Discovering rhetorical contexts: Topical strategies and tropical structure in academic discourse
AuthorWilliams, Mark Thayne
KeywordsLanguage, Rhetoric and Composition.
AdvisorMiller, Thomas P.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis dissertation examines a fundamental concern in rhetoric and composition and across academic disciplines---the notion of context. Theories of context create practical problems because the term refers to potentially everything around a text. This complexity manifests in four ways: (1) Context first appears in publications as unexplained evaluations of speech and writing. These assumed contexts are problematic because evaluation, or judgment, should follow invention, not proceed it. The term appears as a given, not as an invention. (2) Writers must reduce contexts to define the specific dimensions of particular cases and issues. Kenneth Burke details these reductions when defining contextual thinking as a paradoxical process, an "alchemic moment," one where "transformations" occur (Grammar 23-24). Other writers later refer to the 'transformative' power of context without acknowledging these paradoxes and reductions. (3) Many writers claim that contexts determine the meaning of words and the appropriateness of particular rhetorical strategies. If contexts determine meaning, what choices do rhetoricians have to determine meaning in contexts? (4) Anthropologists, linguists, and historians develop ideas of contexts that do not account for the rhetorical origins of the term. Composition scholars in turn borrow from disciplines other that rhetoric when explaining context. I explore these issues with an etymology of context in classical, professional, and curricular discourse. This etymology shows how compositionists use context to do three things for writing instruction: evaluate discourse; suggest situations; arrange details and intentions. I argue that these three categories of context can be better understood in terms of an active rhetorical style: Cicero and Quintilian offer style as decorum, perspicere, and ornare. Teachers rely on these styles to evaluate writing, to render situations clearly, and to configure details and intentions. This active sense of style mediates notions of context that emerge from the social sciences and provides rhetorical background for the important work that context does in composition and other disciplines. I end this dissertation by returning to Giambattista Vico's etymological work on classical rhetoricians. I identify from him a triangular invention: how memory, imagination, and perception combine with style to construct contexts.
Degree ProgramGraduate College