What is the rhetorical context for this controversy? Identify at least two examples relevant rhetorical context.

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We have come to the end of our third section, and we now have the opportunity to reflect on our course material and connect it to contemporary examples of political rhetoric. For our third case study, we will examine how social movements, government leaders, and corporations employ rhetoric to increase their leverage in on-going political disputes.


We will be using controversy surrounding the Georgia Senate Bill 202 as our case our third case study. Specific artifacts include public statements about SB 202 from Stacey Abrams, GA Governor Brian Kemp, and representatives of the Coca-Cola Corporation. Read the documents and watch the two videos posted on Canvas in Announcements/Artifacts for Case Study # 3. Then, answer the questions below. There is no minimum length, just make sure to provide a thorough answer. When you provide an example, it has to be unique, so don’t merely reuse an example from the Anderson reading.

  1. What is the rhetorical context for this controversy? Identify at least two examples relevant rhetorical context.

What are some things happening at the time or in the videos that help you determine the rhetorical context? Make sure you reference the context for each speaker/artifact. Your examples can be aspects of the context generally, or one of the elements of Bitzer’s rhetorical situation – exigence, constraint, and/or audience.

  1. How is language being used to shape the audience’s view of eventsIdentify at least one specific example of language from the comments of Abrams and Kemp.

How is language (specifically metaphor) being used to negotiate values, establish a view of the situation, and/or recommend a course of action?

  1. How did Coca-Cola Corporation negotiate the risks and rewards of issuing public statements about SB 202?

Your answer should identify at least two factors raised in the Callander (Links to an external site.) and/or Diermier (Links to an external site.) readings that corporations need to consider when deciding whether and/or how to engage in political controversies.

  1. Evaluate the quality:

Choose either Abrams, Kemp, or Coca-Cola, and based on your answers to questions 1-3, make an initial evaluation of the quality of their rhetoric. Was this an effective response to the rhetorical context? Why or why not? Your answer should take into account the specific motives of the actor you chose.

How to Get the Most Out of This Assignment:

  1. Be specific: Remember, the point of the assignment isn’t just to watch the videos. Rather, you should look for what specific, unique observations you can make using course readings. What might Burke, Nichols, Weaver, Parrish, Bitzer, Black, Callander, or Diermier say about these texts (Located in PDF attached)? Provide specific examples from the case study articles and videos, and from the reading.
  2. Be engaged in class: Upload your answers to the case study to Canvas by 11:55 pm on May 6th.
  3. Consider grading criteria: You will be evaluated on whether you answer each question completely, the specificity of your examples from the videos, the specificity of your reference to course materials, and the correctness of your application to course material. You will receive 25 points for responding to each question

“Voting is a foundational right in America, and we will continue to work to advance voting rights and access in Georgia and across the country. We support efforts by the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce to help facilitate a balanced approach to the elections bills that have been introduced in the Georgia Legislature this session. The ultimate goal should be fair, secure elections where access to voting is broad-based and inclusive.”



George A. Kennedy, “Prooemion,” in Aristotle, On Rhetoric (New York: Oxford Press, 1991), pp. vii-xiii. The study of rhetoric began in Greece in the fifth century B.C. Democratic government was emerging in Athens and some other cities, based on the assumption that all citizens had an equal right and duty to participate in their own government. To do so effectively, they needed to be able to speak in public. Decisions on public policy under the democracies were made in regularly held assemblies composed of adult male citizens; and, as in New England town meetings, anyone who wished could speak. Not surprisingly, however, the leadership role in debate was played by a small number of ambitious individuals called rhetores, who sought to channel the course of events in a direction that they thought was best for the city or for themselves. There were no professional lawyers in Greece; if someone wished to seek redress in the courts for some wrong done them—and the Greeks were very fond of going to court—or if people were summoned to court as defendants, they were expected to speak on their own behalf. There were other occasions for public address in connection with public holidays or funerals, as well as more informal discussions at symposia or private meetings. In modern society, the ability to communicate effectively is at least as important as it was in ancient Greece; and through television and radio a speaker can reach a much larger audience than was possible in the past. Many of us do not aspire to a public career and may never make a speech to a large audience; but almost all of us feel a regular need to persuade someone of something, to defend our actions, and to organize our thoughts so that others will understand our point of view. To do this, we speak personally to individuals or small groups or we write reports or letters. Furthermore, to a greater extent than in the past, we are constantly being addressed by others—politicians, salespeople, preachers, or teachers—and we need to understand the techniques they are using if we are to judge correctly the importance or validity of what they say. Not surprisingly, the study of rhetoric has enjoyed increased popularity in the second half of the twentieth century. Today, as in Greece, some people seem to have a natural gift for communication. Others can develop these skills by coming to understand the principles of speech and composition, by observing the method of successful speakers and writers, and by practice. To meet the needs of students in Greece, teachers called “sophists” emerged who took students for pay and taught them how to be effective in public life by marshaling arguments, dividing speeches into logical parts, and carefully choosing and combining words. In the history of rhetoric the most important of these teachers was a man named Gorgias, who came from Sicily to Athens in 427 B.C. and made a great impression on his audiences by his poetic style and paradoxical arguments. Some lesser figures began to publish short handbooks on the “art of speech,” concerned primarily with showing how to organize a speech in the law courts in a clear and orderly way, arouse the emotions of an audience, and 1 argue on the basis of probability of what people might be expected to have done in a given situation. Socrates and his student Plato distrusted the teachings of both the sophists and the handbook writers, and Plato’s dialogue Gorgias is the earliest example of an attack on rhetoric as essentially a form of flattery—morally irresponsible and not based on knowledge of the truth, but rather, on the manipulation of opinion. Plato’s central argument to this end was that, if rhetorically sophisticated discourse had any advantage over plain speech, that advantage must derive from some distortion of the actual state of things. Rhetoric, according to Plato, was an art of making the false appear true and the worse appear the better. The debate over the role of rhetoric in society has existed ever since; and there are still today people to whom the word rhetoric means empty words, misleading arguments, and appeals to base emotions. There are dangers in rhetoric (e.g., political extremism, racism, and unscrupulous sales techniques) but by studying rhetoric we can become alert to its potential for misuse and learn to recognize when a speaker is seeking to manipulate us. As Gary Cronkhite once wrote, “the best antidote to a sophisticated rhetor is a sophisticated rhetoree.” There is, of course, great positive power in rhetoric, as well, which we can use for proper ends. It was through persuasive discourse—that is, through rhetoric— that the Founding Fathers organized public opinion in the cause of American independence. More recently, rhetoric has helped black leaders, women, and minority groups begin to secure their rights in society. You yourself have undoubtedly used some rhetorical principles to obtain some proper goal or to advance some just cause. As Richard Weaver has argued, there is really no other way to solicit cooperation in a civilized society. You may or may not have a personal interest in rhetoric as a field of study, but one thing is certain: rhetoric is all around us and it is here to stay. Without rhetoric, no social agreements or decisions could ever be reached. Without rhetoric, no child could ever learn the difference between right and wrong. Without rhetoric, the only avenues for influence between people would be physical might and threats. Rhetoric is, indeed, a fundamental and irremovable feature of social life. The fact that until now you might not have been aware of its pervasiveness or function should only make rhetoric more important and of greater interest to you. So, for the moment, try to lay aside your personal biases about the word “rhetoric”—as an obscure term from Greek philosophy or as a derogation of learned discourse—and approach the subject with an open mind. As you learn more about the nature of rhetoric and its principles, look for it in your own life. You will undoubtedly find it—in your conversations with your parents, teachers, and friends; in the newspapers you read and the television programs you watch; as well as in the traditional arenas of politics and law. By relating rhetoric to your own lives and interests, you will create the opportunity to understand the subject more fully and to receive greater benefit from your studies. 2 3 Marie Hochmuth Nichols, “Rhetoric as Humane Study,” in Rhetoric and Criticism (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana Sate University Press, 1963), pp. 3-18. I have been dubious about the subject of “Rhetoric as Humane Study.” After all, what one means by humane study is not always clear. Personally, I like the conception of the humanities presented by the distinguished American philosopher, Ralph Barton Perry. “I define ‘the humanities,’” he says, “to embrace whatever influences conduce to freedom. ‘The humanities’ is not to be employed as a mere class name for certain divisions of knowledge or parts of a scholastic curriculum, but to signify a certain condition of freedom which these may serve to create.” And by “freedom,” says Perry, “I mean enlightened choice.” To illustrate how the study of rhetoric—that is, the theory and practice of the verbal mode of presenting judgment and choice, knowledge and feeling—may inform humane study, let me provide the following example. I was sitting in my office one night when a former student pounded at the door and asked to come in. He was quiet and pale and clutched in his hand two sheets of paper, neatly typed—a letter to the press. That morning he had encountered a news report of an Illinois legislator who was opposing the idea of removing the death penalty for a trial period of six years. At one point, the legislator had asked the assembly, “Are we getting chicken—are we going religious?” The student, white with indignation, turned to me and said: “Are we to identify being ‘religious’ with ‘getting chicken’? That’s what the words say, don’t they?” I was glad the student had not merely skimmed the words in the speech but had paused to see what they said, glad he had not raised the question whether humor was effective, but had raised the question whether this was a logic and prose befitting legislative halls. I believe that student is a better young man for having made a theoretical study of rhetoric; I believe he has learned to understand that a close study of language yields information both about the mind of the user and the mind of the receiver and about the relationship in which they stand to each other. As Donald Bryant has remarked: “The frauds we suffer under from the huckster and shyster, from the religious and political medicine men, and from the well-meaning social (and even educational) incompetents, derive much of their strength from the merely superficial familiarity of our educated citizens with the live use of language, for good and for ill, over the centuries.” The recent statement of Bess Sondel in her book, The Humanity of Words, is well taken: “We are born into an environment of words just as surely as we are born into an environment of weather. The environment of words determines, from our earliest sentient moments, the nature of the ideas and ideals in which we shall live. Through words, our ideas and our ideals become crystallized. Through words, they endure as ‘culture’ and as ‘principles.’” More specifically, I might add, it is through the rhetorical use of words that such ideas and ideals shape and dominate our environment of thought and value. 4 Therefore, theoretical study of rhetoric and close attention to the maneuvers of language are, in a sense, real safeguards of freedom. Who can be free to form judgments rationally, if he or she is unaware of the abuses to which language so readily lends itself? And, as well, who can be free to present these judgments to others, if he or she is unaware of the proper uses of language in its logical, emotional, and ethical dimensions? There is a tendency among us, I believe, to think that now that the scientists have come to study language in communication theory and linguistics, the humane scholars may leave. This is obviously an egregious error. I respect scientific attitudes and methods and I want to know every kind of fact I can obtain by any kind of method that will yield facts. But one cannot live by facts alone. The rhetorician is in effect, or ought to be, a critic of society. And to be a critic of society, one needs a set of values pertaining to the ends of society, the causes one may ethically advance. In short, one needs judgment—all the more so given that the current environment of ideas and ideals does not always embrace the notion. As Albert Einstein once remarked: “Perfection of means and confusion about aims seem to characterize our age.” Judgment grows out of concern for human purpose and end, and scientists alone cannot determine these purposes and ends. Let freedom from ignorance make our judgments better; let awareness of consequences be our guide. Yet, in the last analysis, what our direction is to be must be determined by something other than science. What ideals we shall strive for is not a scientific matter. These ideals are, however, the common product of rhetoric. In describing the humane nature of rhetoric as a field of study, I hope I shall not be interpreted as making a plea for a return to the classics. Classicism is merely an indoctrinated humanism, and taking a humane approach to rhetoric does not mean burying one’s self in fourth-century Athens or first-century Rome. A man or woman is no freer imprisoned in the fourth century than he or she is if imprisoned in their own age. The Renaissance was not humanistic merely because it turned back to the ideals of the Greeks and the Romans: it was humanistic because it searched for a wellspring of human creativity. The real spirit of the humane approach is, I think, in the words of Kenneth Burke: “Use all that there is to use.” The humane approach to rhetoric and to rhetorical discourse can, I believe, in the words of one of our colleagues, teach us to “love reason and to value its limitations, to prize emotion but resist control by it, to cultivate imagination and cope with its aberrations.” The historian H. W. C. Davis has remarked, “Our common humanity is best studied in the most eminent examples that it has produced of every type of human excellence.” Rhetoric, particularly in the great tradition of oratory, provides us with many examples of human excellence. Whether one derives his or her notion of humans as decision-makers from the Greeks or from the God of the Hebrews or from some other source, I suspect makes little difference. But that our decision-making be wise, I am sure matters to all of us. 5 Donald C. Bryant, “Rhetoric: Its Function and Its Scope,” The Quarterly Journal of Speech, 39 (1953), 401-424. Very bothersome problems arise as soon as one attempts to define rhetoric, problems that result from the various and disparate uses of the term. Rhetoric is often used to mean bombast or high-sounding words without content, usually in reference to political discourse. The term has also been used to refer to the study of figures of speech and eloquent style, as is often the case in freshman writing courses. A third common definition of rhetoric refers to a particular form or genre of expression: namely, oratory or speaking. All of these meanings, in spite of their limitations, may contribute something to the exposition of our subject. However, my purpose here is to provide a broader redefinition of rhetoric that will provide a clear focus of the nature and scope of rhetoric. Primarily, I take rhetoric to be the rationale of informative and suasory discourse. All its other meanings are partial or morally-colored derivatives from that primary meaning. Indeed, what Aristotle said of the nature and principles of public address, of the discovery of the available means of persuasion in any given case, must stand as the broad background for any sensible rhetorical system. However, not all means of persuasion are properly termed rhetorical. Gold and guns, for example are certainly persuasive, and the basic motives which make them persuasive, profit and self-preservation, may enter the field of rhetoric, but applied directly to the persons to be persuaded, gold and guns belong to commerce or coercion, not to rhetoric. Rhetoric is, at its core, a discursive enterprise. As such, rhetoric is not confined in application to any specific subjects which are exclusively its own. Rhetoric is method, not subject, and as such, operates on subjects from a variety of fields—politics, ethics, advertising, and so on. But even if it has no special subjects, neither are all subjects within its province. Rhetoric is primarily concerned with those questions which people dispute, that is, with the contingent—that which is dependent in part upon factors which cannot be known for certain, that which can be otherwise. People do not dispute about what is known with certainty. Rhetoric, therefore, is distinguished from other instrumental studies in its preoccupation with informed opinion rather than with scientific or logical demonstration. We are ready now to proceed to the question of how rhetoric works, what it accomplishes in an audience. Speaking generally, we may say that the rhetorical function is the function of adjusting ideas to people and people to ideas. This process may be thought of as a continuum from the complete modification or accommodation of ideas to audiences (as in “telling people only what they want to hear”) at one extreme to complete regeneration at the other (as in “the facts speak for themselves”). Good rhetoric usually functions somewhere well in from the extremes, being neither pure flattery nor pure reason. There, difficult and complex 6 ideas have to be modified without being distorted or made senseless; and audiences have to be moved toward ideas in spite of their prejudices, ignorance, and irrelevant mindsets, but still, above all, without being disposed of their judgments. Indeed, a complete rhetoric knows the whole person and seeks to bring to bear the whole person in achieving its ends—what he is and what he thinks he is, what he believes and what he thinks he believes, what he wants and what he tells himself he wants. Toward its ends, rhetoric recognizes the primacy of rational processes, as well as the honest and highly important power of imagination and of emotion that does not supplant reason, but supports it, and sometimes even transcends it. Rhetoric aims at what is worth doing, what is worth trying. It is concerned with values, and values are established with the aid of imaginative realization, not through rational determination alone; and they gain their force through emotional animation. Ever since people first began to weave the web of words to charm their fellows, they have known that some can impose their wills on others through language in spite of reason. Almost as long, this talent has been feared and deplored. If the talent were wholly a matter of a divine gift and were wholly unexplainable, the only alternative to succumbing to the orator would be to kill him or her. In time it appeared, however, that this skill could be learned, in part at least, and could be analyzed. If it were good, the skill could be developed further; and if it were bad, those who learned the skill could be armed in some measure against it. Hence the value of studying rhetoric, for the characteristics of its operations can be understood, and if understood, then controlled, for better or for worse. To restate our central idea in another way: rhetoric is that creative activity, that process of critical analysis, that branch of learning, which addresses itself to the whole phenomenon of the designed use of language for the promulgation of information, ideas, and attitudes. Though it may be instrumental in the discovery of ideas and information, its characteristic function is the publicizing, the humanizing, the animating of them for a realized and usually specific audience. At its best, rhetoric seeks the “energizing of truth.” Normally, however, the rhetorical function serves as high degree of probability as the combination of subject, audience, speaker, and occasion admits. To rhetoric belongs the rationale of the relations in the idea-audience-speaker situation. Rhetoric is clearly a serious scholarly study. That there is a body of philosophy and principle worth scholarly effort in discovery, enlargement, and reinterpretation is beyond question, and fortunately, more competent scholars each year are working at it. Rhetorical criticism and the study of rhetoric as a revealing social and cultural phenomenon are also gaining ground. New and interesting directions for research are being explored, demonstrating that there is much left to accomplish in the field of rhetorical studies—a field that is ancient in its origins, but contemporary in its daily rebirth in the management of public life and human relations. 7 Walter R. Fisher, “A Motive View of Communication,” The Quarterly Journal of Speech, 56 (1970), 131-139. Four closely connected assumptions underlie my view of the nature and functions of rhetoric. First, the substance of rhetorical discourse—considered here as humankind’s principal means of symbolic inducement—is the influencing of ethical choices. Regardless of its form, whether speech, editorial, essay, play or poem, rhetorical discourse expresses a theme or thesis, an inference or judgment which is to be preferred over other propositions or proposals that relate to its subject matter. Rhetorical discourse advises its audience as to h …
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