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

The rhetorical experience of live classical music audiences

NotesAs a member of the Calgary Renaissance Singers & Players, a community choir that performs European renaissance music, I have been practicing for an upcoming concert.

I recently had the opportunity to be in the audience of a performance of the music of Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven by Jane Perry, our current choir director, who played the piano alongside a cellist and clarinetist from our city’s orchestra.

This led me to some reflections on the rhetorical aspects of participating in early and classical music performances as an audience member, especially when one is also a performer of similar music from a nearby culture and era. Continue reading

NSSE questions in Canada and the U.S.


Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro PDF comparison

In my research today I compared the Canadian and American versions of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) instrument for 2010.

This is the survey that over 1 million university students across North America are invited to take in their 1st and 4th year.

The NSSE survey page calls the Canadian version the “Canadian English” version.  But the version is not just different in terms of its “Canadian English” vocabulary (such as “school/college” in the US versus “university” in Canada). 

The Canadian version is different in terms of its cultural content and rhetorical approaches.

This post provides comparative screenshots of survey content to help us ponder why these differences exist.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

University website rankings

Screenshot of top 10 Canadian universities according to www.4icu.org

Screenshot of top 10 Canadian universities' webistes, according to http://www.4icu.org

University World news, Feb. 8th, 2010, has an article by Geoff Maslen,  Ranking universities by web popularity, which profiles how universities are being ranked by their website hits.

The University of Calgary, yes, the university that was snubbed by China, is #10 in Canada, #78 in North America and #168 in the World when ranked by hits to the website by www.4icu.org (4 International Colleges & Universities).

What is the economic and political influence of a university’s website and rankings?  Does its website’s attention and ranking offset in any way the potential economic loss and controversy caused by the awarding of an honorary degree to the Dalai Lama?

Continue reading

The rhetoric of atheist bus ads

Click to go to their campaign website - I am sure they will appreciate the internet traffic.

From Atheistbus.org . Go to their campaign website - I am sure they will appreciate the internet traffic.

I just received an email from a concerned citizen about the advertisements that are appearing on our local City transit buses in some Canadian cities.

To find out more:  All of the bus ads from the UK campaign are here on their Atheist Bus website.   The Canadian Atheist Bus campaign website is here  – they also have a discussion board .

My correspondent was concerned that these were “hate ads,” and expressed her thoughts thus —

While the University may have the goal to invite communication (positive and negative) on this subject, I do not believe supporting this type of controversial “communication” is constructive or positive in a world that is already in distress.

So, is it hate speech, is it too distressing to talk about, and is it effective in achieving the goals of its authors?

Continue reading