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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Supporting group research projects with free online communication technologies

Fall 2011 Student Hackathon CodingIn this blog post and an informal, face-to-face lunchtime “brownbag” seminar for faculty members held today on campus, I will present some principles and examples of free online applications that have worked well in my team-intensive professional communication and social research methods courses.

The main purpose of the workshop is to share instructors’ insights and specific experiences with communication technologies for student team research projects, starting with my own. Each technology has had its strengths and weaknesses, and some of these can work together or even be set up to function within or “through” the Blackboard course management interface we use at our university.

The relevance to rhetoric is that teams require appropriate forums for their collaborative everyday communication, and the forums can structure, enable and limit the kinds of informative and persuasive acts that learners and researchers need to engage in during a short-term university course.

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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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Liberal Arts PhDs and their economic and social benefits to society

HEPM Journal cover

HEPM Journal cover

When perusing the University World News issue 0089, I came across an article titled “The Economic contribution of PhDs” by Bernard H. Casey (2009).  It mounts a theoretical argument that hypothesizes how the production of PhDs may add broader economic value to a society.  He enumerates 4 major outputs (paraphrased):

  1. earnings of PhD graduates
  2. economic performance of a society
  3. knowledge produced is a social good
  4. PhD skills contribute to organizations and society as a whole (p. 220)

The article’s abstract raises the issue of the value “to employers in particular and to society and the economy at large.” Continue reading

Canada’s 2009 budget and business-focused higher education

Budget 2009

Image borrowed from Canada's Economic Action Plan: Budget 2009

This article contains selected excerpts from the 2009 Canada federal budget that tend to focus on the economic functions of university education, increase attention on business degrees and on research that aims primarily at economic benefits.

Will we arise from this phase of university life with a broader view of the aims of postsecondary education? What will be the effect of this “phase” (hopefully it will end) of economic crisis on our collective sense of the value of liberal arts education?

For example, in one place the budget document declared that

“[PhD and Master’s] scholarships granted by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council will be focused on business-related degrees.”

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