Rhetoric has enriched itself in new media — Albaladejo

  • Is rhetoric an antiquated perspective on communication now that we have new media?
  • Do we need an entirely new rhetorical theory to account for the strategies, powers and constraints of discourse in new media?

No, old rhetorics still apply as the old media of orality and writing and symbolic communication are subsumed and restructured within the new.

In addition, rhetorical theory has grown and will grow new branches that account for the expansion and adaptation of rhetorical practice into these technologized realms.

Tomas Albaladejo writes intelligently of the expansion and adaptation of rhetoric to varieties of new media:   — (paragraph breaks inserted)

The historical and systematic communicative strength of rhetoric enables it to deal with new kinds of discourse, since they keep the essential components of rhetorical discourse.

Cyber-rhetoric or the rhetoric of digital discourse (Albaladejo 2005a) could be considered one of the latest steps in the evolution of rhetoric. Digital discourse is a complex construction consisting of linguistic, visual and phonic components, which has a rhetorical foundation and manifestation as a whole.

In addition to the rhetorical shape of digital discourse, one must also take into account the rhetorical construction of all written and oral texts contained in web sites, as well as the rhetorical discourses hosted by them, as in, for example, Martin Luther King’s discourse /I have a dream/, which can be read, heard and seen on the World Wide Web.

Nevertheless, cyber-rhetoric is basically nothing other than rhetoric.

Cyber-rhetoric is rhetoric, as the rhetoric of written discourse is rhetoric, and the rhetoric of journalism and other mass media is rhetoric.

The different prefixes, adjectives and nominal complements added to the noun rhetoric are used in order to delimit an area within the wide field of rhetoric, and they must not be understood to be a way of proposing or promoting a rhetoric different from rhetoric as a comprehensive system that was historically founded and developed. They are rather a way of enriching rhetoric by stressing its plurality and suitability for the different kinds of discourse and the different means of achieving communication.

One of the characteristics of the development and evolution of rhetoric is the expansion of its area of practice and study within the field of communication, together with the fact that rhetoric has never been withdrawn from the spaces where it has previously worked.

Thus, today we can hear oral discourses, such as those delivered in courts and parliaments, but we can also read written rhetorical discourses, like editorials or leading articles in newspapers, and we can also see, hear and read digital rhetorical discourses.

Rhetoric has carried to new communicative areas the experience that it has obtained in the areas where it has formerly worked.

In this way, rhetoric has enriched itself and has provided tested and renewed tools for the practice and study of discursive and persuasive communication.

Adaptation to the needs that have arisen in the ongoing evolution of communication has always been a challenge for rhetoric, but this is the key to its usefulness.

From p. 27-28 of:

  • Albaladejo, T. (2014). Rhetoric and discourse analysis. In I. Olza, O. Loureda, & M. Casado-Velarde (Eds.), Linguistic insights: Language use in the public sphere: Methodological perspective and empirical applications (pp. 19–51). Bern; Oxford: Peter Lang.

This phrase echoes:

“rhetoric has enriched itself and has provided tested and renewed tools for the practice and study of discursive and persuasive communication” (Albaladejo, 2014, p. 27)

Rhetoric is not dying in a new media environment.

It is expanding, enriching itself and providing tested and renewed tools for both rhetorical practice and rhetorical study.

The rhetoric of titles of scholarly works in Communication and Media Studies


Books, by Raoul Luoar on Flickr with Creative Commons license 

Titles of academic works strongly influence how a discipline sees itself and how people position themselves within a discipline.

A title is very short, and must be comprehensible to its target audience, not just descriptive of a work’s intellectual content. Titles implicitly answer the question “Why is this worth reading?” by naming topics and categories that are considered to be of value.

Titles communicate the values not just of the writers, but of the audience they target or invoke. The rhetoric of academic titles in a discipline announces the values of that discipline and how it structures and categorizes its subject matter.

The rhetorical pattern

I have observed that contemporary scholars in Communications and New Media studies, when defining areas of study, often use “medium” as a high-level filter, along with an issue and/or a specific people group of communicators or recipients of communication. This may seem obvious and insignificant to many people, but its implications are worthy of examination.

For example, when asked “What are you studying?” a scholar of communication or new media would likely answer with this recipe:

“I’m studying [communication about issue X] and/or [communication by/for people in Y category] within [medium (or media) Z].

Continue reading

Portrait of Hugh Blair, rhetorician, 1718-1800

According to the plaque on this portrait, Hugh Blair, M. A., D. D,  was

  • Regius Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Edinburgh 1762-1784,
  • Joint Regius Professor of Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres, 1784-1800.

These photos of the Hugh Blair portrait by David Marsden, c. 1775, were taken in a stairwell of University of Edinburgh Old College, July 2015 when attending a conference there. It’s not in a gallery open to the public.



The University of Edinburgh Art Collection website has a better online reproduction of this work (copyrighted photo). I cannot locate a policy on their collections website regarding online sharing of personal photographs made of their collections. I am willing to share these photographic images under a Creative Commons license:

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

My photos are not the best quality reproductions, but they nevertheless enable you to appreciate the work from the point of view of a person standing on the stairs next to the object.

The loss of rhetorical education

In my previous two articles I have discussed the “Slander of rhetoric” occurring in media articles on the Internet.  A related phenomenon is the gradual erosion of rhetorical education at the postsecondary level.

I believe that the denigration of rhetoric in society is happening in part because “good rhetoric” has become so invisible and unmentionable due to the widespread loss of formal, systemic rhetorical education throughout many countries’ educational systems.

Many people don’t even know when they themselves are using rhetoric anymore, largely because they don’t know anything about its broader definitions, its history and theory.

“No, I’m not using rhetoric. I’m just writing an article.” “No, I’m not using rhetoric, I’m just managing a company” or “I’m just a mayor. Or a scientist. Or an engineer.

Um, I’m pleased to inform you that yes, you are using rhetoric, you just don’t see it because society has hidden “good rhetoric” from you by refusing to name it as “rhetoric” where it is in action in your life and profession. You haven’t been taught to recognize good rhetoric.

Let’s consider how invisible good rhetoric has become, and how its invisibility is associated with the idea that all rhetoric is bad.

  • Consider how controversial rhetoric itself has become, and how people are expected to distrust all things called “rhetoric.”
  • Consider why it is so hard to consider one’s own communication as rhetoric, and why a good politician can never survive long if they admit they are using rhetoric.
  • Consider how easily convinced people are even by false or divisive arguments if they imagine that they are merely “simple, clear communication,” and that rhetoric is entirely absent.

Continue reading

Rhetorical criticism of “Cities, not rhetoric, making America great by embracing change”

This blog post engages in a case study — a rhetorical criticism — of an article that demonstrates widespread contemporary misuse and misunderstanding of the word “rhetoric” and why this misuse is culturally counterproductive and regressive.

Today I came across this article via my Google Alert for content using the key word “rhetoric”:

Dear authors, I respect your aims and goals, but I take issue with what your headline is implying and perpetuating about “rhetoric.” Arguably cities (not rhetoric) are the focus of your article, but the article makes its point by assuming that cities do not use “rhetoric.”

I would like to challenge this assumption with broader and more positive definitions of rhetoric that date back to ancient Greece and Rome and were commonly accepted throughout Western history and culture … until relatively recently.

I ask you, how could “Cities” WITHOUT the aid of any “rhetoric,” make any nation great by embracing change?

I argue that it is illogical to imagine that it is possible to accomplish anything great as a community or leader without the aid of rhetoric.

Likewise, it is illogical for activists or writers or leaders to blame “rhetoric” for our ills while using rhetoric to advocate positive change.

Background to my analysis

It has long puzzled and irked me to see the word “rhetoric” dragged through the mud in popular discourse. Only recently have I come to the conclusion that this discourse is not merely annoying to rhetoricians like myself who care about retaining our historical rhetorical traditions … it is broadly pernicious to society, and I should put my foot down and say so.

I have just written a blog post called Let’s not slander Rhetorica about how many journalistic headlines today put “rhetoric” in a bad light and why this is a disturbing trend.

In a nutshell, this denigration and narrowing of the word “rhetoric” is damaging to society because it blinds us to the existence and necessity of good rhetoric, hinders us from honoring good rhetoric for its wisdom, artistry and appropriateness to occasion, and makes it seem socially, politically and economically unimportant to teach people how to practice good rhetoric. Continue reading

Let’s not slander Rhetoric(a)


Rhetorica hovers as a young man receives rhetorical instruction in this late Renaissance image from the Netherlands.   Source: Cornelis Cort [1533-1578] nach Frans Floris: Die sieben Freien Künste: Rhetorica.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who sighs at all the abuse hurled at dame Rhetorica lately in the media. It’s downright slander and abuse of a beneficent art.

I am not complaining that there’s a lot of bad rhetoric going on in the world. Of course there always is, and perhaps there’s been a lot more bad rhetoric around us lately than there has been since World War II, and it’s driving more people to remark on how bad the bad rhetoric is.

I’m complaining that while this bad rhetoric is occurring, it’s counterproductive and wrongheaded to blame rhetoric itself and drag the art and use and NAME of rhetoric through the mud in headline after headline.

I have subscribed to a Google Alert for “rhetorical.” Today, September 3, here are some of the phrases used in headlines:

  • Nicolas Sarkozy’s absurd zero-sum rhetoric on Calais shows how quickly Europe is falling apart (Telegraph.co.uk)
  • After The Olympics, Women Should Earn More Considering The Sexist Rhetoric And Ignored Talent (Forbes)
  • The Clinton campaign’s slippery rhetoric on Trump’s ‘immigrant’ plans (Washington Post)
  • G20 to go long on rhetoric, short on economic policy: experts (Yahoo news)
  • EC spokesperson on “escalation of rhetoric” in Balkans (B92)

The negative contexts and adjectives surrounding the word “rhetoric” continually throw dirt on the reputation of this glorious art. Rhetoric can be zero-sum, sexist, slippery, and lack policy.

Can you find the word “rhetoric” used with positive adjectives?  You could pile up dozens more negative adjectives than positive ones by googling rhetoric today.

However, it’s even more troubling to see the naked word “rhetoric” used without any qualifying negative adjective, as if rhetoric alone was something essentially bad and ugly. The final example in the list above is one instance of slandering rhetoric itself, as if merely “escalating rhetoric” means escalating tension and disagreement toward violence.

Let’s stop slandering Rhetorica. Let’s renew her reputation, beauty, strength and glory. I believe we need her more than ever today.  Continue reading

Eloquence and Wisdom: Cicero’s preface to De Inventione, 1745

Cicero-wisdom2Is “eloquence” harmful, or beneficial, to states and individuals?

This was the question debated in the “preface” to Cicero’s work, De Inventione (On Invention) translated into English in 1745.

I’ve provided the 1745 translation in full, below, including the original spelling and grammar (with minor corrections).

» » » It has been a subject that I have often and much thought upon, whether eloquence in its highest perfection, has been the source of more good or mischief to men and to states.

» » » For when I consider our own misfortunes, and recollect the calamities of old in the greatest republicks, I am convinced that no small inconveniences have been introduced by men of the first eloquence.

­» » » But on the other hand, when history supplies my thoughts with transactions, which time has removed still farther from our memory; I find that many cities have been


constituted, many wars put an end to, and the firmest alliances and strictest friendships cemented, not only by reason and good sense, but more easily by eloquence.

» » » My own reason at last leads me to this determination, that wisdom without eloquence can be of little use to states; but eloquence without wisdom may frequently hurt them, and can never be of service to them.



Cicero: Blanton Art Museum, Austin TX. Posted to Flickr by Julian, May 12, 2006 and shared with Creative Commons license


» » » Wherefore if any one, regardless of the most upright and generous studies of reason and his duty, shall waste all his abilities in the practice of speaking; I call that man useless to himself, and pernicious to his community. 

» » » But he who arms himself with eloquence, with a view never to oppose his country’s good, but to be able to make a stand for it; seems to me to be a man most conducive to his own and the publick welfare, and a true friend to his country.

» » » For if we were to consider the source of what we call Eloquence, whether it be a study,


or an art, the effect of practice, or the gift of nature; we shall find, that it owes its original to the most exalted principles, and its improvement to the most rational pursuits.

» » » For there was a time when men, after the manner of the brute-kind, wandered at large about the fields, and sustained their lives by theiri prey upon wild beasts.

» » » The rational faculties had then no share in their actions, but the strength of the body chiefly administered to their wants.

» » » The duties of religion and humanity were not yet cultivated: none knew the happiness of lawful marriage: no father could look upon his children as his own; nor had yet experienced the advantages that proceed from equitable laws.

» » » Thus through error and ignorance, the will, (that blind and headstrong tyrant of the mind) abused the powers of the body (pernicious ministers!) to its own gratification.

» » » At which time some truly great and wise man discovered what materials and


qualifications, and how great, were latently planted in the mind of man for the noblest ends, if they could be struck out into light, and improved by precept.

» » » His superior genius collected them into one place, from their wandering way of life, and their wild habitations in the woods; and prompting them to whatever was useful and honourable, though at first refractory for want of use, yet soon charmed with still attention by his wisdom and eloquence, he broke their brutal fierceness into gentleness and humanity.

» » » And indeed to me it seems, that silent and speechless wisdom, could never have had the influence to make such a sudden reformation in mankind from their bad habits, and gain them over to the various duties of a rational life.

» » » But farther, after the constitution of cities, how could it be brought about, that men should cultivate the virtues of justice and truth, inure themselves to pay a willing obedience to others, so as not only to endure toils, but even death itself, for the publick good:

I say, how could all this be brought about, without the aid of persuasive eloquence to inculcate the discoveries of reason?

» » » None surely; who by his strength could do mighty things; unless won by solid and sweet persuasion, would, without the interposition of force, have subjected himself to the restraint of laws: put himself upon a level with those to whom his strength made him superior, and willingly forsaken his beloved passions, to which habit had almost given the force of nature.

» » » This was the rise, this the progress of eloquence, which afterwards had much to do in the conduct of the greatest affairs, to the singular advantage of mankind.

Cicero-Knavery» » » But when a sort of self-interest, under the mask of virtue, without any regard to what was right, attained the power of eloquence; then did knavery, supported by wit, begin to overturn cities, and corrupt the manners of mankind.

» » » Let us likewise explain the source of this mischievous effect, as we did of the other good one.


» » » It seems to be very probable, that there was a time when minors and men of low genius were not admitted to the publick affairs; nor did great and eloquent men interfere in private causes.

» » » But whilst the most important matters were conducted by the greatest men; others who did not want cunning, apply’d themselves to minuter controversies of private persons.

» » » In which controversies, falshood often prevailing against truth, the continual practice of speaking gave growth to impudence; so those great men were necessarily obliged, by the injuries of their fellow citizens, to resist these daring fellows, and every of them to take his respective friends into his protection.

» » » When therefore he, who regardless of wisdom made eloquence his only study, was often equal in speaking, sometimes superior, it happened, that in the opinion of the many, and his own conceit, he seemed a person worthy to govern the common-wealth.


» » » Hence it was, and not without reason, that when rash and audacious men were intrusted with the helm of government, great and miserable shipwreck ensued.

» » » By this means eloquence contracted so much hatred and envy, that the most ingenious men, made their retreat from this seditious and tumultuous way of life, to some quiet study, as it were out of a turbulent storm into a quiet haven.

» » » Whence afterwards, as I presume, other virtuous and generous arts being cultivated by great men in their retirements, shone forth; and eloquence being deserted by most, grew out of fashion, at a time when it ought to have been more strenuously retained, and more industriously improved.

» » » For by how much the more the rashness and boldness of fools and profligates, shamefully trampled upon this most honourable and virtuous art, to the great hurt of the community; so much the more strenuous, should have been the resistance and struggle for the publick-weal.


» » » Of which our own Cato was not insensible, nor Laelius, nor Africanus, who was indeed their disciple, nor the Gracchi, the grandsons of Africanus; men distinguished by the noblest virtues, and a dignity enlarged by the noblest virtues, with eloquence to adorn these advantages, and defend their country.

Cicero-study» » » Wherefore, in my opinion, it ought to be no discouragement to the study of eloquence, because it is perversely abused both in publick and private life; but rather a stronger inducement to the more vigorous prosecution of it, lest ill men should have it in their power to run their full lengths, to the great annoyance of the good, and the common ruin of all.

» » » Especially as this is the only art that concerns every part of life, both publick and private; by this life is render’d safe, by this honourable, by this illustrious, by this likewise it becomes pleasant.

» » » Hence, if wisdom the pilot of all events, be at hand to stear it, many advantages redound to the whole republick: To the


orators themselves, applause, honour, dignity; to their friends a sure and safe patronage and protection.

» » » To me it seems, that though mankind are inferior and more defective than brutes in many respects; yet their chief pre-eminence is, that they have the power of speech.

» » » Wherefore, I esteem it a most honourable attainment, to excell the rest of mankind in that, wherein mankind excell brutes.


Cicero, M. T. (1745). The oration of Marcus Tullius Cicero, for Marcus Marcellus, address’d to Caius Julius Cæsar, dictator, and the Roman Senate; being a specimen of a translation of Tully’s select orations. To which is prefix’d Cicero’s preface to his first book of invention, translated into English. Being a Dissertaion on the Rise, Progress, and Decay of Eloquence. London: printed for R. Dodsley, and sold by M. Cooper at the Globe in Pater-Noster-Row.

Note: Page numbering reflects the fact that the text was presented with alternate pages in Latin, then English. The English pages were numbered 9, 11, 13, etc.