Wednesday, January 9, 2013


 Welcome to our Class Blog on Public Discourse. To get us started, I'm going ask a series of questions. In responding to this post, you do not need to answer each and every question that follows. The questions are intended only to get you thinking about the subject of this course. You may respond to any one or more of them, or even none of them specifically (taken together, what do these questions make you think about?), or even ask your own questions. Also feel free to respond instead to other people's comments.

This course "draws on different rhetorical perspectives to read, analyze, and produce public discourse in diverse media for a variety of audiences and purposes." So my first question is: What IS "rhetoric"? or What would a "rhetorical perspective" be?

What constitutes “public” discourse? What is its purpose(s) and how does it actually function in different contexts? (What does it or should it DO or accomplish?)

One way of approaching these questions is to consider a specific example. One of the specific examples (which I'll call "Case Studies") we'll look at is what is typically referred to as "Gun Control." We'll consider a cultural and historical context that includes Columbine, Virginia Tech, and the 2011 shooting in Tuscon, as well as the recent shooting in Connecticut. For the moment, consider this: "NRA Clear on Gun Debate Stance." 

The important thing to remember with this (and any) example is that we (in this course) are not concerned with the issue itself; in other words, we are not concerned with the question "should we have stricter gun control laws?" or "should teachers be armed?" Instead, we are concerned with public discourse about the issue; how do different people talk about the issue? what are the different arguments they make, and how do they make them? What can we say about the language they use? And what perspectives are absent or missing?

What other examples of public discourse about a specific issue are you interested in discussing, and why?


  1. Concerning the question on what public discourse is, as opposed to private, I believe it is the greater ongoing conversation taking place globally. I also believe that no topic should be restricted from public critique, because exposing an idea to the mass and to conflicting views makes for a better idea. The goal of public discourse is to produce and to handle discourse which is useful, or practical, for the greater whole.

  2. I define rhetoric simply as the process of communication. I most frequently use rhetoric when I wish to persuade an audience. To me, public discourse is just another way of saying “public discussion.” As stated in the above post, public discourse mostly focuses on how an issue is discussed, rather than focusing on the issue itself. In the given NRA example, different parties discuss the issue of gun control in different ways. For example, the NRA seems to focus on protecting its own interests (keeping the gun market strong), perhaps even more than finding a solution. Other parties seem more solution oriented, though they obviously have different approaches.

    I’d be interested in analyzing public discourse in a more informal setting—in other words, a topic “less-serious” than gun control.

  3. There are many issues being debated within the community, including blue collar workers and the academics. One of those issues is whether abortion is morally wrong. One side says that the unborn are people, and the other that women have that right over their children.
    This discourse is interesting to me because it reveals some problems we are facing in society, and some of our inner demons, like self-centeredness, impatience, and sexual irresponsibility. One can almost hear the inner monologue, accusing and excusing our culture's thoughts. This makes the relationship between public and private discourse very similar, since those personal thoughts are usually expressed in the culture one way or another. There is nothing original under the sun.

  4. I would define public discourse as how people from different backgrounds, situations, cultures, and countries debate and discuss different small scale and larger scale issues. It can take place within a community, a city, country, or even the world.

    A topic of discussion that interests me is that of whether the arts are worth studying and keeping at universities compared to the more practical subjects of science, math, engineering, etc.

  5. Public discourse should preform as an act of communication. Though public discourse, A person openly reveals their opinion on a topic via a method of media. speaking, writing, etc. Topics that are discussed should not be localized into one subject either. Public Discourse opens one subject matter into many different topics. Also, through debates, public discourse combines persuasion and argument together.

    Within the given example about gun control, many people have different reasons why guns should or should not be used. While one person engages the audience with the idea that guns should be used for safety reasons. "We need to have every single school in America immediately deploy a protection program proven to work -- and by that I mean armed security, (LaPierre)." another person could counter the argument that guns killed the children at the school and guns are the problem; not the solution.
    In addition, the topic of safety concerns isn't the only subject the article brings attention to. The Author also includes concerns about the NRA's plan to provide guns to schools as protection. "Others pointed to the apparent contradiction among conservatives who want to reduce public spending but also support the NRA's idea to arm schools. Who will pay for the thousands of armed guards? several CNN readers asked."

    I would also enjoy learning about public discourse thorugh informal and interpersonal relations. Topics in class about religion and politics are not preferred, but accepted.

  6. I've always been interested in the way people think, and I believe that the way people speak (and communicate in general) offers a lot of in sight into what's going on inside their head. So naturally, it made sense for me to take a class that focuses is on public discourse. By my understanding, public discourse is any kind of discussion between people. This discussion could be about any topic, and could take place at a family dinner table or on the floor of the UN.

    In taking on a professional writing minor, I've become interested in what effects social media and other similar technologies have had on not only writing, but society as a whole. I'm interested to see how this course presents these issues, if at all.

  7. I think of rhetoric more as the way people choose to discuss a particular topic. It is conversation, but it's more about the way words are used and for what purpose than it is about a particular topic.

    I define public discourse as discussions or really any form of communication that is accessible to the public. It exists as a way for people to talk through their ideas or voice their opinions that others can then respond to. I think the purpose of public discourse is to voice opinions and refine ideas. By engaging in public discourse, groups of people can collaboratively come up with new ideas and perhaps realize the flaws in their own opinions once others respond.

    I think it is interesting how with Issues Like Gun Control both sides can be so persuasive. It's also interesting what tactics people use to persuade others to their side. I like topics like this that are so obviously two sided. When one side has the clear majority of support, I do not find that quite as interesting. I would like to examine issues that are current and controversial.

  8. Though it is not addressing a certain question that was asked, I would like to comment on the manner of the NRA representative in the video. I found it very interesting how he swayed the view away from the matter of guns being dangerous by using a huge emotional appeal. This use of pathos was displayed when he accused the public of "leaving our most beloved, innocent, and vulnerable member of the American Family, our children, every day, utterly defenseless." This strategy was probably used in the hopes that the audience would begin to see guns as a positive, something with which to protect our children, rather than the killing machine that gun control advocates have been parading them as since the onslaught of recent school shootings.

    Another issue that I would like to study as a means of learning about rhetoric has actually already been mentioned: the arts within schools. Differentiating from the former mention, however, I would like to look at it in a wider scope, as arts within elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as colleges, and even along with the question "what classes qualify as art classes?" I think that this issue has a large enough base that it would provide plenty of examples for what we are studying.

  9. In my terms, rhetoric could be defined as an effective way to persuade an audience through written words or speech. The rhetorical perspective would then capture the way through which one reflects and the communication that enables knowledge. This coincides with public discourse, the communication and debating in a social standing, which should offer a way for individuals to discuss differing opinions on certain topics in order to persuade others to either believe a certain statement, or to find common ground in disagreements. Public discourse should make people more connected and understanding of one another, even with varied ideology.

    As a journalism student I feel that often the media is the first to offer the public any discussion on a topic of importance; therefore becoming an outlet that needs to find the best way to reach its audience. The rhetoric that is used can often be related to the source of the publication – for example, many individuals only read content that they agree with, such as work that is primarily conservative versus that which is more liberal. This often leads to the arguments and biased language people have or use, without regard to the discussion of an opposing side. I think that the language used, especially from a journalistic standpoint needs to be objective and readers need to understand all angles to have a rational opinion about matters.

    I’d be interested in observing the most effective ways public discourse is used in different digital means – whether live on air and spoken, written for publication in print or web, as well as what can be classified as public discourse on new technologies like social media.

  10. I do not think that rhetoric’s only function is persuasion, but I do believe that persuasion is rhetoric’s primary function in our culture. The recent shooting in Connecticut and the aftermath of debates over gun control, violence in the media, and mental illness are good examples of opposing parties using rhetoric to persuade others towards what actions should be taken to prevent another shooting. Essentially two sides have emerged in this debate. The NRA and many conservatives believe that guns do not cause mass shootings, and the liberals believe that stricter gun control is necessary to prevent mass shootings.

    In recent weeks, we have seen each party employ different rhetorical strategies to argue for or against gun control. The rhetorical strategy taken by the NRA is to shift blame away from guns and onto other entities, entities like violence in the media and the mental health industry. The NRA then uses examples like violent video games to further argue that more guns are needed to protect children. The liberals have employed a more rational and realistic rhetorical strategy to argue for stricter gun control. Journalists like Pierce Morgan cite the violence statistics from other nations that have strict gun rules. While debating an NRA member, Morgan pointed out that since Britain enacted stricter gun rules the number of mass shootings in Britain has dramatically decreased (a similar phenomenon has occurred in Australia).

    The contrasting arguments made by the opposing parties on gun control demonstrate one of rhetoric’s most important functions in a democracy. To create fair change, we should allow opposing viewpoints to express themselves. And in these expressions is where rhetoric occurs.

  11. I think that public discourse is ongoing rhetoric between individuals or groups in a public setting, whether that is in a classroom or through the television. I think the driving force behind public discourse is for the desire to inform others what one (or a group) thinks is true or false. Public discourse allows for debate, critique, discovery, and empathy, which helps create new ideas and solutions. Of course, public discourse does not always lead to such positive outcomes.

    While public discourse allows for what I described above, I would be hesitant to say that is its purpose. I think that the purpose of public discourse is simply to allow groups or individuals to express their opinions in a public forum.

  12. I think that rhetoric is an attempt by a speaker to persuade an audience to think the same way about a situation as they do by using either emotion or logic to gain their trust.

    As for public discourse, I believe that this is a discussion that takes place publicly, which is helpful so that issues are resolved where people from all backgrounds and areas are involved.
    Public discourse helps public opinions be formed where they can be heard.

  13. I believe public discourse is the ability of a person to speak to different audiences. In other words, that person can manipulate their writing to appeal to different audiences.

    It'll be interesting to view such a popular topic (Gun control) in a different way through this class. I'm hoping that by looking at the ways people speak out for or against this issue can help ME learn to do the same.

  14. I believe rhetoric is the art of effective communication. Public discourse is not only the actual communication, but also the study of interaction during the communication. It includes the type of vocabulary used as well as the nonverbal reaction during the communication. It can take place through almost any public medium.

  15. Whenever I think of rhetoric—a term I never really knew until I entered college—I normally think of writing, mainly in persuasion as some have already stated. Rhetoric to me now means not only writing, but also speaking in public, delivering what one (or many people) thinks/feels to an audience of one or thousands, and studying how they can become better at doing so. I find it ironic that I am taking courses where I am studying ways to do that myself when I don’t much care for talking to a group of people and trying to express myself or my views—I never feel like I can make my thoughts clear enough or I jumble too many things together to unintentionally confuse who I am talking to. So I think why rhetoric is taught and why it is such a big topic as our reading for this week stated.

    I think how people talk about public issues or public discourse is usually one sided if we are talking about a more personal level. But at a professional level I have seen many public articles talk about both sides staying neutral, stating facts. I say this because before reading the article provided I read about a police chase involving a gun from around my area and the information seemed fair. Though I do see that most articles use the facts and language to persuade their readers to think one way or another—to bring out the feels and thoughts they had to the situation that was being talked about.

    I can’t really say what other issues I would be interested in. I say this mainly because I don’t pay attention much to what is in the news or what issues there are around. So to end this, I would be open to talking about anything where I can learn more about.

  16. My favorite definition of rhetoric is "situated, strategic discourse." It's succinct, easy to remember, and it makes for a good mantra when I'm working on projects. I will probably go into detail about this definition in a future blog post.

    Public discourse is rhetoric situated in the public arena. I believe its purpose and function varies based on context. What it does or accomplishes is based on those participating in it.

    In the given example, CNN participates in public discourse by publishing an article for the public to read. In the article, there are many quotes from many of the major actors in this debate, all of which are also examples of public discourse. Even the commenters at the bottom of the page are participating in the debate.

    Perhaps I'm using the term "public discourse" too loosely. When exactly is discourse considered public? I'm not sure, but I'm interested to see how we'll define it in this class.

  17. In looking up the specific definition of discourse, I came across two definitions. Both had the idea of communication which was a main component. However, I found it also referred discourse as a rational or an "orderly" way of thinking and as exchanging ideas or a conversation. Seeing this definition go in slightly different directions had me reflect on Thursday's class. Each of the quotes had similarities, but none of them were same. One built off of another. Others had a different view to contribute about rhetoric. If rhetoric has the capacity to be so diverse, public discourse can have it multiple interpretations as well.

    What I am thinking is if discourse can be rational is it also a conversation? Is rhetoric meant to create a discussion where it is expose to an audience to only be discussed? In backtracking, does it mean public discourse should only be about what is considered rational? In this situation it asks what kind of environment is rhetoric creating for an audience? If it is going to "rational" it has to have this structure, set of rules or standards, and obtain a type of approval. Rational has a tone of being right. It has a sense of higher priority than something that is considered not rational. It seems like this definition contradicts the other definition of discourse being a conversation. Before adding public to discourse, any user of rhetoric who intends to reach out to an audience should decide upon a reaction the discourse will take. Is rhetoric suppose to make an audience determine a "rational" or does it stimulate a conversation? It seems to me rhetoric, in the definition on the blog, asks authors to pick: what will rhetoric do? I believe trying to control what kind of interpretation rhetoric will have is near impossible. As public discourse, it is open to anyone to interpret however they see fit. Controlling interpretation is like giving a child tunnel vision. It cuts them off from the outside stimulation. They see a specific path, but what good will it do?

    Determining what public discourse should do is not simple if at all a possible task in my opinion. When there is no straight and one definition for discourse let alone public, it is difficult to give such a thing a specific direction. So, it leaves the reaction of rhetoric open for a "public" as it states. The word "public" is also ambiguous as to who or what is considered public? In all ends, I think trying to understand rhetoric and the definitions individuals try to create in perfection is flawed. It asks more questions and skepticism than answering. However, I do not find that to be a bad thing necessarily. Thinking about how something will affect something else or how an action will have a reaction sprouting afterwards is a good topic to think about. In light of what to do about gun control, that is one way to look those arguments and reasons.

  18. Personally I think of public discourse as any converstion in the world where the participants are utilizing language to argure their own individual views in a public setting. I don't think there is a limit on issues that are acceptable in rhetorical conversation, as long as the issue is connected to public intention or conversation. An issues in the realm of public discouse include, as stated above, the debate over gun control. Very big issue in our country right now, and it would be interesting to "read" into the converstion a bit more and see how each side is "presenting their case". Other big topics for our country are education, politics, and the state of our economy outside of politics. It will be intersting to see how we as a class will define public discourse in the coming classes, and talk about what it means to be involved in the conversations.

  19. Public discourse to me is any time people are communicating with one another. I don't think this needs to be restricted to just written or spoken language, images I believe can communicate just as much of a message.

    What interests me the most concerning public discourse, is when people do it without realizing it. Social Media is a big example of this. I really like thinking about what we can learn from looking at things like what and how people are participating with one another on social media. What can be learned about a subculture or group by observing the way they participate with one another through social media? What can be learned by looking at the way people of different groups communicate with each other? These are a couple questions that interest me.

  20. In regards to the topic of different perspectives on gun control, I find it interesting that the issue becomes very bipartisan as quickly as it does. Whenever the topic is brought up, it almost instantaneously becomes a conservative vs. liberal issue, which I think leads to some important perspectives on the topic being left out. We never tend to hear anything from liberal individuals who happen to own a gun, nor do we hear anything from conservative individuals that want stricter control of the distribution of weapons. By focusing on the two main political groups in the country, and the beliefs that those groups typically represent, we miss out on some important perspectives that could add a lot to the national conversation.

  21. Public Discourse is communication that is accessible to the general public. To me, it doesn't need to be expanded any more than that. Bulletin boards, articles, performances... anything where there is a message or thought that could possibly be interpreted by the general public should be considered Public Discourse.

  22. Before this class, I thought of public discourse as anything that resembled advertising-communication for the public. A way for individuals to express what they wish in order to get their point or views across to the general public.