S611 - Studies in Rhetorical Theory:

Rhetoric and the Problem of the Public

  Instructor: John Louis Lucaites Last Taught: Summer 1994

In a recent cartoon Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes call attention, in their inimitable and allusive way, to the taken-for-granted cultural assumption that the contemporary American " public" has been subverted by a consumer-oriented mass society motivated by a hierarchy of privatized interests and concerns. It also calls attention to a series of critical/ theoretical questions that have plagued those interested in rhetorical studies since at least Winans', Wichelns', Hudson's and Hunt's path breaking essays of the 1920s defining the ground and substance of "public speaking." Although the specific issues addressed by this foursome have shifted in recent times to a concern for the ways in which the concept of the (or a) public circulates in debates over the relationships between rhetoric (communication), epistemology (truth/knowledge), and ethics (morality/power), the fundamental and unresolved theoretical questions remain the same: To what does the word "public" or the phrase "public communication" refer? What is/are the relationship(s) between "publicity" and discourse? How does one know a public when one sees (or hears) one? What are the appropriate topics of consideration for public deliberation? And how are public issues and matters mediated in social relations? These are the questions that will guide us for the next six weeks as we strive to frame our own critical/theoretical stances toward the relationship between rhetoric and "the public."

We will approach our task in three stages. First, we will examine the two primary ways in which contemporary American rhetorical scholars have characterized "the public," i.e., as rhetorical agent or as rhetorical scene. Second, we will examine the two theoretical works that have had the most influence on Anglo-American and Continental theorists interested in the relationship between rhetoric/communication and the public in recent times: John Dewey's The Public and Its Problems, written in 1927, and Jürgen Habermas's The Structural Trans-formation of the Public Sphere, written in 1962, but only recently translated into English. Finally, we will consider a series of essays that address Habermas's work with an eye toward theorizing the larger problem of the public in a democratic society. Throughout the semester we will pay particularly close attention to the implications that any conceptualization of the public has for the future of American rhetorical studies -- theoretically, critically, historically, and pedagogically.


The books listed below are all required readings and can be purchased at the IU Bookstore or TIS. During the first two weeks we will also be looking at some journal articles and book chapters. These readings will be left on reserve in Bonnie's office for anyone who doesn't already have access to them.

Dewey, John. The Public and its Problems. Chicago: Swallow Press, 1927.

Habermas and the Public Sphere. Ed. Craig Calhoun. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992.

Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An

Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Trans. Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989. Orig. pub. 1962.

Sennett, Richard. The Fall of Public Man: On the Social Psychology of Capitalism.

New York: Vintage Books, 1974. (Note: We will read Parts I, II, and IV of this book as part of our regularly scheduled discussions. It is assumed that you will read Part III on your own before the end of the semester).


ASSIGNMENTS. Although S611 is listed as a "studies" or "reading" class, my intention is to treat it as a research seminar in contemporary rhetorical theory -- at least insofar as such is possible in a 6 week summer term. In my vocabulary a research seminar is an intensive examination of a specific topic or issue through common readings and independent research projects. The primary purpose of such a seminar is to provide a forum for developing one's own original contributions to the topic or issue under consideration by taking advantage of the group's collective interest in that topic or issue. Accordingly, I have organized the seminar so as to generate lively debate and discussion that will hopefully enhance both your critical understanding of the relationship between rhetoric and "the public," and your individual thinking and writing on this topic. It is my firm expectation that with the help of the seminar each of you will have develop the foundations for a project that would warrant submission to a journal for publication consideration. To that end, I am asking you to participate in three types of assignments:

1. Reading Assignments. I am committed to a climate in this seminar characterized by a sharing of knowledge rather than a pooling of ignorance. The foundation of my commitment must be rigid insistence on the active and responsive completion of all reading assignments before we meet. Active reading is in my mind characterized by your thinking in response to an author's writing. Responsive reading disdains repetitious outlining of a piece and avoids formulaic value judgments regarding the quality of research or writing -- we all can read and there is a problem or fact of interest even in the shallowest research and poorest writing. As a general rule, responsive reading will either (1) use readings as the basis for formulating an interesting research question; (2) use a reading as a foil to develop an interesting positive argument regarding some problem or issue relevant to the seminar; or (3) treat an author as an opponent worth refuting and correcting on points of fact, interpretation, or theory. In any case, a responsive reading is argumentative. It makes, justifies, elaborates, and/or establishes a claim on the behavior or belief of members of this seminar. All reading assignments for this seminar are required and it is my assumption that each member of the seminar will be prepared at each class meeting to share their engagement with the days readings, as well as to actively and responsively engage each other's thoughts in the spirit of free and open debate and inquiry.

2. Position Papers. Each seminar member is required to prepare two short position papers (3-5 pp. + endnotes; typed, double-spaced) on the course readings. The purpose of such papers is to identify and express a specific position concerning some aspect or dimension of a particular reading as it relates to issues and interests that are or should be of relevance to contemporary rhetorical theorists concerned with the general problem of "the public." Typically two position papers will be assigned for each class period from 5/21 to 6/11 and class discussion on those days will commence with a presentation of one or another of those papers. The first position papers, due on 5/21, 5/25, and 5/28, will be written on either Dewey's The Public and Its Problems or Habermas' The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (Part I and Part II). The second position paper, due on 6/01, 6/04, 6/08, and 6/11, will be written on a pair or trio of essays reflecting on the problem of "the public." The second position paper should be written so that it intertextualizes some relevant aspect of the assigned readings for the day. My intention is that all of the position papers assigned for a given day will be presented in the seminar, though occasionally that might prove to be impossible. In any event, each seminar member will present at least one of his/her position papers to the seminar. I will take volunteers for position paper topics.

3. Independent Research. If this were a real seminar I would expect each member to frame, develop, and execute a research project designed to theorize (i.e., describe, analyze, and interpret) some aspect or dimension of the relationship between rhetoric and "the public" through the careful consideration of some discrete body of discourse. Six weeks simply does not allow the time necessary to execute such a project . As an alternative, I am asking each member of the seminar to prepare a prospectus for such a study that you might execute at a later date. If you are working on a thesis or dissertation prospectus you might turn this project in that direction somehow. The prospectus should frame and justify an appropriate research question/hypothesis /thesis concerning some aspect of the relationship between rhetoric and the public and explain how you might go about answering/testing/proving it through a specific study that you outline and justify. The prospectus should be 7-10 pp. + endnotes and should demonstrate a sensitivity to at least some of the issues raised in the seminar. The prospectus should also demonstrate an awareness of the literature on rhetoric and "the public" that goes beyond the syllabus for this course. You will make a brief, 10-15 minute presentation of your prospectus to the seminar on 6/17.

GRADING. I find the whole process of grading graduate students in advanced level classes to be both annoying and absurd. You are all professional scholars, and if you are not motivated by your personal interest in and commitment to your research, then the difference between my assessment of A and a C is unlikely to have any serious effect on the work you do. Put as simply and directly as I can, knowing you all as I do, I fully expect everyone in this seminar to perform A level work. Having said that, we must acknowledge the demands of the institution in which we reside. Hence, I will assign grades according to the following weighting:

2 Position Papers @ 25% = 50%

1 Research Prospectus @25% = 25%

Class Participation @ 25% = 25%

CONFERENCES. My official office hours are listed above, and as you can see, they are relatively limited. Nevertheless, I am always available to graduate students for conferences during the day on TF when you can catch me in my office or by appointment. I will generally not be available on MWR, but if an emergency comes up, or it is impossible for you to meet with me on TF, please feel free to call me at home. My home phone number is 317-535-0719. Please feel free to use it between the hours of 8:00 AM and 9:00 PM. When I am not on campus I check my e-mail several times a day (Prism::Lucaites) and that is an easy way to get in touch with me.


5/11 Introduction to S611 -- Studies in Communication: Rhetoric and The Public

5/14 Rhetoric and the Public in Contemporary Rhetorical Studies I -- "The Public" as Rhetorical Agent

Read: Bitzer, Lloyd. "Rhetoric and Public Knowledge" in Don M. Burks, Ed., Rhetoric, Philosophy, and Literature: An Exploration. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1978. 67-94.

McGee, Michael Calvin. "In Search of 'The People': A Rhetorical Alternative." QJS 61 (1975): 235-249.

McGee, Michael Calvin. "Power to the <People>." CSMC 4 (1987): 432-436.

Smith, Craig R. and Michael J. Hyde. "Rethinking 'The Public': The Role of Emotion in Being-With-Others." QJS, 77(1991): 446-466.

Sennett, Richard, The Fall of Public Man, 1-43.


5/18 Rhetoric and the Public in Contemporary Rhetorical Studies II -- "The Public" as a Locus (Scene) of Rhetorical Action

Read: Goodnight, G. Thomas. "The Personal, Technical, and Public Spheres of Argument: A Speculative Inquiry. JAFA 18 (1981): 214-227.

Goodnight, G. Thomas. "Public Discourse." CSMC 4 (1987): 428-432.

Hauser, Gerard A. and Carole Blair. "Rhetorical Antecedents to the Public." PreText 3 (1982): 139-167.

Hauser, Gerard A. "Features of the Public Sphere." CSMC 4 (1987): 437-441.

Sennett, Richard, The Fall of Public Man, 47-122.

5/21 Romanticizing the Public in American Democracy

Read: Lippman, Walter. "The Public and Its Role" in Clinton Rossiter and James Lare, Eds., The Essential Lippmann: A Political Philosophy for Liberal Democracy. New York: Vintage Books, 1963. 85-126. (Note: Read all of the excerpts, but focus in particular on those written in the 1920s and 1930s).

Dewey, John. The Public and Its Problems, 3-219.

5/25 Habermas and the Public Sphere -- Constituting the Public

Read: Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, 1-140 (and translators note xv-xvi).

5/28 Habermas and the Public Sphere -- Transforming the Public

Read: Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, 141-250.


6/01 Philosophizing the Public Sphere

Read: Benhabib, Seyla. "Models of Public Space: Hannah Arendt, the Liberal Tradition, and Jürgen Habermas," Habermas and the Public Sphere (hereafter HPS), 73-98.

Fraser, Nancy. "Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy," HPS, 109-142.

Schudson, Michael. "Was There Ever a Public Sphere? If So, When? Reflections on the American Case," HPS, 143-163.

6/04 Historicizing the Public Sphere - I

Read: Baker, Keith Michael. "Defining the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century France: Variations on a Theme by Habermas," HPS, 181-211.

Zaret, David. "Religion, Science, and Printing in the Public Spheres in Seventeenth-Century England," HPS, 212-235.

6/08 Historicizing the Public Sphere - II

Read: Ryan, Mary P. "Gender and Public Access: Women's Politics in Nineteenth- Century America," HPS, 259-288.

Eley, Geoffrey. "Nations, Publics, and Political Cultures: Placing Habermas in the Nineteenth-Century," HPS, 289-339.

6/11 Rhetoricizing the Public Sphere

Read: Garnham, Nicholas. "The Media and the Public Sphere," HPS, 359-76.

Warner, Michael. "The Mass Public and the Mass Subject," HPS, 377-402.


6/15 Rhetoric and the Public in Contemporary Rhetorical Studies Rediva: "The Public" as Agent, Scene, or Agency

Read: Habermas, Jürgen. "Further Reflections," HPS, 421-457.

Sennett, Richard. The Fall of Public Man, 257-340.

6/17 Presentations of Research Prospectuses to the Seminar