Connections: How Does Rhetoric Studies Interact with Other Disciplines?

In our department, we encourage you to study the kinds of rhetoric that most interest you. Into politics? Queer advocacy? Reason and philosophy? Post-structuralist theory like Baudrillad, Foucalt, and Derrida? Supreme Court decisions? We invite you to consider how you can study these and many other contemporary forms of discourse in our department.

Politics-International Studies

Study the arguments people make in political communities. How does Barack Obama remain popular? What issues need to be addressed concerning our policy toward Serbia? Communication questions such as these can be addressed in the study of rhetoric.

Example: Adam Symonds examined value hierarchies in United States foreign policy rhetoric toward democracy in the Middle East to show our policy is not consistent with its stated goals. Matt Schissler examined politically incorrect humor in shows such as South Park, The Sarah Silverman Program, and The Dave Chappelle Show showing the ways in which they could advance productive rather than hurtful political objectives.

Sociology and Gender-Race-Class-GBLTQ Studies

A community is a grouping of people who, through the use of communication, share experiences and ideas. Examining problems people face such as racism, classism, sexism is enriched by focusing on communication. For example, "poverty" isn't just a lack of money. It is also a word people use to refer to the condition of other people just as "welfare" and "empowered" are. How we talk influences our communities and rhetoric focuses on this.

Example: Loan Lam did a feminist criticism of the film The Little Mermaid to examine the kind of influence it would have on children. Paige Joki examined child beauty pageant contests for the ways in which they reified gender, racial, and class based stereotypes.


Rhetoric has a long history of strong connections to the Greeks and Romans. Gorgias, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero, Quintillian, among others were great thinkers in the art of rhetoric.

Example: Jessica Clarke studied Plato's works for their representation of women in the classical period. She actually extended that in a later essay to connect with post-modernist Jacques Derrida.


The contemplation of what is right and wrong, what is our existence, how do we know what we know, are all thoughts we express in words. Rhetoric encourages students to think about the words they use as a fundamental part of the construction of a philosophy. Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Foucault, Derrida, Neitzche, each have written on rhetoric and our department explores their ideas on communication.

Example: David Kearney, a rhetoric minor, wrote a philosophy thesis in which he examined Plato's Gorgias to reveal the kind of rhetoric Plato supported. Bryan Sonderman examined the instability of meaning in the internet age and the way it adjusted our discursive knowledge.


Great leaders in history are often great speakers. The speeches of Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Margaret Thatcher, and others have had a major impact. Studying the videos of their speeches focuses attention on how public address has been a critical part of history.

Example: Chris Gregory wrote an essay concerning the attempt to impeach William O. Douglas (former Whitman College student and debater) in the 1970s, analyzing the ethos of the arguments made against Douglas. Alex Miller examined Bush administration anti-terrorist policies in conjunction with the show 24 to identify a larger system of beliefs that denies rights to those accused of terrorism.


Great dramatic works make persuasive calls to their audiences. A play enacts traditions in a community and influences that community. Studying rhetoric can add to your theater studies by giving you an additional tool for examining what makes a play a rhetorical work of art.

Example: Max Wall wrote an analysis of Shakespeare's Hamlet using Kenneth Burke's "definition of man" to show what kind of person Shakespeare encourages audience members to be.


Examine literature for how it persuades and influences its readers. The Great Gatsby, for example, isn't just a work illustrative of its time. It also speaks to us today in its advocacy to take responsibility rather than just sit by when people hurt others. Rhetoric studies can examine literature from this perspective.

Example: Jeremy Engdahl-Johnson wrote an analysis of book jacket covers to show how they convinced readers to purchase books. Ross Richendrfer analyzed Foucault's concept of the confession in The Catcher and the Rye to examine the persuasiveness of Holden Caufield, the protagonist and narrator of the novel, to readers.