Course Overview

“Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.”

― Jean-Paul Sartre


People have been trying to convince other people to do things with language for a very long time. And it’s worked, human civilizations with their massive diversity and variety have sprang up and collapsed or even survived because of the massive power of language to convince, mold, and shape the possibilities of thought and action. How this is has happened as well as how it happens today is the fundamental question of the academic inquiry known as Rhetoric. 

Rhetoric has many definitions both operational and conceptual. Traditionally, at its core exists “our,” understanding of the rhetorical situation (i.e. the static communication triangle of author, text/language, and audience) as well as shaping the world of possible actions and possible meanings through semiotic means both expanding and limiting our understanding of possible actions. This course will focus on how different types of theoretical tools can be deployed to understand the influential nature of semiotic acts as well as some of the pitfalls that accompany such interactions. Fundamentally, this course will give you several ways to theorize rhetorical situations to understand how they work.

Learning Outcomes

After this class, you will:

  • have several theoretical rhetorical tools that will allow you to understand how a rhetorical situation works to expand or limit possibilities for action
  • develop an understanding of why rhetorical analysis has developed intellectually the way it has
  • become familiar with the deployed uses of rhetorical analysis, i.e. how scholars have deployed rhetorical analysis to understand a given, or several, semiotic situation(s) and when it can be valuable
  • How bad faith actors can use rhetorical strategies to obfuscate, frustrate, and mislead audiences

Some of the activities we will focus on include:

  • breaking down rhetorical situations to their identifiable elements
  • learning how logical fallacies can be recognized in persuasive works 
  • intensive peer review work to improve feedback for both written and oral performances

After this class, you will have produced:

  • a visual/textual rhetorical analysis of an argumentative text focused on logical fallacies
  • several written rhetorical analyses
  • a paper in which you will choose an appropriate rhetorical theory to analyze a given text or ecology
  • several feedback memos with the intention of improving your peers’ work

Required Texts

All texts are available at the D. H. Hill Library Course Reserves both online (accessible with your NC State credentials) and materially at the reserves desk with a few noted exceptions. That said, I have worked very hard to make this class financially accessible and these texts are pretty cheap and make you look like a smart and interesting person on a bookshelf so you should probably pick them up.

Video games