Rhetoric and Cultural Studies

Blair, Carol and Neil Michel. “Commemorating in the Theme Park Zone: Reading the Astronauts Memorial.” At the Intersection: Cultural Studies and Rhetorical Studies. Ed. Thomas Rosteck. New York: Guilford, 1999. 29–83.

Blair and Michel point to rhetoric’s tendency to separate it’s analysis from the lived experiences of the audience. Specifically, rhetoric looks at the text’s ideal purpose and reception.This is limited because rhetoric doesn’t consider the actual response of the audience and, most important, why the actual response of the audience doesn’t align with the text’s purpose. In addition, rhetoric confines the text’s genre within a box, not considering what the genre means in other contexts. Thus, rhetoric freezes the rhetorical situation, making persuasion symbolic, a dream, but cultural studies seems to ground rhetorical analysis in reality. Discourses act on audiences and other discourses and can leave lasting influences.

Harold, Christine. “Pranking rhetoric: ‘Culture Jamming’ as Media Activism.” Critical Studies in Media Communication. 21.3 (2004): 189–211. Print.


Harold ‘s study of pranks as cultural jamming questions challenges the conceptions that make up rhetoric, that is, a clear trustworthy rhetor who makes an argument that gives new insight. The three case studies Harold describes reveal persuasion does not have to rely on facts or evidence. The activist groups augument commercial rhetoric’s power using exposure and example rather than long, elaborate arguments. Cultural jamming isn’t perfect and it’s not a replacement for traditional rhetorical moves, but it should be a consideration for intervening complex corporate messages.


Both readings include interesting methodology models. Blair and Michel seem to over convincing reasons cultural studies can augment the work of rhetorical analysis. I could see myself combining these approaches with a close rhetorical analysis of multiple campaigns within the learn to code movement (to borrow a suggested method by Steward and company).  In what ways do “culture” impact the rhetorical moves of learn to code campaigns? What are the intended receptions from the audience and how does the audience pushback against the message? How, then, does a campaign shift its message to shift the audience reception closer to its expectations? These questions could frame my analysis and perhaps bring some rich and robust findings. Harold’s approach asks me to think beyond what would be consider a text; how is media not so much as a well-crafted argument but rather an experience or an example? For example, if I go back to the #YesWeCode mission video and analyze as a moment for viewers or a series of viewers, what results would that yield? What insights do I gather that can help contextualize my research on programming language as a literacy and its relationship with the knowledge economy?  Overall, I have to consider not just the argument present in the media these campaigns use but also what the physical spaces used for teaching coding are. I feel like that needs some attention: how are they presented considering that the classroom broadly is a contentious location for Black people.


What are the limitations of cultural studies, and how does rhetoric fill those gaps?

What do pranks–in the sense of media, as Harold sees it–look like in digital spaces? How does cultural jamming work in social media?

Published by aabyrd

I'm the instructor for WCATY's Media Studies in a Digital Age course for Summer 2015.

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