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Rhetoric in/between Communication and English

Seminar Leaders:William Keith, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Roxanne Mountford, University of Kentucky

Seminar Leaders:

William Keith (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)
Roxanne Mountford (University of Kentucky)


Is there a possibility of a common field of rhetoric, or will rhetoric always be “between the disciplines” of English and Communication? Attempts to connect them have thus far mainly focused on theoretical considerations. In this seminar we will address the question by grasping the stick at the other end: What can we learn from how we have taught rhetoric, rather than how we have studied it? Since pedagogies both embody and reveal theories, it is possible to track similarities and differences in our evolving disciplinary understanding of rhetoric and its applications and goals by understanding the history of its pedagogies. While scholars from our separate fields have worked on such histories (e.g., Cohen in Communication and Crowley in rhetoric and composition), these histories and their implications for theory and practice have seldom been compared. Yet, as the late Michael Leff argued, the history of our pedagogies could not only inform a convergence in our institutional understanding of rhetoric but also open up productive conceptual spaces for our theoretical debates.

Both the RSA and the Association of Rhetorical Societies were created to enable conversations about rhetoric. Yet without understanding the differing contexts in which our shared work is practiced and taught, we often miss each otherʼs point. This seminar explores these contexts, taking as a starting point the following questions:

  • What are our pedagogical histories? What practices have we ever had in common? How have our pedagogical practices diverged?
  • Disciplines inhabit universities and professional associations. Do the differences between rhetoricians who occupy different institutional spaces constitute creative materials for teaching and theorizing? Or are they just incompatible paradigms?
  • When rhetoricians join together to offer hybrid writing and speaking courses, how might their approach to the curriculum differ, how might it overlap, and what do they have to learn from each other?
  • How does the relationship of our scholarship to teaching differ? How does it overlap?
  • What institutional, intellectual and practical pressures provoke tensions between our two disciplines?

The work of the seminar will be simultaneously an examination of the comparative history of speech and writing pedagogy and an inquiry into the basic questions of rhetorical theory, for the purpose of developing joint understandings of what is essentially a cultural difference born of our differing contexts – intellectual, institutional and labor – within the academy. Seminar participants will read rhetoricians of the early twentieth century on the above questions as well as the more recent debate in RSQ begun by Steven Mailloux in 2000. Increasingly, we cannot be isolated in our disciplines, and this seminar will be important to anyone who has wondered, "What in the world are they talking about?" when engaging someone talking about rhetoric from the other discipline.

Questions should be directed to Roxanne Mountford at

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