Remaking Rhetoric in Universities and Publics (Ch. 11–15)
The final section of this collection considered the role of the university—with its commitments to classroom instruction, its investment in community partnerships, and its dependence upon and responsibilities to local residents in the public work of rhetoric.
Ch. 11 - Finding a Place for School in Rhetoric’s Public Turn, David Fleming
David Fleming argued for re-considering the productive possibilities of schooling in the public turn of rhetoric, an approach he acknowledged flies in the face of much of the
rhetoric of schooling. Fleming charted two distinct problems as articulated in critiques of school: 1) that school is essentially about
‘busy work,’ a simulation of real
activity that is a waste of resources for all concerned and 2) that school
reproduce[es] the social order ‘outside’ while hiding that this is the work of schooling
(p. 220). Without pretending to mount a defense of schooling, Fleming asked readers to reconsider how easily we’re willing to dismiss the potential of schooling. Fleming argued
specifically for the importance of facts—something Cushman and Green showed the importance of in the early stages of immersion in their praxis of new media—and the importance of
abstraction, claiming that perhaps both are sometimes best learned in the context of a classroom. The final third of the chapter is situated in a thought-provoking and
entertaining history of First-Year Composition debates at the University of Wisconsin during the 1960s and 70s. Fleming’s point was not so much to uphold the particular
experimental pedagogies of the TAs but rather to highlight their commitment to making the writing classroom somehow
compatible with… goals for a just society and genuine
learning of discourse practices (p. 225). For Fleming, the take-away was that
rhetoricians might usefully engage with social movements by indirection, designing classrooms
that are sensitive to the world outside, cognizant of and oriented to it, but also, in a sense protected from it (p. 225).
Fleming’s chapter has important implications for the thorny issues just underneath some of the most pressing concerns in this collection, most notably our ill-ease with invention, intervention, and power. Importantly, Fleming made a strong case for activity in the classroom, where students can learn discourses and the public work of rhetoric—its tools and its tensions—by doing and yet be somewhat protected from some of the unforeseeable consequences of engaging in public life with no safety net. And yet, we gain rhetorical expertise, in large part, by experiencing (positive and negative) consequences of our rhetorical decisions and by reflecting back and reflecting forward in order to anticipate and predict and invent rhetorical possibilities in future situations that are both familiar and altogether new. That is to say, there is something useful and not useful about school as a universally sheltered learning environment. Considering to what degree and under what conditions to engage in more or less protected pedagogies was the significant invitation of Fleming’s chapter.
Ch. 12 - Mediating Differences, Erik Juergensmeyer and Thomas P. Miller
Showdown! in Superior: A Three-Class Collaborative Design
Following Fleming’s claims, Erik Juergensmeyer and Thomas P. Miller offered two iterations of coursework that engaged localized concerns and discourses as well as offered insulation from
the consequences of venturing into charged contexts. They situated their work in the literature of conflict mediation and its more recent turn away from distributive, zero-sum
models of deliberation and integrative, reciprocal models of deliberation toward transformative, inventive models of deliberation, shifts echoed in rhetoric’s public turn.
Juergensmeyer and Miller made a case for the productive value of conflict in fostering rhetorical invention. In the classroom, they argued for a scenario-based approach that
demonstrates the iterative, fluid, recursive interactions between invention and deliberation as a precursor and complement to community engagement projects. Juergensmeyer and
Miller recounted two scenarios—
Showdown in Superior, a unit that
combined an honors First-Year Composition class with business and technical writing classes to
deliberate upon a regional mining issue in Superior, Arizona (p. 240) and
Breaking Through the Border, a subsequent unit that
asked professional writing students to
research, represent, and collaboratively discuss current issues at the Mexico-Arizona border (p. 242)—that illustrate the possibilities of transformative mediation in the
classroom. Overall, Juergensmeyer and Miller cast the public work of rhetoric around teaching rhetorical arts, especially inventio, in order to
move beyond persuasion by
drawing on situated conflict as a tool for fostering student experiences with the generative practices and possibilities of rhetorical invention for expanding opportunities for
social change (p. 244).
Ch. 13 - A Place for the Dissident Press in a Rhetorical Education:
Sending up a signal flare in the darkness, Diana George and Paula Matthieu
Diana George and Paula Matthieu made a strong case for bringing dissident journalism into the rhetoric and writing classroom not necessarily as a model for imitation but
rather as a resource for gleaning rhetorical strategies (p. 262). The chapter opened with the question, "Should a First-Year Composition class teach public or academic writing?"
and by the end of the chapter George and Matthieu moved away from binary options and instead, reframed the work of the composition classroom altogether. They argued that a
ought to take as its focus the question of how language works, within situations, within genres, to consider how writing and speaking can move audiences to
action (p. 262). They contended that the dissident press, which often has multiple audiences and multiple, often polarizing, goals in mind, serves as an important body of
rhetorical work that can help re-locate writing instruction in the rhetorical tradition by considering the potential work of rhetoric and writing in civic life (p. 249). George
and Matthieu argued for writing classrooms that affirm the capacity of language to do something in the world and recognize the dissident press as one site where the energizing
work of rhetoric and writing is made powerfully visible. The authors mapped important features of a rhetoric of dissent and then considered grounded possibilities for the
composition classroom. The chapter closed, appropriately, with an important question posed by a fellow self-proclaimed
dissident intellectual Rhichard Ohman (1990):
Can vision become a goal for rhetoric? (p. 230). As George and Matthieu weighed the public work of rhetoric, they echoed the dissidents they admire: it not only can,
Ch. 14 - The Community Literacy Advocacy Project: Civic Revival through Rhetorical Activity in Rural Arkansas, David A. Joliffe
David Joliffe analyzed an endeavor in a small university town to work with local residents to
reshape the rhetoric that they employ with one another when they talk about
civic survival and, ideally, economic turnaround (p. 267). The town, trying to brand itself as a town
where literacy makes a difference (p. 267) was undergoing
what Joliffe called a
rhetorical/revival campaign (p. 267). Joliffe drew on three frameworks to analyze the rhetorical activity of the August Recovery Initiative
and the Community Literacy Advocacy Project: Aristotelian rhetoric where he most firmly situates his own work, David Proctor’s (2005) understandings of contemporary communication
as an organizing feature of small town life, and Elenore Long’s (2008) tools for analyzing the rhetoric of local publics in the context of community literacy projects or programs.
Finally, Joliffe argued that despite the anxiety that inevitably accompanies this kind of public rhetorical activity, it is rich as a source for understanding how an issue came
to be in a particular way with a particular public.
Ch 15 - The Prospects for the Public Work of Rhetoric: A Coda on Codes, Susan C. Jarratt
Closing the collection, Susan Jarratt considered the collection’s hopeful implications for the public work of rhetoric.
Accordingly, she began by noting that these essays invite her to resist finality and instead honor their
dominant themes [of] qualification, principled hesitation,
a stepping back from the reassuring rhetorics of pro, con, and happy compromise (p. 283). Noting the
lost geographies this collection charts, Jarratt asked,
What are the rhetorical arts needful in this time, one in which (p. 284).
Jarratt responded by taking up the central concerns of the book: 1) navigating and shaping mechanisms of power in public life and 2) inventing rhetorical arts capable of
moving fluidly between
free speech and figured discourse to transform shared symbolic and material realities. Jarratt reminded readers that
the dominant ancient
rhetorical cultures, even during the democracy and the republic, operated through the power of empire (p. 284) and invited readers to consider, alongside the scholars and
citizens featured in this collection,
what are the networks of affiliation, the rhetorics of space, and rhetorical strategies that will enable us to move the emperors of our
own era? (p. 285). Turning to postclassical Greek rhetoric, Jarratt explored the use of codes, where rhetors employed
free-speech and figured discourse to speak across
linguistic and cultural difference to address those in power and to invite a re-imagining of the present and a re-invention of the future.
Jarratt’s afterword captured the heart of the collection and yet, despite the self-warning at the beginning of the chapter to resist finality in her final word (p. 283),
Jarratt held up Coogan’s chapter as the most vividly hopeful possibility for the public work of rhetoric rather than letting the agitation of this collection and the
grit and tumble of public life stand (Ackerman & Coogan, p. 21). Even this, though, is a marker of public life, where we are working
in the absence of and hope for an
ideal (Jarratt, p. 293) and where, in the face of charged disagreement and high stakes, we often cannot resist setting forth the ideal we like best.