Playing the whole (rhetorical) game

In class on Monday, I said that I’d like you to focus on “playing the whole game” for the rest of this semester. That is, in our final readings and in your final projects pay attention to ways that ALL the concepts and ideas of the rhetorical view are intersecting and overlapping every time you try to look at the world rhetorically.

The author who wrote about “playing the whole game” (David Perkins, Making Learning Whole) says that in order for learners to get better at doing something, they must continually experiment and push their knowledge further with curiosity, discovery, and creativity. Learners must find problems which will let them practice playing the whole game.

John Sloop shows us one way to do that in “Riding in Cars between Men.” He has found a problem and plays the “rhetorical game” in order to address the problem creatively and rhetorically. The “problem” is this: in a situaton where someone appears to break or transgress gender norms in seemingly positive ways (specifically, a female has entered into a traditionally “male” sport of auto racing), what are all the communicative ways that people and culture prevent those norms from being broken and reinforce more narrow and rigid gender norms as if they were “true” and “natural.”

So how does he address that problem? By playing the rhetorical game. He looks at performances (commentators describe how Debbie Renshaw still “acts” like a “lady”). He looks at the metaphors and myths that people use when they describe her actions and her identity. He looks at the ways media and fans create and reinforce gender identification and division (“the girls vs. the boys”) and therefore reinforce the “truth” about where Debbie Renshaw belongs. And while he plays this rhetorical game to show us all the ways that communication invents and reinforces cultural knowledge and truth about gender, he also reminds us that within communication we have the power to invent NEW meanings and truths, create NEW identities and norms, and so on (like Peters and Isocrates remind us).

And once we have the ability to play the rhetorical game and identify the complexity of social constraints or problems, we have a responsibility to use that understanding of rhetoric to create that change. (Eisenstein tried to do that with film. And that’s why people like Lanham and Burke emphasize how rhetoric moves people to action and attitude.)

As you read Sloop’s article about Debbie Renshaw and next week as you read the article about the legal construction of race, remember to keep the whole “rhetorical game” in mind and remember that we’re exploring the following themes of the “game:”

  1. What else does communication do? (beyond simple transmission or description)
  2. What is the relationship among communication and culture, knowlege, truth, identity, power relationships, social relationships, social norms, and so on?
  3. What can we do with a rhetorical view of communication? How does it change the way we understand culture? What is our responsibility to use the rhetorical view to change culture?
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