map :: introduction :: core text :: authors :: what is CHAT? :: references


re-situating and re-mediating the canons:

a cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity

a collaborative core text


Paul Prior :: Janine Solberg :: Patrick Berry :: Hannah Bellwoar :: Bill Chewning :: Karen J. Lunsford :: Liz Rohan :: Kevin Roozen :: Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau :: Jody Shipka :: Derek Van Ittersum :: Joyce Walker

An earlier version of this argument was presented February 6, 2005 by Paul Prior in a plenary talk at the Santa Barbara Conference, Writing Research in the Making.


Delivery problems

Re-mediating and
re-distributing delivery

The rhetorical scene

Take 1: Revising the canons

Society and socialization

Take 2: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity

Mapping literate activity

Using CHAT to form new canons

From the core text to the data nodes


map button



The five classical canons listed below (with first their Latin and then their Greek names in parentheses) have offered a map for rhetors and a frame for rhetoricians for at least two millennia.

Invention (inventio, heuresis)

Arrangement (dispositio, taxis)

Style (elocutio, lexis)

Memory (memoria, mneme)

Delivery (actio/pronuntiatio, hypokrisis)

The first three emerged earliest and have remained the most robust in the last several centuries. Whereas other maps that ancient rhetoricians bequeathed to us (e.g., forensic, deliberative, and epideictic discourse; ethos, pathos, and logos; the topics; tropes) identify types of discourse, the canons are unique in that they aim to map rhetorical activity. It is probably that emphasis on activity that has associated the canons so closely with both rhetorical practice and pedagogy. In this webtext, we argue that it is time to look to a new mapping of rhetorical activity, one that acknowledges advances in our understanding of language, semiotics, human development, technology, and society. We should start with two clarifications. First, this argument primarily addresses the canons of rhetoric from our perspective as writing studies researchers rather than from the perspective of classicists. As writing researchers, we approach classical rhetoric, much as Roland Barthes (1988) suggested, as a matter of a history. It is in part to address the freight of this history—woven, often tacitly, into our languages, institutions, and practices—that we take up the canons of rhetoric and propose re-situating and re-mediating them. Second, as we examine the map that the rhetorical canons have offered and propose a new mapping, we must acknowledge that we do not believe that this new mapping has only recently become necessary. The digitization of semiosis has certainly made the limits of the canons more palpable, but we would argue that the problems were there from the start. In other words, without in any way discounting the insightful intellectual labor of rhetoric's classical pioneers or the value of studying the products of that labor to enrich our understanding and practice today, we suggest that the canons offered only a partial map even of the rhetorical and political worlds of Ancient Greece.