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].

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WordPress blogs as organization or association newsletters

Hey guys, I captured the mouse!A functional option today for an organization’s newsletter is to set up a free public blog on or to host a WordPress blog on your own website (if you have one).

Blogs are quite professional nowadays (no longer merely online diaries). They are respectable forums for academic associations. The Rhetoric Society of America has a blog (The Blogora) at

Blogs are even used by many nonprofit organizations as the basis for free websites. See this example of a website — the Trent Centre for Community-based Education — you wouldn’t even know it’s based on WordPress software unless you scroll down to the very bottom and see the notice “proudly powered by WordPress.”

The rest of the post explains how it can work for your association, why WordPress is a good choice, and how it can be used to automatically distribute content to members who may prefer to browse its content or stay up to date via Facebook or other social media platforms rather than (or in addition to) an email subscription to your blog. Continue reading

Arts Peer Mentoring program @ U of C

Higher education innovation

Peer Mentoring featured on the front page of OnCampus, 2007

Peer Mentoring featured on the front page of OnCampus, 2007

As I complete a book on peer mentoring in undergraduate courses, this theme is quite fresh in my mind and well worth a blog post.

At the University of Calgary in 2005 I founded our Faculty of Arts Peer Mentoring program.  I still coordinate it, although others now teach our peer mentors.  I have just completed my 2nd year as the Director of our university’s SU-funded Curricular Peer Mentoring Network located at our Teaching and Learning Center.

What are peer mentors?

In a nutshell, undergraduate students become peer mentors who collaborate with instructors and teaching assistants to enrich peer-based learning within their courses.  They may also design and lead learning activities outside of class time and online.  Normally they return to a course they have already taken and work with a professor they are familiar with. They apply for this honor, and are supported and educated by taking a 4th year course in peer mentoring and collaborative learning.

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Canadian and U.S. Rhetorical Cultures

CBC Cross Country Checkup comment page

Teaching and studying “Rhetoric” in Canada is different from doing so in the U.S. because of Canadian “rhetorical culture” within which we live and work.

Rhetorical study has flourished more in the U.S. because there is less social stigma against using and studying rhetoric in the U.S.

Consider one small segment of our rhetorical culture — among academics.  The rhetoric we are accustomed to use in our colleges and universities as students, teachers, academic colleagues, and academic presenters.  Our cultural context beyond the university/college makes a difference in how we organize and deliver our presentations.  It probably impacts the way we do “small talk” and network and give feedback among colleagues at academic  conferences.

In his blog post on the CSSR (Canadian Society for the Study of Rhetoric) conference in 2010, David Beard (alias syntaxfactory) describes how his experience at our Canadian association conference differed from his experience of the RSA (Rhetoric Society of America).  He writes,

The feedback was neither agonistic (as so many conference Q&A become competitions between audience and speaker) nor was it skew (as so many conference panel Q&A become about “the paper I wish you’d written instead”).

Why was the feedback not agonistic or skew at the CSSR?  Because that’s a norm of our rhetorical culture.

Thinking beyond our academic worlds to the societies that support them, I often meditate on the differences in the “rhetorical culture” of Americans and Canadians.  There are negatives and positives on both sides, but the Americans have an advantage over us because they actually study their own rhetorical culture in a focused and open manner.

Canadians need to catch up with the U.S. in their study and refinement of rhetoric.  And when we do that, we may actually excel in the quality and broad impact of our rhetorical accomplishments for the betterment of society.

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Canadian Society and the Study of Rhetoric

CSSR website screenshot, version updated May 21, 2010

As a Canadian member of the CSSR (Canadian Society for the Study of Rhetoric) who did not attend this year’s conference (I’m taking a year off all conferences), I appreciated David Beard’s Blogora article for his flattering and interesting analysis of what the conference was like.

In his posts on the Blogora of the Rhetoric Society of America, (see posts titled CSSR, I, and CSSR, Day 2, under his username syntaxfactory)  David writes,

“I’m fairly sure that, if every American rhetorician could experience a CSSR conference, it would change their expectations of what a first-rate rhetoric conference can accomplish.” (CSSR, I)

I know or am acquainted with many of the people he writes about so it was like seeing them all over again through another’s eyes, and I feel proud to know those are my colleagues being written about, several of them coming from my own department’s graduate programs. Many Canadian rhetoricians will appreciate what David has written.

In this post, I take up some of David’s thoughts on the comparison of rhetoric conferences and rhetorical cultures in the US and Canada, and add my own elaboration on several points of comparison:

  1. Interdisciplinarity
  2. Bilingualism and multiculturalism
  3. Academic community, culture and discourse.
  4. The rhetorical cultures of the surrounding societies in which we live and work

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Cause and Effect in Rhetoric (Part 7)

"Cassandra" by Evelyn de Morgan.  The prophetess that nobody believed.  (from Wikimedia Commons)

"Cassandra" by Evelyn de Morgan. The prophetess that nobody believed. (from Wikimedia Commons)

This section of the blog article “Cause and effect in rhetoric” discusses how cause and effect arguments are based on  Social Biases and have Disciplinary Power Implications.

For the introduction to the article, go to Cause and Effect in Rhetoric Part 1.

There is a bias in contemporary western society and culture which predisposes us to believe that the more likely “causes” are things to which our culture attributes power — physical matter, biology, money, science, technology, etc.

Cultural and disciplinary bias (to which most of us are subject without realizing it) makes it much harder for scholars to argue cause/effect relationships that are culturally less plausible. Continue reading

Thoughts on rhetorical cause & effect

"Cassandra" by Evelyn de Morgan.  The prophetess that nobody believed.  (from Wikimedia Commons)

"Cassandra" by Evelyn de Morgan. The prophetess that nobody believed. (from Wikimedia Commons)

Lately I have been pondering the degree to which the belief that “rhetoric has effects on the social world and therefore on history” is fundamentally an ideology or matter of faith, or at least, of theory.

Do you “believe” in the power and potential of your own rhetoric to change history (or have an effect on your family and friends), or do you question it?  Are you a skeptic or a man/woman of faith when it comes to your rhetorical agency and efficacy?

I don’t mean “do you believe rhetoric is all powerful.” No.  I mean, “do you believe that rhetoric can be influential if it is designed to fit the situation and the audience participates in being persuaded.”

If you do believe there is a relationship between what you say/write and how the world changes, then should we not be able to see evdience of that fact when looking at our rhetorical act as history?

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