Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Refiguring Mass Communication

Peter Simonson, Refiguring Mass Communication: A History (Urbana, IL:University of Illinois Press, 2010).

from the publisher:

A creative reconsideration of communication history

This unique inquiry into the history and ongoing moral significance of mass communication also represents a defense, extension, and overhaul of the idea and social form of the discipline. Organized around narrative accounts of individuals and their communicative worlds, Refiguring Mass Communication illuminates significant but overlooked rhetorical episodes in history to enable modern-day readers to rehabilitate and reinvigorate their own engagements with mass communication.

Coined in the 1920s as a way to describe radio, motion pictures, wide-circulation magazines, and the press, the term "mass communication" frequently is misused in the era of cable TV, niche marketing, and the Internet. In Refiguring Mass Communication, Peter Simonson compares his own vision of mass communication with distinct views articulated throughout history by Paul of Tarsus, Walt Whitman, Charles Horton Cooley, David Sarnoff, and Robert K. Merton, utilizing a collection of texts and tenets from a variety of time periods and perspectives. Drawing on textual and archival research as well as access to Merton's personal papers, Simonson broadly reconceives a sense of communication theory and what social processes might be considered species of mass communication. Simonson reveals the geographical and social contexts from which these visions have emerged and the religious and moral horizons against which they have taken shape. In a unique perspective, he considers the American county fair as an example of a live gathering and crucial site that is overlooked in contemporary forms of mass communication, urging a reconsideration of how individuals participate in and shape similar forms.

"This book is particularly powerful because, like rhetoric itself, it is not limited to any one discipline. Simonson uses cultural studies and rhetoric as energizing points of departure for rehabilitating and reinforcing the idea and social form of mass communication."--Rosa A. Eberly, author of Citizen Critics: Literary Public Spheres

Peter Simonson is an associate professor of communication at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the coeditor of Mass Communication and American Social Thought: Key Texts, 1920-1968.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wit's End

Sean Zwagerman, Wit's End: Women's Humor as Rhetorical and Performative Strategy (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010).

from the publisher:

Wit's End is an original perspective on women's use of humor as a performative strategy, seen in works of twentieth-century American literature. Zwagerman argues that women, whose direct, explicit performative speech has been traditionally denied, or not taken seriously, have often turned to humor as a means of communicating with men.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Student Evaluations

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a story in the Boston Globe on problems colleges are having when they move student evaluation processes online:

Colleges thought they were enhancing efficiency when they moved their course evaluations online, but an unintended consequence of the shift to evaluations not filled out in class is that students started skipping them altogether, The Boston Globe reported today. . . .

the rest of the story is here

Monday, April 5, 2010

Democracy & Rhetoric

Nathan Crick, Democracy & Rhetoric: John Dewey on the Arts of Becoming (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2010).

from the publisher:

An innovative approach to Dewey's view of rhetoric as art, revealing an "ontology of becoming"

In Democracy and Rhetoric, Nathan Crick articulates from John Dewey's body of work a philosophy of rhetoric that reveals the necessity for bringing forth a democratic life infused with the spirit of ethics, a method of inquiry, and a sense of beauty. Crick relies on rhetorical theory as well interdisciplinary insights from philosophy, history, sociology, aesthetics, and political science as he demonstrates that significant engagement with issues of rhetoric and communication are central to Dewey's political philosophy.

In his rhetorical reading of Dewey, Crick examines the sophistical underpinnings of Dewey's philosophy and finds it much informed by notions of radical individuality, aesthetic experience, creative intelligence, and persuasive advocacy as essential to the formation of communities of judgment. Crick illustrates that for Dewey rhetoric is an art situated within a complex and challenging social and natural environment, wielding influence and authority for those well versed in its methods and capable of experimenting with its practice. From this standpoint the unique and necessary function of rhetoric in a democracy is to advance minority views in such a way that they might have the opportunity to transform overarching public opinion through persuasion in an egalitarian public arena. The truest power of rhetoric in a democracy then is the liberty for one to influence the many through free, full, and fluid communication.

Ultimately Crick argues that Dewey's sophistical rhetorical values and techniques form a naturalistic "ontology of becoming" in which discourse is valued for its capacity to guide a self, a public, and a world in flux toward some improved incarnation. Appreciation of this ontology of becoming—of democracy as a communication-driven work in progress—gives greater social breadth and historical scope to Dewey's philosophy while solidifying his lasting contributions to rhetoric in an active and democratic public sphere.

Nathan Crick is an assistant professor of communication studies at Louisiana State University. His research has appeared in College Composition and Communication, Philosophy and Rhetoric, and the Quarterly Journal of Speech.