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English 371/771, Fall 1995


Carnegie Mellon University

  • INSTRUCTOR: David Fleming
  • CLASS MEETINGS: TR 9:00 - 10:20 a.m., Baker Hall 231B
  • OFFICE: Baker Hall 145G
  • OFFICE HOURS: TR 10:30 - 11:30; & gladly by appt.
  • EMAIL:

  •  Description | Assignments | Texts | Calendar | Bibliography


    Rhetoric in Social Interaction is about the discourses of public life.  I take the course title somewhat literally; that is, we will concentrate here on the ways language and community are reciprocally related in human action ? how social groups define the language that their members use and how language, in turn, forms, maintains, and changes social groups.  But this relationship occurs not so much at the level of big abstractions (like "Community" and "Language") as in the practical affairs of socially-, culturally-, and historically-situated human beings.  In fact, we might define rhetoric as the study of the three-part relation of discourse, reason, and community (Aristotle, for example, seems to have located rhetoric somewhere near the intersection of poetics, dialectic, and politics [or ethics]).  A relevant question to ask, given such study, would be: how is meaningful human action both constrained by and realized in linguistic and social practices?  Our subject matter, in other words, will be what James Boyd White (1984: p. x) has called "the double activity of claiming meaning for experience and of establishing relations with others in language."

    Still, that's a fairly big subject for just 15 weeks.  We'll limit it by focusing on how that subject has been approached in the "rhetorical tradition" and by organizing our inquiry around a series of specific historical and cultural problems.  This will give us an opportunity to talk about important theories of rhetoric, but rather than begin with the theories, we’ll begin with specific problems and (hopefully) derive the theories from them.  I've selected three sets of problems.  First, we'll explore the relationship of language, community, and action in ancient Greece, reading large chunks of The Iliad and supplementing them with Walter Ong's work on orality and literacy.  Next, we’ll investigate scientific and professional discourse in the modern era, reading several short studies and Latour & Woolgar's Laboratory Life.  We’ll end by looking in detail at a large-scale empirical study of contemporary argument: Deanna Kuhn's The Skills of Argument.

    Weaving in and out of our readings and discussions will be several important issues in rhetorical theory, three of which I'd like to pay particular attention to.  These are situation, media, and argument.  "Situation" refers to the contextualization of rhetorical discourse in the contingencies of practical action.  By "media," I mean the ways discourse is materialized: in formal speeches, informal conversations, written texts of various kinds, etc.  Finally, by "argument" we will denote the ways language is used in "rational" deliberation to advance positions in a controversy, conflict, or debate.

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    Work in the class will proceed through readings, discussions, lectures, written assignments, and group projects.  Students will be required to keep up with the readings, participate in class discussions, and turn in a variety of work, including short response papers, a critical essay, and a final group project.  Your most important contribution this semester will be your active participation in class discussions.  Aside from such participation, you'll be evaluated on the following work: responses, 1/2 to 1 page written responses to the reading assignments, each response consisting of a short (2-3¶) summary of the central argument of the reading or, alternately, 3 good questions or points of discussion prompted by your reading; discussion responsibility, an opportunity for you and two other class members to lead discussion (app. 30-45 mins.) on a particular reading assignment; a written essay, 3-5 pp. long, being a thoughtful response to a problem or issue raised in the first unit of the course; and, finally, a group project, consisting of a focused empirical study of public argument, for which you will collect and analyze data similar to that investigated by Deanna Kuhn in The Skills of Argument and present your findings in a brief oral report to the class and a short, formal paper.

    Grades will be computed using the following formula:

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    3. TEXTS

    Readings in the class will come from the following texts: These texts are on sale in the campus bookstore.  Bibliographic information for all required and suggested readings is attached.

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    Unit I: Discourse and Community in Ancient Greece

    T Aug 29 Introduction to course
    Th Aug 31 The Iliad, intro. and Bk. 1
    T Sept 05 The Iliad, Bk. 1
    Th Sept 07 The Iliad, Bks. 2-4, 6 (RESPONSE due*)
    T Sept 12 The Iliad, Bk. 9 (RESPONSE due)
    Th Sept 14 The Iliad, Bks. 16, 22, 24
    T Sept 19 Orality and Literacy, chs. 1-2; Critical essay assigned
    Th Sept 21 Orality and Literacy, ch. 3 (RESPONSE due)
    T Sept 26 Orality and Literacy, chs. 4 (RESPONSE due)
    Th Sept 28 Orality and Literacy, chs. 5-7; Critical essay due

    Unit II: Modern Scientific and Technical Discourse

    T Oct 03 Textual Dynamics of the Professions (RESPONSE due); Bazerman, pp. 13-44; Myers, pp. 45-75
    Th Oct 05 Textual Dynamics of the Professions (RESPONSE due); Fahnestock & Secor, pp. 76-96; Student-led discussion #1
    T Oct 10 Textual Dynamics of the Professions (RESPONSE due); Stygal, pp. 234-255; Student-led discussion #2
    Th Oct 12 Textual Dynamics of the Professions (RESPONSE due); Herndl, Fennell, & Miller, pp. 279-305; Student-led discussion #3
    T Oct 17 Textual Dynamics of the Professions; Paradis, pp. 256-278; Doheny-Farina, pp. 306-335; Student-led discussion #4
    Th Oct 19 Textual Dynamics of the Professions (RESPONSE due); McCarthy, pp. 358-378; Student-led discussion #5
    T Oct 24 Laboratory Life, ch. 1 (RESPONSE due)
    Th Oct 26 Laboratory Life, ch. 2 (RESPONSE due); Student-led discussion #6
    T Oct 31 Laboratory Life, ch. 4 (RESPONSE due); Student-led discussion #7; visit from Steve Woolgar?
    Th Nov 02 Laboratory Life, chs. 5-6

    Unit III: Public Argument in Contemporary Society

    T Nov 07 The Skills of Argument, ch. 1
    Th Nov 09 Group project assigned
    T Nov 14 The Skills of Argument, ch. 2 (RESPONSE due)
    Th Nov 16 The Skills of Argument, ch. 3 (RESPONSE due)
    T Nov 21 The Skills of Argument, ch. 4-6 (RESPONSE due)
    Th Nov 23 ***Thanksgiving Holiday***
    T Nov 28 The Skills of Argument, chs. 7-8; visit from Matthew Keefer?
    Th Nov 30 The Skills of Argument, chs. 9-10
    T Dec 05 Presentations
    Th Dec 07 Presentations
    F Dec 08 Group project due

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