Preparing to lead your seminar


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How our material is organized

We will organize our study around eight moves that characterize contemporary rhetorical theory. Somewhat arbitrarily these are divided into two groups:

The groupings are arbitrary in that all eight of these moves have had active research over the last few years. All are currently active and being pursued in research programs and appearing in either journals or university press publishing venues. Any could be moved to the other group. We needed, however, to figure out how to attain some depth of understanding in some of these within the semester. So I divided them into groups.

You will become an expert on one move from each group.

Preparing your Group A Seminar

For your selected move in Group A, you will merely master the basic foundation of the move to help the class understand the issues involved in it. Each of the moves in Group A will be treated in about half a session (you will have about 1 hr for your presentation). You should prepare a handout explaining the basic arguments of the move and a bibliographic essay on important sources. You will use me as a resource in preparing this presentation. You will set up the basics of the unit and I will take the last half hour to add anything that moves me. The class will have read some material in these areas. You need to isolate some questions about the material that you think will help guide their reading to maximize the quality of our classroom discussion.

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Preparing your Group B Seminar

For the selected move in group B, you will work much more deeply. This will include reading more sophisticated material and understanding the most recent questions being asked and answered as well as knowing the foundation of the move. I have given you a start in the reading list. It is only a start. You should become an expert in your chosen unit. You will do lots of reading beyond the syllabus. You should have the background after completing this to participate fully in the issues of the area. Part of what you will be doing is bibliographic. You should use the skills you have learned about following notes and using citation indexes to network these areas. You should also develop a sense for the flow of the work: the issues that have arisen, if they have been resolved, how they have been resolved, the important names working in this area. Each of the Group B moves we will treat in at least two sessions. You will work with me to do the unit you choose. You will have the first half of these sessions. We (you and I) will try to lay out the fundamentals in the first session with me leading and explore the latest work in the second with you in charge.

Developing a timeline

I recommend you begin by developing a timeline of what you want to have done when. I will assist with a table of dates. You should extend it.

  1. Get to work early on reading the material for your unit and tracking the arguments through other literature.
  2. You will meet with me at least twice. The first meeting, about 3 weeks before we begin your unit, will be for me to charge you and make suggestions for your work. Then you will work dilengently to prepare your strategy for the unit.
  3. At least 2 weeks before we begin your unit, you will meet with me again and share your plan. We will go over your bibliography, your suggestions for reading in preparation for discussion, review your suggestions for revising the reading list in the current "guide," and go over your plans for the seminar discussion. Based on this discussion you will finalize material for me to post.
  4. Over 1 week before we begin your unit, submit finalized changes in the website for me to post. If there are any additional required readings not available from the library, have pdfs of essays ready to post.
  5. During the 2nd week on the topic, lead class discussion. Your preparation for this should include developing your understanding of the fundamentals of the move so that you can lead our discussion of more advanced work. Your task is not to lecture nor monopolize the class. Lead our discussion. You have readings to do that with, and a list of issue questions. Other stimulus material is also appropriate. Give your seminarists a sense for the status of work in your unit: its premises, its promise, its direction, its success or failure, its future.
  6. A week after the class discussion, pProvide your classmates with a full bibliographic essay on your unit. (See assignment below) I will post these for all seminarists to have.

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Developing a bibliography

Bibliographies will be divided into three parts: seminal works, important past work, and new work. Seminal works really don't change often, so they can generally be taken from the website. But if you do find works you think are now positioned as foundational, let me know.

The second list, important past work, is always a rough call. As you read these works you may get the feeling that they are no longer a priority for reading. If so, let me know. Certainly there may be works that were new works a few years ago that are now important works. Add and shape the important past works as you read.

For the new works, I recommend just old fashioned digging. To wit:

  1. Using the characteristic terms and important people in your move, search the key databases for the last two years. That includes Ebsco's Academic Search Premier and Communication and Mass Media Complete. Make certain your data bases are multidisciplinary, including particularly journals such as Quarterly Journal of Speech, Critical Studies in Media Communication, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, Communication Monographs, Communication Studies, Communication Quarterly, Western Journal of Communication, Southern Communication Journal, Communication Theory, Philosophy and Rhetoric, Rhetoric Review and Pretext.
  2. You need to access non-journal material, probably by starting in book reviews of the journals to locate relevant books to examine. Also of critical importance is the Alta Conference Proceedings that are accessed at: (Earlier work from the Alta conference is now on Communication and Mass Media Complete. Later work will still require the website.)
  3. You need to follow the trail of central contributors to the problem. That means looking up seminal essays and key articles in Google Scholar and Google Books.

Although the sort can be difficult, do not include essays that are mere rhetorical criticism without theoretical implications. This is a bibliography about theoretical problem solving, not a comprehensive bibliography of all uses of the theory.

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Developing an understanding

Your reading will proceed on two levels: you will be trying to understand what the move is trying to do, and you will be trying to construct a narrative of the research on the move.

What is the move trying to do? Theory provides accounts. Accounts are reproductions (thus, reinterpretations) of something. What is this move trying to explain? What is its new vocabulary? Why was the new vocabulary necessary? How does this move establish accounts?

What is the narrative of this move? Who were the important fathers and mothers? What were their insights? Who wrestled with the project next? How did they advance the theory? What questions did they ask? Did they answer them satisfactorily? Did the question and answer turn out to be fruitful? How? What questions are on the table today? Who is trying to answer them? In general, has this been a fruitful move?

Some additional hints:

The danger in this scheme is the sense of "ownership" of only a week or two of the course that causes the rest of the course to be a waiting. Don't fall into that trap. There will be readings every week to help prepare you for class, and a series of questions. I have asked each group to provide more questions too.

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Writing the Bibliographic Essay

Remember the purpose of the bibliographic essay: to guide others in how to familiarize themselves with your move. If you wish, think of it as a Wikipaedia entry. KKKKringe!?! Somewhere in your reading you should start writing it. It will only talk about the recent works that strike you as keys to the future direction of the move.

Also remember that the winner is not the one with the longest bibliography but with the bibliography most helpful to classmates who might decide in the future to contribute to a problem. Your bibliographic essay should identify (1) seminal sources, (2) sources that were key developments, and (3) the latest material on the move.

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Preparing for the Seminar

For those of you leading the seminar the task is not to pontificate (only the instructor gets to do that), but to guide your fellow seminarists in a discussion of the move. To do that, you need to:

  1. Somewhere in the process of reading for the move, have discussions with your fellow leader in which you talk about what is emerging as important for your essay and the discussion.
  2. Isolate readings that will help the seminar formulate discussion of the important issues. These will be around 100 pages. Talk this list over with me so we can arrive at the reading list. This will happen at least two weeks before the class discussion.
  3. You will probably want to have some stimulus to guide the seminar's readings of the material. These can be questions, but other options are no doubt out there. Perhaps they are tasks to be thought through. Perhaps challenges from recent essays that should frame reading of old essays. Talk this over with me at the same meeting.
  4. In the days before the seminar, review objectives and priorities with your fellow leader. If you want to talk these over with me you can. Decide how you will proceed during the class period. Again, I am available for discussion.
  5. During the seminar, lead the discussion. Ask, challenge, encourage, manage. Give voice to those you have been reading.

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