Analyzing Strategic Discourse
We have said that the first activity for this class is to memorize vocabulary.
Here are some important words that will come to sprinkle our discussion of discourse.
These are key words to use in understanding strategic discourse.
Defined in several ways by Campbell and Huxman. Consult your book.
The root of common sense is "comm-," a root shared by many important
words in our study: community, commonality, common, and communication, to name
but a few. The root traces from the Latin word "communis." Communis stressed the
shared elements of life. "Sense" emphasizes the grounding of understanding in
experience. "Common Sense" stresses the experiences that we have, inextricably
lived with others.
The concept is important to us because rhetoric is grounded in common sense -- the meaning
established in the context of our life with others. Rhetoric grounds itself in this experience and it
seeks to expand the scope of the shared experience and its significance. Purposeful acts of
rhetoric seek to frame the things of our life in terms of our lives shared with others.
It is important to also identify uses of common sense that we are not talking
about this semester. The term is often used as an equivalent of "unremarkable"
or even "crass." "That is merely common sense" or "Anyone knows that, it is
common sense." This easily becomes -- in our world that elevates experts with
narrow ranges of knowledge -- a sort of lowest common denominator. Common sense
becomes that which we all have, and therefore what it is mundane to know. In
fact, we view having common sense as a rather uncommon occurrence. Understanding
what in our lives connects us with the lives of others is a gift that good rhetors
The best way of grasping public is by contrasting it with some often related terms:
- public/private. Those things that are private we keep to ourselves. When we have that urge
to share our interests, values, concerns, or problems with others -- to reach out to others --
we cross the line into the public. On private matters, we look no further than ourselves or our
families to understand, to decide how we should react, to in fact respond. But when we begin
to develop the sense that the things of our lives are properly shared with others, then we have
found the public. Notice that today lots of private things are "publicized" or revealed as gossip
-- today's talk shows and tabloid news are examples. This is not what we mean by public.
We do not merely mean that somebody else knows. Our use of the term involves a deep sense
of the interlocking of our interests with others.
- public communication/mass communication. C. Wright Mills differentiates between public
and mass communication.
|Givers of opinion nearly as numerous as
||Few have access to give opinion; many
|Ability to answer and respond within the
||Communication is one way. Notice that
platform speaking often becomes mass in this
|Power permits the opinion of communicators
to impact decisions that affect their lives.
||Power is narrowly located; coincides with the
|Opinion influences power. Communication
negotiates the beliefs that are given power.
||Powerful set the opinion of the less powerful.
Communication declares beliefs and
communicates to get others to believe
The twentieth century has been dominated by mass communication. We have come to think of
rhetoric in this framework as a method of mass communication. But in stressing the public, we
will be trying to understand rhetoric in a more complex framework.
- public/governmental. We often equate public business with
governmental business. That we do so merely testifies to the skill with which
twentieth century governmental officials have enhanced their power by portraying
themselves as the instruments of our public interests. It need not be. Public
matters merely suggest that we see the issues as more general than the private.
Of public matters, some we do believe are governmental; others we believe
we can join with others in solving without governmental involvement.
In life we encounter situations that stimulate us to seek others and to seek the
opinions of others. Some of these are dramatic public events -- the explosion
of the space shuttle Challenger, the collapse of the World Trade Center.
In such instances we turn to our mass media and to our national leaders, but we
also talk these things over with others. We need to talk about such events to
somehow get through them. But other events we talk about to seek their meaning
in our lives: the O. J. Simpson case, crime in our metropolitan area. What these
extremes have in common is that they are situations that call forth our use of
discourse to make meaning out of them. Thus, they are rhetorical situations.
The term is important to us because it helps us see events that do become public.
We begin to develop the demands that we make on our public leaders to help us
organize our responses to events. We begin to develop the sense of discourse
responding to events.
Strategic discourse recognizes that we get things done with words. Rhetorical
situations call forth discourse and the discourse we generate in response to those
situations is strategic. We use language to accomplish things. The Department
of Communication has as the focus of its research and teaching: the strategic
use of discourse in the public sphere.
In its simplest form, the complex of strategic discourse responding to rhetorical
situations. Campbell and Huxman present a more complicated view of the term, however,
and should be read on the concept.
Systems of Vocabulary
Words do not occur by themselves. They cluster with other words and in those clusters they
provide a way of talking about the things we study. We will study many systems of vocabulary --
the words and the way the words relate to each other to generate explanation for strategic
Using Vocabulary to Analyze Strategic Discourse
- Descriptive Analysis. Uses the vocabulary to single out
the rhetorical characteristics in the discourse that interest us. Campbell
and Huxman outline a rich vocabulary to describe what is going on in discourse.
We will add others to their account during the semester.
- Evaluative Analysis. Uses the vocabulary to make judgements
about the strategic dimensions of discourse. Campbell and Huxman talk about
four different means of judgement: effects, truth, artistic, and ethical.
But in truth, most of Campbell and Huxman's book concentrates on judging the
characteristics of discourse that makes that discourse strategically effective.
Most of our interest will be in that question as well, but we will try to
treat all four of Campbell and Huxman's means of judgement.
Good interpretive work performs both a descriptive and an evaluative analysis. By its nature good evaluative analysis points to characteristics of the discourse, thus includes the descriptive analysis.
Doing Criticism: the CPA system
Campbell and Huxman do a nice job of explaining their system of moving from
description to evaluation. The key is the formula: Claim + Proof + Analysis
- The Claim is your evaluative conclusion
- Proof requires that you point to specific characteristics of the speech
using the vocabulary you have learned to label it. (description)
- Analysis is using the systems of vocabulary to move the description to evaluation.
In analyzing discourse, you will achieve good criticism when your claim is clearly stated, you have offered proof that ties the judgment of your claim to the discourse, and analysis that relates the description to an evaluation set in one (or more) of the standards below.
Analyzing Strategic Discourse as Response to Situations
One important way to evaluate discourse is in terms of its appropriate response
to situation. The vocabulary that they use to understand rhetoric this way is:
- Exigence. Something in the situation that demands response.
It is that thing about the rhetorical situation which motivates our seeking
out others. It is the problem we seek solved; the uncertainty we seek to understand;
the ambiguity we want to clear up. Notice that understanding exigence requires
our going beyond the speech itself to understand the context in which it is
- Long term exigence. Sometimes we want to focus on the
reason we become involved in communication and how we are responding to
- Immediate exigence. Sometimes we are interested in the
moment. This focus leads us to ask questions about our audience, our purposes
in communicating and how we will respond in our message to these needs.
- Constraints. Elements of the situation that rhetoric must
recognize. Constraints are elements of the immediate exigence. Strategies
view constraints in two ways as responses to the exigence. Like exigence,
understanding constraints requires our going beyond the speech itself to the
context. The relationship between context and speech is closer in analyzing
obstacles and appeal, however. In analyzing constraints, we see difficulties
in terms of characteristics of the context that can affect our success in
- Obstacles to the purpose (also called the rhetorical
problem). These are elements of the situation that the rhetor must have
in mind as s/he thinks through the rhetorical situation.
- Opportunities for appeal. Knowing your audience points
out elements of the situation that you can take advantage of in planning
your discourse. Thus there are obstacles to overcome and opportunities for
appeal to overcome them.
- Strategies. Strategies are the rhetor's decisions about
how to take advantage of opportunities to overcome the obstacles in the rhetorical
Many Systems of Vocabulary
The thing to remember about such systems of vocabulary is that there are many
of them. Each allows you to talk about particular characteristics of strategic
discourse. Most of your time this semester will be spent in learning such systems.
Standards for Evaluating Rhetorical Discourse
Campbell and Huxman have an excellent section (pp. 247-53) explaining the four
standards that we can employ to evaluate rhetorical discourse. In doing your interpretive work, you select one or more of these standards upon which you base your evaluation.
- The artistic standard (aesthetics)
- The effects standard (effectiveness)
- The truth standard (Does the discourse match the reality it addresses?)
- The ethical standard (or moral standard)