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English 891BC, Spring 2010

Rhetorics of the Public Sphere

University of Massachusetts Amherst

  • INSTRUCTOR: David Fleming
  • CLASS MEETINGS: W 6:00 - 8:30 p.m., 256 Bartlett Hall
  • OFFICE: 305 Bartlett Hall
  • OFFICE HOURS: Tu 1:00 - 3:00 & gladly by appt.
  • PHONE: 545-0610 (o)
  • EMAIL:

  •  Description | Assignments | Texts | Calendar


    Since the late 19th Century, the discipline of composition-rhetoric has largely focused its energies on the discourses of the academy – through both its flagship educational project, freshman composition, and its perceived central mission, preparing students for the demands of school writing in all its forms.  Over the last few decades, however, teachers and scholars in the field have begun to think more carefully and imaginatively about their students’ lives as language users outside of the classroom.  This “public turn” has manifest itself in, among other things, increased interest in public writing and political discourse, the “rhetorics” of everyday life, connections between composition and service learning, and the diverse extracurricular communities that shape our students and to which they will graduate.  Rhetorics of the Public Sphere is a graduate seminar broadly focused on the political ecologies in and out of the writing classroom and how teacher-scholars might best respond to them.

    Readings will be especially attentive to three possible paths for the field’s “public turn”: 1) teaching writing with an eye focused on the political and civic implications of literacy instruction; 2) partnering with individuals, organizations, and communities outside of the academy in order to pursue projects beneficial to all; and 3) researching and intervening in political and social life for the purposes of understanding and change.

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    Work in the course will include the following components:
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    3.  TEXTS.

    Readings in the course will come from the following texts, most available for loan from Five Colleges Libraries and for purchase from Amherst Books (8 Main Street, Amherst, MA; 256-1547).  At least one copy of each book has also been placed on 3-day reserve at W. E. B. Du Bois Library.  (See the special notes for Brodkey, Cintron, and Long.)

    • ARENDT, Hannah.  The Human Condition.  2nd ed.  Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1998.  0-226-02598-5.  (1st ed. from 1958 is fine.)
    • BRODKEY, Linda.  Writing Permitted in Designated Areas Only.  Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1996.  0-8166-2807-6.  (Also available as a free text through UMass Libraries.)
    • BRYAN, Frank M.  Real Democracy: The New England Town Meeting and How It Works.  Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2004.  0-226-07797-7.
    • CINTRON, Ralph.  Angels’ Town: Chero Ways, Gang Life, and Rhetorics of the Everyday.  Boston: Beacon P, 1997.  0-8070-4637-X.  (Not available at Amherst Books; available through online retailers such as
    • CROWLEY, Sharon.  Toward a Civil Discourse: Rhetoric and Fundamentalism.  Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2006.  0-8229-5923-2.
    • HABERMAS, Jürgen.  The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society.  Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1991.  0-262-58108-6.
    • LONG, Elenore.  Community Literacy and the Rhetoric of Local Publics.  West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2008.  978-1-60235-056-4.  (Also available as a free text through the WAC Clearninghouse.)
    • MATHIEU, Paula.  Tactics of Hope: The Public Turn in English Composition.  Portsmouth, NJ: Boynton/Cook, 2005.  0-86709-578-4.

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    The following articles and chapters will supplement these books; they will be available either online through UMass Libraries or as PDF documents emailed to you.

    • DeLuca, Kevin Micahael & Jennifer Peeples.  “From Public Sphere to Public Screen: Democracy, Activism, and the Violence of Seattle.”  Critical Studies in Media Communication 19.2 (2002): 125-151.  [Available online through UMass Libraries.]
    • Fraser, Nancy.  “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy.”  Habermas and the Public Sphere.  Ed. Calhoun, Craig.  Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1992.  109-142. [Available as PDF attachment from instructor.]
    • Hairston, Maxine.  “Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing.”  College Composition and Communication 43.2 (1992): 179-193.  [Available online through UMass Libraries.]
    • Hesford, Wendy.  “Global/Local Labor Politics and the Promise of Service Learning.”  Radical Relevance: Essays Towards a Scholarship of the “Whole Left.”  Eds. Steven Rosendale and Laura Gray-Rosendale.  Albany: State U of New York P, 2005.  183-202. [Available as PDF attachment from instructor.]
    • Ryfe, David M.  “The Principles of Public Discourse: What Is Good Public Discourse?”  Public Discourse in America: Conversation and Community in the Twenty-First Century.  Eds. Judith Rodin & Stephen P. Steinberg.  Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2003.  163-177. [Available as PDF attachment from instructor.]
    • Warner, Michael.  “Publics and Counterpublics.”  Public Culture 14.1 (2002): 49-90.  [Available online through UMass Libraries.]

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    4.  CALENDAR. (tentative)

    day topics and assignments
    1 W Jan 20 Introduction to course and each other
    2 W Jan 27 A classical conception of politics: ARENDT
    3 W Feb 3 The modern public sphere, part I: HABERMAS
    4 W Feb 10 The modern public sphere, part II: Responses to HABERMAS ( Fraser, Warner, DeLuca & Peeples, and Ryfe)
    5 W Feb 17 The modern public sphere, part III: CROWLEY
    6 W Feb 24 The politics of comp-rhet: BRODKEY, Hairston
    7 W Mar 3 Comp's "extracurriculum," part I: LONG
    8 W Mar 10 Comp's "extracurriculum," part II: MATHIEU
    9 W Mar 17 Spring Recess
    10 W Mar 24 A roundtable of proposals for semester projects
    11 W Mar 31 Comp's "extracurriculum," part III: the local and global (Hesford & other texts TBA)
    12 W Apr 7 Rhetorics of the Everyday: CINTRON
    13 W Apr 14 A local option for political revitalization: BRYAN
    14 W Apr 21 No class (Monday schedule followed)
    15 W Apr 28 A symposium of semester projects
      W May 12 Semester projects due

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