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Peers, Pirates, and Persuasion: Rhetoric in the Peer-to-Peer Debates


I am always searching for ways to incorporate the teaching of rhetoric in my FYW (first-year writing) courses. Here I mean not just the usual audience awareness and inventional strategies that we all strive for. Of late I am seeking ways to teach the language of rhetoric, "ethos, pathos, logos," "invention, arrangement, style, memory, delivery," and "Aristotle" (plus of course the names of more recent writers within our field!). An increasing amount of attention has been focused on using the visual in FYW as a method to facilitate critical thinking; using the visual also helps avoid student temptation to wholesale cut and paste another's text. Using visuals as an item to analyze, prevents students from cutting and pasting block quotes from someone else's writing. Instead, students must create their analysis from scratch, in their own words, hopefully causing them to think critically and write analytically. For this reason, Logie's rhetorical framework, used to analyze current day events including how the visual is used to persuade, is very useful. In addition to analyzing the visual, ethos, pathos, and logos can be used as a handy framework for analyzing other presentations such as speeches. A number of key speeches are available for such analysis at websites like American Partnering Logie's book with writing assignments that ask students to analyze visuals or speech in the way that Logie did proves challenging but generative for student writers.

One pedagogical experiment I've been toying with lately is using all open source readings while simultaneously focusing on issues that are germane to writers, especially those writers composing in digital environments. To this end, I have folded portions of Logie's book into my Comp I class. Although I only pull out two of his chapters for class readings, his rhetorical analysis is hugely influential in my recent FYW course design. We start the semester reading various definitions of ethos, pathos, and logos, followed by a first essay assignment in which students are asked to analyze either a speech or an advertisement for use of rhetorical appeals. By the end of the semester, after reading other materials on rhetorical invention as well as engaging readings on issues of "use" such as copyright and fair use, I ask the students to read the introduction and chapter five from Logie's book. Students are then asked to recall our discussion of ethos, pathos, and logos from the first weeks of the semester, and to draw upon this as they analyze both how Logie creates his own authorial-ethos in the introduction, as well as how he uses these rhetorical concepts to discuss peer-to-peer filesharing debates. With Chapter 5, "The Problem of 'Sharing' in Digital Environments," I hope to build students' critical thinking skills on the topics of "use" (fair use, licensed use, illegal use) as examined during the semester. In this chapter, Logie critically deconstructs the idea of "digital sharing." I ask my students, "How has the concept of 'sharing' changed since the advent of the internet?"

As an example, I provide a link to the "readings" page for my fall 2007 Comp I class at Lansing Community College ( ). I have tried to construct a reading list that relies mainly on readings that are freely available online such as definitions of ethos, pathos, and logos from common sites like wikipedia. To this I've blended in a graphic work on fair use by the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain, Tales of the Public Domain: Bound by Law? ( ) as well as Marjorie Heins and Tricia Beckles' study, Will Fair Use Survive? Free Expression in the Age of Copyright Control ( TyAnna Herrington's classic piece on first amendment rights and fair use is also included in the readings ( However for graduate level courses, one might also include texts like Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture ( ). While my first semester college students found these readings challenging, they weren't impossible, and the writings that came out of this particular course reflected the students' understanding of ethos, both as they constructed their own ethos, and as they analyzed how ethos was constructed in another's text. My students certainly expressed appreciation for having learned about fair use, filesharing, and copyright in the course. I think this reading list and/or approach could be used in a variety of higher education settings, and I offer it with a hope it might generate teaching ideas that others might share. I do find though, that my students understand and relate to Logie's discussions.

Considering the kinds of issues we are now facing as teachers in networked environments, issues of attribution, remixing, copyright, fair use, plagiarism, privacy, and generally the speed at which we are all asked to process information, the speed at which we are all asked to change, Logie's argument that the law just doesn't suit our present needs seems a particularly good starting point for conversations we might have with our students from day one. The law is fixed in textual form, but the materiality and practicality of writing in digital spaces continues to move forward. The articles on Web 2.0 and its implications are just being presented at conferences and making their way into scholarly publications, yet in some ways I think we are already moving past Web 2.0 into something else. Having a book like Logie's available for immediate download seems to be a very appropriate mode of delivery, and a way to provoke discussion of the forward looking issues of Web 3.0 that have begun cropping up at least in informal academic conversations. Rather than wait to see how all of this plays out, Logie gives us an opportunity be proactive.