asp and
http://bulletin. stc/oudstafe. erfw/courses.asp?d eptCode=engl
This major provides a case study in how rhetoric can serve as a pragmatic heuristic for reconceiving English studies. Rhetoric is positioned as a gateway to a field of study that is structured around the contrasts between rhetorical and literary analyses and traditions, including those native to the Amerieas. New technologies and the professions are integrated into a conception of the “humanities” that includes internships beyond the academy and also innovations in composition, which is itself held up to critical questions about purportedly “disinterested” genres.
Another case in point is provided by another institution in the sample, the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, where the Communications major is organized into four areas: Applied Communication, Interpersonal/Intercultural Communication, Organizational Communication, and Rhetorical/Public Communication. The courses in the last area provide a case study of how rhetoric is positioned within communications studies:
Rhetorical and Public Communication, Communications Major, U. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
264 Persuasive Speaking. Designed specifically to increase students’ understanding of and proficiency in various techniques and modes of persuasive speaking.
313 Human Communication and Technology. Examination of the actual and potential role of technology in facilitating satisfying communication relationships.
362 Argumentation and Debate. The theory and practice of argumentation with emphasis on critical thinking, argument analysis, and preparation of policy and evaluative arguments.
435 Rhetoric in Western Thought. A survey of rhetorical theory in -western thinking since ancient Greece.
436 Recent Rhetorical Theory. Recent . American and European theories of rhetoric as a dimension of human communication.
440 Contemporary Problems in Freedom of Speech. The rationale and development of the First Amendment as applied to current problems of speech communications.
462 Communication in the Legal Process. Theory and research in argumentation and persuasion and application in the legal process.
464 Theory and Practice of Persuasion. Consideration of principles and methods of persuasion, with practice in the analysis and preparation of persuasive messages.
651 Current Topics in Rhetorical/ Public Communication: (Subtitled). Research-oriented approaches to rhetorical/public communication. Specific topics announced in timetables when course is offered.
667 Great American Speakers and Issues. Selected great speakers and their speeches on major issues in American history.
672 Communication and Social Order. The role of communication in both maintaining and challenging social structures and hierarchies.
(http://www. uwm.edu/ug bulletin/SC/ D_LS_245.html and
Like the previously cited configurations of rhetoric, these descriptions provide concrete exemplars to help us reflect upon how rhetoric is defined by where it is taught. Unlike the previous English courses, persuasion is here the dominant mode, and public discourse is given more emphasis than academic discourse. The emphasis on public address is historically grounded with courses on public speakers, classical rhetoric, and more explicitly political venues than rhetorical studies tend to assume when identified with literary studies and college writing courses. Of course case studies can provide but telling examples, not generalizations, but working through cases can sometimes be more generative in imagining alternatives, as is evident in the reliance on cases as aids to invention in the classical progymnasmata.
The performative emphases of rhetoric are configured in an original way in the next example, a major that sets out “three interrelated aspects of communication: rhetoric, media, and performance and ethnographic studies”:
Communication and Culture Department, Indiana University
Rhetorical Studien orient students to the strategic dimension of human communication associated with deliberation, advocacy, and persuasion in a variety of social, political, and professional settings. Studies of media focus primarily on film and television, with additional emphasis on topics such as radio, recorded music, and interactive digital technologies. Performance and ethnographic studies explore an array of communicative practices, from the conversations and disputes of everyday life to artful performances at cultural events, which are the competencies essential for participation in social life. It also brings intercultural and transnational considerations into focus by examining how diversity and differences of various kinds are negotiated across boundaries. Together, these three dimensions examine linkages among corporate, social, and governmental organizations, ideology, and politics, showing how communication influences public cultures across the globe. They provide a strong grounding in the history, theory, production, and critique of communication that ranges from interpersonal dialogue, storytelling, and presentational speaking to film and television.
What I find most engaging here is the multimodal conception of rhetoric that involves varied media, methods of study and discursive modalities. This mapping of communications studies ranges from the “conversations and disputes of everyday life” through performing arts and organizational cultures to a reconceptualization of the third of the classical arts of collective deliberation, adjudication, and enculturation.
Such a framework stands far a field from the statements of purpose for most English studies. Notice how the potentials of instruction in literacy are defined in less political and more purely academic terms in this representation of the purposes of studying English.
Department of English, Appalachain State University
The Department of English has as its most fundamental goal helping all students to develop literacy and analytical skills that will lead to life long learning. . . . [W]e strive to help students become literate, articulate, and open-minded, qualities that are the hallmarks of a liberal education. The study of literature and the exploration of language and ‘writing-the primary activities in the Department of English-are critical elements to liberal education. One way the department contributes to the achievement of a liberal education is through its freshman writing and literature series, where we strive to help students understand the function and power of language and appreciate our shared literary heritage. . . .
The Department of English serves those students who seek to become teachers of literature and owriting as well as those who wish to enter graduate and professional education in literature and writing. We also serve those students who wish to develop their writing and other communication skills for career planning in business and industry. . . .
Passages quoted out of context from departments’ statements of purpose cannot provide more than a glimmer of what courses include and exclude, but such statements do document the organizational thinking that goes into representing disciplines to broader audiences. One aspect of these particular organizational principles (as compared to those from Gonzaga University) is how the absence of rhetoric from this invocation of the liberal arts leaves the program of studies less situated and less able to articulate the practical forms of agency it bestows, as evident in the reliance on commonplaces, the turn to graduate studies to identify its uses, and the reduction of other workplace literacies to merely matters of “skills for career planning.” This accommodation to the prevailing careerism is even more transparent than Gonzaga’s because the absence of rhetoric as a point of reference makes it more difficult to see being practical as more than a merely technical concern.
Rhetorical Pathways Beyond English and Communications?
Joint programs provide case studies for considering the collaborative potentials opening up between English and communications. The joint departments in my survey are only one type of collaboration. Others are more difficult to categorize. They range from joint programs of study to majors that merely include a course or two from the opposing department. A promising set of possibilities is set out in joint programs that mediate composition with a multimodal sense of writing. Such combinations may be able to put studies of new media to more productive uses than those that are often set out in departments where the critical stance of literary studies has prevailed over a rhetorical stance on the creative capacities of texts. These promising possibilities can be seen in this joint major:
Communications Program at Centenary College, offered by the English and Art and Visual Culture Departments
Communicating successfully in our technology-incised world requires a combination of strong speaking and writing skills as well as an in-depth understanding of visual and interactive modes of expression such as photography, film and multimedia. Centenary communication majors explore all of these areas through a rich body of courses that approach human communication as a cultural and social phenomenon.
Our project-oriented curriculum challenges students to draw on their broad liberal arts education and their own creativity to address the types of problems communication professionals face regularly. In writing and production courses such as Writing for the Mass Media, Video and Film Production, and Multimedia Design, professors work closely with students to help them learn skills and develop strategies necessary for producing creative, effective media texts. Similarly, professors in courses such as History of Photography and Cyberculture provide opportunities for students to investigate the relationship between media and culture; in so doing, student develop analytical skills crucial to understanding how media texts influence and are, in turn, influences by society. The major culminates in the Senior Seminar in which students prepare for their job or graduate school search by creating electronic portfolios that feature the best examples from the communication projects begun in their courses, internships, community service, and campus media work.
The communication curriculum is designed to give students experience with a wide range of media while also allowing them to concentrate their major coursework in the medium that best corresponds to their personal and professional goals. After getting a broad introduction to communication studies students pursue one of three tracks: professional writing, film/television/video, or new media.
This program is notable not only because it creatively envisions the collaborative possibilities of communications and composition but also because it exemplifies how our perspective on those potentials can be expanded by including broadly-based institutions in our field of vision. In considering such expanded interdisciplinary collaborations, we also need to take note that rhetoric is not even cited in this survey of those possibilities.
How rhetorical are the possibilities that are opening up to composition programs that are moving outside English departments? Many, if not most, are general education units without majors or enough tenure-track faculty to be more than basic service units, insofar as most nontenure-track faculty have teaching loads that limit their opportunities to contribute to the discipline’s understanding of itself by publishing their work. Such institutional structures restrict the learning capacities of disciplines that have broad teaching duties by consigning most practitioners to be spectators of work published elsewhere. My survey found examples of such programs, but it also found a department that I will conclude with, a department that locates rhetoric and composition in an alternative disciplinary configuration.
Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures Department, Michigan State U. Professional Writing Major
WRA 202 Introduction to Professional Writing Basic principles of rhetoric and composition applied to professional writing. Topics include page design, field definition, research tools and practices, genres and conventions, and professional style.
WRA 210 Introduction to Web Authoring Reading, analyzing, evaluating, and authoring Web sites. Principles of design rhetoric. Practices of Web accessibility.
WRA 260 Rhetorics of American Popular Culture Rhetorical analysis of consumer, corporate, organizational, and popular cultures appropriate to professional settings.
WRA 308 Invention in Writing Theory and practice of invention in writing. Strategies and theories of generating and exploring thought in civic and professional writing contexts.
WRA 320 Technical Writing Principles and practices of effective -writing in the workplace, -with special emphasis on technical, scientific, and electronicmediated writing. Includes audience and organizational needs, visual rhetoric, information design, electronic publication, ethics, technical Rtyle, usability testing, and team writing.
WRA 331 Writing in the Public Interest Various forms of public writing and rhetoric and their roles in democracy and public culture. Practice in modes of public and civic discourse, including deliberative strategies and a range of public literacies.
WRA 341 Writing Nature and the Nature of Writing Writing- and reading-intensive course focusing on the language of scientists, poets, essayists, naturalists, environmentalists, and biologists, and on their various responses to and representations of the natural environment.
WRA 355 Writing for Publication Workshop Develop and hone skills in revision and editing using a rhetorical approach. Develop to publishable level at least two major pieces of work and submit them for print, web, performance or other publication.
WRA 360 Visual Rhetoric for Professional Writers Writing- and design-intensive. Visual literacy, design, and rhetoric and the effects elements in print and online documents have on audience, such as typography, page size, paper type, alignment, graphics.
WRA 361 Rhetoric, Persuasion, and Argument Traditional and contemporary approaches to rhetoric, persuasion, and argument both in text and visuals and relating to a wide variety of approaches (e.g., feminist, digital/electric, political, postmodern).
WRA 370 Editing and Style in Professional Writing Theories, practice, and processes of editing in professional writing contexts. Focus on rhetoric and style.
WRA 410 Advanced Web Authoring Developing and maintaining large-scale, interactive web sites. Emphasis on visual design, usability, audio and video integration, ongoing site management, and web accessibility.
WRA 415 Digital Rhetoric Exploration of the rhetorical, social, political, economic, and ethical dimensions of electronic writing and publishing. Focus on the rhetorical dynamics of computermediated writing spaces such as the Internet, World Wide Web, email, and synchronous chat.
WRA 417 Multimedia Writing Visual rhetoric and design theories applied to digital short subjects. Write, direct, critique, and produce motion-based digital compositions that include multiple media.
WRA 420 Advanced Technical Writing Applied theory and specialized practices. Topics such as user-centered design, project and document management, information and interface design, issues in digital writing, technical editing, and writing for scientific and technical journals.
WRA 444 Writing in American Cultures Analysis of rhetorical practices in selected American disciplines, communities, and public cultures.
WRA 446 American Indian Rhetorics Theoretical approaches to Native rhetorics. Historical and contemporary debates about the production and reception of visual and written Native texts.
WRA 453 Grant and Proposal Writing Researching and -writing grants and proposals for corporations, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and government agencies.
WRA 455 Portfolio Seminar Workshop for students preparing professional document portfolios, in print and digital formats, including application materials for career, graduate study, and professional positions.
WRA 493E Internship in Professional Writing Supervised work as writers and editors in a corporate or organizational setting, with classroom component. Internship assignment must be arranged with instructor prior to semester.
This curriculum is the most interesting disciplinary alternative to English and communications in my sample. A “rhetorical approach” to writing is visualized to include new media. This “digital rhetoric” provides a productive framework for studying popular culture, “civic” discourse and the “public interest”-with public set out to include traditionally underrepresented groups. This program provides a telling example of the creative possibilities arising from the nexus of new technologies, media studies, professional communications, civic philosophies, and student-centered pedagogies such as portfolios and internships. This generative nexus is configured in differing ways in the programs I have reviewed. Some of those differences can be traced back to the critical presuppositions of English and communications. Positioned outside the two fields, this program does not seem to be as encumbered by their interpretive traditions. Is that why the program of study does not more fully represent rhetoric as a theoretical or historical subject of study? The only course in theories and histories of rhetoric appears to be in American Indian Rhetorics, and perhaps the theories of invention course. Theories and histories of rhetoric courses are common in rhetorically-oriented communications programs, and their absence from a rhetoric department is cause for reflection. While it may be free of the constraints of a typical English or communications program, this department is still shaped by the pragmatics of its institutional context. Such considerations are crucial to assessing the collaborative possibilities that are opening up for rhetoricians in communications and English, and in those institutional spaces beyond them.
The Pragmatics of Rhetoric, Composition and Communications
Leading figures in rhetoric and composition have often looked to ‘independent’ departments such as the one at Michigan State as signs of things to come, as in the articles in the special issue of RSQ. The most commonly cited examples are invariably located in research universities. We need to reflect upon how our tendency to look up to such places has limited our field of vision. Broadly based public institutions have pragmatic possibilities that may differ from those of national research institutions. Some of those possibilities can be seen in institutions where English and communications are not departmentalized disciplines, and where English education functions as a generative nexus for studies of linguistics, literature, and writing. The pragmatic capacities of such sites challenge us to attend to the institutional contexts of collective agency. By identifying itself with a concern for collective agency, the Association of Rhetoric Societies promises to become more than just another professional association. Realizing the pragmatic potentials of rhetorical studies, the group came together around a shared commitment to rhetoric’s traditional engagement with pedagogy. That engagement was enriched by the comparativist historical perspective of Royster and the others concerned with the rhetorical traditions of women, workers, and people of color. The potentials of this pragmatic engagement with collective agency can also be seen in the position statement arising from the community literacy work of Linda Flower, and in others who work with social movement rhetorics, service learning, action research, and grounded theory. What these projects will have to do with rhetoric is an open question. If that question is to be more than merely rhetorical, we will need to develop the disciplinary capacities of rhetorical studies by building the sort of “sustainable structures” that Hauser has called for. Surveys such as mine may be a step in that direction.
In my department, and perhaps yours, the structure of the undergraduate major has recently been revised. We now require coursework in rhetoric, and some of us in rhetoric and composition have been able to move beyond the overwhelming responsibilities of a composition program that serves twelve thousand students a year to create rhetoric courses for the new major. Such reforms follow upon the increase of faculty who have graduated from the rhetoric and composition programs established in the last two decades. Such reformed English majors generally concentrate less on rhetoric than on professional writing, and it is not clear that these reforms are redressing the historic failure of English departments to address the needs and opportunities presented by the large numbers of majors who will become teachers. My research is too limited to indicate where these trends are headed. Unfortunately such research is all too rare, even though the changes at issue are affecting thousands of students, and may determine the fate of disciplines. Such institutional changes have not traditionally been seen as subjects of scholarship. Since Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered (1990) at least, we have begun to think of teaching as a form of applied scholarship, but even that accommodation does not really challenge the research hierarchy that allots applied studies such as composition and communications to a marginal position, and service to a pragmatic accommodation. These professional hierarchies do not serve the needs of those who work in more broadly-based institutions, for the research paradigm has given little value to vital elements of public education-outreach to schools, general education, minority recruitment and retention, and interdisciplinary work with new literacies. Academics need better ways to account for the values of their work, and we rhetoricians can help meet that need by becoming more self-reflective about the institutional pragmatics of collective action.
Rhetoric has considerable pragmatic potential in composition and in communications. Gompositionists have expanded their institutional frame of reference beyond first-year courses through writing across the curriculum and computer technologies to create new programs of study. This trend has been shaped by broad institutional forces, including the prevailing careerism, which is a common concern in the purpose statements that I have reviewed. As suggested in my readings of some of those statements, rhetoric can provide a productive way to mediate utilitarian pressures to get practical. The modern opposition of the aesthetic to the practical has clearly outlasted its usefulness, and a humanistic vision of rhetoric that values its varied traditions, civic uses, and critical potentials is vital if English departments are to work beyond the disabling dualism of creative and technical writing. If they don’t, they may well become the classics departments of the twenty-first century.
Rhetoric also has strategic importance in communications. Speaking from outside the field, I value communications’ broad engagement with popular cultures, media studies, organizational communications, and public relations. The public relations of communications seem broader, more varied, but also more commercialized than those which literary studies have assumed. From afar, public relations looks a lot like marketing, and more akin to advertising and business communications than to public service work, but I do not really know enough about the disciplinary loadings and institutional dynamics of these areas to make such claims about their positionings. Clearly, fieldwork in communication is more wide ranging than can be easily mapped, and the possibilities of rhetorical studies also seem more varied and open to question, as the surveys cited here seem to document in identifying rhetoric variously with criticism, classical theories, and public address.
Do these identifications make rhetoric a pragmatic nexus where critical possibilities emerge out of the confluence of institutional change and practical need-a generative topoi where deliberative debates exercise collective agency? Perhaps. We can learn much about how to speak to such situations from the traditional arts and purposes of rhetoric. Becoming more rhetorical about what we might achieve by working together can help us to talk more productively about the institutional positions of communications and composition. The pragmatics of interdisciplinarity differ when the working unit is a department comprised of a gathering of the humanities, a grouping in which English is just another world language, or a program that bridges the two cultures of the arts and sciences. Such joint programs are more common in colleges than in research institutions, where working assumptions generally operate within departmentalized disciplines. A more broadly-based land grant institution may have a pragmatic nexus of critical potential that will not even register in the field of vision of leading professional commentators, especially a practitioner who looks to elite private universities to validate his or her professional standing by hiring graduates who may have little experience or interest in the quite time-consuming and not very professionally-rewarding work of public education.
If we are to build a field of collaborative work from the few isolated courses in rhetoric that are commonly offered in most institutions, we will need to build coalitions at those critical junctures where prevailing assumptions fail to make sense of our differences. In the most common type of higher educational institution (a masters comprehensive institution), that alliance will be with linguists, teacher educators, and compositionists as well as with communications. This curricular nexus is a telling example, for it exemplifies the generative potentials arising from the institutional bases of our work with writing, with teaching, and the materiality of language. Λ rhetoric attuned to such pragmatic potentials could work well for us and our students, and maybe even do some good for the publics we ought to be serving.
Department of English
The University of Arizona
Copyright Rhetoric Society of America Winter 2005
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.