This course asks two key questions. What is rhetoric? And how does training in rhetoric prepare us for thoughtful participation in civic life?

To answer the first question, we begin with the definition offered by our shared text, Rhetoric in Civic Life. Rhetorical scholars Catherine Helen Palczewski, Richard Ice, and John Fritch define rhetoric as “the use of symbolic action by human beings to share ideas, enabling them to work together to make decisions about matters of common concern and to construct social reality” (6). We will take our time to unpack this definition. But as the initial definition suggests, there is much more to rhetoric than the logos, ethos, and pathos you may have learned about in prior courses. Rhetoric in Civic Life will introduce you to a wide range of rhetorical concepts drawn from classical to contemporary rhetorical theory.

Yet, rather than simply asking you to memorize the definitions of theoretical concepts, this course requires you to employ the concepts with respect to civic life. Civic engagement “is people’s participation in individual or collective action to develop solutions to social, economic, and political challenges in their communities, states, nations, and world” (16-7). Each student will select a social, economic, and/or political challenge to focus on for the midterm and final assignments. During the first half of the course, you will use rhetorical concepts to analyze an instance of present-day civic engagement addressing that challenge.

Then, in the latter half of the class, we turn to civic engagement’s relationship with public memory, which “combines the memories of the dominant culture and fragments of marginalized groups’ memories, and enables a public to make sense of the past, present, and future” (25). To explore how public memory is constructed, you will analyze the rhetoric of a digital archive related to your self-selected social, economic, and/or political challenge. You will also develop blogs through which you take rhetorical action in response to that challenge.

The course thus offers opportunities to practice analyzing others’ civic discourse and producing your own. From this process, each of you will develop an informed response to the second question: how does training in rhetoric prepare you for thoughtful participation in civic life?

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