Modern Rhetorical Criticism Description

Course Description | Texts Assignments and Grades | Schedule

Rhetorical criticism involves the investigation, interpretation, and explanation of rhetorical acts and artifacts for the purpose of grasping the means by which they affect attitudes and behavior.  Whereas the literary critic typically sticks to specifically literary texts, the rhetorical critic may zero in on any “text,” from a political speech or journal article to a billboard image, a facebook status, a rock concert, or a video game. The rhetorical critic finds these “texts” worthy of analysis not because they are beautifully written or particularly enduring, but because they reveal cultural values, social trends, and a diversity of persuasive appeals—verbal, aural, and visual.

This course will introduce you to a range of contemporary critical methods. We will begin by defining fundamental terms, interpreting and evaluating texts according to their basic rhetorical features (ideas, arguments, form, and style), and focusing in on the most traditional critical approach to rhetorical analysis, neo-Aristotelian criticism. We will, however, move very quickly into the investigation and application of more flexible, contemporary critical approaches that embrace the inherent “rhetoricality” of language, including, for example, dramatistic types of criticism associated with Kenneth Burke (cluster and narrative) and socio-political/psychosocial types of criticism associated with social movements and twentieth century intellectual developments (Marxist, feminist, and  deconstructive). This course will involve both theory and application. First, we’ll strive to understand the methodology of each critical approach and what is at stake in it, interrogating the ways in which an act of rhetorical criticism reproduces and institutionalizes as well as challenges and transforms cultural values. And second, we’ll practice rhetorical criticism ourselves, applying diverse critical approaches to various rhetorical artifacts throughout the semester.

**This course carries the Writing Flag. Writing Flag courses are designed to give students experience with writing in an academic discipline. In this class, you can expect to write regularly during the semester, complete substantial writing projects, and receive feedback from your instructor to help you improve your writing. You will also have the opportunity to revise one or more assignments, and you may be asked to read and discuss your peers’ work. You should therefore expect a substantial portion of your grade to come 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.

Informal assignments will include semi-weekly working notes posted to the class wiki in which you will consider ways to apply the critical approach we’re currently addressing to a rhetorical artifact of your choosing; you will also be expected to respond to your classmates’ postings. Formal assignments will include three papers: two 4-5 page papers in which you will summarize as tightly as possible two critical approaches we’ve studied in class and then read one “across” the other to assess the focus, value, and stakes of each; and one 5-6 page application paper in which you will critique a rhetorical artifact through a unique mix of the critical approaches we have discussed in class. Each paper will go through multiple drafts and a formal peer review.

Course Policy:

Attendance: Be here. This is a performance course that requires student attendance. Should a student miss the equivalent of 5 class sessions this semester, excused or not, s/he will not pass the courseEach three tardies will count as one absence. Beyond that, this: Because the success of this course depends upon the success of our interaction as a class, attendance is absolutely necessary. Expect your grade to suffer if you fail to fully participate on the wiki and in class discussions. If you must miss a class, check with one of your classmates about what you missed before the next class. Please keep at least 3 numbers/eddresses handy.

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 papers; 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, without peer review, and/or turned in on time but incomplete.**

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.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism is the undocumented use of someone else’s ideas or words. To present another’s work as one’s own, even if one is paraphrasing, is plagiarism. This is a serious offense and will result in failure for that assignment and, very likely, for the course. In certain cases, it can also result in expulsion from the university. If you have questions about the use of source materials, see me before turning in the assignment. Do not use editing services other than those provided by the Undergraduate Writing Center or the Learning Skills Center.

Email notification polilcy: All students should become familiar with the University’s official e-mail student notification policy. It is the student’s responsibility to keep the University informed as to changes in his or her e-mail address. Students are expected to check e-mail on a frequent and regular basis in order to stay current with University-related communications, recognizing that certain communications may be time-critical. It is recommended that e-mail be checked daily, but at a minimum, twice per week. The complete text of this policy and instructions for updating your e-mail address are available at

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.

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.

Course Description | Texts Assignments and Grades | Schedule