Speech was born in human interaction. It coordinates activities (“Lift . . . now”), perceptions (“Look at that bird”), and knowledge of things not immediately perceivable (“many fish are in the river in the next valley”). It also leads people to modify their own behavior and/or states of mind on the basis of the procedures, perceptual categories, and knowledge first received or developed in social interaction. Further, speech articulates the categories by which people may be held socially accountable and provides the means by which people may give accounts of their actions (“If I do this, what would I tell people?”) Such realized potentials of language have proved of immense evolutionary advantage and have become key elements in our sociality and culture. By providing the means to create shared accounts of where we have been and where we are headed, it has made history and future culturally present. The beliefs, accounts, plans, and modes of social organization of oral cultures are cast into a different mode when writing enters.
Although speech and language go back to the beginning of human life, writing is generally thought to have been invented around 5000 years ago (Schmandt-Bessarat, 1992), simultaneous with the development of urban economies, larger political organizations, extensive religions, and many social institutions that have come to characterize the modern world (Goody, 1986).
Human language is built on interaction and activity in context and becomes meaningful and purposeful only in use. Internalized language as well originates in interpersonal interactions and has consequences for our internal self-regulation, using the culturally available categories and imperatives of language (Vygotsky, 1986). Our internal thoughts then reemerge, reformulated in processes of externalization to make ourselves intelligible to others (Mead 1934; Volosinov, 1973; Vygotsky, 1986). People regularly experience externalization as helping them know what they are thinking and clarifying what it is they think. Our later inventions that facilitate communication at a distance grow out of the same socio-cognitive resources and motivations as spoken language—whether fire signals or writing; whether cheap paper or computer screens; whether telegraphy, telephony, or the Internet; whether mail distribution systems or chat rooms; whether a tyrant’s stone tablets in the center of town or a commercial publishing industry. As the means and reach of communication change, our thinking, feeling, and motives may transform and grow in response to the new opportunities; our minds and societies are plastic and creative. But the creativity almost always is intertwined with our fundamental communicative capacities and orientations.
Thus to come to terms with writing and how to do it, we need to understand it both within the human capacity for language and in the social-cultural-historical conditions which have developed dialectically with our writing practices. Considering how we successfully manage to use language in face-to-face interaction will help us understand the challenges we must overcome in order to communicate when we are no longer in the same time and location to coordinate our meanings and actions with each other. In short, a fundamental problem in writing is to be able to understand and recreate the social circumstance and social interaction which the communication is part of, but which is obscured by the transmission of the words over time and space from one apparent set of social circumstances to another. We can understand much about writing if we understand how writing overcomes this difficulty, to help us locate our written communications in socio-cultural history, where written messages are coming from, and where they are going to.
Face-to-Face speech, the condition within which language developed historically, occurs in a specific shared time and place. We speak to the people in front of us, as part of the events unfolding before us, in response to the comments we have just heard. We speak in the clothes we have worn that day and in the roles, statuses, and relationships we inhabit among those people we speak with. We see and feel all this in our bodies, viscerally. Seeing where we are, we react and speak. We say hello to a neighbor, good morning to a lover, and “I’ll take care of that right now Ms. Johnson, immediately” to our boss.
In these moments of immediate transactions we can make distant people and events imaginatively present by mentioning them. “Remember Mr. Jawari? You know, Jackie’s teacher. Well, I saw him over at the mall yesterday . . .” Or we can have distant unmentioned circumstances and relations in our minds, influencing how we talk and what we talk about. We may remember our parents telling us how to behave in public as we meet new neighbors. Our response to a sales pitch can be tempered by thinking about our vanishing bank account. Similarly our interlocutors name things they want to remind us of or show us for the first time. We may sometimes even guess (though not necessarily accurately) the urgencies and exigencies in their own life that stand behind their behavior and talk (“Why are they mentioning this to me now?”). But these non-present presences need to be evoked and mutually acknowledged in the conversation for them to be part of the meanings and activities realized in the here and now of talk (Sacks, 1995). That is, only when the child’s teacher or the empty bank account are mentioned and oriented to by the people talking together do they become a shared object of attention, a topic of conversation—otherwise they remain private individual orientations open only to speculation by our interlocutors about what was on our mind.
A central problem and task of spoken interaction is alignment within a shared communicative space. Alignment starts with the initiating task of gaining the attention of the one we wish to talk to and continues as people attend toward each other and what they may be conveying. People look at each other or stare toward the same point in space. Their bodies take mutually responsive postures—opening toward each other or backing away, arms folding in similar positions or gesturing into the space between. They also align to each other’s speech patterns—coordinating turns, adopting similar and coordinated rhythms and intonations, adjusting to each other’s accents and dialects (Chafe, 1994). Further, they align to each other’s meanings projected into the public space of talk. They take up common referents, themes, and knowledge introduced into the talk by prior speakers, they adopt mutually confirming assumptions (Sachs, 1995). They take what has been said as a given—both as meaning and action. Indeed, in the way they take up and use what has been said before they retrospectively interpret and create the continuing meaning of previous utterances.
Alignment is so crucial to the maintenance of conversation that people regularly and consistently repair the talk when they feel that there has been some breach that will disrupt the flow of talk, the social alignment of participants, or the mutual coordination of meanings (Schegloff et al., 1977). Unless the talk is repaired, the conversation can break and participants fall away. Such repairs may correct misunderstandings, such as who was being discussed, but can also involve backing away from something that was previously placed in the shared space of interaction. Saying something was only meant as a joke or is not really important indicates that what had been mentioned previously ought not to be attended to as the interaction moves forward.
Through alignment of speech activities, referents, interactional roles and relations, speech participants create a mutually recognized space of interaction, which has been called footing (Goffman, 1981) or frame (Goffman, 1974; Tannen, 1993). This footing goes beyond the recognition of the physical space and set of participants one is within to giving it a particular social characterization or shape. Thus by the change of posture or a few words one can reorient the attention of a group engaged in a political argument to a shared moment of satirical laughter, and then into a discussion of comics. Or if one person indicates by facial gesture that he hears another’s comments as an insult, all eyes focus on the social conflict and leave the substance of the discussion behind. This reorientation from one kind of scene to another is facilitated because we come to recognize patterned kinds of social scenes, interactions, and utterances. We see events as similar to other events and recognize them as of a kind, or genre.
The social understandings evoked in the speech-mediated framings can even change perception and definition of the visible material event (Hanks, 1996). As one person starts to recount a recent injury, a previously unnoticed discoloring of the skin begins to loom large and become visible as a bruise. An intimate interactive space can suddenly be opened up when one of the participants waves to a friend across the street.
Codes and Contexts
In daily life, we come to use and understand language within specific events, shaped by the language as the events unfold. We use language on the fly as part of emerging interactional dramas that change with every new word uttered. Yet when we study or think about language, we look at it in a very different way, focusing on the small components we carry across many kinds of situations—the recognizably different sounds, the words, the organization of words into propositions. Linguistic prescriptions and descriptions share this atomized view of language, which then is reproduced in grammars and dictionaries—the practical tools that popularly represent knowledge of a language, but stripped of use in particular interactions.
Early learning of a first spoken language, as developmental linguists point out, however, occurs largely in face-to-face interaction among already competent language users of the community. Children may show at certain moments of development an awareness of the code as code—asking repeatedly “what is that?” as they begin to amass words, or as they hyper-correct and then soften grammatical regularities as a result of increasing information. However, spoken first language use and learning is much less a reflective and codified experience as it is an accumulation of situated practical experiences in the course of daily interaction.
The study of written language has been dominated by code concerns—writing systems, spelling, grammar, generalized word meanings, organizational patterns. This abstracted view of written language may have partly emerged because written texts come from beyond the immediate social situation, specifically to allow travel to different times and places. Thus writing appears have a kind of contextlessness, which might be better characterized as trans-contextedness. Communication at a distance through writing certainly has burdens of being interpretable without all the supporting apparatus of face-to-face interaction; it also has a further burden of creating an interactional context at a distance that makes the communication meaningful and consequential.
The linguistic, educational, interpretive, and regulatory practices that have developed around writing have reinforced the impression of a contextless code with universal meaning carried within the text, as long as that code was competently understood and produced. Formal language instruction developed first in the transmission of dead classical languages—that is, language which is not learned in ordinary meaningful communications in interaction with live speakers. Further these classical languages were used to access texts distant from the immediate culture for a kind of transcultural, universalized veneration, or for the maintenance of universal truths embodied in sacred texts. The coincident development of printing, state bureaucracies, and cultural hegemonies in the East and West fostered additionally code regulation—regulation of characters and spelling, morphology, and syntax. This code-regulation was enforced and rewarded through systems of class and power to create cultures of correctness that again appeared as contextless markers of legitimacy to be on display in every situation.
Communication at a Distance
Yet written language can gain its meanings only as part of meaningful social interactions. An uncontexted snippet of written code is no more meaningful than an unidentified snippet of audiotape—probably less because we have fewer clues of where it came from (through accent or background sounds) and interaction (through multiple speakers, intonation, rhythm, and the like). We can gain a glimpse of this problem if we consider the difficulties people have in interpreting archeological fragments of texts. The interpretation rests not just on breaking the code, but on reconstructing the context of use within which the utterance was meaningful—often a very local context of a farmer’s granary or a merchant’s counting house.
As writing began to carry messages across distances and situations, it was delivered with visible symbols of its social meaning. Early messengers would carry the signs of authority of the message senders, would speak in the name of the king or other sender, and would command the respect granted to the sender. Thus not only the message, but the social arrangements were extended over distance.
Even such spare communications at a distance as the signal fires that carried the news of the end of the Trojan War, as recounted in the Iliad, depended on enormous social contexting to be meaningful. The signaling enterprise only made sense in the context of the end of a momentous war, the return of troops from a distance, and the interests of the Greeks at home. It was only made possible by organizing a widespread group of individuals, carefully placed at sites visible to other selected sites, and aligned to the task of noting and reproducing fire. Finally, its interpretation depended on the initiators and receivers having a shared, prearranged meaning of the symbol. Two millennia later, when the French created a nationwide system of semaphore telegraphs, they needed an entire bureaucracy to manage the signal, direct the messages to appropriate parties, and create contexts of meaning for the messages, which served a limited range of defined military purposes. Smoke signals and talking drums equally are embedded within well-focused and aligned systems of relations, communications, meanings, and social moments.
In the later half of the nineteenth century the telephone opened opportunities for vocal communication at a distance, soon fostering focused, recognizable contexts of uses and means of signaling those contexts. At first U.S. telephone companies were small and local with a limited number of subscribers already familiar with each other, for example within a town. The telephone communications simply carried on and extended pre-existing relationships, largely business—and thus each telephonic transaction was well-embedded within a familiar set of business arrangements. Even then, telephone companies needed to offer instruction in a new etiquette for initiating conversations, identifying parties speaking, and introducing the specific occasion and transaction (Fischer, 1992). As the telephone uses expanded to social calling, further etiquettes were needed to signify the call.
Today any experienced user of the telephone can rapidly recognize the source and nature of the many calls we now receive from even unknown callers, including fund raising, sales, and political calls. Recognizable contexts have emerged in the patterns of individual calls, typical transactions, on-going networks of relations, and organizational structures that have developed around the phone, including banks of commercial callers, phone hotlines, emergency services, polling organizations, phone-order sales, and product help. The importance of establishing those contexts of meaning is made salient to us every time we make a mistake and misattribute a call for a few moments, until we realize that this is not a friendly call from a neighbor, but a fund raising call for the youth organization; that this is not an independent call from an independent polling agency, but a political pitch from an interest group.
Similarly, sound recording developed an entertainment industry, on one side, with highly genred products offering anticipatable messages, activities, and amusements to be invoked on appropriate occasions, with a rapidly developing etiquette—where and when it was acceptable or desirable to play which kind of recording at what volume. On the business side, recording technologies developed for individualized, contexted messages, such as a reminder to oneself or dictation for one’s secretary. These highly localized messages have specific meanings for identifiable people in specific relation to the person recording the message, often within a specific time frame. Now digital technologies have facilitated a proliferation of personally produced sound and video files which are developing their new kinds, functions, circulation, and etiquettes—and thus anticipatibility and means of interpretation.
Presidential speeches to the public via radio and television are a good example of how contexts are provided, even beyond the well-understood relation of a leader speaking to constituencies. Annual “State of the Nation” reports to the legislature provided one kind of forum, and speeches on national crises, another. The broadcast press conference grew out of journalistic interview practices, and bear much of the flavor of reporters going after stories and an office holder defending policies and practices in the face of inquiry. But when during the Depression the U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to use the radio to create a more direct and regular channel to the citizens, he recreated a fireside atmosphere evoking intimacy of the head of households gathering families together. Such regular messages of hope and planning, addressing problems in a calm everyday manner, have developed a new kind of context of mass intimacy of leadership. Only insofar as that bond of trusting intimacy is maintained are such messages meaningful.
Writing, of course, was among the earliest forms of communication at a distance and has become the most extensive, diverse, and pliable of means of communication at a distance—even as the medium of delivery has changed from a messenger bearing a letter to mass-marketed publications, to digital packets flowing over the internet. To develop a rhetoric of writing, to understand what we must accomplish to write successfully, we need to address how writing communicates at a distance, how it can create contexts of meaningful interaction, and how it can speak to the contexts it evokes and participates in. There are some uses of writing that have no greater distance than face-to-face conversation, as when people sitting next to each other pass notes in response to a lecturer’s comments—an ironic “sure” scribbled. But even if the note is to be passed across the room, it would need to display much of the context that would have vanished by the time the note reached its destination. The note would at least have to indicate who wrote it and who was to receive it as well what the offending words were to remind the reader on the other side of the room of what was said five minutes ago that so exercised his ironic friend.
Rhetoric and Writing
The problem of context is crucial to writing, yet it is elusive. Writing comes to us on pieces of paper or digital screens that look very much one like another, obscuring where the message may have come from, where it was intended to go, and what purpose it was intended to carry out in what circumstances. If texts travel through time and space, where is their context? Do they make their own contexts, which they then speak to? Unless we have means to address such questions, our approaches to understanding what to write and the meaning of others’ writings are limited to issues of code (spelling, vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and style) and decontextualized meanings (imagining such things could in fact exist). The answers to these questions will give us the basis on which to form a rhetoric for written language, a rhetoric which will differ in significant ways from the traditional one formed around problems of high-stakes public speech in political and deliberative contexts.
Rhetoric is the reflective practical art of strategic utterance in context from the point of view of the participants, both speaker and hearer, writer and reader. That is, rhetoric helps us think about what we might most effectively use words to meet our ends in social interchange, and helps us think about what others through their words are attempting to do with us. The reflection is both productive, in leading to new utterance and further action, and critical in helping us evaluate what has already transpired, presumably with an eye toward future practice—knowing what stances to take to others and widening our repertoire and reflective capabilities to act knowingly. While rhetoric as a field of study has also developed analytical and philosophic components and many rhetorical scholars see themselves primarily as theorists, the field is founded on human communicative practice and its value to society is in its ability to support more effective, more thoughtful practice. The theories presented in this and the companion volume are, therefore, committed to this end rather than the resolution of theoretical problems, though many theoretical problems may need to be addressed along the way.
Rhetoric differs in substantial ways from the other disciplines of language, first because it does not take disembodied code as its starting point. Code, for rhetoric, is a resource to be deployed in concrete situations for individual and communal purposes and activities, which are the primary concern. Similarly, abstracted meanings that might be deployed in any situation are secondary to the purpose and effect they are used for. Meanings do not exist as fixed absolutes within themselves and the signs used to evoke them, but to be deployed, constructed, imaginatively evoked, as the rhetor’s purposes and strategic plan in particular situations warrant. Meanings and truths arise in the course of human inquiry and activity.
Rhetoric is also different from the other arts of language because it adopts the point of view of the users, rather than the unengaged stance of the analyst of the code. Rhetoric is built for action, rather than static description. Rhetoric’s fundamental questions have to do with how to accomplish things, rather than what things are. How language works in context is worth knowing because it lets you know how to use it. The concepts are ones that help you locate yourself in the activity, define your concerns, and recognize and mobilize resources for interaction.
Thus rhetoric is strategic and situational, based on the purposes, needs, and possibilities of the user, the resources available then and there to be deployed, and the potentialities of the situation. While rhetoric identifies some general processes and resources of communicative interaction, these are tools to understand local situations and heuristics in helping the speaker decide what to say, how to say it, and how to go about constructing the statement. Rhetoric is cast in terms of purposes and possibilities and future outcomes. It supports activity informed by goals rather than at already finished objects. Even the completed text to be critically analyzed is considered in its social, persuasive effects and not its pure textuality. Further the critical analysis has its own further purposes, such as to delegitimate the words of an opponent or to understand effective strategies to be used in future situations. Yet none of these trajectories of action is certain in their outcomes, for the outcomes depend on the purposes, actions, and trajectories of the audience and those who make further utterances.
Because rhetoric is concerned with trajectories of on-going situations from the point of view of the participants, it is also reflective, looking back onto oneself and one’s co-participants. It helps us look at what is going on, so we can do it better. However, the mirror never takes us very far from the situation and our engagement in it. It only offers a bit of perspective with which to watch ourselves as we remain engaged. Rhetoric is an applied art, applied to ourselves, to direct our own courses of action. Even if professional rhetoricians give advice or instruction to clients, that advice only becomes of use as people themselves incorporate the advice or principles into their actions. There are limits to what a rhetorician can usefully advise in a general way beyond some conceptual categories for considering the situation without enquiring deeply of the person being advised about their situation, goals, resources and capabilities. When such an inquiry takes place, the rhetorician inevitably becomes a collaborator in the rhetor’s thinking about and response to the situation.
Thus, what a rhetoric can most usefully offer, rather than specific prescriptions about what to say or write and how to say, is conceptual tools to ponder one’s rhetorical situation and choices. If, however, situations are heavily constrained and practices typified and even regulated, then specific advice might be usefully given, but at the cost of constraining the writer’s range of action and choices. In the extreme such advice takes the form of instruction manuals on how to fill out bureaucratic forms or directions to sales clerks on how to fill out the sales screens at the cashier terminal. In such cases rhetorical choices are few and the writer’s agency is limited. Professional style manuals that give guidance on how to produce work that meets the minimum standards of that profession also constrain by intention. Yet such style manuals leave substantial opportunities for the writer to express professional judgment and to influence what is said, and what meanings are conveyed within the regulated constraints—for otherwise it wouldn’t be a profession.
The rhetoric offered in this volume, however, will not take for granted or foster any particular set of constraints or practices. Accordingly, it will not offer prescriptions or ready-made solutions for particular writing situations. Here, rather, I will attempt to create a rhetoric of wide generality, relevant to all written texts in all their historical and contemporary variety. This rhetoric will provide principles to understand any particular set of constraints and typified practices in any focused domain, and could be used to uncover the rhetorical logic in any set of instructions or style book. This rhetoric can help us see that those who construct the bureaucratic forms or compose the professional style manuals themselves exert extraordinary rhetorical power in shaping the situations, interactions, discourse, and meanings of others. This rhetoric will help us see how different social systems use writing to pursue their activities, and how we can act most effectively within them—potentially even bypassing, subverting, or transforming them through strategic action. While examples may be drawn from many domains, the constraints of any of them will not be taken as absolute or general, but only applicable in the specific situation. This rhetoric is aimed at recognizing the diversity of activities using writing that have developed over the five thousand years of literacy, and how we can effectively navigate in the complex literate world we now live into pursue our interests through the opportunities and resources at hand.
Origins of Rhetoric
Most societies have proverbial wisdom on how people should talk—implying a widespread recognition that one can reflect on one’s language use to guide practice. One of my favorites is the central Asian adage, “If you are going to tell the truth, you should have one foot in the stirrup.” But the most extensive and prominent reflection on strategic communication arose in ancient Greece and Rome. The vigorous tradition of classical rhetoric developed fundamental concepts of rhetorical situations and how situations can be addressed. As well it identified some of the fundamental resources available to speakers and the ways in which language works upon people. A number of the concepts and resources of classical rhetoric will be important within this and the companion volume. However, classical rhetoric was concerned with only a limited range of culturally embedded practices, all of which were oral and political, involving high-stakes contentions. Its primary concerns were the public speeches of the agora or market place addressing criminal guilt and innocence (forensic rhetoric), matters of public policy (deliberative rhetoric), or celebration of the state, communal values, and rhetorical artfulness (epideictic rhetoric). The rhetorical analysis of situations, the kinds of goals, the anticipated interactive processes, the resources considered available, and the media of communication all were shaped around the agora. These forms of rhetoric are most directly applicable to speechmaking in successor institutions, often consciously modeled on classical forms: courts, legislatures, and political gatherings. Nonetheless, these institutions have changed radically by literate practices as courts of law have now become saturated with written precedents, filings, briefs, records, and other texts and legislatures must deal with lengthy bills, technical reports of commissions, paperwork generated by office staff and government bureaucracies, and journalistic accounts that reach a wider public sphere.
Furthermore, many domains of speech in the ancient world were not brought under rhetorical scrutiny, were not made the object of a discipline of strategic reflection. Sales talk in the marketplace, although likely filled with a wide folk repertoire of tricks and stances, remained outside the purview of classic rhetoric. The language of commerce had to await the rise of business schools and the marketing professions (themselves tied to the rise of wide-circulation periodicals and large industrial corporations with extended markets) to become systematically considered. Similarly, talk with intimates (though we presume it went on in the classical world) was not the object of professional attention until the twentieth century, except for risqué poetic advice in the ars amoris tradition.
Moreover, although literacy was widespread in Greece and Rome by the time systematic rhetoric arose and despite the fact that rhetorical manuals were written, very little attention was given to how one should write, except as a means of scripting oral production (as Plato derides in the Phaedrus). Some passing remarks were made on the style appropriate for letters, and a separate smaller tradition of ars poetica arose, but the problems of how to write largely remained unexamined.
Since then periodic attempts to consider writing rhetorically and to extend the genres and concerns of rhetoric beyond high-stakes public argumentation have been limited and have not yet resulted in a fully rhetorical consideration of written communication. In the Middle Ages, the ars dicitaminas and ars notaria were systematic attempts to consider letter and document writing. Despite enduring consequences for bureaucracy, law, business contracts, and accountancy, they have had little long-term impact on canonical rhetorical teaching. In the Renaissance rhetoric attended to stylistic refinement that suggests a kind of word-crafting and revision facilitated by writing, but there was no attention to the fundamental problems of communication posed by writing.
In the eighteenth century, the emergence of natural philosophy, public journals, and new social ideologies—all of which decreased power of centralized elites and used writing to connect widespread but increasingly important publics—gave rise to attempts to reformulate rhetoric around the effect of texts on the sympathetic imaginations and understandings of readers, by such figures as Joseph Priestley, Adam Smith, and George Campbell. For a variety of ideological and institutional reasons, over the long term this broad reconsideration of rhetoric narrowed its focus to belles-lettristic rhetoric and became a precursor to literary studies, increasingly distanced from the discursive needs of daily situations and exercising power within the literate practices of modernity.
As the teaching of writing became a regular and widespread component of higher education in the late nineteenth century United States, another theory of written texts came to dominate education. This theory assumed a correlation between faculties of human understanding and a small number of patterns of textual exposition (known as the modes; Connors, 1981). The theory and the accompanying pedagogy did not attempt to contend with the wide range of social uses of writing, the many different social systems writing was part of, range of goals and interests of writers, or the variety of potential readers with different interests and different situations. That is, as a rhetoric, while reflective of individual understanding (according to a particular psychological theory), it was not strategic or situational. It rather assumed a constrained uniformity of understanding, activities, and goals. This limited range of rhetorical activities were congruent with the discourse practiced in the expanding university in the United States during the period between the Civil War and World War II, aimed at producing a professional class of managers, based on a model that ideologically foregrounded individuality and dispassionate reason and suppressed contention and difference of interest. As the teaching of writing moved away from the rhetorical tradition, in the U.S. in the early twentieth century, speech communication, which remained grounded in classical rhetoric, split from English Departments (Parker, 1967).
Even though classical rhetoric with some modern additions has been reintroduced into the teaching of writing in the U.S (for examples, Corbett, 1965; Crowley & Hawhee, 1994), it would benefit from a fresh reconceptualization around the problems of written communication, with an awareness of the social complexity of contemporary literate society, and deeply incorporating recent social theory and social science. Attempts at reconceptualizing rhetoric on more recent intellectual grounds have in fact been rife since the middle of the twentieth century. Fogarty (1959) in his philosophically oriented Roots for A New Rhetoric draws on mid-century conceptualizations of language and representation from Richards, Burke, and Korzybski. Fogarty, however, does not succeed in synthesizing these into a fresh rhetoric with clear practical consequences for writing. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca (1969) in their New Rhetoric reinterpret Aristotle through legal reasoning and practice. Christensen (1969) grounds his Notes Towards a New Rhetoric in linguistics and stylistics to make new proposals on sentence style. Of these and the many others using the term “new rhetoric” the only one who bases his reconceptualization particularly on the problems of writing is Beale (1989) in A Pragmatic Theory of Rhetoric, though he still identifies his theory as fundamentally Aristotelian and he proceeds on predominantly Aristotelian theoretical and philosophic grounds. This volume directed at rhetorical writing practice and its companion elaborating the intellectual sources of the proposed theory attempt a more radical rethinking of rhetoric based on the problematics of writing and grounded in the thinking of contemporary social sciences, as elaborated in the companion volume.
With increasing rapidity over recent centuries and decades, new social forces have transformed social and cultural assumptions, distribution of work and communications, political and economic arrangements. Social and economic activities have become ever more thoroughly pervaded by literacy and symbolic manipulation—so that people now characterize us as within an information age, information that is multiple and global in origin. At the university discourse has become more complex and reflective, with prior social and cultural assumptions embedded in standard discursive practices increasingly questioned. More narrowly, in the last half century within a reinvigorated discipline of teaching of writing, research and theory has been drawing on wider ranges of social sciences, cultural studies, and humanities and has been addressing a wider range of writing practices in the university, the polity, the economy, and society. While many new lines of thinking about writing have developed, these have yet to be fully articulated in a coherent overview of strategic writing. The most successful model of writing set against the previous pedagogic traditions of modes and forms has been of the writing process, which is a theory of managing how one goes about writing, as an individual and as part of groups. This work, grounded in classical rhetorical theory of invention but adding to that experimental methods of cognitive science, has taken new directions because of the way in which writing supports drafting, revision, and editing—allowing one to hold on to and rework one’s text, as well as to gain others readings perspectives and collaboration. However, process only covers part of what we must think about in writing—even in the oral classical rhetorical tradition, invention was only one of the five canons. The picture of writing drawn in this volume attempts to cover more of what we are starting to understand about writing. This will be a conceptual picture, to inform practical reflection on strategic communication, and thus insists on being considered as a rhetoric, even though it may not look much like previous books with that title. Because this volume considers writing as it manifests in the complexity of the modern world, it will employ many terms and concepts alien to the classical rhetorical tradition. It will deploy what we have been able to learn about the formation and dynamics of situations, the use of texts as active within situations, and the processes by which people interact, communicate, understand, formulate intentions, imagine, and create. And finally it will consider how we shape messages and create meanings within the genred spaces of the texts we write.
The next several chapters will consider where, when, and in which field of action we are writing for. Chapters 4 through 7 will consider the actions, motives, and strategies that give direction to our writing. Chapters 8 through 11 discuss the form our texts take, the meanings we invoke through the text, the experiences we create in our texts, and how we can bring the text to its fullest realization. The final chapter steps back from the text to consider the psychological processes and emotional complexities of writing, so we can understand and manage how we can produce texts with greatest success, least stress, and greatest satisfaction.