Rhetoric Studies

Chair: Heather Hayes
Matthew deTar
James Hanson (on Sabbatical, 2014-15)
Kevin Kuswa

Rhetoric Studies Department Website »

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, of communicating effectively and with consequence. As such, rhetoric studies examines public advocacy and social expression by exploring influential speeches, Internet posts, court opinions, media representations, written documents, and the many ways society engages in persuasive arguments. Courses focus on political, legal, environmental, social, activist, identity politics, and cultural argument while providing a solid grounding in the theory, practice, and criticism of contemporary communication. Students ultimately utilize this rhetorical understanding on the kinds of communication in which they have interest. In the process, they learn what makes rhetoric effective as well as how it affects their and others’ lives.

Distribution: Courses completed in rhetoric apply to the humanities distribution area, with the following exceptions:
     Fine arts: 110, 111, and 245
     Cultural pluralism or humanities: 240
     Activity credit/no distribution: 121, 221, and 222

Learning Goals: Upon graduation, a student will be able to:

  • Major-Specific Areas of Knowledge
    • Engage in effective communication in their presentations, discussion, and writing by using clear, persuasive, and interesting rhetoric.
      Analyze arguments, values, and differing symbols presented in speeches, legal documents, social activist advocacy, etc. Such analysis will demonstrate insight, reflection, and thought on rhetoric in society.
    • Conceptualize rhetoric and discursive processes in clear, accurate, and productive ways, informed with a wide variety of rhetorical methods, models, and approaches toward communication.
      Discuss with an intellectual grounding the role of rhetoric in politics and the law, social justice and activism, theoretical explorations, and the larger community.
  • Accessing Academic Community/Resources
    • Connect with the National and Northwest Communication Associations.
    • Opportunities for research with faculty such as researching and writing in communication and rhetoric journals and texts.
  • Communication
    • Effective public presentation, discussion, and writing skills.
  • Critical Thinking
    • Engage in deeper rhetorical analyses of the many forms of communication we are exposed to.
    • Understanding of rhetorical, practical reasoning skills.
    • Understanding of the empowering as well as damaging effects of our communication.
  • Research Experience
    • Communication and Rhetoric journal and book research.
    • Research in the kinds of rhetoric students are interested in. For example, legal rhetoric students will learn skills in using Lexis and Find Law; political rhetoric students will learn to access political databases, blogs, campaign websites; etc.
  • After College
    • Rhetoric Studies prepares students for after college experiences by developing effective communication skills both in presentations but also in the ability to evaluate what makes for effective advocacy.
    • Rhetoric Studies prepares students in the area of their rhetoric interest. Political and legal rhetoric students might engage in political campaigns or become lawyers; Social activist students might participate in environmental or poverty reduction advocacy groups; Rhetoric and Discourse theory students might go on to engage in theoretical scholarship as professors or as communication analysts.
    • Rhetoric Studies prepares students for graduate school in Communication and Rhetoric programs as well as programs in the kind of rhetoric in which the student is interested (politics, critical culture studies, social justice, discourse theory, etc.).

The Rhetoric Studies major: A student who enters Whitman without any prior college-level coursework in rhetoric studies will complete 34 credits to fulfill the requirements for this major, including 230, 330, 387, 487, and 491 or 498, with up to 8 credits of 200 level or higher courses outside the department relevant to the students rhetorical studies that are pre-approved by the student’s major adviser. Students are welcome to concentrate their studies in areas such as political rhetoric, social justice rhetoric, legal rhetoric, discourse and rhetoric theory, or any area in which they have rhetorical interest.

  1. All majors will complete 230 by the end of fall junior year and 330 by the end of spring senior year.
  2. Junior and Senior Seminars: All majors will complete the 387 course in the spring semester by junior year and the 487 course in the fall semester of their senior year.
  3. Senior Thesis: All majors will complete and orally defend a thesis for the 491 or 498 course during the fall semester of their senior year.
  4. Students may not count more than 4 credits of Rhetoric Studies 121, 221, or 222 toward the major.
  5. Department policy does not allow a P-D-F grade option for courses within the major.

The Rhetoric Studies minor: A minimum of 20 credits in rhetoric with up to 4 credits of 200 level or higher courses outside of the department fitting to the student’s rhetorical studies that are pre-approved by the student’s minor adviser. Students may not count more than 4 credits of Rhetoric 121, 221, or 222 toward the minor. Department policy does not allow a P-D-F grade option for courses within the minor.

110 Fundamentals of Public Address
4, 4 Fall: deTar, Staff; Spring: Staff

Speech is one of our primary means of communication. This course provides training in the fundamentals of effective speaking including the preparation, presentation and evaluation of a variety of types of communication. Preparation emphasizes the use of clear organization, cogent arguments, and strong and interesting supporting material. Presentation focuses on the use of vocal variety, distinct articulation, presence, gestures, and effective use of oral language. Evaluation encourages students to critique public address, learning to think and express what could make a presentation more effective. Oral presentations and several papers required. Students may not receive credit for both Rhetoric Studies 110 and 111.

111 Fundamentals of Public Speaking
3; not offered 2014-15

This course trains and engages students in effective public speaking including the preparation, presentation and evaluation of a variety of types of communication. Students prepare by learning to use clear organization, cogent arguments, and strong and interesting supporting material. Students improve their presentation skills in the use of vocal variety, distinct articulation, presence, gestures, and effective use of oral language. Students evaluate by critiquing public rhetoric, learning to think and express what could make a presentation more effective. Oral presentations, individually scheduled practice and presentation outside of class time sessions, and two short papers required. Students may not receive credit for both Rhetoric Studies 110 and 111.

121 Fundamentals of Debating
1, x Kuswa

Introduction to and participation in debate without a heavy commitment throughout the semester. Students are expected to attend classes covering and engaging key debate skills for the first six to eight weeks of the semester, and then participate in one intercollegiate or on-campus tournament. Students may not jointly register for Rhetoric Studies 121, 221, 222. May not be taken P-D-F.

221 Intercollegiate Parliamentary Debate and Speaking Events
2, 2 Kuswa

Participation in parliamentary debate and a speaking event throughout the semester. Students are expected to attend a preparation session the week before school begins (exceptions on a case-by-case basis only). Students are expected to attend meetings, prepare for parliamentary debate and a speaking event, practice each week with staff, and assist in the management of tournaments that Whitman hosts. Students must compete at two tournaments during the semester in parliamentary debate and in one speaking event when offered. Students may not jointly register for Rhetoric Studies 121, 221, 222. Rhetoric Studies 121 is not a prerequisite. May not be taken P-D-F.

222 Intercollegiate Policy Debate*
2, 2 Kuswa

Participation in policy debate throughout the semester. Students are expected to attend a preparation session the week before school begins (exceptions on a case-by-case basis only). Students are expected to attend meetings, prepare research assignments, engage in practice drills and debates, and assist in the management of tournaments that Whitman hosts. Students must compete in debate at a minimum of two tournaments during the semester. Students may not jointly register for Rhetoric Studies 121, 221, 222. *Topics change yearly. Rhetoric Studies 121 is not a prerequisite. May not be taken P-D-F.

230 Introduction to Rhetoric and Public Culture
4, x Hayes

An introduction to the Rhetoric Department, this course examines the role of communication in our contemporary society. We address three core areas: political and legal rhetoric, rhetorics of social justice, and contemporary rhetorical theory. Students evaluate public discourse such as political speeches (from across world regions), print and digital media (e.g., news, documentaries, web campaigns), and institutional advocacy (e.g., propaganda, legal arguments, and policy deliberations). Course requirements include class discussion, an oral presentation, and two short writing assignments. Throughout, students develop two key proficiencies: how to better interpret the diverse communication that surrounds them, and how to become effective and reflective advocates for change in the world.

240 Rhetorical Explorations: Race, Class and Gender
4; not offered 2014-15

This course seeks to examine the ways in which race-, class-, and gender-based rhetorical practices can and do create, reinforce, adjust and sometimes overcome inequality in society. The nature of this inequality is addressed as a rhetorical construct that continues to serve as a basis for often heated discussion in society. Those in the class critique communication in the media, daily discourse, the law, politics, and in their own experiences. The goal of this examination is to increase awareness of inequity in communication, to challenge theoretical assumptions about what constitutes inequity, and to offer new perspectives from which to view race-, class-, and gender-based rhetorical practices. This course may count toward the requirements for the gender studies minor and major.

245 Persuasion, Agitation, and Social Movements
4; not offered 2014-15

This class explores the rhetorical grounds of social interaction with an emphasis on the role of communication in both social continuity and change. The course introduces students to theories and the practice of mass persuasion, propaganda, public advocacy, and social activism. Theories are illustrated through examination of a set of case studies (e.g., civil rights campaigns, environmental politics, grass-roots social movements, and digitally networked global communities). Students evaluate and construct persuasive arguments in both formal and informal settings. By studying the phenomenon of social movements (broadly defined), we examine how collective identification is created, and how groups are motivated to act in concert, particularly in contexts where communication alone may be insufficient to alleviate injustice. Credit not allowed if RMS 250 (formerly RFS 250) has been previously completed.

247-249 Special Topics in Social Justice Rhetoric
1-4

Courses in social justice rhetoric. Any current offerings follow.

257-259 Special Topics in Political and Legal Rhetoric
1-4

Courses in political and legal rhetoric. Any current offerings follow.

277-279 Special Topics in Rhetoric and Discourse Theory
1-4

Courses in rhetoric and discourse theory. Any current offerings follow.

277 ST: Visual Rhetoric
4, x deTar

Visual images saturate our world and have a profound impact on our experience of politics and public life. This course explores the rhetorical role of visual images in American public culture and politics, focusing on the ways in which images function persuasively, construct our understanding of political discourse, and help constitute particular fields of symbolic action. Students will develop tools for analyzing the rhetorical aspects of historical and contemporary images and artifacts, including photographs, prints, advertisements, public spaces, and memorials. Through extended analyses of specific visual practices, students will focus on the ways in which visual images participate in a number of rhetorical actions, from memorialization, to governance, to confrontation, to commodification. May be taken for credit toward the Film and Media Studies major. Distribution area: humanities.

330 The Roots of Rhetoric: Rhetoric in Western Culture
x, 4 deTar

Debates over questions of truth versus belief and how to balance emotion, logic, and credibility have found themselves as the center of rhetoric and politics for decades. The very question, “What is rhetoric?,” prompts consternation and confusion, dialogue and dissent. Who were the ancient rhetoricians and how did they define the way they used words and argument? What relationships, both positive and negative, did rhetoric forge with philosophy, poetry, historiography, politics and the law? Was rhetoric a skill that could be taught to everyone? This course will begin by investigating the origins of rhetoric in Ancient Greece and follow its transformation in fifth- and fourth-century Athens through close study of the texts of Gorgias, Plato, Aristotle, among others. We will then turn our attention to the art of rhetoric in Ancient Rome from the end of the Republic to Christian late Antiquity through close readings of works by Cicero, among others. Throughout the semester, we will focus on how authors delineated the effects of rhetorical speech as well as on how this special speech transformed perceptions, interpretations, and actions, crafting the earliest notions of rhetorical studies. Course to include a final paper as well as class discussion and participation. This course is open to all students but completion of Rhetoric Studies 230 is advised. May be elected as Classics 371.

341 The Rhetoric of Hip Hop
4; not offered 2014-15

This course critically explores the impact and influence of hip-hop music and culture on American popular culture, political and social activism, and the global marketplace. The course is designed to introduce students to the history, analysis, and criticism of the messages disseminated through hip-hop culture, its various genres, business models, lyrics, and videos. We will examine the political and artistic foundations of hip-hop as rhetorical modes of communication and the issues presented by the cultural phenomenon including its relationship to issues of race, violence, and gender. We will look at the musical, visual, lyrical, and aesthetic manifestations of hip-hop over the past thirty-five years and their impact on socio-political culture, gender, and race. We will also look at specific cultural aesthetics, discourses, and practices that have given rise to hip-hop’s various rhetorical forms. In short, we will ask: what are the discursive boundaries, limits, and possibilities of something we can call “hip-hop”? In doing so, we hope to gain a better understanding of hip-hop as artistic expression and the discursive impact that this phenomenon has had on a generation. Course requirements will include class discussion, a final paper with an oral presentation, and weekly blog posts and/or discussion prompts. May be elected as Sociology 341.

342 The Rhetoric of the 47%: The Social, Political, and Rhetorical Materialism of Class
4; not offered 2014-15

During the 2012 presidential campaign, Governor Mitt Romney was infamously captured on video arguing that 47 percent of the American people are dependent upon government, pay no income tax, and as a result, were not citizens he “should worry about.” This course will examine Romney’s assertion of the 47%, alongside an understanding of rhetorical materialism, or the ways that rhetoric functions “as a palpable and undeniable social and political force.” We will discuss political rhetoric of class, poverty, income inequality, and the material forces that divide socio-economic populations in the United States. In doing so, we will strive to ask: How does an understanding of rhetoric as material illuminate questions of political and social change, particularly in cases of those who are least advantaged? In what ways does discourse work to shape understandings of class and economic value? Course requirements will include class discussion, a final paper, and weekly blog posts and/or discussion prompts. May be elected as Politics 342.

343 Rhetoric of Weapons of the State
x, 4 Hayes

In the moments after September 11, 2001, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside the increasingly enduring “war on terror” have prompted new discourses of security, transnational alliances, and strategic weaponry. This course will trace the history and discourses of weapons of the state, beginning with discussion of the development of nuclear technology and a rhetorical strategy Edward Schiappa terms “nukespeak.” The course will trace these histories through the current debates over technological innovations in weaponry, specifically pilotless aerial weapons known as drones. In tracing these histories and discourses, we will focus on the following questions: what political discourses and strategies animate new forms of state controlled weaponry? How do these new forms of state weaponry get circulated, discussed, and critiqued? Finally, how do state forms of violence become understood in contrast to forms of violence produced by individuals in the quest for social justice and change? Course requirements include class discussion, a final paper, and weekly blog posts and/or discussion prompts by students. May be elected as Politics 343.

344 The Rhetoric of Social Protest: Exploring the Arab Spring
4; not offered 2014-15

This course uses a number of moments of social protest throughout the Middle East to introduce students to theories and the practice of mass persuasion, propaganda, public advocacy, and social activism. Theories are illustrated through examination of a set of case studies (e.g., Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and more). By studying the rhetoric(s) of social protest in the context of the Middle East moment now commonly referred to as the “Arab Spring,” this course examines how collective identification is created, and how groups are motivated to act in concert, particularly in contexts where protest is geared to alleviate injustice in a global context. May be elected as Sociology 344. May be taken for credit toward the Race and Ethnic Studies major.

347-349 Advanced Special Topics in Social Justice Rhetoric
1-4

Advanced courses in Social Justice Rhetoric. Any current offerings follow.

350 Freedom of Speech and the First Amendment
4; not offered 2014-15

Arguments over the “appropriate boundaries” of freedom of speech are among the most interesting and hotly debated issues addressed by the legal system. In this course, the evolution of current legal standards on freedom of speech will be traced through a wide range of cases that made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Issues such as privacy, obscenity, “fighting words,” and commercial speech will be discussed, along with considerable discussion dealing with special issues of free speech such as free speech and fair trials, prior restraint, and free speech in prisons, schools, the military, and the marketplace. May be elected as Politics 379.

351 Argument in the Law and Politics
4; not offered 2014-15

This course emphasizes the study and practice of argument in the law and politics and involves three critical aspects. First, students engage in and evaluate legal argument in important court cases. Second, students participate in and evaluate political campaign and public policymaking argument. Third, students are exposed to argumentation theory as a way of interpreting the arguments they construct and evaluate. The goal of the course is to enhance the understanding and appreciation of the use of argument. May be elected as Politics 380.

352 Political Campaign Rhetoric
4; not offered 2014-15

This course focuses on communication used in political campaigns, particularly the Presidential and to a lesser degree Senate and House races as well as ballot initiatives in the current election year. The course examines the recent history of campaigns, the importance of character and public policy, advertisements, speeches, media coverage, debates, new technologies, demographics, and after the election, implications of the results. May be elected as Politics 352.

353 The Rhetoric of Civil Rights: From the Courts to the Streets
4, x Hayes

A number of civil rights movements in the United States, including the Black civil rights struggle and the battle for rights within the LGBTQ community, have utilized legal spaces to fight for social justice. In this course, an arc of legal precedents involving civil rights will be explored through a wide range of cases that made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Issues such as access to education, housing, and marriage will be discussed, along with considerable discussion dealing with how legal precedent has effected social movements outside of institutions (in “the streets”) for both LGBTQ and Black communities. May be taken for credit toward the Gender Studies major and the Race and Ethnic Studies major.

357-359 Advanced Special Topics in Political and Legal Rhetoric
1-4

Advanced courses in political and legal rhetoric. Any current offerings follow.

377-379 Advanced Special Topics in Rhetoric and Discourse Theory
1-4

Advanced courses in rhetoric and discourse theory. Any current offerings follow.

377 ST: Rhetorical Bodies
x, 4 McDermott

This course examines the rhetorical construction of bodies as well as the ways in which bodies are often used rhetorically. In order to carry out this examination, we will apply a variety of critical rhetorical lenses to written and visual texts. We will be particularly concerned with the intersections of social factors such as gender, race, class, sexuality, and disability and the ways in which these intersections are written on our bodies. We will read texts by classical and contemporary theorists and authors, such as Hippocrates, Quintilian, Judith Butler, Kenneth Burke, Patricia Hill Collins, Debra Hawhee, and Robert McCruer. This course will be writing intensive. May be elected as English 387B. Distribution area: humanities.

378 ST: Rhetoric, Politics & Post-Modernity
x, 4 deTar

Post-modern theory dissolves the certainty of the enlightenment, with significant consequences for understandings of politics, ethnicity, gender, identity, and culture. This course focuses on post-modern philosophers such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Jean-François Lyotard, as well as more contemporary authors who utilize these philosophies in critiques of gender, race, identity, class, religion, and post-colonial politics, such as Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau, and Talal Asad. Course discussion, lectures, and writing assignments allow students to develop an understanding of the main arguments and themes of postmodern theory’s relationship to contemporary political issues of ethnicity, gender, class, religion, and the cultural critique of rhetoric. May be taken for credit toward the Gender Studies major and the Race and Ethnic Studies major. Distribution area: humanities.

387 Rhetorical Criticism
x, 4 Staff

Using a variety of critical theories such as Neo-Aristotelian, Textual, Genre, Narrative, Ideology, Gender, Sexuality, Dramatism, Hyperrealism, Power Relations, and Deconstructionism, this course focuses on the analysis of rhetoric in speeches, court opinions, film, writing, television, political debates, and advertisements among many examples of communication. Students give presentations and write papers utilizing these various perspectives. The goal is to prepare students to integrate theory effectively in analyzing rhetoric, writing cogent and organized theses, and participating in the larger intellectual conversation about the significant influence communication has in our lives. Credit not allowed if RMS 387 (formerly RFS 387) has been previously completed. Primarily for students majoring in Rhetoric Studies, open to other students only by consent of instructor.

401, 402 Independent Study
1-3, 1-3 Staff

Individually directed studies in rhetoric culminating in a presentation, paper, or other creation as arranged between the student and professor. Prerequisite: consent of instructor.

487 Advanced Rhetorical Criticism
4, x deTar

Advancing student understanding of rhetorical theory, particularly in examining contemporary and post-modern theories of rhetoric and their application to student theses, this course focuses on an advanced analysis of rhetoric. Theorists examined will vary but may include Burke, Zizek, Butler, Lacan, Derrida, Fisher, Cixous, McGee, Cloud, Greene, and Hall and Jamieson. Students work on their theses by interrogating them from the in-depth perspective of the theorists covered in the course. Students also give presentations utilizing these advanced perspectives. The goal of the course is to prepare students to integrate theory effectively in analyzing rhetoric, to participate in the larger intellectual conversation about the significant influence communication has in our lives and to apply various rhetorical theories to students’ senior theses projects leading to the writing of cogent and well organized theses. Prerequisite: Rhetoric Studies 387, open to other students by consent of instructor. Recommended prerequisite: Rhetoric Studies 230.

491 Thesis
4, x Hayes

Research and writing of the senior thesis. Open only to and required of senior majors.

498 Honors Thesis
4, x Hayes

Research and writing of the senior honors thesis. Open only to and required of senior majors. Prerequisite: admission to honors candidacy. Students wishing to be considered for honors must apply to the department within the first six weeks of spring semester of the junior year.