Animal Rhetorics Course Description

Home Course Description Texts Assignments and Grades | Schedule

Traditionally, rhetoric has been defined as a specifically human art or science in which human beings use language to persuade one another to take up particular attitudes or behaviors. For Plato rhetoric was “the art of winning souls by discourse,” for Cicero it was “speech designed to persuade,” and for Quintilian it was “the good man speaking well.” For the so-called father of modern rhetorical studies, Kenneth Burke, rhetoric’s most basic function is “the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce actions in other human agents” (Rhetoric 41). Rhetorical theorists traditionally presume that rhetorical ability, in fact, is the definitive distinction between human beings and all the other animals—Burke actually defines the human being as “the symbol using (and abusing) animal.”

In 1992, however, a respected translator of Aristotle, George A. Kennedy, scandalously proposed that rhetoric is not simply a human art but pre-verbal energy that is evident in all animal life. All animals engage in various sorts of rhetorical exchange, according to him, epideictic, deliberative, and forensic. Indeed, the conviction that there is a single, definitive capacity that distinguishes all human beings from all nonhuman animals—a capacity for language or reason or culture or tool-use or altruism or self-knowledge—has been systematically debunked by recent discoveries in a wide array of disciplines, including  primatology, neurobiology, psychology, and anthropology. Certain animals, for example, pass the same mirror test used to determine self-recognition in human children; many more use tools, share distinct languages and complex social interactions, have a sense of past and future, pass knowledge from one generation to the next, and indicate varying propensities for laughter, grief, deception, empathy, and shame. We now know that human beings are not the only “rational animals,” in other words, nor are they the only symbol using animals. Many animals, we’ll see, are quite successful rhetors.

In this course we will study both animal rhetorics and rhetorics of “the animal.” We’ll engage recent animal studies research, where we’ll meet, for instance, apes who “write,” prairie dogs who use sophisticated grammatical patterns, elephants who mourn and bury their dead, dogs who “read” human gestures, magpies and dolphins and gorillas who recognize themselves in a mirror, rats who starve themselves to prevent a buddy from being harmed, and African Grey parrots who can count, discern shapes and colors, and use many English words. We will also study philosophers and rhetoricans who interrogate the fuzzy line between human beings and nonhuman animals, and the ways in which any understanding of “the human” is already dependent on a rhetoric of “the animal,” as if that descriptor covered every nonhuman entity, from a sea sponge to a great ape.


Deadlines. Don’t miss ’em. Even if you must miss class, your work will need to find its way there (via a friend or an email, perhaps) on time if it doesn’t want its grade to suffer–one letter grade for each day it’s late. **I will allow rewrites on certain projects; however, to qualify, you must have submitted a full and complete version of your assignment at the time it was due. I will not allow rewrites on any paper/project that is turned in late, turned in without peer review, and/or turned in on time but incomplete.**

**Peer Reviews. Peer reviews are required for this class. You will not receive a grade on a paper that has not been peer reviewed, and you may not receive a peer review without giving one. If you come in late on a peer review day, you may not get a peer review partner.**

Computation of Grades. Grades will be computed on a 4-point scale: A=4.0, B=3, C=2, D=1, F=0. Final grades will not include plusses and minuses.

Weapons Policy: With the exception of concealed handguns, no weapons may be brought into the classroom. This exclusion applies to knives, clubs, spears, machetes, metal knuckles, explosive or incendiary devices, and any other device designed to injure or kill people. If you have a license to carry a handgun and you bring it into the classroom, you must keep it concealed and on your person at all times. If a gun or any other weapon becomes visible, the person who sees the weapon should leave the classroom and call 911 so that law enforcement personnel can take appropriate action and restore an atmosphere conducive to learning.

You may not bring a handgun into the classroom in a backpack, bag, or purse because you’ll be called upon at unpredictable times to move about the room for group work, participate in a presentation, or otherwise be separated from your belongings. University policy and the implementation of the law would be violated by the separation of the gun owner from their weapon that would result from these required classroom activities.

No weapons of any kind may be brought into my office. You will be given oral notice excluding handguns from my office before you meet with me: a sign on my door will instruct you to ask about my gun policy, and I will ask you to sign a statement attesting to your receipt of this legally-binding oral notification that guns are not permitted in my office.


Writing Flag. This course carries the Writing Flag. You will write regularly during the semester, completing both short and long writing projects. Furthermore, you will, and receive feedback from your instructor and your peers. Based on this feedback, you will have the opportunity to revise one or more assignments. A substantial portion of your grade to comes from your written work. Writing Flag classes meet the Core Communications objectives of Critical Thinking, Communication, Teamwork, and Personal Responsibility, established by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Attendance Policy. Rhetoric & Writing has established this attendance policy for all RHE courses. Any questions or appeals concerning this policy must be made directly to the department Associate Chair. You are expected to attend class, to arrive on time, to have prepared assigned reading and writing, and to participate in all in-class editing, revising, and discussion sessions. Should you miss the equivalent of five TTH or MW class sessions or seven MWF sessions this semester, excused or not, you will fail the course. (ddd addition: Each three tardies will count as one absence.) If you find that an unavoidable problem prevents you from attending class, you should contact your instructor as soon as possible, preferably ahead of time, to let him or her know–and then one of your classmates about what you missed before the next class.

You will not be penalized for missing class on religious holy days. A student who misses classes or other required activities, including examinations, for the observance of a religious holy day should inform the instructor, in writing, well in advance of the absence, so that alternative arrangements can be made to complete work. If you know you will have to miss class(es) for this reason, provide your instructor with the date(s) as early as possible. Please note that the University specifies very few other excused absences (e.g., jury duty). When you must miss a class, you are responsible for getting notes and assignments from a classmate.

Scholastic Honesty. Turning in work that is not your own, or any other form of scholastic dishonesty, will result in a major course penalty, possibly failure of the course. This standard applies to all drafts and assignments, and a report of the incident will be submitted to the Office of the Dean of Students and filed in your permanent UT record. Under certain circumstances, the Dean of Students will initiate proceedings to expel you from the University. So, take care to read and understand the Statement on Scholastic Responsibility, which can be found online at If you have any doubts about your use of sources, ask your instructor for help before handing in the assignment.

Students with Disabilities. The University of Texas at Austin provides upon request appropriate academic accommodations for qualified students with disabilities. For more information, contact Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD), at 471-6259.

Email Accounts. Email is an official means of communication at UT-Austin, and your instructor will use this medium to communicate class information. You are therefore required to obtain a UT email account and to check it daily. All students may claim an email address at no cost by going to

Emergency Information. Occupants of buildings on The University of Texas at Austin campus are required to evacuate buildings when a fire alarm is activated.  Alarm activation or announcement requires exiting and assembling outside. Familiarize yourself with all exit doors of each classroom and building you may occupy.  Remember that the nearest exit door may not be the one you used when entering the building. Students requiring assistance in evacuation shall inform their instructor in writing during the first week of class. In the event of an evacuation, follow the instruction of faculty or class instructors. Do not re-enter a building unless given instructions by the following: The University of Texas at Austin Police Department, or Fire Prevention Services office. Information regarding emergency evacuation routes and emergency procedures can be found at Behavior Concerns Advice Line (BCAL): 512-232-5050.

Undergraduate Writing Center.  I strongly encourage you to use the Undergraduate Writing Center, FAC 211, 471-6222: The Undergraduate Writing Center offers free, individualized, expert help with writing for any UT undergraduate, by appointment or on a drop-in basis. Any undergraduate enrolled in a course at UT can visit the UWC for assistance with any writing project. The consultants there work with students from every department on campus, for both academic and non-academic writing. Whether you are writing a lab report, a resume, a term paper, a statement for an application, or your own poetry, UWC consultants will be happy to work with you. Their services are not just for writing that has “problems.” Getting feedback from an informed audience is a normal part of a successful writing project. Consultants help students develop strategies to improve their writing. The assistance they provide is intended to foster independence. Each student determines how to use the consultant’s advice. The consultants are trained to help you work on your writing in ways that preserve the integrity of your work.

Home Course Description Texts Assignments and Grades | Schedule