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Communication 260: Rhetoric and Public Culture
Fall 2008

Prof. Christian Spielvogel
Office: 128 Martha Miller Center
Phone: Ext. 7596
E-mail: spielvogel@hope.edu
Office Hours: M, W, F 11:00-11:50 a.m.

Text: Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice, by Sonja K. Foss (3rd Edition). This text will provide a guide to the various methods of rhetorical criticism. The organizational structure of the course will follow the outline of this textbook.

Course Description
This course is an introduction to rhetorical criticism, a form of research used to understand how and why symbols affect our beliefs, judgments, commitments, and actions. “Rhetoric” is a term that has very negative connotations in our society, and is often contrasted with more positive words such as “action,” “truth,” or “reality.” We operate from a different understanding of rhetoric in this course, one that sees rhetoric as a basis for all coordinated human activity. We will all learn ten different methods or perspectives for understanding the rhetorical dimension of public culture. In other words, we will devote ourselves to understanding how the events, actions, and objects common to everyday experience in America influence us and the society in which we live.

Understanding the “methods” or perspectives of rhetorical criticism is a small but important part of a liberal arts, faith-based education. Scholars who employ these methods generally use them to create new theories about the use and influence of rhetoric. You can use rhetorical criticism to gain more personal control over your own beliefs and actions. By slowing down the persuasive process we become more aware of how our beliefs, values, and commitments are created and managed in ways that often eclipse conscious awareness. That knowledge can be empowering because it enables us to “stand outside of” those forces that are influencing our identities, which gives us more control over the purpose and direction of our personal and collective lives.

Course goals for all sections of COMM 260:

  • To familiarize students with the foundational concepts, categories and vocabulary of rhetoric and rhetorical criticism.
  • To introduce the major approaches to rhetorical criticism that comprises the qualitative approach to communication research.
  • To familiarize students with the most common strategies and techniques of public persuasive campaigns.
  • To improve ability to both understand and evaluate the artifacts of public culture.

Organization of the Course: We begin with an introduction to the course followed by ten weeks devoted to understanding the ten methods of rhetorical criticism, and conclude with three weeks of final student presentations. Weeks 2-11 will generally follow the same M, W, F schedule:

  • Monday: Introduction of new method & application of method to scholarly or other introductory example.
  • Wednesday: Discussion of student essay(s) utilizing method.
  • Friday: Student led rhetorical criticism lab.

Rhetoric: The discipline of rhetoric has a long and complex history. Through most of that history, rhetoric has been associated with a formal setting in which a prepared speech is delivered to a particular and limited audience. The rhetorician was a specialist with words—a skilled practitioner of the art of developing and arranging arguments and aesthetic appeals to achieve the greatest possible persuasive effect.

Today, however, the term rhetoric takes in a much larger set of activities than the prepared public speech or formal written document. A “rhetorical dimension” has been discovered in everything from scientific reports to the architectural design of buildings. According to this view, any human symbolic action that influences public attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors contains important rhetorical functions that merit our attention.

Public Culture: This insight—that persuasion is evident in a range of artifacts widely available to the public—is now frequently applied to the artifacts of popular culture with which we all are familiar. Movies, television programs, popular songs, books, magazines, advertisements, sporting events, and even sports and entertainment celebrities themselves are seen as rhetorical, that is, as both symbolic in nature and persuasive by design. As the concept of widely available cultural artifacts has been broadened to include speeches and other more traditional forms of communication, and to include cultural factors that were not previously considered persuasive or rhetorical at all, for example public monuments, the term public culture is beginning to displace the narrower term popular culture.

The readings and assignments for this course are intended to help us to gain a better understanding of the rhetoric of public culture. We will consider how many of the symbols most of us are broadly exposed to on an everyday basis influence value commitments, shape personal identity, assist the formation of group identity, and distribute power.

Assignments and requirements: This course will involve readings, assignments, exams, quizzes, class discussion, and a final project.

In-class discussion and attendance accounts for 10% of the course grade.

One midterm exam will be given, which counts for 10% of your grade in the course.

A final exam will make up 20% of your grade. The final will consist of two parts. First, you will select one method to analyze a brief artifact of the instructor’s choosing during the designated exam time. Second, you will write a reflective essay about the state of contemporary public culture based on trends identified while listening to the final presentations.

Brief written assignments presented in class and quizzes on readings make up 20% of the course grade.

Working in groups of 5-6, each student will lead class discussion twice this semester (10% of overall course grade).

A final project involving a paper and presentation will account for 30% of your grade.

Plagiarism and cheating: I assume that you know what constitutes dishonest behavior in an academic setting. If at any time you have any questions in this regard, please ask me. All established cases of cheating or plagiarism will be considered major violations of the Code for Academic Integrity (discussed in the Hope College Catalogue), and will be handled in accordance with the Code. Please read the code if you haven't already.

Attendance: Attendance is taken daily. You wouldn’t dare not show up to work for fear of getting fired, so why skip class every once in a while? More than two unexcused absences during the semester will adversely affect your final grade in the course.

Assignment Due
Wed. 8/27 Introduction to course  
Fri. 8/29 Rhetoric and Public Culture Foss, Ch. 1-2
Mon. 9/1 Neo-Aristotelian Criticism Foss, pp. 25-34; 56-65
Wed. 9/3 Guest Student Author: James Ralston Ralston essay
Fri. 9/5 Student Led Lab #1: Neo-Aristotelianism Group 1 leads lab:
Meghan Beachum
Erik Bodine
Victoria Claus
Daniel Cox
Mon. 9/8 Cluster Criticism Overview
Guest Student Author: Erika Wilson?
Foss, pp. 69-77
Wilson essay
Wed. 9/10 Cluster Criticism Scholary Essay: The Rhetoric of Adolf Hitler's Autobiography Burke's Rhetoric of Hitler's Battle (distributed by instructor)
Fri. 9/12 Student Led Lab #2: Cluster Analysis Group 2 leads lab:
Kylee Damstra
Taylor Fox
Philana Greene
Stephen Hobson
Mon. 9/15

Feminist Criticism
Feminist Criticism Scholary Essay: Susan Douglas, "Narcissism as Liberation"

Foss, pp. 151-161
Douglas, "Narcissism as Liberation"
Wed. 9/17 Guest Student Author: Kathleen Burkhardt Burkhardt essay
View Episode ___, Desperate Housewives
Fri. 9/19 Student Led Lab #3: Feminist Analysis Group 3 leads lab:
Holly Johnson
Christopher Lewis
Nathan Magrath
Andrew Panaggio
Mon. 9/22 Ideological Criticism Foss, pp. 239-52; student essay from spring 2005 class
Wed. 9/24 Ideological Criticism Scholarly Essay: Christian Spielvogel, "Forrest Gump & Political Ideology" Spielvogel, "Forrest Gump's Postwar Family Values"
Fri. 9/26 Student Led Lab #4: Ideological Criticism Group 4 leads lab:
Alison Roth
Katlyn Rowe
Steven Stetson
Arryn Uhlenbrauck
Mon. 9/29 Peer Editing & Evaluation Workshop Final Project Progress Report Due
Wed. 10/1 Critical Issues Symposium -- No Class Prepare for exam
Fri. 10/3 Midterm Exam  
Mon. 10/6 Pentadic Criticism Guest Student Author: Foss, pp. 383-391
Wed. 10/8 Manslaughter or Accident? A Pentadic Analysis of the Shooting Death of Karen Wood Tonn, Borr, & Endross, "Hunting & Heritage on Trial" (distributed in class)
Fri. 10/10 Student Led Lab #5: Pentadic Analysis Group 5 leads lab:
Sarah VanderWoude
Erin Webster
Colton Wright
Mon. 10/13 Fall Break -- No Class  
Wed. 10/15 Generic Criticism Sample Scholarly Essay: John M. Murphy, "The American Jeremiad" Foss, pp. 193-211; 219-234
Fri. 10/17 Student Led Lab #6: Generic Criticism Group 1 leads lab:
Meghan Beachum
Erik Bodine
Victoria Claus
Daniel Cox
Mon. 10/20 Metaphor Criticism Sample Scholarly Essay: Osborn, "I Have a Dream" Foss, pp. 299-306
Wed. 10/22 Scholarly Essay: O'Brien, "Metaphors of Immigrants" Foss, pp. 307-319
Fri. 10/24 Student Led Lab #7: Metaphor Criticism Group 2 leads lab:
Kylee Damstra
Taylor Fox
Philana Greene
Stephen Hobson
Mon. 10/27 Narrative Criticism Foss, pp. 333-341
Wed. 10/29 Sample Scholarly Essay: Hollihan & Riley, "Support Group Narratives" Foss, pp. 344-355
Fri. 10/31 Student Led Lab #8 Group 3 leads lab:
Holly Johnson
Christopher Lewis
Nathan Magrath
Andrew Panaggio
Mon. 11/3 Fantasy Theme Criticism Foss, pp. 109-117; 118-135
Rough Drafts Due (bring 4 copies)
Wed. 11/5 Student Led Lab #9 Group 4 leads lab:
Alison Roth
Katlyn Rowe
Steven Stetson
Arryn Uhlenbrauck
Fri. 11/7 Peer Editing Workshop  
Mon. 11/10 Generative Criticism Foss, pp. 411-430
Wed. 11/12 Sample Scholarly Essay: Foss & Domenici, "Haunting Argentina" Foss, pp. 431-454
Fri. 11/14 Student Led Lab #10: Generative Criticism Group 5 leads lab:
Sarah VanderWoude
Erin Webster
Colton Wright
Mon. 11/17 Consultations on Final Projects Revise Final Papers
Wed. 11/19 Consultations on Final Projects Revise Final Papers
Fri. 11/21 NCA Convention -- No Class Revise Final Papers
Mon. 11/24 Presentations (Roundtable Format)  
Wed. 11/26 Presentations  
Fri. 11/28 Thanksgiving Holiday -- No Class  
Mon. 12/1 Presentations  
Wed. 12/3 Presentations  
Fri. 12/5 Presentations  
2:00 p.m.
Final Exam