The “style” of education

The way we think and talk about the “classroom” and “education” provides examples that tie course concepts together.

From a “standard view” of education, we might believe that education merely transmits objective facts, data, knowledge, and truth about the world. History is merely neutral facts. Literature and poetry are fluff that don’t matter too much for the “real” world. We learn “skills” and learn how to use “tools” that help us be efficient workers (and communicators). We memorize ideas and data and then imitate and repeat those ideas. From this way of thinking, the teacher deposits knowledge into your head, fills your head as if it were an empty receptacle.

On the other hand, a “rhetorical view” might realize that education and everything about education influences and invents knowledge and the way we understand the world and ourselves.  We cannot transmit information and knowledge as neutral, objective bits of data; instead, the process of education (which happens with communication) invents the knowledge.

The “style” of education also changes the way we think about education. Imagine what you would think about the class (and me) if I stood behind the podium and read a prepared lecture to you. Would you be excited about the class? Would you want to learn as much? The presetation style evokes different reactions.

You could also think about the physical arrangement of a classroom as a style that affects meaning and behavior. Look at the following pictures and consider how the style of the classroom communicates attitudes and beliefs and values about communication and education:


If you enter a class and all the desks are arranged in a circle, what do you expect in that class? How does that front imply a certain performance? If you walk into a large lecture auditorium where the lights are turned low except for the lights on the stage by the podium, what do you expect that class / lecture to be like? What does that style imply about the role of the students in the learning process? Are the students supposed to be active participants in that scene?

Like Lanham wrote, “Style becomes content” and “choreographs … human consciousness.”


Pink and Pepsi

Here are two more examples that continue the conversations about identification, belonging, performance, etc.

Apparently real “men” can take anything except Diet drinks … so Pepsi had to come up with a diet soda–for men. Now this message alone might not be significant. But when we think of the “body of identifications” or wide range of messages that present a “dull daily reinforcement” we get a better sense of the scripts or fronts that we create for men (and women) to reenact and recreate. “Belonging … is rhetoricial” and we learn that in many cases if we want to “belong” we’d better play our “roles” to meet other people’s expectations.

When we have a “rhetorical view” of communication and we start to pay attention to the messages that create identifications and divisions and the messages that move us to behave, believe, and perform in certain ways, we also develop the ability to intervene and invent new ways to communicate.  I believe that’s what Pink attempts to do in “Stupid Girls” … she wants to create a different body of identifications that encourage women to identify with different roles and select different fronts and put on different performances.

How do you see Burke and Goffman’s ideas relating to these clips? Or to any other examples you’ve found? [I’ve used gender as an example because it’s often something that most of us can relate to and recognize easily … but we can apply and think about the same theories and ideas when we think any of our identities and performances: race, sexuality, class, religion, profession, organization (think especially about Greek organizations) …]

From performace to identification: Beauty

We are moving on to consider the role of rhetoric in identification and division. But we are not done talking about performance. We’ll keep relating back to performance all semester. There are many connections to make between Goffman and Burke, and as we explore rhetoric and identification this week, I encourage you to explore and discuss those connections in examples on your team blogs.

Here is one example of the relationship between identification (Burke’s topic) and performance (Goffman) with significance for all of us. Watch the following short video from the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.

The film focuses on women and certainly we can find a long history of research and evidence that women are affected by body image concerns. But let’s be clear: men experience the same concerns about body image–maybe to a lesser degree, but men still have anxieties over their bodies, weight, and appearance. Think of all the exercise products, hair-growth products, etc. targeted toward men. Not convinced? Here are a few articles that migh help: Media Assault on Male Body Image and Enhancing Male Body Image. In my opinion, men don’t talk about these things because it isn’t “manly” to feel insecure and it isn’t “tough” to have those anxieties … which is another conversation about identification and performance altogether.

But to the point … how is it that we come to identify ourselves with being “ugly” or “fat” or “unattractive” or “too big,” “too skinny,” “too pale,” “too dark,” “too whatever…“? Burke’s ideas help us think about that question. We receive a regular influx of messages from television, magazines, friends, family, etc. that create a collective meaning for ideas like “beauty” or “sexy” or “attractive.” If those messages don’t often include us or people who look like us, then we don’t “see” ourselves in that definition or in Burke’s terms, we might not “identify” with those things. In other words, we are “divided” from these characteristics. If we don’t identify with those images, terms, ideas, then we often feel we are NOT those things.

Once we realize our identities, we perform these identities. When the young woman in the video feels “fat” she constantly feels she needs to pull her shorts and skirt down lower to cover her “fat” legs. Another young woman described doing sit ups every night. Our performances in large part are driven by the ideas and characteristics we identify with. If I feel “fat,” I might put on a front of trying to work out regularly. If I have learned to identify myself with “unattractive,” then I might perform in ways that confirm or create a reality of feeling unconfident and insecure. The ways in which we always perform are directly related to the identities and characteristics we are rhetorically encouraged to identify with.

“Things won’t change until we change them”

Here’s a preview of things to come in this course and another reason why the “rhetorical view” is so important. The more we fall into the “standard view” of communication, the more likely we will simply accept our created definitions of “beauty” or “sexy” or “attractive” as natural or pre-existing (as if those meanings are just “real” and exist independent of the way we communicate about them.) We are more likely to feel like we can’t do anything about it.

But Peters reminds us we have the ability to find new ways to communicate and we can create new worlds and Isocrates praises the power of communication to build societies. The significance of these ideas is that we can change our messages and change the ways we identify and change our performances, etc. We can learn to pay careful attention to the complex and broad range of communication that shapes how we think, what we value, and how we behave, and we can realize our ability to intervene and change things and make new meanings.

Here’s one more short commercial from Dove that points to the profound impact that a simple performance or communication might have. From the standpoint of the unseen young woman who can only see what’s “wrong” with her, we see how negative identifications adversely affect our performances. From the standpoint of the young man we see how a simple “performance” might dramatically change the “reality” for this young woman.

Relationship “Rules”

As we explore ways of thinking about communication or our attitudes toward communication, remember that by communication we mean the whole range of words, signs, symbols, images, etc. that circulate around us everyday, including our performances, “fronts,” “expressive equipment,” behavior, style, etc.

We’ve talked about relationships already (E-harmony, love songs, etc.), and once again relationship tips provide an excellent illustration.

the-real-rulesThe Real Rules: How to Find the RIght Man for the Real You is a very popular relationship advice book. Right away we could guess that the book might take a “standard view” of communication (Lanham’s “serious premises”) because it’s talking about a “real you” and wants us to discover the “right” (or “perfect” or “true”) significant other. As if these things already just exist out there and we simply have to find them and communicate correctly. I’ve pulled out a few quotes from this book that demonstrate this narrower way of thinking about communication (my explanations are in red):

  • “I dedicate The Real Rules to every woman who has ever been afraid to share her real feelings, desires, or concerns with a man for fear that he’ll tell her she’s too ‘needy and demanding'” (4). In other words, we shouls always strive to share our honest feelings and desires and share our true feelings (like the dream of “perfect communication” or “telepathy” or “discourses of therapy” or “clear, brief, and sincere” communication.)
  • “I dedicate The Real Rules to every woman who has ever lost herself so deeply in trying to please a man that she doesn’t know who she is anymore” (4). In other words, there is a “true self” or an innate and stable identity that has always existed and we shoud merely discover it and preserve it.
  • “I dedicate The Real Rules to every woman who dreams of having a relationship with a real man based on real equality – no games, no power struggles, just a loving, intimate, mutually respectful partnership” (4). This suggests that “games” or “manipulation” or things that Plato might call “rhetoric” or “flattery” get in the way of “reality” and honest communication.
  • The Real Rules “are about becoming who you really are as a woman, and finding a man who loves you because of it” (13). The underlying assumption is a real you exists and discovering it is both possible and desirable.
  • “Have you been tempted to try out some so-called ‘techniques’ you recently read in a book or magazine about THE OLD RULES in hope of getting a man to fall in love with you, or getting your boyfriend to propose?” She condemns “techniques” as though they are something fake or artificial–maybe something Plato would call “flattery”–something that hides the “true self.” But also remember that Lanham said everything is rhetorical. De Angelis attacks these “techniques” but fails to recognize that her own suggestions are also “techniques.” Remember Lanham: the whole range of ornament is rhetorical.

Another popular book is The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right. This book offers advice that seems to realize how communication and performance invent / create / construct reality — in our terms, we could say the authors seem to have a “rhetorical view” about communication that recognizes the power and possibilities of what communication does in culture. For example:the-rules

  • “Doing what you want to do [in a relationship] is not always in your best interest. On a job interview, you don’t act ‘like yourself'” (9). In other words, we must always be strategic in the ways we perform. Our behavior is communication, too, and it’s not always valuable merely to transmit our “true” feelings. We also have to realize that we aren’t totally in control of our identity. Our culture and our surroundings dictate the expectations for performance and the “fronts” we select.
  • The author suggests, “the next time you are at a social event to stand back and watch” other women and “Observe how they have made self-contentment and independence an art form” (12). In other words, creating relationships and connections is an “art form”–a type of style or performance or rhetoric. You have to perform self-confidence in order to make people see self-confidence. In Goffman’s words, it has to be “dramatically realized” in order to be “real.”


Here are a few other relationship advice sites to check out. Look at the way they talk about human relationships and see if you can identify statements that imply certain attitudes about communication and what communication does. These all provide good samples for you to blog about and connect to the ideas from Plato, Lanham, Peters, and Goffman (and future authors as well).

A Practical Guide for Men about What Women Want

“How to Keep Her” – Relationship Advice for Men

Understanding Men, Relationhips, and So Much More

Get Smart. Get Honest. Get Real Relationship Advice

Gay and Lesbian Dating Tips

From Peters to performance (Goffman)

Check out this short article about the necessity of “lying” … It is related to Peter’s point that we cannot avoid imperfect communication and in fact it is a very good thing we can’t communicate perfectly.

The author writes:

Here is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: My name is Lisa, and I am a liar, though a good marketing consultant could probably finesse the word into something a bit more palatable: “Reality Stylist” might be good, or “Pinocchiotologist” could work. My mother insists that, at the end of the day, what I am is a storyteller — and she might have a point.

So I sugarcoat and I gloss over, and I rationalize and, yes, I sometimes fictionalize my little story.

So far, we’ve spent some time setting up a “battle” of ideas over communication and rhetoric. From Plato forward we’ve had many discourses (cultural “conversations” if you will) that emphasize the attitude that “rhetoric” is generally bad or dangerous because it can mislead or misrepresent. And from this position, we might be more likely to criticize this author for “fictionalizing” her stories.

But now we want to explore the other side of the “battle” over rhetoric–the side we probably aren’t as familiar with (even though it goes on around us every day). We will begin to fill in what a “rhetorical view” of communication means. And we will start creating more answers to the question “What else does communication do beyond transmit ideas?”

One question we could ask about this article is: “Is this really lying?” If we’re always seeing things and talking about things from a certain perspective and if there is no such thing as “truth or fact as they actually exist” (Lanham) then is “rhetoric” necessarily bad? … or like Peters says, is our imperfect communication–including rhetoric–a “handsome condition” and “blessing?” This week we’ll read about “performance” and consider the question “When aren’t we performing? When aren’t we wearing a mask?” And how do our performances also create identities and realities?

This article quotes Joan Didion who says, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” That message is similar to a point Lanham makes in “The Rhetorical Ideal of Life.” Lanham explains that with a “rhetorical view” we will realize that our “capacity to make up comforting illusions is as infinite as the university [we are] flung into. Naked into the world [we] may come, but not without resource.” ( 8 ) In other words, rhetoric, performance, “storytelling” are all necessary features and valuable resources for our lives shared with others. Like Isocrates and Peters believe, these aspects of communication allow us to connect with one another and create new beliefs, worlds, and culture.

Technology and Therapy

Be on the lookout for examples where that talk about communication as if a) better technology and “noise reduction” and “improved wiring” will make human relationships better and b) more open and honest sharing and more intimate, soul-revealing communication will mend our relationships and misunderstandings. These are the ways of thinking that Peters believes leads to our mistaken dream of perfect communication and distract us from the “hard work” of making connections and creating relationships and building new worlds. Examples of these ways of thinking about communication are everywhere. To be clear, Peters criticizes a way of thinking about communication that believes technology or therapy will help overcome barriers. These ways of thinking keep us focused on a narrow capacity for communication, what we’ve called the “standard view” or the “transmission model” of communication.

Cell phone and other communication technology commercials usually provide great examples of messages that encourage us to believe that communications can solve the so-called “problem” of communication. We don’t literally think that better cell phones will make us happier people. The point is we’ve come to talk about human communication and connection as if it worked like communication technology … that somehow “improving the connection” will fix our conflicts or getting on the same “frequency” will make for better relationships.

And as we saw in class, many popular songs about relationships call up this dream where our hearts are open and our souls are connected. These messages demonstrate the “discourses of therapy” where more talk and clear, honest, sincere communication will overcome barriers and fix what we see as the “problem” of communication.

You can find these examples of discourses of technology and therapy everywhere. Try to post an example that you come across in the coming days.

The “Problem” of Communication

In our reading this week, Peters claims that we have a narrow and limited way of thinking about communication. We dream of perfect, ideal communication (as if we’re striving for telepathy); we get frustrated when we miscommunicate; we blame communication as the “problem;” and then we often stop communicating altogether (“solipsism”) or we just keep getting frustrated. But Peters argues that the “problem” of communication is not that communication fails and not that we miscommunicate; the problem is the way we think about communication.

Here are a few examples that demonstrate the way Peters says we usually think and talk about communication (and remember, he wants to challenge these limited views of communication).

From “General Information about Communication Problems”

“Almost all conflicts involve communication problems, as both a cause and an effect. Misunderstandings, resulting from poor communication, can easily cause a conflict or make it worse. Further, once a conflict has started, communication problems often develop because people in conflict do not communicate with each other as frequently, as openly, and as accurately as they do when relationships are not strained.”

This excerpt once again represents a “Transmission Model” or “standard view of communication” that believes we just need to learn to communicate more effectively–to use the tool of communication better. And it suggests that more communication, more honesty (truth), and more clarity will somehow fix communication.

From “Solutions to Your Top Two Communication Problems” by Dr. Brenda Shoshanna

Without effective communication, no relationship stands a chance. … When we are fighting, we want more than ever to be understood and words go flying back and forth like arrows.

[C]ommunication consists not only of talking, but also listening and hearing what is being said. … it is crucial to realize that each person can only truly “hear” what is being said if they are willing to put aside their own point of view and really be available to know the heart and mind of the other.

These excerpts give an example of how we act as if we truly could create some direct link between our minds. We desire to be understood perfectly (telepathy).

From High School Musical 2, “You are the Music in Me”

I admit: I’m a HSM fan. … but to the point. Many love songs about “connecting” and finding true love also shape and reveal the way we think about communication.

It’s like I knew you before we met (Before we met)
Can’t explain it (Ohh ohh)
There’s no name for it (No name for it)

I’m saying words I never said

And it was easy (So easy)
Because you see the real me (I see)
As I am

You understand
And that’s more than I’ve ever known

To hear your voice (Hear your voice)
Above the noise (Ohh ohh)

And no, I’m not alone

Their voices cut through the “noise” and they connect in a way where they understand each other perfectly … Gabriella sees the “real Troy,” as if communication was able to merge their souls.