What We Study
The department of Rhetoric Studies enriches understanding of the complexity of contemporary communication. As noted in the Whitman College Catalog:
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.
Our department has five primary components.
- We offer courses in public speaking and address for improvement in presentations.
- We offer study in Political and Legal Rhetoric with courses in Argument in the Law and Politics, Rhetoric and Political Community, the First Amendment and Free Speech.
- We offer courses in Social Justice Rhetoric such as Environmental Communication, Rhetorics of Identity and Nationhood, and Rhetorical Explorations of Race, Class, and Gender.
- We offer courses in Rhetorical Theory spanning from Aristotle to Derrida including courses on Criticism, Kenneth Burke, Baudrillard, Foucault, and many other contemporary critics of discourse.
- We offer a comprehensive forensic program. Students can participate in Parliamentary debate, Extemporaneous and Impromptu Speaking, and Policy Debate.
Our department's approach toward Rhetoric Studies involves the study of the use of symbols in speeches, written texts, media, and any form of communication. We examine the quality of reason giving in a speech by George Bush, evaluate gender representations in sexual harassment disputes, critique arguments presented by television ads advocating harsher prison sentences, evaluate the effectiveness of civil rights protesters, and explicate the history of the rhetoric of peace movements in the United States. In sum, the Rhetoric Studies department has as its primary goal the evaluation of communication in all of its diverse formats.