Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sample Questions for Introduction to Rhetorical Theory/CMJR 205 and Persuasion/CMJR 350

1. Gerard Hauser states in the first chapter of his text, Introduction to Rhetorical Theory: “Rhetoric is a form of social action because it involves at least one person attempting to engage at least one other person. The specific mode of engagement is through symbols” (10). While this statement is seemingly innocuous, I want to disagree in part and argue for an expansion of his definition. I believe rhetoric is a form of social action that may involve at least another person, but may also exist in one’s “self-talk,” also called “self-persuasion.” In fact, I believe that most persuasion today is “self-persuasion or the subtle reinforcement of social norms in one’s daily life. I understand that some call the same phenomenon “thinking,” rather than “communication,” but if we take Hauser’s stated premises that rhetoric is human action and symbolic action then the teenage girl looking in the mirror and saying to herself “I am fat” at 5’8” and 92 pounds is rhetorical action in contrast to “thinking.” An implication of calling the above teenage girl’s symbolic construction of her body “thinking” is reducing her capacity to change her sense of self through the symbolic meanings available to her in that lived moment. What do you think about communication? Do you think the stories reinforcing our sense of self are communicative or psychological?

2. Wayne Booth summarizes some key perspectives on rhetorical theory within Western thought over the centuries. The definitions that seem to make the most sense are those that describe rhetoric as “cookery” (Plato) and an “art of deception” (Locke). It seems that rhetoric today remains the same: manipulative, deceptive, and essentially propaganda devised to fool the masses. All we have to do is look at our current presidential campaigns and conclude that the truth about our leaders is not only no longer desirable, but possible. Many American people seem to gravitate to the candidates that reinforce what they already believe to be true (or want to be true) rather than who might be the best person for the job. Do you agree, why or why not?

3. Woodward and Denton argue that an “open society” exists, but there are many constraints hindering the actualization of this ideal. One hindrance is media conglomeration and the consequent shrinking marketplace of ideas. What does it mean for the average person to have “access” to critical dialogue and debate about the issues central to democratic self-government? Many editorialists of late bemoan the lies pervading the McCain presidential campaign. What information would help “the people” to perform their integral “checking” function of the excesses of “the state?”