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Rhetorical Studies Reading Group

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Tag Archives: rhetoric

On January 18, 2014, the Department of Communication hosted the Midwest Winter Workshop. Over 75 graduate students and faculty in rhetorical studies joined us in Lincoln Hall for a day of professional development panels and paper workshop sessions. Over the next several days, we will be posting notes from our panels.

Next, we have some thoughts from our panel “Research Methods in Rhetorical Studies I.” Thanks to Donovan Bisbee for compiling these notes!

Panel Title: Research Methods in Rhetorical Studies I

Sara McKinnon, T.M. Linda Scholz, Lindsay Rose Russell

Each panelist spoke briefly regarding their general processes, specific approaches to their research interests, and then fielded a variety of questions. Below are notes from each of the “prepared” remarks.

Using the methods of rhetorical genre studies and feminist historiography helps to inform research. When working with genres, remember that if all you’re looking at is how the text fits the genre, you’re probably doing it wrong

When thinking about archives, remember that we can both question archives about their omissions, gaps, and particularities and help to build new archives through our work.

Genre plays an important role in structuring individual texts, and it is important to remember this.

When looking at methods in rhetorical studies, start with a question. Then, consider what methodological tools you might productively turn to.

We tend to work quite a lot with text, whether retrieved online, in a book, or in archives. Keep in mind that other methods can work alongside analysis of a text to help us really get at the questions in which we are interested. “Methodological promiscuity” can be really useful.

When using field methods in rhetorical work, we should think about “what’s rhetorical about this project? Where is rhetoric here?”

Qualitative methods teaches us to share our process, and there is a pedagogical function to this. We often struggle with this in rhetorical studies.

We often struggle to access texts and choosing a particular object of study can raise a number of methodological, ethical, and practical problems. For example, studying marginalized women in Latin America requires some flexibility and creativity when access to texts is limited.

We should be open to being critical about traditional western rhetorical theories and methods, not because they are inherently problematic, but because they don’t always work for texts outside of that mold.

We then moved on to questions from the audience

When doing interdisciplinary work, how can one distinguish English, Communication, or Rhetoric from other fields and how might we translate between our field and others we are working with?

– Know your audience. You will probably articulate rhetoric to a lesser degree or in a different way to a Gender/Women’s Studies audience than you would elsewhere.

– Use rhetoric as a theoretical lens while speaking the language of other audiences.

– Remember that things are rhetorical, for bringing rhetoric to the table allows us to see the consequences and biases of texts and practices in a generative way.

What distinguishes a rhetorical approach from, say, approaches in sociology, ethnography, etc?

– One way is to remember rhetoric’s focus on language in the text. This is one way we can find the rhetorical and distinguish the topics in which we’re really interested.

– Historians, for example, might catalogue a moment as an oddity and then move one. However, rhetoricians often want to stop, focus, spend more time studying that oddity.

Once you’ve gone forth and done field work or carried out your research, what are the challenges of representing what you do back to your field? For example, how do you re-situate yourself in rhetoric journals if your work primarily used ethnographic methods?

– Some of the panelists haven’t necessarily struggled with this, while others have.

– One way to approach this is to remember that you are offering methodological models to the field.

What are some good examples of texts that bridge the gap between rhetoric and other fields?

– Raka Shome on Postcolonial theory

– Wanzer on Decoloniality (QJS)

– Some of the canonical texts in rhetorical studies really are doing this sort of work by putting rhetoric in conversation with other fields, methods, and concerns

How do you justify connections that would never happen otherwise, scholarly conversations that would not occur naturally?

– It depends on the audience. Some journals will be more receptive, but keep in mind that the justification of the conversation is a big concern for your article.

Do you ever look back at traditional or more canonical rhetorical texts or ideals and critique them?

– Yes. It is important to remember, however, that rhetorical theory is not the only body of theory that has problems.

-There’s only so much you can do in 25 pages, and you may get to the point where you don’t have to prove yourself/do huge, bold things in every article.

What about dealing with the critique of journal reviewers, how do you choose when to stick to your guns on a critique?

– Try thinking about reviewer feedback as the homework you have to do or may be required to do in order to get your work to where it needs to be.

– A journal editor from the audience suggests that authors should not stay committed to their writing as it first comes out. It will take time to revise and improve your writing.

– Remember that you don’t do all your intellectual work in your brain. A lot of it happens on the page.

– Explaining why you are keeping or not modifying something can be extremely important.

– When cutting, several panelists suggest making reductions in historical context, “what you are saying in five pages can be said in one.”

On Methodological promiscuity, what are some concerns and details involved in such processes? What suggestions do you have for pursuing such work?

– If a graduate student still, take classes in interviewing, focus groups, qualitative methods, and in general build a base of methodologies in which you are competent.

– DO IT! There will be mistakes along the way, and this is part of the process. Read and practice.

– Think carefully, always, about the ethics of the work you are doing. There are almost always questions we have to ask about ethics, representations, member checking, and more.

– If carrying out work that might (or could) lead to advocacy work, be mindful of the politics involved in institutions and how you might be intervening in those.

What advice would you give to you of five years ago?

– Take a lot of methods classes and theory classes.

– Librarians can be really helpful.

– Be flexible. Don’t place anything on a hierarchy.

– IRBs are really important, and they vary by institution. One IRB may be much more amenable to qualitative research while others may want to send you with a 12 page release to talk with someone for five minutes. Start early, and check really carefully to see if you need IRB approval for your work.

– Write fellowship applications where you have to articulate your methods. It will be frustrating and painstaking, but it is immensely helpful for to figure out what your methods are.

Stay tuned for more from the Midwest Winter Workshop!


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On January 18, 2014, the Department of Communication hosted the Midwest Winter Workshop. Over 75 graduate students and faculty in rhetorical studies joined us in Lincoln Hall for a day of professional development panels and paper workshop sessions. Over the next several days, we will be posting notes from our panels.

First, we have some thoughts from our panel “Navigating the Job Market.” Thanks to Jon Stone for compiling these notes!

Panel Title: Navigating the rhetoric job market

Isaac West, Karma Chávez

This hour-long session was conducted as a round-table discussion. It began with a survey of possible questions from those in attendance, after which Professors West and Chávez did their best to touch on as many as possible. Below you’ll find truncated renderings of the questions discussed.

How should I approach the Cover letter and other documents in the application packet?

– The language of a job ad is really important when the university ranks potential candidates. When qualifications are listed as  “required” or  “desirable” in a job ad, they are important cues for the kind of person that the institution is looking for. You need to speak to those in your cover letter. Take it seriously—it’s worth investing the time.

– There are a couple of problems that come up frequently. The generic letter is one—speaking to the specifics of the job ad shows that you’re serious about the job. Tailor the letter to the institution, don’t just send a generic letter and hope to have success getting the job.

– You CAN have a basic template to start with a job letter that can be tailored: Have a different letter/CV for both teaching schools and research schools. It’s about audience—it’s rhetoric!

On the status of your dissertation when you apply for jobs [in Communication]: 

– Your dissertation should be almost done when you’re on the market.

– It’s increasingly futile to go out on the job market when you are not almost or completely done with the dissertation.

– Plan on a month of your summer to get stuff together. It takes a LONG time to get all of the documents together for the job application panel.

– Look at the courses that an institution needs taught and prepare syllabi for those classes. Be ready to show that you know what’s going on at the institution and that you are ready to fill the needs there.

– It’s all about controlling the narrative and being flexible if that narrative begins to shift as you interact with the institution. Be willing to adapt, but know when that adaptation is too much. Don’t over claim who you are and what you are capable of.

Looking for Jobs across disciplines: 

– CRT-NET is a good place to start. For those with interdisciplinary qualifications—it’s a good idea to get on the listservs connected to the other disciplines. The Chronicle.

– The job wiki can be useful if you use it smartly.

Job Talks: 

– Job talks are peculiar to each place—ask for clarification about what a job talk looks like at the institution you’re applying for. Then, follow those guidelines—only speak for 30 minutes if that is the amount of time they give you. You can lose the job if you go long in a situation like that.

– Take the process as seriously as possible. This is a job interview—something that will affect you for many years in the future. 

– You have to recognize that when you are on a campus visit, you are always being interviewed (unless you are in a room all by yourselves). Always be on.

– During the Q & A, don’t assume that it’s adversarial! But, show the group that you’re thinking. You can take a moment to process—but taking offense to a sharp question will shut that whole process down.

-Yes, it is about showing that you can be a good, thoughtful colleague. Someone that you might not team teach a class with, but someone with whom you will share the labor of a department with.

– Job talks are speeches. Don’t forget what you know about speeches. Hourglass structure: how you got interested in it, center in on a case study, then show where you’re going with it.

– The best job talks are the ones that take their topic and make it legible for the audience in all of its potential diversity.

Stay tuned for more from the Midwest Winter Workshop!

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On Monday, graduate students from the RSA Chapter at the University of Illinois gathered again in Lincoln Hall to participate in the second session of the RSA Webinar on Archival Research organized by Debra Hawhee and Jack Selzer over at Penn State.

Session 2 featured Jordynn Jack as well as fellow Illini Ned O’Gorman. The theme of the discussion was “The Archive as Heuristic.” Some of my notes follow below.

O’Gorman and Jack presented a fascinating way of looking at the archives. Rather than seeing the archive as a repository of information to be mined, O’Gorman and Jack considered what it would mean to think of the archive as a source of invention. Thinking of the archive in this way gets at the ways in which the archive often presents us with surprising artifacts that lead us to more questions. O’Gorman described this as the practice of finding “provocations” within the archives. These provocations present us with fundamental questions that lead to further inquiry.

Sometimes, those artifacts in the archive that provoke us lead us outside of the archive to answer the questions they raise.

Thus, both scholars discussed the ways in which archival research gives us opportunities for “undirected research” and the ability to be surprised by what we find. As researchers, we should be open to these provocations and see where they lead us. Seeing the archive as heuristic keeps us open and ready to embrace these opportunities.

The discussion was lively and fascinating, as always. Thanks to Rohini Singh for reserving the room and the equipment, thanks to Dr. O’Gorman and Dr. Jack for sharing their insights, and thanks to Debra Hawhee and Jack Selzer for bringing all of us into these discussions!

The next “Archival Encounters” webinar will take place on March 25th, and will examine the question of “Reading Archival Documents” with Ann George and Dave Tell.

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EDIT March 1st, 2013: Thanks to all who came to the reading group today! Due to copyright, some of the links to this week’s readings have been removed.


Mark your calendars!

Our next Rhetorical Studies Reading Group will be held on Friday, March 1, 2013 from 1pm to 3pm in Lincoln Hall, rm. 4103. For this meeting, we have the pleasure of hearing from three professors from the Center for Writing Studies (Lindsay Rose Russell, Martin Carmargo, Peter Mortensen). They will be discussing the importance of rhetoric to their work as well as helping to map connections between rhetorical studies and the field of Writing Studies / Rhetoric & Composition. Each has supplied a few readings for us to read in preparation for the meeting.

About the Readings:

Martin Camargo – The two essays represent two different ways in which historical rhetoric figures in my scholarship: as a rich source of information about medieval writing pedagogy and as an important context for understanding medieval poetic practice.

Lindsay Rose Russell – Janet Giltrow’s work is helpful for me in as it sets rhetorical genre theory in between what I find value in rhetorical studies approaches (to activity, networks, and/or ecologies) and language studies approaches (which trace traditions of language prescriptivism).

Peter Mortensen – My current book project, Manufacturing Illiteracy in the United States, examines the rhetoric of literacy and its consequences in the early twentieth-century US. I continue to consider how the cultural critique and rhetorical theorizing of Kenneth Burke might be germane to my project. For our meeting on March 1, I’ve assembled some relevant short pieces by Burke and have drafted a two-page overview that suggests how we might approach the readings.

You can access the readings below:

Camargo Readings

Camargo – Chaucer and the Oxford Renaissance of Anglo-Latin Rhetoric

Camargo – Writing Instruction

Mortensen Readings

Mortensen Guide to the Readings

Russell Readings

Giltrow – Meta-Genre


The Rhetorical Studies Reading Group is an IPRH sponsored group of students and faculty from a variety of disciplines and departments who are interested in the study of rhetoric. Several times a semester, the group comes together to discuss issues and research in rhetorical studies. We are often joined by guest scholars from around campus and across the country. Watch this space for updated information and readings.

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