Summer 2009: Classical, Contemporary, Cultural, and Global Rhetoric

Course Introduction, Background & Goals

“The function of rhetoric is not to persuade but to see the available means of persuasion in each case.”
— Aristotle, Rhetoric

In this course, we examine and discuss the classical origins, cultural contexts, and contemporary relevance of rhetorical traditions. We will explore the meaning of the term “rhetoric” and the way scholars and practitioners have traditionally viewed rhetoric as a way of knowing and as a way of being in the world. We can use this work to make sense of current political debates, to increase the sophisticated professional elements of our scientific, technical, and professional communications, and to provide productive insights into our creative and non-academic work.




Global Perspectives

As part of our explorations, we will discuss forms of rhetoric in non-Western societies, including classical forms of Chinese rhetoric. Some assumptions about Chinese rhetoric, for example are that group harmony is valued over individual welfare, accepted patterns are valued over originality or logic, and indirection is valued over clarity.

Similarly, we review Arab rhetoric as it has been portrayed and used by artists, poets, and other public figures in historical and in contemporary contexts. We explore works that illustrate how people from very different backgrounds can explore a similar phenomenon, namely Arab rhetoric, and reach very different interpretations.

These discussions should give us good grounding, then, to turn to Latin American rhetoric to ask how rhetoric is used in societies and cultures largely defined by their devastating rates of poverty, histories of revolutions, counter-revolutions, and the resulting strategies and literacies of survival.



Course Objectives

At the end of the course we will,

  • Understand the basic classical concepts and principles of rhetoric
  • Be able to explore rhetoric across cultures, countries and various forms of media
  • Have developed strengths as writers, researchers, speakers and rhetoricians as we focus on a project of your choice, depending on your interests
  • Be aware of the global perspective on rhetoric

“Each of the modes has its own peculiar logic. It also has its own organizational patterns and, to some extent, its own stylistic characteristics”.
— James Kinneavy, Theory of Discourse

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