Boundary Organizations and Science, Policy and Decision making

Adam Parris provides an extremely insightful perspective on the need for “boundary organizations” in science policy conversations. Rhetoricians of science approach boundary work with the same type of pragmatism that Parris describes is necessary for facilitating conversations between scientists and decision makers.

If we want science that is relevant to society, we need these types of experts – those who can negotiate competing vocabularies, environments, and motivations for collaboration and build mutually beneficial relationships between scientists and decision makers.


Regional Climate Adaptation to Sea Level Rise: An Opportunity for the Rhetoric of Science Policy

Earlier this week, Emergency Management published an article on Connecticut’s newly developed Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation, a joint project between UConn, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and NOAA. The goals of the Institute follow a bottom-up approach, which as Miranda Schreurs explains in “From the Bottom Up: Local and Subnational Climate Change Politics,” is where implementation of national climate change policies and programs must occur (also cited: Bianci, Cruz & Nakamara, 2005). Additionally, she writes:

There is growing recognition of the need to focus both more practical and scholarly attention on the climate policies and programs of state (prefectural, provincial), regional, metropolitan, and local levels of government (Linstroth & Bell, 2007; Lundqvist & Biel, 2007; Ruth, 2006). Such research is also critical for improving our understanding of the obstacles preventing yet greater activity and effectiveness in local and state climate programs and measures.

In the Connecticut project, UConn, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and NOAA are collaborating to work directly with property owners and community leaders to secure the tools, knowledge, and financing that is necessary to respond to SLR, storm surge, urban flooding, etc.

What’s most interesting to me, from a rhetorical perspective, is one of the Institute’s goals, to:

“create a climate-literate public that understands its vulnerabilities to a changing climate and uses that knowledge to make scientifically informed, environmentally sound decisions”.

One of the purposes of the (still-developing) sub-discipline of the rhetoric of science policy is to focus on problems inherent in the science-policy interface: namely, how scientific data ought to be communicated in ways that are customized to a particular public/community’s perspectives and experiences*. Essentially, the purpose of a researcher in the discipline of rhetoric of science policy is to analyze and construct scientific communication so that it is relevant and palatable to a particular public’s values, beliefs, and interests. Therefore, I see the Connecticut Institute’s goal – to create a climate-literate public … and to get this public/community to make informed decisions – as an example of the types of problems that the rhetoric of science policy seeks to provide solutions to. By identifying the specific perspectives, experiences and interests of a particular community (through the rhetorical method of audience analysis) messages about climate change can be carefully crafted – and customized (via rhetorical framing) – to match those perspectives and interests, so that ultimately they have more traction than less focused messages (because of ethical persuasion and use of powerful terms that resonate with a community’s values, beliefs, and experiences).


It’s often very difficult to explain exactly what a rhetorician of science policy does … and this goal provides an opportunity to clarify how to use a seemingly theoretical discipline pragmatically …


*Rhetorical theory follows that citizens tend to judge better when they consider matters related to their own ends – matters that are personally significant – than when they strive to take on a perspective detached from those concerns (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1094b29, 1140b11)

Time to Shift the Climate Change Debate

It’s time to shift the climate change debate. It’s time to move on from circular arguments about whether humans are responsible for causing climate change or not to more productive conversations about economic opportunities. But how can we achieve this type of bipartisan communication about productive responses to climate change effects?

My opinion is that the way to achieve better communication is to first, ignore the human-induced climate change debate. It distracts from the real issues and it doesn’t deserve a response because it is not a valid or productive argument; it is a circular debate and by responding to it, we become participants in the very argument that has the power to delay and prevent policy making that can enhance everyday life and provide increased safety, security, and economic opportunity. But simply ignoring the human-induced climate change debate is not enough. Therefore, instead of responding to arguments about human-induced climate change, we ought to emphasize the need to respond to what we can visibly see (e.g., in the case of South Florida, urban flooding, storm surge, sewer overflow, etc.) and emphasize the exorbitant economic costs of not responding to these visible effects (see this article by Christie Todd Whitman for an excellent, Republican perspective about the need to respond to climate change). I don’t think it will ever be possible to provide compelling enough evidence to a climate change denier (e.g., Governor Scott) to change his/her stance, but I do think it is possible to shift the language of the argument such that the same ends (adaptation and mitigation policies) are strategically achieved. The bottom line here is the need to respond to the problems that we can visibly see, not on the obligation to react to the ever-frustrating, back-and-forth of debate about whether human-induced climate change is a “fact” or not.

Developing these sorts of responses is the work of scholars and researchers in the rhetoric of science policy. I firmly believe that yes, a rhetoric of science policy is possible, and it is the purpose and goal of my dissertation to analyze this debate using decision-making tools that can generate reports of argumentative analyses – the terms of the debate – that can then be used to develop productive political frames showing how to accomplish these goals … in order to answer the following question:


How can we shift the climate change paradigm to emphasize longer-term thinking and the development of robust, dynamic policies that take (inevitable) changes into consideration?



Is a rhetoric of science policy possible via a knowledge map?

In “Why Political Partisans Don’t Like Facts,” Sunstein cites research that argues that cultural cognition shapes our reactions to science (Kahan) and that “our values affect our assessment of purely factual claims, even in highly technical areas” (1). Additionally, in explaining the partisanship that exists over how to respond to climate change, he writes that “the most powerful economic interests (such as the coal industry) have far greater influence within the Republican Party” (2). As a rhetorician studying the implications of the science-policy interface as it plays out for the issue of climate change, I see two key rhetorical terms within these arguments: values and interests.

Values, in terms of the study of rhetoric (and in particular, the rhetoric of scientific communication and policy) are determined through a rigorous analysis of the discourse, texts, and communication that an audience considers significant for informing a particular topic. For instance, in order to determine the values held by South Florida residents on the issue of climate change adaptation, I would analyze texts like the Southeast Florida Climate Compact’s Community Planning Act, a document that details how Broward County/ Ft. Lauderdale will identify areas that are most vulnerable to sea level rise, severe flooding, etc. and then prioritize funding for infrastructure that will make these areas more resilient. Analyzing this policy/text would require that I identify unique and frequently used terms that characterize this debate, so that if I were to organize an argument directed to this particular community about the issue of sea level rise and flooding, I would be sure to leverage those same terms because they resonate with the values of my audience. The importance of values, in terms of rhetoric, is that they are what I call “pivot” terms; terms that any relevant and logical argument ought to revolve around. Additionally, values are community-specific – they are articulated differently given different communities’ perception of the challenges and opportunities that exist within their existence.

Interests are related to values; they are more specific iterations of how an audience’s values play out in reality. As used by rhetoricians, an audience’s interests – for example, Sunstein’s explanation of the Republican Party’s economic interest in the coal industry – are powerful for creating an argument that “appeals to peoples’ partial and passionate points of view” because doing so can “draw out their capacity for judgment and draw them into deliberation” (Garsten, 2006).

While discourse and textual analyses are traditional rhetorical methods for analyzing and drawing implications about audience’s values and interests, a (fairly) new tool – the knowledge  map – can be extremely useful for developing responses to political partisanship (and therefore stalemate) about climate change. If we want to extend Kahan’s extensive research on cultural cognition and the claim that values significantly affect our assessment of scientific findings, can we use a knowledge map as a rhetorical tool for tracing and then negotiating productive responses to climate change?

Wilson and Herndl’s (2007) study experiments with knowledge maps as rhetorical tools for facilitating interdisciplinary cooperation at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and finds that mapping relations and exposing connections between seemingly contrasting interests allowed their participants to see and understand that other participants’ knowledge and institutional language emerge from and are adequate to the different contexts that make up the map. Essentially, by exposing connections between seemingly contrasting interests, the knowledge map provides a terrain for negotiating a response that is logical and productive …  is a more effective and productive rhetoric of science policy possible via the interface of a knowledge map?

In Climate Change Debates, different people have legitimately different views … or do they …?

Recent debate on FiveThirtyEight about whether climate change is the cause of natural disasters is interesting – and necessary for critically interpreting climate modeling data. However, ultimately, such a debate doesn’t bring us closer to negotiating a response to the problem. In fact, despite the nuances of the argument that Pielke makes in his article, his agenda concerning climate change communications and policy is to contribute to climate change conversations for the purpose of moving “beyond exhortation to actual development of policy options” like adaptation and mitigation. Arguments about the cause (whether they’re about the cause of climate change itself or, in this case, the cause of increased incidents of natural disasters) ultimately engage us in the meta-details of differences among our perspectives, disciplinary backgrounds and approaches, and therefore distract us from what’s really important – figuring out how to collaboratively negotiate these differences in perspective in order to develop a viable response.

Emanuel’s main point in counter-arguing Pielke’s claim that “climate change plays no role in increases in damages from natural hazards… [and that] recent costly disasters are not part of a trend driven by climate change” is that increased occurrences, and the subsequently increasing costs, of natural disasters are the direct result of climate change. She provides support for her argument by citing her research with Yale economist Robert Mendelsohn and colleagues: global hurricane damage will about double owing to demographic trends, and double again because of climate change. This point is valid, interesting, and powerful, but it doesn’t offer ground for negotiation of how to respond to its implications … at least not as it is discussed here.

In his argument, Pielke relies on support from the IPCC’s most recent report, Assessment Report 5 (AR5) which explains that there is little evidence of a spike in frequency or intensity of floods, drought, hurricanes, or tornadoes [because of climate change] to argue that the notion that climate change is the direct cause of an increase natural disasters is false. Not once in this article does Pielke suggest that climate change is not a real or significant issue warranting serious attention toward the development of solutions. He simply criticizes this particular argument, citing its inaccuracy, as a way of warning against fallacies like this that could potentially threaten public confidence in and support for climate change mitigation and adaptation policies.

So there we have it – two strong, distinct arguments about climate change data – from two legitimate, well-respected sources. As Pielke has explained in previous publications, “different people have legitimately different views” … however, that is not the case if we review the commentary of each article, almost all of which starkly advocates one view and flagrantly criticizes the other.

My argument here is that if you read Pielke’s argument for what it really communicates, you can see the value in his criticism. Emanuel’s response reads into the meta-details of cause, which is actually not the most important argument of Pielke’s explanation. Pielke’s article, from my perspective, is simply – but boldly – arguing that the promise that mitigating climate change will lead to fewer natural disasters is not valid and therefore, ought not be used in making a case for climate change policy. To make this even more clear: Pielke is simply challenging the 1:1 ratio being drawn between causes of natural disaster and climate change. In no way is he challenging the real issue, that “human-caused climate change is real and requires attention by policymakers to both mitigation and adaptation.” He is simply criticizing the way in which this debate is being crafted and framed, implicitly suggesting that it is being used to advance a personal/political agenda. Emanuel’s response focuses on whether climate change is the primary factor causing increased natural disasters and therefore increased recovery costs, and doesn’t address the wider implications of the data itself. Such arguments are important and productive, to an extent, but what I believe is more valuable is re-focusing the fervor and intellectual energy we are seeing here on collaborative, trans-disciplinary, alternative approaches for responding to the problem, whether the problem is natural disasters and recovery costs or that climate change is projected to increase threats to human health, particularly in lower income populations, predominantly within tropical/subtropical countries.

Emanuel is right, “those who wait for actuarial trends to emerge at a 95% confidence level before acting do so at their peril.” But Pielke is right too, that recent costly disasters are not necessarily part of a trend driven primarily by climate change. Unfortunately, the competing arguments that their data incites are not compelling concerned citizens to admit both Emanuel’s and Pielke’s validity … which is why I believe that arguments about cause, when deliberating about anything that has to do with climate change, are so very dangerous and unproductive. Arguments about cause inevitably turn to debates of micro-scale differences in interpretation of the same data … which keeps the cycle of debate circling around an inevitably unproductive point.

If we really want to address solutions to the effects of climate change, we’ll start by exercising the maturity involved in making our perspectives, research findings, and personal agendas completely vulnerable to others’ productive criticism, because doing so is the only way to begin negotiating how to move forward in responding to the circumstances we’re being faced with. Holding defensively to our nuanced arguments is not going to enable us to move beyond exhortation toward the development of policy options, as Pielke wisely recommends.

The “anti-growth” perspective and implications for longer- range global policy

My brief comments below are in response to an insightful post by Roger Pielke, Jr., titled “What Does it Mean to be Anti-Growth?” In this argument, Pielke re-defines “anti-growth” by organizing it into three emphases:

  • anti-labor growth
  • anti-capital growth
  • anti-productivity growth

His purpose here is to expose the implications of these stances on poor/developing countries’ longer-term economic viability, as “82% of economic growth will occur in what are today considered to be “poor” parts of the world …” Are those who object to growth fully aware of what they’re actually advocating, longer-term?

Identifying the real terms of the debate about economic growth, as Pielke has done here, unravels it so that we can more fully understand what we’re really talking about when arguing pro- or anti-growth. The real value is that by exposing the rhetorical consequences of an anti-growth perspective, Pielke re-focuses our attention on the (ironic) longer-term implications of these perspectives. Namely, that taking an anti-growth stance, in essence, will ultimately limit or prohibit (now) poor countries’ economic opportunities because it is those (now) poor countries that are ultimately going to be responsible for nearly 80% of future economic productivity.

I see multiple, valuable connections between this argument and with the agendas of institutes like RAND’s Pardee Center for Longer Range Global Policy and the Future Human Condition. For instance, in accordance with your emphasis on the rhetorical implications of an anti-growth stance on the longer-term opportunities for (now) poor countries’ future economic progress, I also wonder about the rhetorical distinctions, and consequences, of using the term “development” instead of “growth.”

Is it possible that by re-framing the anti-growth debate as “development,” we could more accurately communicate the real intentions for supporting the economic viability of (now) poor countries’ future opportunities?  Could using the (alternative) term “development” be a way of disengaging from the pervasive and popular anti-growth perspective? I’m suggesting this because of Lakoff’s extensive work on framing and cognitive linguistics, which argues that, “using your opposition’s terms reinforces their definition of the issues” and neurally activates the very associations you’re attempting to challenge or change.  In contrast, re-framing the issue – in this case, anti-growth- as “development” (or using another term that is similar in meaning but different from “growth”) has perhaps better potential for exposing the real, longer-term implications of an anti-growth perspective. The challenge, of course, is the consistent, persistent use of this new frame in conversations like Pielke’s, that insightfully trace the real, rhetorical implications of more general/seasoned debates … But the ways in which we’ve already begun – with the rhetorical parsing of “anti-growth” as Pielke has shown here- seem to imply a readiness for a new, more powerful type of political debate …

Water Governance: A viable alternative to water management?

This past week, I had the opportunity to meet with and learn from Drs. Pim Nijssen and Aline te Linde, consultants and water governance experts from the Dutch management and consulting firm Twynstra Gudde, who were visiting Miami Beach as participants in a knowledge exchange, “Resilient Miami Beach.” Additionally, they collaborated with academics at FAU, with civil engineers and landscape architects from a local engineering firm, Chen Moore, as well as the South Florida Water Management District about possibilities for responding to Florida/ the Netherlands’ shared challenges with water management and climate change adaptation planning. Throughout our conversations that week, Pim and Aline were extremely careful to emphasize to me that they were not here to prescribe “A Solution,” but rather to learn about the differences in Florida’s regional and political challenges, as compared with the Netherlands’ distinct challenges, in order to better understand how to develop policy responses for securing our regions’ economic, environmental, social, and political contexts.

The purpose of Resilient Miami Beach – a collaborative knowledge exchange between the Dutch Consulate, local city planners, architects, academics, and consultants, was to discuss how/whether Dutch planning/ management perspectives could be feasible for local policy and most importantly, to discuss how to take advantage of opportunities that we (Floridians) may not be aware of because of our proximity to our own problems. [as a side note: much academic research supports this perspective – that an outside expert’s opinion can be extremely beneficial in enabling insider-experts to develop creative and innovative solutions; see Lakhani et al., 2007, “The Value of Openness in Scientific Problem Solving”]

The Dutch approach to adaptation policy – integrated, collaborative, and layered – is opposed to a U.S. approach, which is often fragmented, linear, and dependent upon what is explained below as the “prediction imperative.” The Dutch have had hundreds of years of experience with water management, and more recently, at least 60 years of experimentation with more modern approaches to water management technologies and policies (i.e. structural solutions and the coastal spine approach) and despite our cultural and political differences, learning about their approaches is likely to help us determine the possibilities for what adaptive strategies for south Florida may entail.

A few days before we were to meet in Miami for the seminar, Pim asked me to think about how to situate Florida’s unique regional challenges to adaptation and to about how the U.S. political system responds, or is deliberating about responding, to these challenges. What follows is my attempt at developing a clear answer to his question.

My answer is concerned with how to synthesize three core ideas: the economic value of this coastal area, the local and national attitudes toward climate risks, and alternative approaches for policy making under conditions of extreme/deep uncertainty. Synthesizing these concepts creates a narrative about this region that may help our Dutch experts to work with us in approaching our challenges with a similar type of “action-biased” policy making that has enabled both their short-term survival and long-term contingency planning.

Economic value and International Implications   

The economic value of Florida, and in particular the cities of Tampa and Miami, isn’t just important on a local scale, as a recent World Bank publication suggests. The findings of this study identify the 10 international cities most vulnerable to damaging floods, as a result of sea level rise. In terms of overall cost of damage, Miami is number two on this list; New York is number three, New Orleans, four, and Tampa, seven. Boston follows at number eight, meaning that U.S. cities constitute half of the world’s vulnerable coastal cities. The study warns that flood damage could rise to $1 trillion a year if cities don’t take steps to adapt – so the responsibility for adaptation in US isn’t simply a national issue; it’s an international risk. This study prompted much conversation between myself, Pim and Aline, regarding how to use economic analyses with public values analyses to create collaborative responses (*not solutions) to these risks. What are the possibilities for using economic data with local/ public values priorities to re-frame climate change communications and therefore elicit local/ public concern and action? As I learned this week, a major component of Twynstra Gudde’s approach to answering these questions depends on:

  1. Responding versus prescribing solutions
  2. Identifying local attitudes about risk versus relying on a universal “Public Value,” as is often assumed by U.S. climate change communications’ framing of adaptation strategies (see Nisbet, “Communicating Climate Change: Why Frames Matter for Public Engagement;

Furthermore, on a national scale, in terms U.S. response to sea level rise, what is the current situation of climate change adaptation policy? In some cases (e.g. Houston, TX “Ike Dike,” which I’ve been learning about from Arno Willems at Iv-Infra) it seems as though we’re learning how to begin responding; to start taking serious action first by accepting deeply uncertain circumstances and then figuring out how to see opportunities for responding – without ignoring the risks and uncertainties that currently exist, and are inevitable to arise in the future. In most others, though, it’s evident that we’re still engaging in vain attempts to predict certainty before responding; choosing only to react to risks rather than to learn how to begin preparing for them.

Response versus Reaction

The results of the World Bank study mentioned above recommends that protecting the cities it identifies as most vulnerable will take substantial investment in structural defenses as well as better planning. The recommendation for better defenses means that more people will be dependent on dikes and sea walls, and that losses when those defenses fail to protect the city will get bigger. Additionally, with better structural defenses, cities will also need better crisis management and contingency planning. This type of integrated approach – synthesizing technological capability with serious attention to attitudes about risk – is what I understand as reinforcing Twynstra Gudde’s stance on collaboration for mutually beneficial solutions: motivating strategies of response that take into consideration multiple stakeholders’ values, versus imposing management plans and universal mandates based solely on economic/ cost-benefits analyses. Theirs is an approach that takes into account technological feasibility, economic viability, and social robustness; synthesizing the priorities of multiple stakeholders. And although the description of this approach may seem straightforward, they would be the first to remind that it is the more difficult (although more rewarding) long-term approach.

This approach is initially more difficult primarily because it operates under a paradigm that is action-biased; risking action within uncertainty to take advantage of existing opportunities via the synthesis of a variety of contradictory stakeholder values. However difficult the approach is initially, though, I ultimately see it as preferred to our current method for managing (or avoiding the management of) deep uncertainties. Our current approach invests in “improving our understanding of the threat of global climate change,” allocating $2.7 billion (a 6.0 percent increase over 2012) for the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) to support research to improve our ability to understand, predict, mitigate, and adapt to global change.

Could that budget be better allocated toward the development of adaptation policies that are more genuinely reflective of public values (i.e. safety, security) and productive economic opportunities?

I will argue, in my dissertation, that our current approach appears futile primarily because deeply uncertain risks like climate change cannot be managed, as “older dangers” once were (Beck, 1992, p. 13). Contemporary risks, as will be explained below, cannot be managed as older dangers once were because they are networked, largely invisible, and often irreversible. They cannot be seen, contained; therefore, they cannot be managed. They must be responded to in the very context in which they exist: under conditions of deep uncertainty.

        The challenge facing government officials in the US today is investing in protection under these premises – before the type of damage that the World Bank is predicting for coastal cities actually occurs. In his presentation at Resilient Miami Beach, Dutch professor and researcher of urban water management and the development of climate resilient cities, Dr. van de Ven, addressed this very challenge and explained the rhetorical differences between responding versus reacting to risk. “Responding,” he explained, means designing an adaptable system, visualizing individual interests, and selecting a strategy that implements a multi-level safety approach (see “Alternative water management options to reduce vulnerability for climate change in the Netherlands,” in Natural Hazards, 2009, v51 i3).

An Integrated Approach: Contextual, Institutional, Relational

Currently, progress toward the development of adaptation policies that respond by synthesizing research results and supporting decision making and risk management has been “inadequate,” per a recent national research council evaluation of US climate science (see Meyer, 2011, “The Public Values Failures of Climate Science in the US” ). Currently, U.S. research and development for climate modeling emphasizes that the production of data that is “better” because of investments in “faster computers” is the priority of the climate modeling enterprise – and therefore, it can be suggested that U.S. climate science is operating under the assumption that certainty (e.g. accurate predictions) is a valuable investment of federal dollars. If this is the case, then it seems as though we are continuing to put ourselves in a position of reacting to risks, versus taking advantage of the existing opportunities to develop more critical responses in anticipation of a variety of potential scenarios. In response to the assumption that accuracy equates with scientific (and public) values, new methods of analysis and planning are being developed as counterparts to this exclusively economic, cost benefits-driven policy justification. Two of the biggest proponents of these new policy methodologies are Dr. Wil Thissen, head of the Policy Analysis section at TU Delft, and Dr. Warren Walker, also of TU Delft, who have recently co-published an edited volume on new directions for public policy analysis (Public Policy Analysis: New Developments, 2013). Within this volume, Thissen & Walker articulate how a dynamic adaptive policy provides an alternative for short- and long-term decision making under conditions of deep uncertainty. Similarly, in the US, researchers at Arizona State University, at the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, have developed an approach to science policy called “public value mapping,” which I see as a viable asset to the dynamic adaptive policy developed by Thissen, Walker, Haasnoot and colleagues in the Technology, Policy & Management section at TU Delft.

This week, Twynstra Gudde described their approach to this theory to our audience at Resilient Miami Beach as an integrated approach that consists of three layers: 1. contextual knowledge, skills, and expertise 2. institutional realities (legislation and funding, etc.) and 3. relational/ social priorities (participation, cooperation, cultural proclivities, etc.). The mesh of these layers is “water governance,” which they describe as a decision making process that consists of:

‐          Accepting shared responsibility (e.g. policy makers aren’t held solely responsible for policy decisions)

‐          Accepting that the solution needs to be an integrative one (e.g. environmental, economic, social)

‐          Accepting the various roles, responsibilities and know-how (e.g. validity of economic analyses with public values analyses)

‐          Investing in a joint process that defines a shared challenge and ambition instead of a solution (e.g. the acceptance of “flexible” responses versus non-negotiable “solutions”)

Risk: Older Dangers versus Contemporary Risks

During our meeting with Chen Moore, the Americans at the table attempted to explain to our Dutch colleagues why such pervasive climate denial exists in the US. In my opinion, the underlying reasons explaining U.S. responses to science policy, and in particular, our perception of deep uncertainties like climate change, has to do with risk, and the ways in which we’ve traditionally been accustomed to managing risk. Contemporary risks, I suggest, cannot be managed; they must be responded to (see Beck, 1992, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity). There is a fundamental rhetorical difference to the implications of these terms, as used within the science policy interface. “Management” implies handling or controlling something successfully – and this is not the understanding within which a flexible, adaptive policy approach can operate. On the other hand, “response” implies a reaction: something done in deference to something else. Responsiveness, in my opinion, provides a more accurate and productive understanding of what a Dutch approach, and especially a Dutch approach for responding to real, widespread, and infinite uncertainties, really entails. Our understanding of and responses to contemporary risks must differ from our understanding and management of what Ulrich Beck calls “older dangers.”

In terms of policy making and the pressure on decision makers from various stakeholder interests, older dangers were risks that could hold some entity/ person accountable for the identified hazards; making it possible to compensate those whose lives had been touched by those particular hazards. Contemporary risks, on the other hand, are “consequences which relate to the threatening force of modernization and to its globalization of doubt” – they are politically reflexive (Beck, p. 21). We can no longer calculate risk as accurately as we may hope: today’s risks often result in systematic and irreversible harm, generally remain invisible, are based on causal interpretations, and thus initially only exist in terms of the scientific or anti-scientific knowledge about them … they can be changed, magnified, dramatized, or minimized within knowledge, and to that extent they are particularly open to social definition and construction. So, in response the question about the existence of climate change denial, I rely on Beck’s theory of the risk society, as it differs from a modern society in which the management of risks (older dangers) was possible and effective. Given contemporary risks, which are largely invisible and globally pervasive, the mass media and the scientific and legal professions in charge of defining risks become key social and political positions (Beck, p. 23) advocating – or denying – their existence.

As a result of pervasive – and successful – communication about climate change denial, one of the most intractable “qualifications” of useful information about the risks inherent in climate change in the US – i.e. urban flooding, sea level rise, storm surge – is the “prediction imperative,” the thinking that adaptation strategies require more accurate and reliable predictions of regional weather and climate extreme events before adaptive decisions can be decisively implemented.  At the moment, the projected 2014 Budget for “Improving our understanding of the threat of global climate change” proposes to allocate $2.7 billion (a 6.0 percent increase over 2012), for the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) to support research to improve our ability to understand, predict, mitigate, and adapt to global change. Could that budget be better allocated toward the development of adaptation policies that are more genuinely reflective of public values (i.e. safety, security)? I would adamantly say “yes,” and I believe that a Dutch approach (see Twynstra Gudde’s layered approach, above) would support this assertion. The challenge for the US, again, is to determine how we can make effective adaptation decisions in the absence of accurate and precise climate predictions (Lempert and Light 111).

     “The lack of climate predictability should not be interpreted as a limit to preparing strategies for adaptation” because if this is so, we’ll face some serious limitations – and economic consequences – in lieu of existing opportunities for responding with preferable, although imperfect, strategies.

Our biggest challenge is to learn how to adapt Dutch thinking – an integrated, collaborative approach – into our existing modes of policy making and to begin funding action (adaptation) versus chasing certainty. This situation is positive and hopeful because I know that we’re learning, however slowly, how to recognize alternative approaches for policy making under extreme uncertainties. Opportunities for knowledge exchange and productive, yet technical and policy-driven conversations, such as Resilient Miami Beach, are indicative of international support for the viability of Florida’s coastal cities as economic, environmental, and social assets.

Things I’m Thinking About Today:

  • Theda Skocpol’s “Naming the Problem: What Will it Take to Counter Extremism and Engage Americans in the Fight Against Global Warming?”
  • Microwind power in coastal areas – in particular, offshore …

I’ve had Skocpol’s article on my bedside table for some time now and today was the day to make time to read it. Although it’s somewhat peripheral to my immediate focus right now – The Dissertation – it does fall into my “Sunday reading” category (i.e. relevant and interesting perspectives on cool stuff with renewable energies and technologies and adaptation opportunities in various parts of the world … like the potential for turning the Soder Torn in Stockholm into a “Strawscraper” that I wrote about a few weeks ago …).

Skocpol’s analysis is comprehensive – but I was particularly interested in the section titled “The Politics Next Time,” so that’s the focus of my perspective here. More than anything, her perspective brought to mind some really specific policy analysis questions regarding public adoption of widespread, consistent climate change adaptation measures. Some of the policy analysis questions that came to mind were:

  • What types of broad, popular (and consistent and strong) mobilization can policy analysts offer to the variety of environmental/renewable energy/ climate change advocacy groups in the US?
  • What does change in policy offer average/ordinary citizens in local and state constituencies?

Skocpol articulates two imperatives for what “the politics next time” ought to accomplish:

  • broad, popular, consistent, and strong public mobilization
  • balancing federal mandates/ laws with serious attention to local organization representing public/non-scientists’ opinions

Regarding the first point, broad, popular, and strong public mobilization: I couldn’t help but think of the absolute plethora of public organizations that represent extremely similar perspectives … meaning that support for similar causes is completely disparate and not as cohesive or strong as it may be if fewer organizations collaborated to refine the interests, values, and missions of the constituents that they represent … something to think about.

Regarding the second point, as Skocpol explains, in the U.S., “lawmaking power is divided between the executive branch and a sovereign Congress run by disparate committees … and legislators often respond to local and interest group pressures more readily than to their own party’s leaders …” which I see as THE strategy for creating and implementing climate change adaptations … LOCAL values that determine the traction of climate change adaptation strategies. If a particular “public” or localized group (knowledge collective) can agree on the iteration of climate change adaptation that works best for their particular region – and one that meshes with their particular ideology – then adaptation strategies seem much more realistic and manageable, albeit in various iterations and NOT universally homogeneous. In this way, a top-down plan that doesn’t allow for “transparent legislation [or] deliver concrete benefits to millions of regular American citizens” (Skocpol p. 130) neglects to provide challenge appraisals that incite the type of deep creativity that is necessary in order for localized groups to develop adaptation strategies that work best for the nuanced conditions and challenges of particular regions and value preferences.

My thoughts about microwind power are motivated by James Stafford’s “Real Pragmatism for Real Climate Change: Interview with Dr. John Abraham,” but also because of my recent delegation to the Netherlands, where I saw a tremendous number of wind turbines first-hand … and of course, began to think about whether or not wind energy is a viable technology for Florida … or better yet, particular parts of the Florida coast. More on that in a moment.

I initially found Stafford’s article because of dissertation research … and I was immediately interested because of Abraham’s “pragmatic” position. In the article, though, I was confused about whether his position is in fact pragmatic … or whether it was more of an “economically pragmatic” ideology (if ‘economically pragmatic’ is even a category) because of this comment:

“One outcome of being pragmatic is that I search for efficient and low-cost solutions to our problems. If someone were to show me that adaptation would be cheaper than mitigation, I would support adaptation. If someone were to show me that the “solutions” to climate change are more expensive than just ignoring it, I would opt for ignoring it …”

Abraham continues to argue that he does, in fact, support adaptation, however his extreme pragmatism – economic pragmatism – is focused exclusively on economic cost/benefit; it is not an approach that values “the practical” over idealism, more broadly, or experience over reasoning … and again, although this comment is certainly not representative of his entire interview/response, it is still troubling. It’s troubling to me because it perpetuates what Stafford refers to as the “camp” element of climate change communications. Climate change adaptations aren’t going to be negotiated on one camp’s agenda – we all know this – but our words, our responses, and our arguments don’t always reflect the fact that we know this. When our responses spout facts and accusations about the human impact (i.e. “the human impact was likely about 8-10 inches of the storm surge … Sandy took an unusual turn westward because of pressure zones caused by the loss of Arctic ice, so were it not for humans, Sandy may never have hit the US at all!”) they further polarize the camps and work against what Skocpol suggests is the way out of climate change contentions: collaboration of inside-outside links that coalesce around different strategies that ultimately push broadly in the same direction. The important question, though, is the subsequent question: how? How can policy analysis and political scientists like Skocpol provide strategies and tools for enabling this sort of collaboration? That’s a question I intend to take up in my dissertation .. however, I think a lot of it has to do with parsing the “adaptation” agenda into localized, meta-adaptation plans that relate with meta-publics’ priorities and interests. For instance, if Tampa, Florida residents were largely resistant to offshore microwind power, for instance, what other creative and equally effective alternatives are they willing to consider? Maybe residents of St. Petersburg Beach, nearby the Tampa area, are keen to offshore wind farms? Maybe no one is –  but the point is that the values of meta-publics (I intend to think of an easier + better way to articulate this …) ought to determine the types of adaptations they adopt. We don’t know what these may look like yet, but we haven’t taken this approach yet, so it may be worth some serious consideration and experimentation. In the end, I’m suggesting that we become flexible enough to take into serious consideration the variety of creative adaptation solutions that may be appealing to diverse publics and start to determine what those solutions look like by fist eliminating undesirable possibilities, in order to determine the values and proclivities of particular groups. Then, we can respond by isolating and communicating solutions that more accurately match the values and ideologies of the constituents who will be adopting them … so that ultimately, we can strategically provide attractive solutions that work collectively toward the larger/national/international goal of addressing climate change in a genuinely meaningful and substantial – sustainable- way.


contemporary risks, political reflexivity, and adaptive governance

Beck (1992) argues that contemporary risks are different from what he calls “old dangers” because contemporary risks are largely invisible – the effects of climate change on the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, for instance. When these risks do reveal themselves, in times of crisis, they are in extreme form (for instance, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, etc.) and last long enough to incite fear but not long enough to provoke deliberation about adapting – preparing more efficiently for future risks of the same kind. We seem to rush in, rescue, rebuild, and then we seem to forget. Many believe that crises like these superstorms are what we “need” to motivate the development of management plans for responding to future/similar risks. But is that it? If so, then why is water management and adaptation a contested policy issue in coastal cities, like New York and New Orleans, that have been severely – and visibly – affected by contemporary risks? Is it possible that a significant part of the problem is that these events are being framed as issues of crisis instead of as issues of crisis balanced with information about effective actions (what Brulle calls “challenge appraisals”)? If superstorms and other contemporary scientific risks are only framed, and therefore understood, via threat messages, then the perception of these dangers exceeds citizens’ perceptions about their abilities to cope. Challenge appraisals, on the other hand, are responses to danger that address specific coping strategies, with the goal of mobilizing “interested”/affected citizens to act positively in response to the context of the crisis.

Kuypers offers a solution for articulating such challenge appraisals, rhetorical framing, which is a methodology for understanding how news narratives affect actions and reinforce particular themes over others.

Is it possible that aligning existing frames about disaster response with related frames about suggested remedies (Brulle’s “challenge appraisals”) will produce frame resonance (Benford, American Sociological Review, 1986) that will motivate more productive/sustainable management of these crises?

In order for frame resonance to be successful, though, it seems as though it must consider the larger issue of risk itself, and how publics’ understandings of risks aren’t conducive with Beck’s “risk society” quite yet …

The  management of contemporary of scientific risks is so elusive primarily because, as Beck writes, these risks are different in kind: they are largely hidden, invisible, but they’re also “politically reflexive,” and are characterized by:

•  systematic and often irreversible harm

•  causal interpretation (i.e. the scientific/anti-scientific knowledge circulating about them)

•  changeability (they are magnified, dramatized, or minimized within the knowledge circulating about them; meaning they are open to social construction and definition)

These risks are what I refer to as “networked” risks – exponentially more pervasive and complex than “old dangers.” Networked risks require a different mode of governance than traditional risks/old dangers: for example, adaptive governance.

Adaptive governance provides a possible solution for the management of contemporary scientific risks because it allows institutions to respond to the needs and desires of the community, given the context of a changing environment (see Brunner & Steelman in Brunner et al., 2005). In other words, a mode of management that facilitates and reinforces public values in a context of uncertainty. This mode of management is practiced in water management sectors in the Netherlands, for instance, where large consultancy firms operate using a “water governance” approach (i.e. Twynstra Gudde) that embed social measures (“soft” science), link tasks, ensure support for and structure the decision-making process (see The crux of my research pertains to this last point: structuring the decision-making process, via a Public Values Mapping methodology (see ASU Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes) that informs the development of frames that have the rhetorical potential to connect with, reinforce, and persuade public values about science, risk, and adaptation policies …

The ‘Strawscraper’: An Energy-efficient Alternative… but how?

Transforming the Soder Torn into a … strawscraper? just published this article, highlighting the possibility of transforming the Soder Torn, one of the tallest residential high-rises in Stockholm, into a “hairy” skyscraper. [“Strawscraper,” as the idea is referred to throughout most of the article, seems remarkably more appealing to me than “hairy,” but maybe that’s just me.] The point is that this ‘Strawscraper’ seems to be a phenomenal and large-scale solution to infrastructural energy efficiency. The “hairs” or straws that are affixed to the building capture wind and use it to produce electricity for the building, transforming the building into a large-scale urban wind farm. Undoubtedly, this is impressive and intriguing, but how can it become a reality? What are the barriers/challenges to adoption and implementation and most importantly (for my research, at least) how can those barriers be addressed and overcome so that sustainable solutions for energy efficiency are developed and embraced by the public?

Per Stern in The Economics of Climate Change, the obstacles to the adoption of opportunities for improving energy efficiency are market barriers and failure (248). This proposition reflects much of the traditional literature about the implementation of climate change adaptation technologies… that “the” barrier is economic; however, this assumption is changing, due to research such as the STIR initiative at the Consortium for Science & Policy Outcomes @ Arizona State University. STIR, Socio-Technical Innovation Research, is founded on the premise that although economic costs/benefits are an important component of scientific and technological innovations re: climate change adaptation, economic factors aren’t the only barriers, and therefore, this research is founded on the premise that perceiving of sci/tech challenges holistically, from the inception of these projects, ensures more “responsible” innovation (innovation that uses public research dollars for science/technology in ways that address public values).
Is it possible that initiatives like STIR can make sustainable/energy efficient architecture like “strawscrapers” a reality? I believe so, or at least from my perspective as a rhetorician of science, I believe that a holistic perspective about the management of scientific and technological uncertainties is necessary for moving science into policy in more exigent ways. The research of applied rhetoricians of science has very similar goals to initiatives like STIR, and has much to contribute to its purpose because of its foundation on the core of how these challenges are discussed, framed, and embraced/rejected.
Applied rhetoric of science is founded on an analysis of language, in order to trace how the implications (affects, results) can be better controlled so that the language used to communicate scientific and technological risks is more directly appealing to particular audiences. The usefulness of a rhetoric of science is in methods such as rhetorical framing analysis (as one example) where the terms of the debate are mapped to show their efficacy for targeted constituents. Such mapping is then used to develop rhetorical frames, to be used by decision-makers in communicating more effectively with their constituents, promoting the audience’s understanding of the risks, as opposed to their outright rejection of them because of their lack of “interest” or experience with the particular risk. Rhetoricians and public policy analysts call this strategy “situated judgment,” where an audience’s judgment of a particular issue is enhanced by the communicator’s ability to talk in terms of the audience’s “real” interests and investments. This mode of persuasion is ethical – and effective- because it ultimately enables the audience to make up their own minds as to whether the proposed risk is valuable to them, in the end, or whether such a risk doesn’t mesh with their values.

Innovative and impressive sustainable developments, like turning the Soder Torn into a strawscraper, deserve a fair chance at becoming a reality, but will require interdisciplinary strategies for negotiating the frames in which they can be communicated to “interested” parties, such as the residents of the building. Although such a strategy may seem trivial to the architects that developed the idea, researching and reinforcing public values is proving to be an inherently valuable component in overcoming the barriers to adoption and implementation of sustainably developed alternatives.

What can rhetoric contribute to public policy?

In this essay (written for my the historical rhetorics component of  PhD Comprehensive Exams) I connect the concepts of contemporary risk, rhetoric, and deliberation to argue that re-purposing historical rhetorical theories is useful for informing rhetorical deliberation about issues of scientific and technological contingency.

Risk, Rhetoric, and Deliberation:

Re-purposing Classical Rhetoric for Public Policy

Theories of deliberation from the disciplines of rhetoric, political science, and public policy can collectively provide a reinvigorated and useful heuristic informing the management of contemporary scientific and technological risks (Danisch, 2010; Garsten, 2006; Grabill & Simmons, 1998; Hauser & Benoit-Barne, 2002; Keranen, 2008; Sauer, 2003; Scott, 2006). Within this essay I offer an interdisciplinary argument reflecting J. Blake Scott’s (2006) position that, “as the rhetoric of science confronts the issue of [contemporary] risk, the classical categories of rhetorical theory become both tools for critical analyses of risk and objects of revision in light of social theories of risk” (p. 116 ). In response to Scott and others (Danisch, 2010; Garsten, 2006; Grabill & Simmons, 1998) the priority of this argument is to show how an interdisciplinary perspective (rhetoric, political science, public policy) is useful for justifying the application of a re-purposed classical rhetorical theory for the (re-)development of citizens’ capacities for deliberation about issues of scientific and technological contingency. The crux of this argument hinges on a critical analysis of classical rhetorical theories, in particular Aristotelian rhetorical theory, including:

  • a re-purposed contingency theory
  • phronesis
  • situated judgment
  • deliberative partiality

Additionally, this argument analyzes the Ciceronian rhetorical concepts of:

  • prudential reasoning/practice
  • firm moral conviction

The purpose of tracing the components of these ancient theorists’ positions on deliberative rhetoric is to show how their theories can continue to be useful when re-purposed for informing the development of practical strategies for managing risks in a contemporary context.

The second part of my argument uses Grabill & Simmons’ (1998) argument in “Toward a critical rhetoric” to suggest that because contemporary risk is socially constructed, technical communicators are most capable of responding to and participating in ways of managing deliberation about issues of scientific and technological contingency. The authors explain that because researchers/scholars in technical communication “possess the research and writing skills necessary for the complex process of constructing and communicating risk,” (1998, p. 420) they are best situated for the development of strategies and tools for the project of deliberative democracy: (re-)developing citizens’ capacities for judgment about issues of scientific contingency. Furthermore, they succinctly assert that “risk communication explicitly takes technical communication into the realm of civic discourse” (1998, p. 435). I conclude this essay by briefly defining a uniquely rhetorical tool – public value mapping – that articulates how Grabill & Simmon’s theoretical claims about the usefulness of a re-purposed classical rhetoric

can be positioned to encourage the development of particular publics participation in deliberative democracy (Grabill & Simmons, 2006, p. 429 for distinction between the public and publics), specifically as this deliberation pertains to the management of The scientific contingency of this era: climate change. I suggest that this rhetorical tool has the potential to inform more critical deliberation about and decision-making supporting climate change adaptation policies in US.


Classical Rhetoric and Rhetorical Politics

In Saving Persuasion (2006) Garsten presents a thorough argument for how and why classical rhetoric is useful for informing policy designed to manage and respond to contemporary risks. He argues that classical rhetorical theories provide alternative ways of seeing contemporary scientific and technological controversies because they enable us to “free ourselves” from the post-Reformation perspective that continues to permeate political theory (p. 18). Essentially, Garsten argues that post-Reformation patterns of thought continue to unduly influence our thinking about political theory, preventing us from “exploring the question of how citizens’ capacities for judgment can best be engaged in a politics of persuasion” (p. 17). 

If we accept Beck’s (1992) theory of risk and the implications of living in a risk society, an alternative way of understanding political theory is necessary for affecting successful decision-making, given the context of risk. The pivotal difference of Beck’s risks,

“contemporary” risks, is that they cannot be managed as “older dangers” (Beck, 1992, p. 21) once were. Contemporary risks are inherently uncertain, contingent, and global, and they can only be managed with a rhetorical politics that provides strategies for responding to issues of contingency. In chapters four and five, “Drawing upon Judgment: Aristotle” and “Conviction and Controversy: Cicero,” Garsten (2006) shows how Aristotelian and Ciceronian rhetorical theories (when re-purposed for application in contemporary political contexts) are appropriate for guiding deliberation and decision-making about the policy for managing contemporary risks.  Aristotle and Cicero, he suggests, are particularly useful to this project because: the writings of these authors sought to contain demagogy without eliminating the politics of persuasion altogether … rather than attempting to rule rhetoric out of political debate, they tried to show under what conditions it might become a means of facilitating a more deliberative sort of controversy. (2006, p.18)

Because the conditions under which political debate occur in a contemporary context are a priori contingent and uncertain, as they are in a risk society (Beck, 1992), re-purposing classical rhetorical theories about such conditions seems to make sense for facilitating a theory of deliberative democracy.

Contemporary Risks versus Older Dangers

Contemporary risks, as distinguished from older dangers, are “consequences which relate to the threatening force of modernization and its globalization of doubt; [t]hey are politically reflexive” (Beck, 1992, p. 21). Because of the tremendous success of scientific research and technological development (Danisch, 2010, p. 173) risks have become globalized, inherently uncertain, and infinitely contingent. As Beck explains, “along with the growing capacity of technical options [Zweckrationalitat] grows the incalculability of their consequences” (1992, p. 22). Beck’s conceptualization of the “risk society” provides a framework for thinking-through the implications of contemporary risks, which exist on an “unprecedented scale because they cannot be delimited spatially, temporally, or socially” (p. 178); their consequences cannot be made certain and cannot be controlled exclusively by experts.

Beck’s “risk” is “a systematic way of dealing with hazards and insecurities induced and introduced by modernization itself” (p. 22). Contemporary risks are politically “reflexive” because they are characterized by:

  • systematic (and often irreversible) harm
  • invisibility
  • causal interpretation (and thus initially only exist in terms of the scientific or anti-scientific knowledge about them)
  • changeability (can be magnified, dramatized, or minimized within knowledge and to that extent, are particularly open to social definition and construction) (Beck, 1992, p. 22-23)

One of the most significant political implications of this perception of contemporary risks –  in particular, the reflexivity of these risks – is that these contingent issues require deliberation and rhetoric, albeit not in the intended manner – or context – in which classical rhetorical theorists, like Aristotle and Cicero, developed them.

The Contingency Thesis, Phronesis, Situated Judgment, and Deliberative Partiality

Aristotle’s approach to rhetorical deliberation can be traced to his contingency thesis, which consists of two categories: “the contingent” and “the necessary.” By definition, the contingent category defines – limits– the role of rhetoric to serving the discursive means of deliberation (Danisch, 2010), intending for it to provide a method for inquiring into and communicating about the realm of the contingent, where this realm yields opinions of variable validity, but no certain knowledge. These judgments, Danisch (2006) explains, are understood to be bound by context and therefore not universally valid (certain). Because of this handicap, the contingent was understood to be inferior to Scientific knowledge (the “necessary”) which was/is demonstrated to be certain – superior – as it was produced through experiments by experts.

In the contingency theory, Scientific knowledge, as well as the domain of philosophy, was categorized as “necessary.” The necessary pertained to certain knowledge, knowledge that was statistically predictable, the result of technological experts’ control over nature. In “Reflections on Rhetoric,” (2002), Hauser & Benoit-Barne connect the Aristotelian idea of “the necessary” to contemporary political science, suggesting that political decision-making is driven by the marketplace model of rational choice, which holds that “individuals make political choices as much as they do economic ones” (p. 262). This one-to-one prediction of human behavior esteems rationality while delimiting discursive practices as peripheral to decision-making about public values. The problem with this model, they argue, is refuted by classical rhetoric, which contends that: “since the Athenian polis … democratic politics must be a public activity open to all and distinct from the private preferences expressed in commercial transactions” (p. 263).

In light of this position about democracy and citizens’ participation in the process, Danisch (2010) uniquely re-purposes Aristotle’s contingency thesis in light of Beck’s position, so that it can be used in contemporary thinking about rhetoric, risk, and deliberation. Most importantly, he highlights the political implications of managing contemporary risks, all of which are contingent in a risk society. He writes:

the reason that risk assessment and risk analysis can only produce contingent propositions is that scientific and technical work stopped describing the natural world and started intervening in it. This led to the production of contingent events. Risk assessment and risk analysis describe these contingent events. But all scientific and technological development carries with it the production of contingent events – events that could possibly happen. Thus once we see scientific and technical work not as a descriptive enterprise but as a productive enterprise, we begin to understand science as an enterprise that manufactures both contingent events (unintended consequences) and contingent propositions. (p. 187)

Understanding the contingency thesis from within the framework of Beck’s risk society is “essential for understanding politics and public culture in contemporary society and a way of extending work in the rhetoric of science” (Danisch, 2010, p. 180). More immediately important to this essay’s argument, though, is the implication of re-purposing the contingency thesis as the appropriate method informing the management of scientific and technological risks. As Aristotle observed, “political issues and decisions are in the realm of the contingent, and contingencies are not entirely explicable in rationalistic terms” (Hauser & Benoit-Barne, 2002, p. 265). The implication of a re-purposed contingency thesis for the development of public policy about science presents a problematic notion; however, if scientific work is negotiated, contingent, and uncertain, it is a form of persuasion.

Accepting the sciences as rhetorical and persuasive reinforces Beck’s risk society thesis: namely, that society has moved from industrial modernity to late modernity, implying that we ought to conceive of the social significance of scientific and technological controversies as rhetoric, and secondly, that we ought to more critically consider the local contexts in which these controversies constitute public cultures and public spheres (Danisch, 2010, p. 183). As Garsten argues in Saving Persuasion, political theory is still operating under the influence of post-Reformation Science and Policy (Beck’s “industrial modernity”) despite a context of inherently intractable scientific and technological contingencies (Beck’s “late modernity”). When/if we accept Beck’s premises and their implications for political theory and policy-making, we not only acknowledge that Science isn’t infallible, we also acknowledge that expertise isn’t entirely certain or statistically predictable, and we validate the judgment of “common” citizens’ common sense and practical wisdom. Aristotelian classical rhetoric provides another valuable insight that informs how we ought to cultivate the (re-)development of citizens’ practical wisdom: phronesis.


Danisch (2010) defines Aristotle’s phronesis as “prudence,” simply, a citizen’s ability to deliberate well about what is good and bad. Historically, Aristotle distinguished the type of wisdom inherent in phronesis from theoretical wisdom and craft knowledge; this capability was specifically/only used to deliberate about particular, contingent matters by relying on practical experience and virtue (Danisch, 2010). Again, if the dynamics of contemporary scientific and technological risks, as a whole, are understood within the framework of the risk society, this implies that all such “matters” are contingent, meaning that phronesis – re-purposed – provides a theoretical tenet informing contemporary deliberation and public engagement. If, as Aristotle claims in his theory of deliberative rhetoric (Nicomachean Ethics) we do not deliberate about things we cannot control or about matters that are wholly in the hands of others, then motivating a deliberative democracy requires two revisions. First, it requires that the “control” exerted by experts be re-positioned as flexible (even adaptive) modes of “management,” as in the management of uncertainties (versus the control over nature, as in a post-Reformation, rational choice model of policy-making). Secondly, a deliberative democracy requires that the concept of expertise – again, an influence of post-Reformation ideology on policy-making – be opened up so as to validate practical wisdom, phronesis, as this reinforces a basic understanding of democratic politics: that it must be a public activity which must remain open to experts and non-experts, from which contradictory positions can be deliberated about to determine the public values that ought to be prioritized in policy.

Garsten (2006) reinforces Aristotle’s deliberative rhetoric and the concept of phronesis succinctly: we deliberate about what we can do ourselves:

Practical judgment understood in this way is closely linked to the activity of deliberation. We only deliberate about how to respond in situations where there is no clear or definite answer, where we can control our response to some event, and where certain responses seem to be better than others. (Garsten, 2006, p. 8)

When all scientific and technological situations are inherently contingent, as they are in the risk society, we are forced to deliberate about them; because deliberation requires practical judgment, phronesis (the wisdom developed from one’s experiences) a re-purposed Aristotelian deliberative rhetoric provides a theoretical foundation for the type of disposition that is necessary if we are to accomplish a deliberative democracy.

Situated Judgment and Deliberative Partiality

Garsten identifies the Aristotelian concepts of situated judgment and deliberative partiality as suggesting the “surprising idea that rhetorical appeals to peoples’ partial and passionate points of view can often be a good means of drawing out their capacity for judgment and so drawing them into deliberation” (13). For Aristotle, when judgment was situated in deliberation, citizens tended to judge more critically. When they were able to consider matters as they were connected to their own values, as opposed to considering an argument unrelated to their values (Nicomachean Ethics, 1094b, 1140b11) they tended to judge “better.” Judging better meant that they weren’t as easily persuaded – in the sense of being convinced, indoctrinated, or brainwashed – but rather, that they maintained their own perspectives while remaining open to and engaged with others’ arguments. As a result of this “true” or “critical” persuasion, citizens were then induced to change their own beliefs and desires in light of what was argued (Garsten, 2006, p. 7). As it pertains to the contemporary risk of climate change and the persuasive arguments crafted to legitimize or deny it (discussed in more detail, below) Johnson argues that climate change communication ought to leverage these available means of persuasion (Aristotle), suggesting that such a strategy:

emotionally tap[s] core identities and concerns of the audience, [which] may be more effective than expertise-based messages about the benefits and harms of carbon capture and sequestration … this way of contextualizing the debate could widen potential audiences, including some climate neutrals and deniers not otherwise open to persuasion. (2012, p. 979)

“Deliberative Partiality” pertained to the component of Aristotle’s deliberative rhetoric which accepted and even protected and encouraged citizens’ “rights” to their own perspectives about particular experiences. This component is closely related with Aristotle’s notion of situated judgment, because if citizens “judged better in deliberative settings, where they were situated in their own perspectives and experiences and where their opinions and feelings about what would be good for them were relevant to the question before them” (Garsten, 2006, p. 119) then they would likewise be inclined to engage in deliberation where they simultaneously defended their personal views and maintained a vested interest and openness to the relevant concerns of others.

Further informing a deliberative rhetoric, Aristotle suggested that citizens’ partialities could provide starting points for political deliberation (Garsten, 2006) and, in terms of the persuader, enable a relevant and compelling starting point from which the persuader could frame an effective argument.

Prudential Reasoning and Firm Moral Conviction

For Cicero, “orators will not be persuasive without philosophic knowledge;” (Garsten, 2006, p. 157) therefore, in deference to Aristotle’s “contingent” (i.e. rhetoric) and “necessary” (i.e. philosophy) he linked rhetoric with philosophy. The primary implication of this strategy was that expertise in public opinion was somehow related to philosophic knowledge:

the point is simply that he did not subscribe to the stark separation between opinion and knowledge that had divided the sophists from Socrates and that later thinkers … would invoke in their condemnations of rhetoric … Cicero’s view of rhetoric required orators to concede their dependence on philosophical knowledge. (Garsten, 2006, p. 162)

Prudential Reasoning

Cicero positioned prudential reasoning as a form of practical wisdom grounded in experience participating in Roman cultural institutions, combined with an interest in and commitment to the study of theoretical learning/philosophy (De Oratore). For the purpose of re-using this historical/rhetorical position in a contemporary context, I suggest that this linking of rhetoric and prudence can enable us to recover a theory informing a deliberative model of civic participation from the influence of the post-Reformationist ideological positions about Science, expertise, certainty, and public values that still permeate our thinking about and responses to contemporary risks. As with the re-purposing of Aristotle’s categories, Cicero’s prudential reasoning is a historically contingent category, meaning that in order for it to serve contemporary policy appropriately, we have to make it flexible enough to continue to respond to a variety of increasing and networked scientific and technological risks.

Perhaps the biggest “reach” of a contemporary Ciceronian prudential reasoning about scientific and technological contingencies is that citizens would need to begin to see scientific reasoning as a special case of practical reasoning and have some training in that form of reasoning. As Danisch (2010) argues:

rethinking the category of prudence from within the world risk society thesis is a difficult challenge. If this is something that can be taught, rhetorical theorists must face the challenge of articulating all the aspects of a scientific prudence and then engage in the task of promoting the teaching of that skill for the improvement of the public sphere and the return of judgment to common citizens. (p.189)

(The possibilities for developing scientific prudence are discussed in theTechnical Communication and Civic Discourse section, below.)

Firm Moral Conviction

Because today’s culture of rules and codes eliminates the risk of imprudence and the responsibility that breeds prudence, (Garsten, 2006) citizens’ capacities for deliberating about, articulating, and defending their moral convictions have atrophied. Cicero’s position about citizens’ firm moral convictions led him to a political approach that respected the partial truths of partisan opinions, (Garsten, 2006) thus validating non-expert opinions/knowledge. If we reconsider Cicero’s position in a contemporary context, it has the potential to inform more effective communication about matters of scientific/technological contingency, such as climate change.

Concerning climate change communications, Johnson explains a type of re-purposed Ciceronian advocacy for publics’ firm moral convictions within the following suggestion:

Climate change communicators ought not impose their values on their audience but rather accept citizens’ moral convictions and reframe existing high-priority non-environmental values for climate and energy action that don’t require explicit, intense promotion of environmentalist values. (2012, p. 977)

Technical Communication and Civic Discourse

Danisch’s (2010) challenges rhetoricians, not sociologists, to lead the development of a deliberative democracy for engaging citizens in the management of contemporary uncertainties, arguing that rhetorical theory must develop a form of prudence capable of guiding publics’ deliberation about scientific and technological contingencies. Grabill & Simmons (1998) provide specific reasons that further inform and contextualize Danisch’s resolute position about the responsibility of rhetoricians in more critically developing a deliberation-based political framework. Extending Danisch’s “call” that rhetoricians take up the challenge of motivating citizens’ engagement in deliberation about scientific/technological risks, Grabill & Simmons first contextualize how previous approaches to risk assessment have been arhetorical (1998, p. 416) suggesting that they have been unsuccessful primarily because of their lack of consideration about two significant factors:

  • context
  • social factors

“Too many of these approaches to risk communication have … typically decontextualize[ed] risks and fail[ed] to consider social factors that influence public perceptions of risk” (Grabill & Simmons, 1998). Next, they show how these technocratic/arhetorical approaches have failed to engage “The Public” in decision-making about contemporary risks. They argue that these approaches (mis-)understand “The Public” as one, cohesive entity, whereas a rhetorical approach that seeks to  contextualize and localize risk sites and processes (1998, p. 428) is, in their opinion, far more successful in persuading more widespread participation, and therefore policy that more accurately represents the publics’ values. This position reflects a historical/rhetorical position on phronesis (Aristotle) and prudential reasoning (Cicero) because it operates under the premise that citizens are the best judges of their own interests. When citizens aren’t interested/invested in public policy deliberations (as a result of the exclusivity under which public policy operates as a result of its emphasis on expertise and the validity and reliability of Scientific/Technological factors at the exclusion of social values) they defer to experts to make decisions on their behalf, what Hauser & Benoit-Barne (2002) describe as the “procedural model,” which:

is prone to reducing deliberation to exchanges among an epistemic elite credentialed to engage in critical rational deliberation … [which] rules out the impact of attachments [social factors] which motivate citizens to become involved in political issues and partake in deliberative processes. Political issues and decisions are, as Aristotle observed, in the realm of the contingent, and contingencies are not entirely explicable in rationalistic terms. (p. 265)

In recognition of this problem, Danisch (2010) asks how we ought to cultivate common sense in citizens – how to interest citizens – about rendering judgments about scientific/technological contingencies, in the absence of expert knowledge. Most significantly, he warns that “no simple transition moves the locus of judgment and authority [from experts] back to the community of common citizens” (p. 188); therefore, in extending this challenge, he asks how “we” ought to begin negotiating non-experts’ opinions and values into the management of scientific/technological contingencies, enabling a “truer” deliberative model of democracy.

Grabill & Simmons (1998) respond to this challenge by asserting that technical communicators are skilled at:

insert[ing] the audience/public/citizens directly into risk assessment processes through usability testing … contextual interviewing and observation practices … working with audiences in the construction of knowledge. (p. 431)

More adamantly, they claim that “risk communication explicitly takes technical communication into the realm of civic discourse” (p. 435) thus identifying the “we” above as rhetoricians, and subsequently positioning rhetoricians/technical communicators as primarily responsible for (re-)producing citizens who are interested in and capable of deliberating about matters of significance to them, as various publics, representing various and localized priorities.

Public Value Mapping

Very briefly, I want to explain the rhetorical method of Public Value Mapping (PVM) and to suggest that such a method provides a strategy for extending theoretical claims about the necessity of a deliberative democracy for the management of contemporary scientific/technological contingencies/risks. In particular, I want to highlight Meyers’ research on the public values failures of climate science in the US, identifying 5 public values related specifically to climate science communication, and suggesting that thinking “small” (i.e. local) may lead to desired progress in connecting science and public values.

In “Public Value Mapping of Science Outcomes,” Bozeman provides an overview of the PVM model:

PVM includes concerns not generally addressed in research evaluation … research outputs, impacts, and organizations are considered in terms of their role with the environment for research … including other researchers and research institutions and their work, but also such contributors as funding agencies … other stakeholders … the PVM approach, thus, considers the capacity to do research, including especially the pool of ‘Scientific and technical Human Capital’ (S&HC) available and deployed by the research unit and the impacts of the research unit and activity on the development of further S&HC … it examines as part of a knowledge value collective not only those who themselves produce scientific knowledge but the long chain of institutions and actors who enable the transformation of knowledge into uses and social impacts. (2003, p. 16)

Meyers identifies five public values that he claims have contributed to the public values failures of climate science:

  • useful information
  • high quality Science
  • coordination and collaboration
  • transparency and communication
  • stakeholder participation and support

He ultimately suggests that for the management of scientific contingencies, we ought to ask ourselves what kinds of knowledge would lead to desired progress toward public values, and what kinds of institutions are needed to facilitate that process; essentially, we need to ask how we can develop goals that connect science with publics values. Could thinking “small”/ local enable incremental progress for climate change policy and, in particular, policy pertaining to adaptive measures? (2011, n.p.) If, as is the premise of this essay, we agree with Meyer that the identification of local values and the subsequent engagement of a particular public in supporting those values is an effective model for deliberative democracy, then the usefulness of re-purposed classical rhetoric for the development of a more mature and comprehensive theory of deliberative democracy can be further legitimized (Hauser & Benoit-Barne, 2002). Most significantly, though, it further validates and extends Beck’s risk society thesis, necessitating a paradigm shift in our dispositions about productively managing our contemporary scientific and technological risks. In particular, this new paradigm revalidates the underlying motivation of a critical and deliberative rhetoric: the capacity for “true” persuasion. Garsten concludes:

part of what we might gain from renewed attention to [classical rhetoricians’ philosophies of deliberative democracy] is the ability to articulate precisely what is lost in a politics without persuasion: a feel for how to render moral and political principles psychologically attractive, a prudent sensitivity to the particular passions and interests of different audiences [public values with the sciences]; and a decent respect for the knowledge of probabilities enshrined in common sense and ordinary experience. (2006, p. 22)


Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics. (R. Crisp, Trans.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Asen, R. (2010). Introduction: Rhetoric and Public Policy. Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 13(1), 1-5.

Beck, U. (1992). Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. (M. Ritter, Trans.). London: SAGE. (Original work published 1986)

Bozeman, B., Sarewitz, D., Feinson, S., Foladori, G., Gaughan. M., Gupta, A., … Zachary, G. (2003). Knowledge Flows and Knowledge Collectives: Understanding the Role of                        Science and Technology Policies in Development: Synthesis Report on the Findings of a Project for the Global Inclusion Program of the Rockefeller Foundation. Center for                       Science, Policies, and Outcomes, 3-87.

Cicero, M.T. De Oratore. (K. Kumaniecki, Trans.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Danisch, R. (2010). Political Rhetoric in a World Risk Society. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 40(2), 172-192.

Gaonkar, D. (2001). Contingency. Encyclopedia of Rhetoric. New York: Oxford University Press.

Garsten, B. (2006). Saving Persuasion: A Defense of Rhetoric and Judgment. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Grabill, J. T. & Simmons, W.M. (1998). Toward a critical rhetoric of risk communication: Producing citizens and the role of technical communicators. Technical Communication Quarterly, 7(4), 415-441.

Hauser, G.A. & Benoit-Barne, C. (2002). Reflections on Rhetoric, Deliberative Democracy, Civil Society, and Trust. Rhetoric & Policy Affairs 5(2), 261-275.

Ivie, R. L. (2002). Rhetorical Deliberation and Democratic Politics in the Here and Now.

Rhetoric and Public Affairs, 5(2), 277-285.

Johnson, B.B. (2012). Climate Change Communication: A Provocative Inquiry into Motives, Meanings, and Means. Risk Analysis, 32(6), 973-991.

Keranen, L. (2008). Bio(in)security: Rhetoric, Science, and Citiaens in the Age of Bioterrorism – The Case of TOPOFF 3. In David Zarefsky and Elizabeth Benacka (Eds.), Sizing Up Rhetoric Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

Myers, R. (2011). The Public Values Failures of Climate Science in the US. Minerva, n.p.


Nelson, T.E. (2004). Policy Goals, Public Rhetoric, and Political Attitudes. The Journal of

            Politics, 66(2), 581-605.

Pidgeon, N. & Fischhoff, B. (2011). The role of social and decision sciences in communicating uncertain climate risks. Nature Climate Change, 1, 35-41.


Sauer, B. (2003). The Rhetoric of Risk: Technical Documentation in Hazardous Environments.

Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Scott, J.B. (2006). Kairos as Indeterminate Risk Management: The Pharmaceutical Industry’s Response to Bioterrorism. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 92(2), 115-143.

Managing Uncertainty: the Responsibility of Rhetoricians with Scientists

-making decisions for climate change adaptation strategies in coastal cities-

 from “Understanding the Economics of Adaptation” in The Economics of Climate Change:

The Stern Review

Adaptation is the “only way to deal with the unavoidable impacts of climate change to which the world is already committed, and additionally offers an opportunity to adjust economic activity in vulnerable sectors and support sustainable development” (458). Adaptation operates at two levels: planning, or building capacity, and implementation, or delivering actions. Tampa Bay is one of many coastal cities, like NYC, that remains vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because adaptation is still largely at the building stage; the stage in which scientists and policy-makers are “creating the information and conditions that are needed to support adaptation.” For example, at Resilient Tampa Bay, dubbed “a knowledge exchange with Dutch experts,” ( scientists, local policy-makers, Dutch and local environmental engineers and risk analysts, as well as rhetoricians (Herndl, Santos, Zoetewey, myself; discussed the potential impacts of climate change in the Tampa Bay area and (the Dutch) suggested options for adaptation (i.e. undertaking impact studies and identifying vulnerabilities; Stern p. 458-9). The next steps for Tampa Bay, post-knowledge exchange, are to pilot specific actions and accumulate the resources necessary to implement actions. Implementation, or delivering actions, is the second phase of adaptation – and one that, for coastal cities like Tampa Bay – necessitates investing in physical infrastructure, like resilience engineering, to protect against specific climate risks like floods and managing sea level rise and storm surges.

In addition to the science/engineering of climate change adaptation strategies, like resilience engineering, economics is – of course – a major factor influencing building capacity and delivering actions in response to climate change. “Decisions about the timing and amount of adaptation require that costs and benefits be compared” (462). The problem, at least at the moment, is that in a cost- benefit analysis, “the adaptation route that is chosen should yield the highest net benefit, having taken into account the risks and uncertainties surrounding climate change” (462). In order for risk analysts like Arno Willems (Resilient Tampa Bay; to advise city planners about a specific/projected cost, given speculated risk, they must decide on a “good enough/safe enough” projection of the certainty of climate change impacts. As Stern argues, more quantitative information on the costs and benefits of economy-wide adaptation is required. “Additionally, for coastal cities, some studies indicate that efficient adaptation could reduce climate damages substantially” (464). In order to move forward building adaptive capacity in Tampa Bay, we need this data; we need the best-possible estimates and projections, especially in the context of uncertainty about climate change. Moving forward building adaptive capacity doesn’t mean fast-forwarding to investing in physical infrastructure (i.e. resilience engineering) to protect against specific climate risks (storm surge, sea level rise, urban flooding). It does mean moving forward by first articulating the options for adaptation and undertaking impact studies and identifying vulnerabilities; where the Resilient Tampa Bay knowledge exchange left off. In my opinion, this is where we ought to focus climate change research/funding– on the development of risk management frameworks that map costs and benefits as sufficiently as possible, given that uncertainty can’t ever be eliminated from climate change, or any other, sciences.

Stern argues that barriers to adaptation can be summarized as three reasons: uncertainty and imperfect information, missing and misaligned markets, and financial constraints. The remainder of this posting will address the first reason, uncertainty and imperfect information.

It’s unfortunate that in current climate change conversations, “high-quality” information = “certain” or “perfect” information; the only type of information that is considered useful for articulating the costs and benefits of investing in adaptation. If “high-quality” means “certain/perfect,” and it is unlikely that certain/perfect information will ever exist, then how it is possible for productive conversations about climate change adaptation, like Resilient Tampa Bay, to move forward in building capacity and investing in physical infrastructure to respond to coastal cities’ vulnerabilities to climate change? If certain (Scientific)* information doesn’t exist, then will it continue to be difficult/impossible for individuals/firms to “weigh up the costs and benefits of investing in adaptation” (466). Stern is hopeful: “The uncertainty will never be resolved, but should become more constrained as an understanding of the system improves” (466). Just how it can “become more constrained” isn’t articulated; however, from my perspective, as a rhetorician, a key strategy for “constraining” uncertainty about climate change lies in linguistic framing and in rhetoric about scientific issues of contingency, of which climate change is arguably #1. Lakoff (“Why it Matters How We Frame the Environment”; Environmental Communication 2010) writes that introducing a new frame is successful (only) if it makes sense in terms of the existing system of frames, if it works emotionally and if it is introduced in a communication system that allows for sufficient spread over the population, sufficient repetition, and sufficient trust in the messengers (Lakoff 72) . What, then, are the possibilities for re-framing uncertainty in order to constrain it and – therefore – enable risk analysts to develop “high-quality” models of costs and benefits of climate change adaptation strategies, like resilience engineering, that will be attractive and achievable?

Climate change adaptation isn’t a Science (solution)* it’s a strategy for managing uncertainty, what I perceive as the foundational ethic of practicing the sciences; managing uncertainties. Stern emphasizes that it is important to recognize the limits of adaptation … it cannot by itself solve the problems posed by high and rapidly increasing temperatures, etc. (469). If the most paralyzing aspect of climate change is its identity as “uncertain,” then rhetoricians of science have a responsibility in managing uncertainty, too: a responsibility for improving the terms of the debate. Even more explicitly, they have a responsibility for re-framing “uncertainty” with a frame that has the power to motivate the implementation of adaptive strategies. If the terms of the debate with scientific/engineering strategies can enable decision-makers’ confidence in moving forward with delivering adaptation technologies, then the imperative of the sciences as the management of uncertainty can be accomplished as the negotiation of ecological and social priorities that shape policy in responsive, flexible, and economically productive ways.

*My interpretations of “Science” and “the sciences” are motivated by a Latourian way of understanding “the sciences” as an alternative approach to “Science.” To explain, whereas the goal of “Science” is to eliminate uncertainty, the sciences value the capacity to debate in respect of uncertainties, and to negotiate ways of using the terms of scientific debates as ways out of the paralysis that has resulted from demanding certainty from Science.

Brick Walls: “The Uses of Difficulty” and the “right” obstacles

The Economist has just introduced a few phenomenal articles from its sister publication, Intelligent Life, free to DL @ morning, I enjoyed reading “The uses of difficulty,” which I was excited to see has direct correlations with the research I’ve been most recently engaged in re: writers’ uses of technology, the organization of pedagogies informing those uses, and the development of new and innovative strategies for synthesizing writing, technology, and rhetoric to achieve significant and sustainable affect.

I strongly agree with Bill Hart-Davidson, that “writing isn’t just writing anymore, it’s networked and therefore a different composing process, a product with different implications.” Writing occurs in far more spaces, with far larger audiences, and with extremely rewarding, and unfortunately sometimes extremely dire, consequences. Writing is fast, pervasive, affective, powerful. All because of the media through which it occurs – the media that enables its agency to DO things – to do things faster, bigger, stronger.

But not without implications … as Hart-Davidson argues.
The implications I’m most concerned about, from the perspective of my research and pedagogy pertaining to writing center theory/practice and, more casually, writing mentoring, can be traced to teaching and the ways in which the use of technology as a primary tool for writing is imbued with consequences that are immediate (i.e. the “real-time” nature of web publications) and much farther-reaching (“open”: available to any user with Internet access).

From Hart-Davidson’s position,

teaching [writing] can’t continue to occur as it does currently, in a way that is
detached from the reality of a networked mode of writing; teaching needs to
respond to the (vastly different) rhetorical aspects of technological writing and the much
more vast audience which constitutes the digital scholars’ audience (Hart-
Davidson, Bill et al. “Why teach digital writing? The WIDE Research Center
Collective.” Kairos 10.1(2005): n.p. Web. 10 Oct. 2012).

Because we (writers/writing researchers/writing professors) see the value in using technology to enhance writing, researching, and teaching, what’s most important is that we do so based on a solid theoretical foundation of theory that reinforces its intelligent use and challenges its practice. This is where the Economist‘s article, “The uses of difficulty” comes into play for me.

As someone who has almost exclusively – until October of this year – composed on paper (using a laptop literally as a tool for formatting, editing, and communicating my writing) I was initially conflicted to read Ian Leslie’s argument that:

As the brain attempts to force the unsteady hand to do its bidding, the tension
between the two results in a more compressed, psychologically denser
expression … handwriting activat[es] more of the brain than keyboard writing,
including areas responsible for thinking and memory … our brains respond better
to difficulty than we imagine (4).

Leslie’s argument matches my own (former) reasons for handwriting my work for so long … so the question, now, after I’ve just committed to composing on-screen … is does it work? Can I write as effectively – densely, as Leslie would have it? If the difficulty involved in the act of handwriting produces “better,” more critical writing, then why would I or anyone else (Hart-Davidson, in particular) advocate composing on-screen?

I’ve found that composing on-screen enables distinct advantages for: space, time, and most importantly, appropriation of a “real” (digital) audience.

Concerning space, what I’ve enjoyed most about transitioning to digital composing is my access to research – whether it’s via the university library, or a link posted on Twitter, composing on-screen enables me to access and then think-through and analyze many more resources than if I were to copy and then write-through this analysis by hand. Leslie’s counter-argument to this point would likely be that, yes, maybe it’s more efficient to access research and compose writing in the same space, but that doesn’t ensure that I’m thinking-through that research/composition as deeply as if I were to write-through it by hand. Possibly. But what about the possibility of having access to more perspectives to think and write about? What about the benefit of researching more, faster, and thus extending the usefulness of “prewriting” and drafting?

Regarding time, for me, composing onscreen enables my writing to “keep up” with my thinking … and it allows me to use my time more efficiently because as I write, I talk aloud to myself … rehearsing my writing, conversing and arguing about meaning, etc. The ability to type as quickly as I can think/speak narrows the gap between thinking and writing in a very positive way, at least for the way in which I write/communicate.

Lastly, and most importantly, is Hart-Davidson’s argument that digital composing as it’s then produced/dispersed digitally (given that most publications are available online) ensures that the documents produced are “appropriate to the global and dispersed reach of the web”. Essentially, Hart-Davidson is arguing that teaching technological modes of writing prepares students for the reality of writing in a networked world. This is a large-scale change, he argues, in the “rhetorical situations that we ask students to write within, the audiences we ask them to write for, the products that they produce, and the purposes of their writing.” If we are to really engage in teaching students writing, we must respond to the pervasiveness of technology as it is used for writing in the “real” world. This isn’t to argue that writers of the “real” world aren’t using pen and paper. But it is to argue that writing in the 21st century is networked writing … Whether that involves pen and paper at moments throughout the composing process, or whether composing takes place exclusively on-screen would be at the discretion of the writer, I suppose. But I would argue that although the act of pen-and-paper writing is incredibly useful primarily because of the difficulty involved in coordinating thinking and writing, so is the process of typing, the skill involved in researching, and the writer’s attention to the rhetorical -networked- situation they’re composing in.

Post-Comprehensive Exam Ruminations: On Rhetoric

The arduous process of studying for my PhD comprehensive exams has been, in the end, the most beneficial requirement of my academic life thus far. The exclusive attention I devoted to developing reading lists (multiple versions) and outlining/annotating individual texts/journal articles (up until the day before the test) enabled me to articulate patterns of argument within each of the meta-disciplines of the exam (composition theory, rhetoric and technology, research methods, and historical rhetoric). Those patterns, collaboratively, have led me to a working definition of rhetoric and its purposes for my current and future scholarship. Although I’m still experimenting with the potential of this definition, I’m confident that, at the very least, it epitomizes my more general perspective about the ways in which each of the meta-disciplines of rhetoric function:

Although each of the meta-disciplines’ priorities for situating rhetoric draws attention to a particular strength or purpose, they share a common theme of openness, which is indicative of an ethical stance toward an “other,” animate (human) or inanimate (technology). Rhetoric is a response-inviting practice (Herrick, The History and Theory of Rhetoric) one that elicits responses from competing points of view; a discipline that allows for – and in fact, encourages – the synthesis of various, contradictory ideologies’ arguments  …

“Response-inviting” implies rhetoric’s openness; expressing that openness effectively necessitates a democracy that permits and supports it, and a system of learning that engages the public in understanding how rhetorical practices are practical for enhancing civic life within their democracy.

Such a democracy, in turn, would enable rhetoric to flourish: “When democracy flourishes, so does rhetoric and its study. When democracy declines, rhetoric also declines as its role as the method of free public discourse is diminished” (Herrick 115).

Rhetoric’s revivification and expansion, throughout more recent history, is therefore encouraging for democracy, and for better enabling rhetoricians to engage in everyday/political/public life as agentive scholars and responsible – and responsive – citizens.

working definition of the rhetoric of science (?)










I’ve been playing with developing a workable definition for the rhetoric of science; particularly because of the need to explain its purpose and usefulness to an interdisciplinary panel of judges of the USF Challenge Grant I’m writing.

The grant proposes the development of a science-writing laboratory, in which composition theory (writing in the disciplines) and the rhetoric of science will inform five undergraduate students’ collaborative authorship of a scientific journal article detailing their research in Neuroscience/on melatonin and Parkinson’s-diseased cells.  

Rhetoric of science: the purpose of these researchers’/theorists’ scholarship is to analyze writing practices in the sciences and to relate those processes with the production and use of disciplinary knowledge. In other words, rhetoricians of science are “concerned with understanding how the sciences construct knowledge through different textual forms [and with] the kinds of challenges students must meet when learning to write in their chosen fields” (Bazerman et al., 2005, p. 66). The goal of a rhetorician of science is to articulate strategic models of communication; precise and practical strategies for successfully negotiating scientific knowledge both within scientific discourse communities and beyond these communities; with lay publics.

Science, Policy, and Outcomes: Latour, Rivers, Brunner … where are the science wars now?

*click here for Politics of Nature cognitive map

Graham & Lindeman and Grossberg on the social implications of the sciences

Rhetoricians of science, like Graham & Lindeman, who ask research questions such as “How are scientific reports used to establish public policy?; “How do those reports implicate larger political and cultural systems?”; “How are the social implications of scientific discourse especially profound today?”; “How has the extension of scientific activity beyond traditional research locations implicated ‘science’?” are, most definitely, reflective of social sciences’ concerns, especially in terms of the ways in which they allude to the ways in which knowledge is used to exert authority, to draw boundaries, to prove “expertise.”

Given these research questions, Graham & Lindeman’s primary purpose is to construct meaning, to tell a story, concerning the two versions of an environmental organization’s service report, first by tracing the rhetorical context of the two versions, examining central rhetorical features, and the way information is controlled, discussing the work of science and scientists and evaluating the problematic nature of the rhetorical moves used in each version and then, ultimately, suggesting ways to interrogate public policy discourse (425). Therefore, in response to Grossberg’s question as to how “… one does research under the sign of [science] cultural studies? What is its analytic practice? I’d agree that the question has to be responsible to the messy and complex political realities of the world – and, most importantly, that it is – and must be –answerable. The answers, as in Graham & Lindeman’s case, are contextually bound, yet not devalued in their specificity, because “… if cultural studies responds to conjunctures, they must be understood as posing their own specific questions and demands” (Grossberg 48) …

Quick Thought on Political Agency …and an insight into why this year’s Republican Presidential debates are so intensely personal …

Why are the Republican Presidential debates so intensely personal? And, seemingly, why are this year’s debates more personal than they seem to have been in past years’ debates?

My theory is that as nearly every aspect of society becomes de-formalized, including the de-formalization of “knowledge,” it (whatever “it” happens to be, in this case, political campaigns) becomes less revered as “expertise” or “factual” or “true” and, therefore, is vulnerable to the types of casual, de-formalized rearticulations that we see as “personal attacks” in this case. In terms of the Republican Presidential debates, is it possible that the candidates’ perception that knowledge, as it is democratized, can be manipulated, splintered, into various “truths,” that they’re deferring to the rhetorical affects of their responses to one anothers’ attacks, versus verification of their “facts” as opposed to the other’s “facts”?

What are the consequences, positive, negative, and otherwise, of the democratization of knowledge and the rearticulation of “truth,” the renegotiation of its power and prestige as “expertise”?

“What is in between the mesh of the networks?” (Latour)

quick notes on Science in Action; chapter 5, “Tribunals of Reason” 

  • What is in between the mesh of the networks?
  • What does it matter?

Experimentations with controversies; controversies that are negotiated, mediated. Mediation, media(c)tors, are in between the mesh of the networks; implying that the conflicts and the clashes that actors mediate enable us opportunities to – locally, specifically – determine ways out of the paralysis of what’s “rational” versus what’s “irrational.” Mediation provides a third way … a way of navigating, negotiating the traces of the networks of conflict and clash … which ultimately is a choice NOT to put “facts” on trial, which is to elevate or denigrate them (i.e. erasing their traces, networks, assemblages).

Concerning rationality and irrationality, what Latour is concerned with is loosening the knots, muddying up sharp distinctions … opening boxes, etc., but not so that he can tie knots tighter, make sharper, different distinctions, or construct more, bigger, more tightly locked boxes.

Essentially, I take this to mean that to make determinate is to reduce; to put on trial … which ultimately means that it won’t hold up .. because it’s too affected. Contrarily, to navigate, to negotiate the traces of the networks of conflict is the substitute for putting facts on trial to elevate or denegrate them (i..e to erase their traces, networks, assemblages).

  • If we wish to continue the study of the networks of technoscience, we must straighten up  distorted beliefs about rationality, irrationality …
  • So my question, then, is if we’re looking at doing away with the opposition between rational and irrational ideas, and therefore, taking up controversies, what is the end of controversies? If we must have clashes/controversies in order to determine the significance of words and the ways in which they’re used to mediate those clashes and controversies, then what about the question as to whether we need a crisis in order to act? (I’m thinking of climate change…) or the notion as to a “third way” that espouses telling better, extended, more locally interested stories …?




Ludi Incipiant! Long Live Research and Long Live the Sciences!

click here for the St. Petersburg Times story: “Stem cell treatment may help dogs with arthritis”

… long live research and long live the sciences!

Congrats, Dad! 

Dr. Harold Langbehn handles stem cells for the Ehrlich Animal Hospital’s first MediVet procedure.

On the Rebound: Resilient Rhetorics

Jackson Pollock


As a rhetorician, I am constantly negotiating between rhetoric and its philosophical implications, and even more specifically, Science, and its practical demands for the Truth. I perceive my narrow purpose as a rhetorician, specifically, as a rhetorician of the sciences and politics of nature, as a democratic and civic one; that of energizing creative coopera(C)tion among the seemingly contradictory purposes of the sciences with the political system. Given the wider scope of rheotoric and its philosophical implications, though, I’d suggest that on the most general level, the epitome of the rhetorician’s purpose is in negotiating competing interests in critical, useful ways. A “purposed” rhetoric is one which manifests itself in productive change. I’d also admit that the perspective I’ve just outlined above becomes completely unbound considering that, ironically, the boundary – this definition, the situatedness – of rhetoric, its philosophical implications, purposes, and usefulness, creates a dichotomy that is extremely unsettling; uncannily disequilibriating. For instance, if the epitome of the rhetorician’s purpose is in negotiating … in “critical, useful” ways (as defined above), how ought we to determine what is deemed “critical”? At what point in the continuum of ideas and action is a thought explored, contested, challenged deeply, perfectly, enough? What is “critical”; what are the ends? Furthermore, “usefulness” and its valuation seem to depend entirely upon audience; competing audiences value different “uses” and therefore like or dislike opposing uses; and in this sense, the “negotiation of competing interests” mentioned above is inherently useless in that the Truth is always splintered by preference of one audiences’ usefulness and valuation in discord with other truths.

In terms of historical rhetorics, and in particular, the context of the rhetorics, philosophies, and pedagogies of Cicero, Quintilian, Augustine, Ong, and Grassi, I want to articulate rhetorics’ propositions, not define, or even purpose, rhetoric. Rhetorically, I see significant and sustainable distinctions (‘significant’ in that the terms have dangerous implications for our agency as educators, and ‘sustainable’ in that the rhetorical effects of their uses continues to occur and recur throughout, and in spite of, time.)

Purposes, Definitions, and Articulations of Propositions

“Purpose” is that which a person sets out to do or attain; an object in view; a determined intention or aim. Additionally, to serve one’s purpose is to be of use or service in effecting one’s object; to be capable of bringing about a desired result. This gives a very tangible iteration to the term; it means that purposing is accomplished, finished, ended, when the object in view is attained. Therefore, to “purpose” rhetoric is essentially reinforcing a subject/object dichotomy: the subject, the server, is to be of use to affect the object, that which the subject intends or aims to attain. In this sense, purposing rhetoric is reduced not only to a subject/object dichotomy, but to a litany of one- or (at most) two-dimensional accomplishments, and at the very most, tactics used to obtain objects.

To “define” is to bring to an end; to terminate, or bound. Here, there is more at stake. I’d suggest that even more dramatically than the significant and sustainable implications of “purpose,” to “define” rhetoric is to end, terminate, and bound it; to kill it. To “define” is one-dimensional in that it constricts, prevents, and (k)nots potentialities, agencies, compositions. If defining rhetoric is an act of violence – an act that brings an end, terminates, bounds, kills – is defining rhetoric anti-democratic; anti-rhetorical?

Because of the distinctions and implications of “purposing” and “defining”, I’d suggest that the problematics of describing and experimenting with rhetorics, philosophies, and pedagogies can begin to be partly remedied by more democratic language. Latour’s Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy negotiates ways of slowing down the impulse to purpose, define, boundar-ize. Concerning the knot tightened by theorists’ purposing and defining of rhetoric (singular; static), would we be better served – rather, more aware, honest, “truthful” – in shaking around the knot a bit, untying a few of its strands and knotting them back together differently? (Latour 3). This is my intention (there’s really no escaping the language, here, regardless of how fervently I’ve been attempting to avoid language associated with “purpose” or “define” in an attempt to justify a democratic, rather than dictatorial, articulation of rhetorics’ propositions …) in suggesting that we ought to be articulating rhetorics in terms of propositions.

For Latour, “articulation” describes that which ‘connects propositions* (*defined – er, positioned(?) suggested(?) in a moment) with one another; whereas statements [and I’d include here “definitions” and even “purposes”] are true or false, propositions can be said to be well or badly articulated; the connotations of the word cover the range of meanings that I am attempting to bring together, meanings that no longer stress the distinction between the world and what is said about it, but rather the ways in which the world is loaded into discourse’ (237). “Articulation” is appealing because while “define” and “purpose” are means to ends, articulations manifest in positively influential (well-articulated propositions) or negatively affective (badly articulated propositions) situations, but are not definitive, bound, or paralyzed in their expressions. A “proposition” ‘in its ordinary sense in philosophy, designates a statement that may be true or false: it is used [by Latour] in a metaphysical sense to designate not a being of the world or a linguistic form but an association of humans and nonhumans before it becomes a full-fledged member of the collective, an instituted essence. Rather than being true or false, a proposition in this sense may be well or badly articulated. Unlike statements, propositions insist on the dynamics of the collective in search of good articulation, the good cosmos’ (247-8). Therefore, in terms of articulating rhetorics’ propositions, I’m essentially suggesting that attempts to justify rhetoric, to speak in terms of rhetorics’ significance in the world, that it can (only?) be described as the negotiation of effective and less effective associations between humans and nonhumans.

Before rushing to the originality and risk inherent in articulating rhetorics’ propositions, and more importantly, its associations with philosophies and pedagogies, it’s necessary to do some boundary work; to address and elaborate upon the fundamentals of how rhetoric (singular) has been historically defined and purposed, before articulating more sophisticated propositions and implications of what I’m articulating as “resilient rhetorics”; which I propose is a rebounding of rhetorics and its sustainable effects for future iterations of education.

Boundary Work

Is the perfect orator a good man as well as a good orator? Answers to this question, throughout the history of Western thought, have attempted to define the mesh of speech, rhetoric, and ethics as either “philosophy” or “rhetoric.” Grassi articulates the distinction fairly simply: historically, rhetoric generally was assigned a formal function, whereas philosophy, as episteme, as rational knowledge, was understood to supply true, factual content. This distinction is significant because the essence of man is determined both by logical and emotional elements, and as a result speech can reach the human being as a union of logos and pathos only if it appeals to both these aspects. Hence, boundary-drawing ensued. Now, although such boundary-drawing seems antithetical to our purposes ((?) articulations(?) manifestations(?)) as rhetoricians, I’d suggest that an awareness of fundamental definitions of rhetoric’s purpose is intrinsic in order to begin shaking its knots, lengthening the list, and imbuing rhetorics with agency and life.

Cicero returns to an Isocratic emphasis regarding rhetoric, in that, for him, rhetoric is defined as training for leadership; Cicero’s use of “rhetorician” seems to echo the ancient Greek word for “sophistry”.  Concerning the question, “Does philosophy matter without oratory?” and therefore, the question pertaining to whether rhetoric ought to take precedence over philosophy, or vice versa, potential ways of thinking through this depends on various answers to the questions: 1) what is the techne of oratory? and, 2) what is the scope of rhetoric? If the scope, the boundary, of rhetoric consists of methods of training for leadership, this suggests that the “end” of rhetoric is accomplished through the means of attaining others’ confidence and subsequently, their loyalty; toward a particular direction, object, end.

As Santos notes, there is an Aristotelian ring to Cicero – in that to study rhetorical means of persuasion is also to build up a measure of resistance to them; an awareness of rhetorics’ applicability, its boundaries, ends.

Cicero’s definition influenced how Augustine valued rhetoric. For instance, in On Christian Teaching, some theorists suggest that Augustine viewed the whole of Scripture as ‘the Divine Rhetorician’s communication with humanity’; that Augustine perceived God as the perfect, ultimate communicator, exercising perfect, inherently divine leadership of the “sheep”. The function of Scripture then, is to instill knowledge in the teacher so that he is more than an eloquent rhetorician, but one who can distil the love of God in his listeners. In this sense, if divinity is transferred from God to teacher to “flock”, in a one-dimensional, linear fashion, then I’d suggest that Augustine’s valuation of rhetoric – with God as the epitome of the perfect orator, the Divine Rhetorician – parallels the banking model of education (which will be discussed briefly below) in the sense that knowledge is understood as the process of applying a fully satiating Truth to individual, anemic objects; converting them, appropriating them, leading them home.

Quintilian asserts that rhetoric is not ornamental but determinative, essentially creative; truth exists outside the play of language; language is ornament and adornment for Truth. Because “the Q question” pertains to the conversation below, about the value of rhetorics, philosophies, and pedagogies for education in the humanities, Quintilian is best elucidated through Lanham …

Ong’s position on rhetoric is contested; contradictory interpretations exacerbate and polarize the ways in which controversial ideas, such as the “great divide theory” are interpreted; however, regarding rhetoric and writing, some suggest that Ong’s belief was that rhetoric and writing aren’t legitimate forms to truth and understanding- that if an argument was dialectic, if it was both plausible and persuasive (i.e. eloquent), it could be regarded as ‘true’. In this sense, then, Ong’s position reflects the re-working, the unbinding, of rhetoric, opening it to more democratic, humanistic, educational acts.

For Grassi, rhetoric – defined as the speech that acts on the emotions – is problematic in that it can, in one sense, be considered simply as a doctrine of a type of speech that the traditional rhetors, politicians, and preachers employ only as an art, as a technique of persuading. In this case, the problems of rhetoric will be limited to questions of practical directions for persuading people and will not have a theoretical character, which isn’t sufficient because only the clarification of rhetoric in its relation to theoretical thought can allow us/him to delimit the function of rhetoric. He writes that only this will allow us to decide on an answer as to whether rhetoric has a purely technical, exterior, and practical aim of persuading, or whether it has an essentially philosophical structure and function. For Grassi, rhetoric is not, nor can it be, the art, the technique of an exterior persuasion (the potentiality described above). Instead, it is the speech which is the basis of the rational thought and theoretical thinking (as a rational process) which excludes every rhetorical element because pathetic influences — the influences of feeling – disturb the clarity of rational thought.

Schooling, Educating, and Re-bounding Rhetorics

What are potential ways of associating rhetorics, philosophies, and pedagogies in our positions as (humanities) educators? Namely, how ought we to engage not with the foundational question as to whether rhetorics is more esteemed or useful than philosophy, but rather, with how blurring the boundaries between the two enables us to begin articulating propositions that lengthen the list of dialectics; enhancing the historical foundations of influential humanists, for instance, Ong. In his studies of human communication and human mediation of reality, Ong was significant in reworking the triad of grammar (using words in meaningful ways), logic (propositions together as plausible arguments), and rhetoric (combining words and propositions so that the arguments become persuasive). This blurring of boundaries created a new field: dialectic, the formulation of arguments that were both plausible and persuasive. With this new field came new questions, such as the poignant and lingering rhetorical dilemma:

“Are we schooling or educating, under what premises, and affecting whom in what ways?” Schooling, from my understanding, refers to the school system, in which students, like sheep, have no option but to listen to, or at the very least, tolerate, the delivery of direct instruction from above. As Freire taught, this tactic is ineffective in that it operates like banking; depositing “knowledge” deemed universally “useful.” Furthermore, when “schooling” is confused with “education,” as it often is, education comes to be regarded as an institution, rather than a process. I agree, to a certain extent, but will extend Freire’s articulation below, in suggesting that rather than regarding education as a process, we ought to be conceiving of it with virtuosity, seeking to imbue it with a more radically open attitude, espousing rhetorics of resilience.

For Lanham, rhetoric, when the center of education, aims at exploring questions of morality; he articulates an understanding of rhetoric that cripples this idea of a university predicated upon the divorce of thought and action, knowledge and politics, and takes up the Q question in a new strain, that of connecting – associating – reading and writing practices with concerns about living moral lives .

For Santos, rhetoric stands as embracing, without necessarily celebrating, the whirl. “But the whirl isn’t a ‘formalist pleasure’ rather a rhetorical Humanism … [and celebrating it] would have to begin by blowing up the very structure of the contemporary university. Instead, learning might be organized around particular temporal problems. In place of fragmented Humanities, each teaching how to play with a particular piece of the human condition, we might return to a program of Humanism, which explores the question of how to live a good life …”

With this insight, I want to conclude by articulating the opportunity I believe may serve as a good proposition for how the “good life” is associated with rhetorics, philosophies, and pedagogies. In an attempt to lengthen Freire’s (good) proposition regarding the “process” of education, I’d suggest that – in terms of rhetorics, philosophies, and pedagogies, and the ways in which we’re conceiving of Humanities education, we’re in a post-process era. Instead of reinforcing “process,” instead, I’m asking, “How do we articulate good, sustainable, strategic propositions for rhetorics?” First, I believe that this rhetorics ought to be grounded in virtuosity, meaning that which is concerned with negotiating character, and with concerted attention to the genius and beauty inherent in doing the common uncommonly well. A rhetorics grounded in virtuosity lengthens the list of rhetorics’ propositions, because we engage in risking a more radically open mode of thinking. Essentially, this rhetorics is one of strategies, versus cut-and-paste tactics, or even process-oriented tactics, masked as democratic articulations. Additionally, a rhetorics of virtuosity necessitates experimentation with uncertainties, leading me to think in terms of a resilient rhetorics. Resilience is the act of rebounding or springing back; so in terms of rhetorics, we ought not bind rhetoric with definitions and purposes, but rather, enable rhetorics’ rebounding, recovery, robustness, and adaptability to powers acting within, under, around and out of it. In this sense, rhetorics rebounds, not because of the sophistication of tactics employed to define, purpose, and legitimize it, but rather, because risk, originality, virtuosity, and resilience are sustainable strategies for negotiating effective associations between humans and nonhumans.

Jobs’ Legacy and the Incipient Anxiety about Invention

“Today is Steve Jobs Day” (well, in CA, at least)

Jobs’ thinking, his inventive prowess, his “radical” way of meshing traditional binaries of professionalization (for instance, Jobs was a manager and innovator, a listener and the voice, a diligent learner yet a drop-out …) is indicative of the most excellent* of educational aspirations – simply, thinkingProductively thinking. Reflectively thinking. And, in terms of invention, risking thinking. From my perspective, the rhetorician’s thinking necessitates rhetorical action, the most significant of which usually entail some level of risk. Jobs’ thinking parallels, and is – I think – informed, by Rickert’s deft articulation of Plato’s question in the Timaeus (Rickert, “Towards the Chora”). The question is, “How can we reapproach the inventional question of how to move from static ideas to vital activity?” This, I believe, is Job’s ultimate accomplishment: the genius to manifest (static) ideas into networks of influence. Jobs’ way of (un-/re-)seeing technology – his way of meshing the traditional divisions among peoples’ discourses, minds, bodies, etc. and having the prescience – and the resolve to risk inventing- parallels the way in which I’m reflecting on his legacy, his inventions, Apple’s/our anxiety about invention, and how many of us in academia have been engaging in the rhetorics and philosophies of such concepts for some time now … in fact, I’ll suggest, since Timaeus. Concerning these connections, and the ways in which Timaeus, Rickert, and Jobs conceal and unconceal inventive contradiction and genius, our anxieties now pertain to how the rhetorical space of “invention” itself is forever changed by decisions that must be made now, in a post-Jobs era (no pun intended here). More specifically, we anxiously ask, “Can invention be taught?” and the more disequilibriating question of the two, “To what extent can invention be assured?” (Questions inspired by Santos, lecture, October 3 2011).

Response(-ability) to Climate Change Science(s)

  • Some brief sketching about climate change sciences and the response(-ability) of scientists and the public:
    • Science used to be practiced through measurement: controlling something, testing a hypothesis against a reaction, etc.
    • Science today is practiced through modeling; simulating scenarios/representations of a reality that has never existed … (assuming a certain/common disposition about “reality”)
    • Concerning how materiality (we/Herndl’s Rhetoric and Cultural Studies course have/has been reading Coole & Frost’s New Materialisms) informs potential ways in which we ought to respond to “new” Science – sciences – is it appropriate to suggest that we’re thinking about the projects in the wrong ways? That Science (of the past) – as well as the ways in which we’re practicing the sciences now – is wanting a new  rhetoric
    • Essentially, I’m suggesting that just as Science has changed into the modeling of representations of reality (the sciences) so, too, has the response-ability of both parties; scientists and the public
    • We’ve been problematizing climate change sciences (as an example of an unknown fear … see Frost in New Materialisms) and the ways in which climate change is rhetorically framed … my (very brief) response-ability here? To suggest that “climate change” is no longer an effective rhetorical communication of these sciences, but rather that our response-ability ought to be rhetorically articulated in terms of resiliency …

“Science is certainty; research is uncertainty”

The Double-Bind of Science and Scientific research: are we seeking Scientific proof or researching the sciences?

“Science is certainty; research is uncertainty” (Latour)

The Double-Bind of Science and Scientific Research: Are we validating Science or researching?

As a rhetorician, coming to science and scientific conversations with rhetorical concepts in mind, I find that the recent “remarkable result” (OPERA/CERN laboratory’s finding suggesting that the neutrinos can travel faster than light) implicates far more than the upsetting of a singular theory. While disproving the theory of relativity – that nothing can travel faster than light in a vacuum (the foundation of physics) – the recent finding implies that the predictability that is assumed to follow from laws/absolutes is on shakier ground than presumed/preferred. While the finding itself is interesting and impressive, what’s far more relevant to a rhetorician like me is the implications of two things: first, how language used to articulate Science, the sciences, and researching always-already predicts the skepticism or validation of Scientific (fact-) “findings”/scientific research, and two, the public’s positioning about/responses to metaphysics as an object-oriented practice, one committed to researching, to doing, not “knowing” (Latour). Concerning rules/laws/predictability/certainty, we must reflect on what we (“the public”) are wanting. Are we wanting the rules to be reinforced by Science or “disproven” by the sciences – and what kind of reception are we emulating? How is the relationship between Science and society and (versus) the sciences and society always-already predetermined by the language used to articulate our Scientific/scientific goals? This is what I see as the purposing of the rhetorician – purposing with the “-ing” because it is in-and-of itself a recursive, infinite, researching of (the communicative component of) the sciences. The rhetorician doesn’t seek to understand the meta-details of the sciences, but seeks instead to understand the dynamics of the ways in which the sciences – the researching – are articulated, received, and re-purposed – by the public. Concerning this specific “remarkable result,” which Science is unable to explain, I am suggesting that – because, inherently, humans seek answers – our “answer” lies in a re-articulation of Science as the sciences, so that instead of being “unable to explain this remarkable result” (as both the Guardian and the Nature articles suggest) we ought to be able to explain that this remarkable result is one of many triumphs of the sciences; that it represents the foundation not of Science or physics, etc., but the (flexible/expanding/mesh-y) foundation/s of the sciences.

Such a (radical?) ideology may incite anxiety. This is understandable, and this anxiety isn’t self-induced, but rather indicative of how an aware, engaged, (United States) citizen would be expected to respond. However, such a (radical?) ideology – that of Latour’s sciences – does knock the stereotypical type of citizen off balance; it does “dis-equilibriate”. As I’ve mentioned in earlier analyses pertaining to Contemporary Rhetoric/Contemporary Rhetorical/Pedagogical philosophies, such “dis-equilibriating,” such “knocking-off-balance” is, from the way I see things, indicative of the precarious process of “learning.” If learning causes an psychological “imbalance,” and the type of (radical?) thinking involved in a Latourian ideology of the sciences causes similar ideological imbalance, is it possible that a Latourian position on researching – a  position that advocates the re-tying of the Gordian knot (of Science) – optimistically renegotiates “remarkable results” of Science not as those which dis-equilibriate the “foundation of physics,” for example – but those which “knock off balance” the ideology that inhibits a (radical?) openness (i.e. “Science”), and exercises the agency inherent in researching?

Herndl quoting R. Harris on rhetoric and science

Herndl quoting Harris in Rhetoric and Incommensurability enables perhaps the most concise and accurate way I know of to generalize my scholarly interests. He (simply, accurately) said: “What are rhetoricians of science doing? They are coming to scientific issues with rhetorical concepts in mind.”


Case Study Outline: Resilient Tampa Bay

There are a lot of times throughout my writing process in which I stop, exasperated, wondering whether I’m over-analyzing my resources, over-explaining my perspective, or – in general – just over-doing it. I do a lot of writing by hand, so this means that I physically feel pain in hand, wrist, neck, when I’ve been at the process for a bit too long …

The process usually begins with a THOROUGH analysis, including note-taking in margins and in notebooks, of my resources. This summer, I incorporated blog-posting into this stage, meaning that after I had read/understood/analyzed my source, I began drafting a critical response, attempting to link this response as tightly as possible to my current project.

The note-taking stage is usually followed by the articulation of research questions, in which I match published research with new/original/critical concerns as I see them developing, etc. Next, I begin the outline, which consists of the research question driving the paper, meta-research questions, topics, subtopics, all with corresponding quotes and page numbers from my resource materials. In the end, the outline is quite extensive, not to mention time consuming … I’d estimate that outlining consumes at least 60% of the entire writing process itself.

Then, I begin writing, purely from the outline. During revision, I use the “comments” function in Word to write little notes to myself, mostly notes that consist of research that has occurred post-writing; new resources, new information, etc. Then, the process seemingly begins again, as I note the working draft, add resources, glean those resources for pertinent information, begin another outline, this time incorporating the revisions with the working/original draft, deleting a LOT of the current draft and synthesizing the new information.

Admittedly, I don’t necessarily write quickly, because I sense that I can’t write effectively/rapidly unless I have a thorough and potentially overly detailed accounting of my resources … and, as mentioned, the majority of the writing process itself is consumed with outlining …

But in the end, although no one generally sees the outline, I have found it to be eminently important to my writing process, however detailed, mentally and physically exhausting, frustrating, or seemingly time-consuming it may be.

Below is the outline I’ve finally developed for a case study I’m currently revising …extensive, yes. Complete, no. A good start, for sure.

I.                    Resilient Tampa Bay

i.      What is resiliency?

ii.      Intentions/goals of workshop

  1. Why “resiliency”?
    1. Discussion of problematics of climate change vs global warming; neither is effective terminology
      1. Brulle
      2. include uncertainty
      3. Meyer’s perspective and MM&R’s perspective re: uncertainty…
      4. as a means of offering a way out of paralysis and into effective action …
      5. action that isn’t focused on researching the origins of global warming in order to justify humans’ involvement/not but rather to address the current situation: the earth’s warming – without becoming preoccupied with the degree to which one or another person, entity, animal, etc. is to blame
    2. Why is “resiliency” the preferred replacement terminology for climate change and global warming?
      1. (analytic thesis) new terminology – that of resiliency, versus (crisis)climate change – and the subsequent developing of a rhetoric of democracy – opens the black box of climate change to the communication that is necessary for restoring the vibrancy and engagement of citizens with science
        1. How did the workshop work?

i.      What knowledge was exchanged and how?

ii.      What were the rhetorical frames?

  1. Concepts? (Crisis versus democracy rhetorics)
  2. Why involve the Dutch

i.      Science and technological knowledge and experience (engineering planning/goals)

  1. What does RTB engineering want?

ii.      *my contribution* THINKING (paradigm shift)

  1. Ideology of resiliency that views climate change not as an environmental problem but as an opportunity to engineer water management solutions that are both functional and beautiful
    1. Re-conceptualizing “nature” (Morton)
    2. What has my rhetorical analysis found/what am I arguing was occurring? (explicitly rhetoricalknowledge exchanged is about discursive styles and the participants did not see this as explicitly as you do.  That is your contribution and argument.
    •       Did RTB want an exchange of information about how to engineer resiliency structures  or an exchange of information about how to communicate an ideology of resiliency – an ecological way of thinking – to the public?

ii.      Cite Meyer here re: funding for communication of the science (we have all of the scientific “evidence” we need … but no effective way of communicating it …

II.                  Communicating Uncertainty

    1. How do we make decisions under conditions of uncertainty?

i.      What does “science as the management of uncertainty” mean?

ii.      How does uncertainty relate with climate change science?

iii.      What does EC scholarship argue ab uncertainty?

  1. Paradigm shift: making decisions despite uncertainty
  2. The science ought not to focus on reducing uncertainty, but on what we are certain of (Meadows, Meadows, & Randers’ conclusions) and how to communicate the sciences appropriately (Ryan Meyer)
  3. Latour on the sciences versus Science: climate change and global warming = concerned with reducing uncertainty; Science … resiliency is concerned with the sciences … opportunities to research and experiment with solutions to climate change threats/effects (in this case, urban flooding, sea level rise, storm surge)
    1. Can we talk about climate change without using the terms “climate” and “change”?

i.      Yes: in terms of “resiliency” because resiliency is re-oriented; it is concerned with opportunities for civic engagement rather than preoccupied with the reduction of uncertainty (as climate change and global warming are)

ii.      Citing scholarship re: how g.w. and c.c.  are defined/used/by whom …

iii.      Cite public misunderstanding of both terms …

iv.      Cite political stalemate re: g.w. and c.c. 

III.                Rhetorics of Resiliency

    1. How was resiliency communicated at RTB?
    2. Rhetoric of crisis (instability, unpredictability, excessiveness)

i.      Threat messaging

ii.      Fear

iii.      Saul-Sena’s question

iv.      Implications

  1. Brulle
  2. EC scholarship on fear, etc.
  3. O’Neill/Nicholson/Cole re: fear (alone) won’t do it …
    1. Rhetoric of democracy (purpose, change, practice)

i.      Civic engagement

ii.      Fear balanced with effective actions

iii.      Seibert’s question

iv.      Implications

IV.                Implications

    1. What were the implications of both rhetorics?
  1.         Conclusions
    1. Recommendations from RTB
    2. Latour/Harman/Morton – metaphysics, OOP, art, implications, global suggestions re: how to mesh resilient ideologies …
    3. EC scholars’ perspectives/recommendations

i.      Balancing fear with effective actions

ii.      Rhetoric of resiliency ought to be a rhetoric of civic engagement, communicated using challenge         appraisals


Mapping McComiskey’s “Disassembling Plato’s Critique of Rhetoric in the Gorgias”

McComiskey, Bruce. “Disassembling Plato’s Critique of Rhetoric in the Gorgias (447a-466a).” Rhetoric Review 11 (1992): 79-90.McComiskey



Gorgias/Socrates (

Click here (historical rhetorics aug 28 2011 Disassembling Plato’s Critique of Rhetoric in the Gorgias.) for my map of McComiskey’s argument in favor of Gorgian/sophistic rhetoric’s theoretical coherence and practical validity

*in the map, click the “+” signs to expand the map/view all content*

McComiskey’s argument: 

  • (thesis) McComiskey argues that despite (some of) recent scholarship’s acceptance/valorization of Plato’s articulation of the sophists (Gorgias in particular) Plato’s manipulation of Gorgias’ epistemology is disdainful, hostile, unfair – not to mention inaccurate – and results in the achievement of his intention: to discount Gorgias/sophistic rhetoric to the extent that he could attain his (largely democratic) audience’s confidence in his (oligarchic) ideology.  McComiskey argues that the primary reason for Plato’s intentional manipulation of Gorgias’ rhetoric pertains to the historical/political context (a successful writer-audience relationship could only be achieved if Plato (who espoused oligarchy) could influence his primarily democratic audience to see the error in their epistemology and adopt an oligarchic perspective). McComiskey’s evidence for this argument is articulated through his analysis of the methodology Plato employs to manipulate Gorgias’ epistemological ideology.
  • (evidence) Plato’s primary audience was the (democratic-minded) Adenine citizenry, which means that such an audience would undoubtedly have sided with (democratic-minded) Gorgias; therefore, Plato rhetorically manipulates Gorgias’ epistemology (his art; “techne”) as foundational and ahistorical so that the (democratic-minded) audience would see the error in Gorgias/sophistic relativistic ideology and adopt Plato’s philosophy (i.e. rejecting rhetoric and ultimately espousing oligarchy).
  • Gorgias’ techne versus Plato’s techne:
  •           For Gorgias/sophists, all knowledge is opinion – everything is relative to a kairotic moment; therefore, if rationality depends on some sort of reference to perfect knowledge in order to judge its legitimacy, no argument can ever be entirely rational (for Gorgias, techne is aesthetic)
  •           Plato’s Gorgias allows Socrates to claim that Gorgian rhetoric is irrational, that it does not refer to an immutable standard of truth, and that it does not quality as a techne (art) (for Plato, techne is philosophical)
  • Plato misrepresents Gorgias’ perspective concerning of (aesthetic) techne as ”’foundational”’ (rather than critical/interpretive/creative) in an effort to delegitimize Gorgias’ techne (and thus garner the audience’s support of oligarchy, etc.)
  • (conclusion) “… since Plato’s audience … was largely democratic in political orientation, he misrepresented Gorgias’ epistemology in order to ease the anticipated hostility toward the text and to make Gorgianic rhetoric appear absurd” (McComiskey 214)

Discussion Questions 

  • What is the potential danger in McComiskey’s articulation of wisdom?
  • “Wise people are those who submit to the powers of apate, and thus broaden their interpretive (thus creative) abilities. Those who reject apate continue to interpret perceptibles in the same ways, and can never come to understand the complexities of the universe as it interacts with humankind. Thus, for Gorgias, instruction in certain knowledge is impossible. Even if it were, since it does not deceive its audience, it would be inferior to rhetoric” (212)  
  • If reality is created (i.e. deceived into “being”) how is it possible to espouse a “right” or a “wrong” deception? If Gorgias is right, and human perception continually and always-already distorts “reality,” who ought to judge whether we’re distorting correctly (i.e. deceiving well) or incorrectly (i.e. insisting on knowledge-based communication of Truth)? If we accept Gorgias/sophistic interpretation of reality, then must we not accept alternative interpretations of the interpretation? Where does the binary fall apart?
  • Is it possible that rather than completely manipulating Gorgias’ epistemology, that Gorgias did in fact allow for competing ideologies to “win”? 
  • What are the rhetorical reasons – if any – that Gorgias may have conceded to Socrates (i.e. if we consider that Plato didn’t completely manipulate Gorgias’ dialogue)? Is it possible that there’s an opportunity for Gorgias’ ideology to develop more sustainability because of these very conversations? In hindsight, it is possible that Socrates’ argument was in fact the stronger argument AT THAT PARTICULAR TIME? 

The International Environmental Communication Association (IECA) Launched!



Click here for information about IECA. If you’re currently studying environmental communication, the rhetoric of science, environmental politics, and other related topics, consider joining IECA as a founding member.

Time Management: An Outline for First-Year Composition Professors

Teaching First-Year Composition. Time Management (2)

Click above for a .pdf of my ideology, methodology, criticisms, and merits of “mind-mapping” first-year composition courses, “Teaching First-Year Composition: Time Management”.

A(nother) Nod to Latour: Science, the sciences, and Moving Beyond Uncertainty Toward Resiliency

There is a rapidly growing variety of environmental communication theories concerning the rhetorical framing and implications of the politically divisive terms “climate change” and “global warming.” Both terms influence – yet contradict and confuse – public understanding of the science, resulting in extreme alarmism, extreme apathy, or – in the middle – a variety of well-intentioned yet disjointed responses; responses without the consistency and collective potential necessitated by a productive and sustainable approach to this global environmental problem. Despite variety concerning the specifics of environmental communications theories re: climate change/global warming, all theorists emphasize collective public response as an absolute necessity in affecting decision-making for climate change science policy that – despite uncertainties – reflects public valuation of opportunities to engage in sustainable actions.

From the way I’m beginning to see things, the problem is not necessarily that the public resists engagement in sustainable actions, but rather that the recommended actions haven’t been thought through slowly enough to be consistently articulated, and –more damning – that the recommended actions aren’t sustainable; they neglect to address long-term solutions. To complicate things further – the science itself is described by various, competing political agendas using contradictory terminology and rhetoric (and, as explained below, sometimes the agendas even exchange and re-define terminology, choosing the term/rhetoric that appears to fit the science as it’s occurring …)

Instead of quibbling over these uncertainties, current environmental communications scholars like Meyer (see Meyer, R. (2011). The Public Values Failures of Climate Science in the US.Minerva. Retrieved from argue in favor of decision-making (re: climate science policy) that occurs despite uncertainty: decision-making that doesn’t revolve around the reduction of uncertainty, because “Reduction of uncertainty offers neither a sensible metric by which to judge progress in climate science, nor a reasonable surrogate for the goal of generating useful information (National Research Council 2005). Here’s where Latour comes in: in a Latourian sense, you could say that the current preoccupation of climate science with uncertainty (either with reducing it, i.e. proving progress, or leveraging it, as a means of delegitimizing climate science research/policy-making) reflects the ideology of Latour’s (big “s”) Science – “… defined as the politicization of the sciences by (political) epistemology in order to make public life impotent by bringing to bear on it the threat of salvation by an already unified nature…” (Politics of Nature, 249). The following explanation outlines (a very incomplete version of) my logic re: how Latour’s Science is reflected in the current preoccupation with uncertainty (one of the primary roadblocks concerning public understanding of climate science and the subsequent decision-making re: effective* climate science policy). *“effective” climate science policy would be grounded in the types of propositions suggested by Meadows, Meadows, & Randers in Limits to Growth, etc.

The politicization of the sciences is perhaps the clearest of the parallels … “climate change” and “global warming” have immediately identifiable rhetorical implications, as Meyers explains (see, “Moving from ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change’ has been the major rhetorical trend among climate alarmists during the last year. The primary cause is that heavy snowfall across the country this winter is inconsistent with past claims about the impacts of global warming.”

Sidenote: Interesting that we’re currently experiencing a massive, nation-wide heat wave … does this mean that the rhetoric must change again, in order to respond to the pressure of perfectly predicting the timing, etc. of climate scenarios?  When the science doesn’t “deliver” what the rhetoric promises, do we simply change the rhetoric until it’s consistent? Continuing to pressure climate scientists to determine absolute certainty about the exact “who/s, whats, wheres, and whens” of climate change catastrophe/s expends valuable time and energy in the wrong directions. Instead, as I will explain in more detail below, we ought to be engaging ourselves in an ideology that accepts the uncertainties of science and uses those uncertainties as opportunities, as a means of researching potential solutions to the situation at hand: temperature rise. The current rhetoric, and the political implications of competing terminology/rhetorics, distracts from real progress – from real understandings and productive responses to the challenge to engage in sustainable – and rewarding – opportunities.

To complicate the rhetorical trending of climate alarmists a bit further, adding to public confusion re: “what to call it” are conflicting reports – from credible sources. Per the Atlantic Monthly, an article published in Public Opinion Quarterly shows “climate change” as the preferred rhetoric (by Republican voters) over “global warming.” The sentence following the results of the study reads, “… sixteen percent of Republican respondents apparently weren’t aware that “climate change” is synonymous with “global warming.” The Seattle Times, Meyers writes, is “… taking rhetorical steps to ensure that [the rhetorical terms] are not [synonymous].” The politicization of the terms continues, as the terms are parsed re: which alludes to primarily human-caused temperature rise versus non-human/natural/ “normal” temperature fluctuation, in that some argue that “global warming” implicates humans as primarily responsible for temperature rise and “climate change” as implying “natural causes” – i.e. fate – eradicating humans’ (presumably considered from this perspective as “un-natural”?) responsibilities in transitioning to a sustainable society, etc. By whatever explanation/justification, the terms are undeniably politicized, masking the very propositions that could potentially enable productive responses (public understanding and policy) to the hypotheses of climate science. The bottom line here is that climate science currently exists as a Latourian “S”cience , in which the competing terms/rhetorics/perspectives/ideologies are politicized to the extent that public understanding/responses to either term aren’t useful because they are “closed” responses; responses to political disputes (which lead to more endlessly cyclical political disputes, etc.) re: proven origin, accurately predicted weather patterns, etc. rather than responses that seek to remedy the real issue at hand; temperature rise. We have more than enough science to know, with certainty, that “… the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing exponentially, greenhouse gases trap heat that would otherwise escape from the Earth into space … trapped heat will increase the temperature of the Earth over what it would otherwise be … the warming will be unequally distributed, [and] … the ocean will expand and sea levels will rise …” (Meadows, Meadows & Randers 117-118). We have the science. Now, we have to shift from a closed ideology of Science to an open ideology of the sciences; we must communicate and practice sustainable solutions.

Science vs. “the sciences”

The “sciences” contradict Science in that they are defined as “… one of the five essential skills of the collective in search of propositions (versus epistemology) with which it is to constitute the common world and take responsibility for maintaining the plurality of external realities” (Latour 249). Whereas Science seeks to eradicate uncertainties, to offer nonnegotiable, unchangeable proof, the sciences seek propositions. Above all, propositions are open to – and subsequently reflect – public values, which Meyer explains are primarily influential in political decision-making and management (stakeholder participation and support is one of the most important facets of interagency climate science policy). Propositions reflect public values, from Latour’s perspective, because they represent the negotiation of values as those values pertain to humans’ existence with nonhumans. It is through these relationships that priorities are revealed (“priorities” being a synonym, here, for “values”). A proposition is “… an association of humans and nonhumans before it becomes a full-fledged member of the collective, an instituted essence (essence = provisional conclusion) … [and] unlike statements, propositions insist on the dynamics of the collective in search of good articulation …” (Latour 247-248). If propositions insist on the “dynamics of the collective,” which are constantly changing, engaging multiple external realities (the various priorities/values as represented by the public) as the values are negotiated and re-negotiated, then the sciences consist of researching, identifying, practicing, challenging, revising … etc. public values. Meyer’s argument in “The Public Values Failures of Climate Science in the US” identifies public values as: useful information, high-quality science, transdisciplinary opportunities, transparency and communication, and stakeholder participation and support. None of these values speak to the desire for a unified, predicted, proven, or certain existence – an apparently consistent state (“nature”?) in which we exist/seek to exist. Therefore, it appears as though public values, which are currently (per Meyer) largely ignored in science/climate science policy, are feasibly accomplished/only accomplished through the ideology of “the sciences” because the sciences consist of propositions which are being negotiated now and in the future … the sciences are “in search of propositions…” not “offering proof/statements of truth or falsehood. Meyer explains that environmental communications theorists/rhetoricians, etc. can speak more accurately/effectively to public values by setting goals for science policy rather than goals for science. This means that we ought to focus our scholarship/practice on ways in which propositions – values – are negotiated into policy, rather than on the ways in which Science can be validated in certain proof/s.

Moving Beyond Uncertainty Toward Resiliency

Resiliency offers a solution in tandem with Latour’s ideology of “the sciences.”

Resiliency: the turning of threats into opportunities. In terms of climate science/policy, this means that: 1. It is accepted that (however certain/uncertain, the Earth’s temperature is rising and we are responsible for doing something about it; and 2. The opportunities to engage in the perspective that potential threats (unchecked temperature rise) can – and must – be reinterpreted (i.e. “resiliency” vs. “climate change” or “global warming”) because in changing the terminology, the rhetorical implications, opportunities, are –  at the most basic level – possible. When “climate change” and “global warming” are used to explain temperature rise, the first consequence is that both terms reference uncertainty, meaning that despite the context in which they’re being used, they are thoroughly riddled with political debate concerning the degree of certainty to which the Earth’s temperature is rising, and the degree of certainty to which humans and or “nature” is responsible, etc. The second consequence is that the terms are closed; they don’t readily allow for productive actions to be articulated or acted upon. We need to take “resiliency” seriously as a way of practicing “the sciences”: in searching for propositions – opportunities – to engage in responsible actions, actions that have the flexibility to respond to the variety of realities that exist concerning temperature rise and the postulated effects of what a sustainable/unsustainable future may consist of.

Reconstructing the Terminology and Rhetoric of Climate Change: Resiliency and a Rhetoric of Democracy (Part 3)

Reconstructing the Terminology and Rhetoric of Climate Change: Resiliency and a Rhetoric of Democracy (Part 3)

How does an apocalyptic/comic rhetoric inform the communication of resiliency?


My intention in this analysis of “Revealing and Reframing Apocalyptic Tragedy in Global Warming Discourse” is to explain how Foust and O’Shannon Murphy’s perspective influences, complicates, and legitimizes my understanding of the intractable confusion inherent in the existing terminology: “climate change” and “global warming.” Additionally, I will justify my thinking on the necessity for an entirely new ideology – a new terminology and rhetoric of climate change communications.


To reiterate, an apocalyptic/comic rhetoric of global warming (*again, I’m using “global warming” when referencing Foust & O’Shannon Murphy’s work as a means of keeping the terminology consistent) is a linear temporality (increased greenhouse gas concentrations –> warming –> catastrophe) that emphasizes a catastrophic end-point that is more or less outside the purview of human agency. When apocalyptic rhetoric is communicated from the perspective of an apocalyptic/comic rhetoric, the catastrophic end-point is understood as only one of the potential end-points. In an apocalyptic/comic rhetoric, global warming is an environmental problem caused by humans’ mistakes (unsustainable lifestyles, etc.) but one that is within humans’ power to fix; to act more responsibly/sustainably in response to consistent hypotheses about what is likely to occur if we do nothing in response to global warming (again, best illustrated by Meadows, Meadows & Randers’ World3, which theorizes/models a systems perspective: “… 10 different pictures of how the 21st century may evolve” (xix)).

Apocalyptic/comic rhetoric understands human agency as humans’ ability to respond to/remedy their mistakes, and in response to an awareness of their mistakes, engage in productive action to change/transition into a sustainable system. An apocalyptic/comic rhetoric is a rhetoric of global warming that is founded on agency – especially concerning how collective human agency is capable of bringing population, affluence, and technology (and its effects) back within the Earth’s limits. An apocalyptic/comic rhetoric is an optimistic perspective, founded on the premise that enough time still exists within which to change behavior – to transition to a sustainable system.

In terms of how an apocalyptic/comic rhetoric pertains to resiliency, the new/replacement term I’m proposing for “climate change” or “global warming,” is “resiliency.” At its most basic level, resiliency is optimistic, in that it is defined as the turning of threats into opportunities. An apocalyptic/comic rhetoric of resiliency, then, would require that the telos – the potentially tragic end-point (catastrophe) be understood as one possible end-point/conclusion. This opens space – opportunity – for human agency in transitioning to a sustainable system, one that is resilient. A resilient society is one that accepts that we understand enough about climate change science in order to make informed (not flawless) hypotheses about specific measures – lifestyle changes – that we ought to make. Resiliency is especially important because of the way in which it understands/uses/implicates time: because it describes a state of action in response to the hypothesized effects of climate change, it requires – demands – that resilient actions be specified and acted on. Such a perspective differs greatly from the rhetorics of climate change and global warming, of which the majority of time, scholarship, and debate is paralyzed over the contention between who/what is responsible for climate change itself. Where climate change and global warming are preoccupied with seeking to identify facts supporting one/another causes, resiliency frames attention on how to respond to certain changes, focusing on the various – and potentially positive – opportunities that can result from actions that bring the overshoot of population, affluence, and adverse effects of technology, etc. into balance within the Earth’s limits.


The subsequent post (the last post pertaining to Foust & O’Shannon Murphy’s article) will address the four remaining/significant terms from “Revealing and Reframing…” (fictional weather apocalypses, crisis, catastrophe, and thinking) as well as answer the questions: “Can new terminology – that of resiliency versus crisis and the subsequent communication of a rhetoric of democracy – provide the communication that is necessary for restoring the vibrancy and engagement of science with citizenship?”; and “How can new terminology – resiliency (framed by a rhetoric of democracy) communicate the large-scale, sustainable changes in human behavior; the changes that are necessitated by the global environmental problem of climate change?” Essentially, I’m concerned with the connection between Foust and O’Shannon Murphy’s framework in “Revealing and Reframing…” as it connects with – and is extended by – my case study of the competing rhetorics of climate change as observed at Resilient Tampa Bay 2011.  


Apocalyptic Rhetoric, Mistakes, and Changing Behavior: How to Rhetorically Frame Climate Change Communications (Part 2)

How to Rhetorically Frame Climate Change Communications: Implications of Apocalyptic Rhetoric as Tragic versus Comic 

In relation to Foust and O’Shannon Murphy’s articulation of the difference/s between climate change and global warming, the authors cite that early on in their research, they discovered that – contrary to their assumptions – the two terms were not simply unintentionally interchanged, but rather that “… the terms may relate to various frames. ‘Climate change’ suggests non-human (natural) agency as the driver for warming, while ‘global warming’ positions human activities as the main cause (and comic ‘‘cure’’) of rising surface temperatures and their effects (Bolstad, 2007 cited in Foust & O’Shannon Murphy 155).

In an earlier post, I articulated the distinction between these terms, which – now – seems inadequate for the depth to which the authors explain how these terms are opposed … the original distinction, given my understanding of the context of Brulle’s argument (which concentrates on global warming, referring only to global warming throughout the analysis, and only to “climate change” when quoting) and a background informed by Todd Myers’ “Climate Change: Where the Rhetoric Defines the Science” ( was that global warming described a particular environmental problem more generally related to/within the broader context of climate change. I originally differentiated between the two terms as follows:

  • “Global warming: Brulle’s consistent use of climate change science in terms of “global warming” emphasizes a singular problem of climate change science; the heating of the Earth, rise in Earth’s temperature, and the implications for public policy, etc. that seeks to address this particular problem
  • Climate change science: often used by climate change experts/scientists etc. to allude to the broader implications (one of which is global warming) of climate change.
  • Therefore, Brulle’s consistent use of “global warming” focuses his perspective on the communicative dynamics – the rhetoric – of this particular environmental problem.”

Given more time and insight, however, I need to revise these definitions, because their implications are definitely more critical than I had originally understood. Here’s what I understand now, regarding the rhetorical differences between the two: the implication of “global warming” is that humans are the primary cause of rising temperatures, but also that because humans are the primary cause, they are capable of changing their behaviors so that they are no longer pressing the Earth’s limits. “Global warming” implies humans’ responsibility on multiple levels, and throughout time. If humans are primarily responsible for causing rising temperatures, then they are also primarily responsible for learning from their mistakes and changing their behavior. Responsibility, then, works both ways, and throughout time: past mistakes can be remedied, if the rhetorical framing of global warming/climate change is communicated in terms that directly identify what can still be done – in the present and in the future – terms that speak specifically to public values, terms that allow for civic engagement, and terms that balance fear with opportunity. If resiliency means turning threats into opportunities, then a rhetoric to communicate climate change to the public must be a rhetoric that enables civic engagement (communication of challenge appraisals); an apocalyptic/comic rhetoric because such a rhetoric remains hopefully optimistic that there is still adequate (although decreasing) time in which to transition to a sustainable system. As explained in previous posts, when rhetoric neglects to articulate effective actions/solutions for productive behavior in response to environmental problems/global warming, or when it is founded solely on fear alone, without specific actions to remedy mistakes/unsustainable lifestyles, etc., the actions that do follow are maladaptive; they’re not consistent, collective, or significant in addressing the change – global change – that is necessary in sufficiently addressing an environmental problem like global warming.

Climate change is – as Foust and O’Shannon Murphy describe – the term used to frame non-human agency (natural causes) as the primary force causing temperature rise. So given this frame, it would follow that those communicating “climate change” to the public aren’t implying humans’ responsibility, but rather what Foust and O’Shannon Murphy describe as an apocalyptic/tragic rhetoric, one that points to Fate as determining the consequences of an environmental problem like global warming (which ultimately means that humans have no choice but to accept catastrophe; the ultimate rhetorical move against civic engagement, per Brulle).

All in all, Foust and O’Shannon Murphy’s perspective complicates and enhances an understanding of the differences – especially the rhetorical differences in the implications – between “global warming” and “climate change” and, furthermore, brings my own understanding of the significance – and the problematics – of these terms full-circle. Even if “global warming” and “climate change” are in fact rhetorically significant for implying one perspective or another regarding the cause of temperature rise (humans or nature/Fate) what’s ultimately important is that despite the fact that we’re uncertain of the degree to which one or the other has caused the situation, we are certain that global warming exists and – most importantly – that simulated consequences of it all point to varying degrees of catastrophe if we do nothing. This is why I find “resiliency” so appealing – because it implies reaction, action in response to temperature rise, and not a preoccupation with who/what is responsible for causing the situation in the first place. From my perspective, the most productive issue to take up is determining what “changes in behavior” are likely to curtail overshoot, and once these are articulated, funding research and development concerning how to successfully communicate those changes to the public in a way that speaks to public values, and motivates real, sustainable, fulfilling change for the longevity of all species.

*I’ll be using “global warming” throughout this post in order to remain consistent with the authors’ use of the term in “Revealing and Reframing Apocalyptic Tragedy in Global Warming Discourse”.

So onward with the list …

Apocalyptic rhetoric

The authors frame their analysis of climate change/global warming reports’ framing in terms of an apocalyptic rhetoric, which they define as a “linear temporality (increased greenhouse gas concentrations–> warming –>catastrophic effects) emphasizing a catastrophic end-point that is more/less outside the purview of human agency.” Apocalyptic rhetoric suggests that climate change is currently framed in terms of crisis, meaning that – in the majority of cases – the media frames climate change as an environmental problem that is uncertain, but determinedly catastrophic; meaning that interest in productive responses to the crisis are discouraged because of the inevitability of a catastrophic telos; a catastrophic end point.

Tragic apocalypse

The authors break-down apocalyptic rhetoric into two categories: tragic apocalypse and comic apocalypse, each of which has a frame that either promotes or discourages action; which I want to complicate by framing in terms of resiliency (the turning of threats into opportunities).

Tragic apocalypse constitutes global warming as a matter of cosmic Fate, meaning that regardless of humans’ willingness to engage in positive actions to remedy past mistakes/unsustainable lifestyles, they are victims of the catastrophic effects of global warming/climate change. Such an ideology forecloses human agency – responsibility – to engage in understanding and acting in response to climate change.

The most significant implication of apocalyptic/tragic rhetoric is that because Fate/nature has caused global warming, because global warming is simply the “uncontrollable state of things,” that humans aren’t responsible for engaging in productive responses to it, in part because, following logically, their responses would be in vain. An apocalyptic/tragic rhetoric follows that if Fate is determining a rise in the Earth’s temperature, for instance, that Fate has ultimate control over humans’ condition. An apocalyptic/tragic rhetoric implies that humans have no agency in their own fates concerning climate change/global warming.

Concerning a public understanding of apocalyptic/tragic rhetoric, the most important consequence of such a rhetoric is that it discourages civic engagement. As discussed earlier, when the public – stakeholders – aren’t engaged in/supportive of science/global warming hypotheses, it doesn’t stand much of a chance for long-term success when/if it becomes policy.

Comic apocalypse

Comic apocalypse frames global warming as the consequence of humans’ mistakes regarding unsustainable lifestyles, and understands tragedy as only one of the potential consequences of global warming. If humans persist in their mistakes, it is believed that such behaviors will manifest in catastrophe, but that catastrophe isn’t the only (fated) consequence. Comic apocalypse follows that if humans recognize their mistakes/unsustainable lifestyles and practice the agency – responsibility – that is necessary in changing such behaviors, then humans’ agency will manifest in positively influencing their fate.

The authors articulate the nuance of an apocalyptic/comic rhetoric:

“by distinguishing between crisis and catastrophe, the comic variation suggests that the tragic telos is only one potential ending to the climate change narrative, contingent upon whether humans alter their behavior in an appropriate manner”

An apocalyptic/comic rhetoric promotes humanity as mistaken, rather than evil, allowing space for bringing ideologically disparate communities together. In this rhetorical frame, time is open-ended, with human intervention possible; but as it’s important that we recognize the comic frame as “charitable but not gullible” (Peterson, 1997, p. 44 cited in Foust & O’Shannon Murphy 163)

An apocalyptic/comic rhetoric implies that humans still have enough time to act responsibly concerning how they ought to change their behaviors so that they can (globally) begin transitioning to a sustainable society.

Concerning a public understanding of global warming via an apocalyptic/comic rhetoric, it is understood that in enabling time and potential (in the form of specific solutions/changes in behavior), humans will be able to engage in understanding and acting in favor of global warming mitigation, and such actions will move growth/throughputs, etc. back within the Earth’s limits (Meadows, Meadows & Randers).


Apocalyptic Rhetoric, Mistakes, and Changing Behavior: How to Rhetorically Frame Climate Change Communications (Part 1)

Apocalyptic Rhetoric, Mistakes, and Changing Behavior: How to Rhetorically Frame Climate Change Communications (Part 1)

Foust, C. R. & O’Shannon Murphy, W. (2009). Revealing and Reframing Apocalyptic Tragedy in Global Warming Discourse.

Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture, 3(2), 151 —167.



Foust and O’Shannon Murphy’s analysis, “Revealing and Reframing Apocalyptic Tragedy in Global Warming Discourse” is founded in a collection of US elite/popular press reports from 1997-2007; their methodology entailed searching headlines/lead paragraphs for “climate change,” “global warming,”  and “catastrophe,” gleaning their collections for appropriate/matching headlines. Once they collected the most relevant reports, they began to identify/analyze rhetorical trends in the media’s framing of climate change, and to subsequently recommend more effective rhetorical framings of climate change science, especially as the rhetorical framing is understood to be capable of persuading the public of engaging with/advocating /taking responsibility for their (mistaken) actions.  Ultimately, the authors emphasize that when climate change is communicated using a particular rhetorical frame (apocalyptic rhetoric; comic apocalypse) past and current behavior (the behavior that has contributed, to whatever extent, to the increase in greenhouse gases/global warming/climate change) can still be changed; that there is still enough time in which we can respond to signals/feedback loops effectively; that there is still enough time – and reason – to change behavior. It’s important to emphasize the difference, though, between “enough” and “infinite” … the authors emphasize “enough,” meaning that given the scientific research hypothesizing climate change (which, as Meyer emphasizes, is “enough”) we must act now, in response to consistent hypotheses, and not when those hypotheses are certain (as that is highly unlikely).

I want to emphasize the following ideas (listed below) because the authors’ explanation of each idea informs my understanding of climate change communications, especially in terms of the ideas’ implications for a public understanding of climate change (i.e. an interpretation of that understanding as a willingness to change behavior in response to climate change). Emphasizing the authors’ framing of these ideas is also significant for understanding and practicing their conclusions – suggestions for rhetorical frames that they believe to have more potential for effective communication of climate change so that expedient and effective policy is possible.

Outline of Ideas:

*Climate Change vs Global Warming (again)

  • Apocalyptic Rhetoric
  • Tragic Apocalypse
  • Comic Apocalypse
  • Agency, Temporality, and Telos
  • Fate
  • Crisis
  • Catastrophe
  • Thinking

Climate Change vs Global Warming (again)

In terms of my personal experience concerning debates over the “correct” terminology (global warming or climate change) I want to emphasize what I see as the most productive terminology from the perspective of decision-making/policy-making: neither term. I’m suggesting that neither “climate change” nor “global warming” is (at least any longer) an effective term for inciting an understanding of/engagement with the responsibilities entailed in the various impacts of population, affluence, and technological advancement, etc. The term I am beginning to embrace as an effective alternative is “resilience/resiliency”.

One of the very first conversations I had about “resiliency” was with Dr. Daniel Yeh, Resilient Tampa Bay Planning Committee Chair, who made it abundantly clear to me that the primary challenge of climate change communications was attempting to move these conversations out of political paralysis/political partisanship – which was the result of framing these conversations around either climate change or global warming – and into a publically-supported, politically productive choice for sustainable, fulfilling, responsible ways of life. The way out was to stop framing in terms of either climate change or global warming and to start framing in completely new terms, in terms of “resiliency.” One of Dr. Yeh’s primary challenges to Resilient Tampa Bay participants concerned this re-framing – he asked, “Can we speak about climate change without using the terms “climate” or “change”? In advocating resiliency as the (new) terms of the debate, he was answering his challenge with a confident “yes.” And I agree. “Resiliency” moves us beyond the debate over whether climate change is really happening or not and who is more/most responsible for it, and into acceptance: despite uncertainty, despite “facts” or “proof” of the degree to which climate is changing, what we are certain of is that “human activities … contribute to the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases; the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing exponentially; greenhouse gases trap heat; trapped heat will increase the temperature of the Earth” (Meadows, Meadows, & Randers 116-117). We’re certain that an increase in greenhouse gases will increase Earth’s temperature; so “resiliency” is rhetorically framed in such a way that it accepts and reinforces this certainty without dabbling over the degree to which greenhouse gases have increased, who has contributed what amount to the increase, or the degree to which we ought to be concerned with temperature increases. In accepting the certainty of change – and most importantly, in understanding the implications of certain change (which has been predicted, in varying degrees of overshoot, by Meadows, Meadows, & Randers’ World3 computer modeling system) – we are able to move out of paralytic debate and into thinking about more responsible, sustainable, and fulfilling behaviors. Where “climate change” and “global warming” describe the state of things, “resiliency” demands action; it describes a reaction to the state of things, an intention to take advantage of “enough” time; to respond with positive changes for positive results.

In relation to Foust and O’Shannon Murphy’s articulation of the difference/s between climate change and global warming, the authors cite that early on in their research, they discovered that – contrary to their assumptions – the two terms were not simply unintentionally interchanged, but rather that “… the terms may relate to various frames. ‘Climate change’ suggests non-human (natural) agency as the driver for warming, while ‘global warming’ positions human activities as the main cause (and comic‘‘cure’’) of rising surface temperatures and their effects (Bolstad, 2007 cited in Foust & O’Shannon Murphy 155) … more on their realization, and what that realization means for the terms, and the viability of new terminology like “resiliency” tomorrow …

Part Two will address the remaining ideas and their implications for climate change communications and decision/policy-making

Art, Writing, and Life: Anticipating SFMOMA tonight …

A quick read of Albright’s “One sees what one sees” offered the overview I needed in order to feel a bit more informed about the context of what I’ll be enjoying tonight at “The Steins Collect” exhibit at the SFMOMA.

Really briefly, I want to touch on a few connections/intersections with Stein, writing, Picasso, cubism, and the dynamics of in/visibility.

Stein, Writing, and Latour

Albright writes that “Stein was to be much attracted to cubism’s all-overness, its way of treating every square inch of the canvas as equally significant—“Cézanne conceived the idea that in composition one thing was as important as another thing. Each part is as important as the whole, and that impressed me enormously” (Haas, Gertrude Stein A Primer, p. 15).


What attracted me to this particular insight is the fact that composition – like ecosystems – function like networks, in which various actors contribute to the network’s overall agency. Although the actors aren’t equal (I’m thinking of Latour, here, when he explains how he doesn’t adhere to an “across the board, all actors are equal” mentality) but despite their different agencies, the important part is that they possess agencies; the objects, whether they are letters, words, sentences, drops of paint, portraits, etc. … are constituted of agential parts, actors, which influences the whole network. There is more to this connection, but for now, I believe it to be an interesting point of connection in which to synthesize the ecological thought (nodding to Morton here) with Latour and with Stein, Picasso, and Cezanne.


  • Random thought: Cezanne’s quote above reminds me of Derrida’s The Truth in Painting (as a side note, since my undergraduate days at the University of Florida, when I was first introduced to the text, I haven’t come across a colleague/professor, etc. who has heard of this particular text …?)



I also find interesting Albright’s explanation that, “Stein thought that Picasso’s genius lay in his faculty for seeing what was there, the object unencumbered with the normal contexts of things—not the object as we know it ought to be:


Really most of the time one sees only a feature of a person with whom one is, the other features are covered by a hat, by the light, by clothes for sport and everybody is accustomed to complete the whole entirely from their knowledge, but Picasso when he saw an eye, the other one did not exist for him … one sees what one sees, and the rest is a reconstruction from memory and painters have nothing to do with reconstruction (Gertrude Stein on Picasso, p. 22)


In thinking about the dynamics of in/visibility, as it relates with my current work (considering the invisibility of environmental problems like climate change) and the ways in which it implicates Picasso’s art, in that his talent was founded on “seeing what was there” without preconceptions, memories, references, etc., I wonder if re-articulating climate change in entirely new terms, interpreting climate change not as a debate over what is invisible (i.e. the degree to which human and/or natural causes affect climate change) but rather as an emphasis on what is there, such as the certainty (visibility) of climate change in and of itself (i.e. we’re certain that the Earth’s temperature is changing and we can predict the potential for crisis if we do nothing to address it) in terms of what we can do, for instance, like the concept of resiliency.

As this visibility pertains to Picasso’s art, Stein’s insight – that Picasso saw what was “… unencumbered with the normal context of things …” sheds light on what I’ll be seeing tonight; it informs the perspective with which I come to seeing what is there … and the ways in which art, writing, and life are always meshing in interesting, exciting, and provocative ways …



Albright, Daniel. 2009. One sees what one sees. In A New Literary History of America, ed. G. Marcus and W. Sollors, 1903. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.


Environmental Communication: Brulle’s Rhetoric of Change (Part Two)

I want to organize Part Two by answering the following questions:

  1. How is Brulle’s rhetoric of environmental communication a rhetoric that enables civic engagement in environmental problems like global warming? Because Brulle has positioned himself in opposition to environmental identity campaigns (“short-term fixes”) like ecoAmerica’s/Lakoff’s, the theoretical/practical facets of his perspective deserve serious attention as a potentially feasible alternative to ineffective climate science policy
  2. What are the problems of the messaging strategies of environmental identity campaigns like ecoAmerica’s/Lakoff’s? Brulle maps four specific issues, detailing the theoretical, systemic, and hegemonic problematics …
  3. What does environmental communication as civic engagement entail?
  4. How is a rhetoric of civic engagement a rhetoric of fear as challenge appraisals versus a rhetoric of fear as threat messaging?
  5. How does Brulle’s perspective concerning environmental communication rhetoric – especially pertaining to a rhetoric of fear as challenge appraisals – inform and complicate my own perceptions of a rhetoric of resiliency* as a rhetoric of fear?

*resiliency: in terms of climate change, resiliency pertains to our responses to the effects of climate change … at a very basic level, resiliency can be defined as humans’ ability to adapt to, prepare for, and prevent the effects of global warming/climate change (like sea level rise, storm surge, and urban flooding). The goal of Resilient Tampa Bay, the subject of my case study, was to “… exchange ideas on developing resiliency plans for the Tampa Bay region. The challenge was to consider plans that would protect vital infrastructure, improve conditions for economic development, and minimize the impact of hurricanes and other natural disasters …” ( Throughout the sessions I participated in, a rhetoric of fear – a rhetoric of crisis – was discussed as a potential solution for civic engagement in climate science policy … although after reading Brulle’s perspective on a rhetoric of fear as necessitating challenge appraisals, it’s clear that the rhetoric of fear, the rhetoric of crisis that was discussed at Resilient Tampa Bay was a rhetoric of crisis consisting of threat messaging … which, as Brulle explains, is ineffective.

Environmental Communication to Enable Civic Engagement

For Brulle, civil society* is at the center of the renewal and transformation of social institutions (citing Habermas, 1996, p. 365).

*civil society: voluntary institutions that exist outside of control of market or state; theoretical and empirical research suggest that the institutions of civil society = the key site for the origination of social change; the participatory structure of civil society = key to large-scale social change efforts because they are based on communicative action, and are unhindered by limitations of market or state

Within the institutions of civil society, as within any group/social order, are frames which constitute the group’s ideologies, etc. Brulle refers to these frames specifically as “field frames,” which he defines as “… political constructions that define appropriate and inappropriate practices in a given area” (Brulle 85). What’s significant about field frames as they pertain to civil society is that the institutions of civil society allow for alternatives to traditional frames (traditional frames= frames that facilitate political and economic imperatives (like the necessity to maximize ROI, provide security, economic growth, and maintain political legitimacy)). In effect, these civil societies are critical communities, in which alternative, non-traditional ideologies – frames – develop. Such non-traditional ideologies begin within the institutions of civil society, but eventually permeate their borders, inciting widespread understanding – and collective behavior to address – societal problems like the environmental problem of global warming.

The alternative frames developed/disseminated by civil societies are important in that they affect the larger society because they force more widespread awareness of social problems. As Brulle explains, collective perception of a social problem – via an alternative mapping of the social world by the institutions of civil society – is necessary for individuals to collectively mobilize and act critically, often in ways that don’t agree with the current system, in response to environmental problems, for instance. On an even deeper level, frames are incredibly important because, as Bourdieu writes, “… knowledge of the social world and, more precisely, the categories that make it possible, are the stakes … of political struggle, the inextricably theoretical and practical struggle for the power to conserve or transform the social world by conserving or transforming the categories through which it is perceived” (Bourdieu 1985, p. 729 cited in Brulle 86).

Brulle is explicitly clear in explaining his positioning on environmental communication: ecoAmerica/Lakoff advocate messaging strategies that “… take the form of communications aimed at influencing public opinion in a particular direction …” implying that such strategies don’t allow for civic engagement (87). Because such strategies aren’t founded on a theory of civic engagement, they disallow the potential for long-term, sustainable social change. As Brulle articulates, “research shows that democratic civic engagement is core to successful social change efforts” (82). If ecoAmerica/Lakoff’s messaging strategies aren’t founded in methodologies that enable civic engagement, Brulle suggests that they disallow opportunities for real, long-term, sustainable change- the only type of change that will prove efficacious in accelerating the pace and scope of politically productive responses to global warming.

Environmental Identity Campaigns: Four Problems

Brulle maps four specific problems with environmental identity campaigns (87-91)

1. Questionable link between environmentalism and core progressive values

No existing theoretical support for progressivism and environmentalism à centering environmental communications campaign on notion of core progressive values = problematic

2. Ecological modernization* and cooptation of environmentalism

both messaging strategies are based on appeals to the imperatives of the existing system … suggesting, for instance, that new technologies can be developed and utilized to enhance economic growth while curtailing waste BUT the net conclusion of hundreds of studies is that this approach does not work – long-term, sustainably – to reduce most pollutants, especially greenhouse gases

*ecological modernization: Brulle explains that ecological modernization “… is appealing because it eliminates the need for zero-sum solutions” (88) and “In this view, capitalism can be modified to be ecologically sustainable without any changes to lifestyle or consumption patterns …” (Buttel, 2000; Schlosberg & Rinfret, 2008, p. 256 cited in Brulle 88)

3. Elite directed social change and public disempowerment:

“experts in cognitive science and psychology identify core progressive values and develop messaging campaigns based on those values … this is message delivery which treats citizens as consumers of ideas”

4. Framing without mobilization

“ … pouring new rhetoric into the same system of structural relations will accomplish little … political mobilization campaigns are more effective if they engage citizens in a sustained dialogue rather than treating them as a mass opinion to be manipulated …”

Envrironmental Communication as Civic Engagement: What’s Entailed?

1. Identity campaigns versus challenge campaigns: what’s the difference?

The difference lies in the rhetorical implications of fear, as it is either expressed as threat messaging or as challenge appeals:

Fear: assumption of identity campaign is that fear appeals are (universally) counterproductive; “… it is commonly assumed that fear leads to the opposite of the desired response (denial, paralysis, apathy, or actions that can create greater risks than the one being mitigated) HOWEVER – academic literature portrays a different point of view: reassuring messages (i.e. ecoAmerica) have the least salience … and a number of empirical studies show that apocalyptic messages show that individuals respond to threat appeals with an increased focus on collective action (Brulle 92) …

Threat messaging versus challenge messaging: there’s a difference between THREAT messaging (i.e. ecoAmerica/Lakoff’s fear appeals) and CHALLENGE appraisals (i.e. Brulle’s challenge campaigns).

Threat messaging: those in which the perception of danger exceeds the perception or abilities to cope

Challenge appraisals: perception of danger does not exceed the perception of the resources/ability to cope (theorists like Brulle and Meadows, Meadows, and Randers, who are realistically positive about the potential for bringing “… the throughputs that support human activities down to sustainable levels through human choice, human technology, and human organization …” (13) despite the certainty that we have overshot our limits) (see Meadows, Meadows, and Randers 223 for an extended explanation of “ability to cope”)

Fear (alone) à maladaptive behavior, but fear + information about effective actions (challenge messaging) à strongly motivating

2. Shifting the process from one-way communications to civic engagement:

Rather than just informing the public of and eliciting support for various policy positions, environmental communication ought to develop messaging procedures that involve citizens directly in the policy development process

Cohen, Meadows, Meadows & Randers, and Meyer (see previous posts) agree that environmental problems must involve the participation of stakeholders, as stakeholders are eminently important to the management of environmental problems (Cohen) the systems perspective modeling, which seeks to convince society to act in accordance with an opportunity to become more sustainable, functional, and equitable (Meadows, Meadows, & Randers) and the development of the capacity to apply/use the plethora of scientific knowledge on climate change science (Meyer)   

Brulle’s solution regarding how to integrate scientific analysis and community deliberation into a comprehensive strategy for environmental decision-making = analytic deliberation, a democratic method for development of government policies that recognizes the link between social rationality and public involvement; Brulle believes it can help inform the creation of democratic environmental communication that builds civic engagement …

3. Envisioning an ecologically sustainable society: “effective rhetoric critiques the current situation and offers a Utopian vision of where society needs to go” (93);

threats + opportunities, nightmares + dreams = social movement mobilization + social change

The Rhetoric of Resiliency as a Rhetoric of Crisis

As mentioned above, I’ve been developing a rhetorical analysis of Resilient Tampa Bay, the “knowledge exchange” with Dutch water management experts and University of South Florida students/professors, and local, regional, and state entities. In my analysis, I interpret the conflicting perspectives of two major stakeholders in the knowledge exchange as representative of a rhetoric of crisis and a rhetoric of democracy. Brulle’s perspective informs my analysis of one of the perspectives on resiliency; resiliency as a rhetoric of crisis. Most importantly, whereas I had been thinking about the fear-factor inherent in a rhetoric of crisis as problematic – if not detrimental – to the productive efforts of resiliency, given Brulle’s differentiation between fear as threat messaging and challenge appraisals, my analysis of fear as a fundamental tactic of the rhetoric of crisis has become complicated by the rhetorical implications of the two. In the end, though, despite the differences between a rhetoric of fear interpreted as threat messaging versus a rhetoric of fear interpreted as challenge appraisals, the rhetoric of resiliency as a rhetoric of crisis (one of the perspectives I observed at Resilient Tampa Bay) is still, ultimately, a rhetoric of fear in the form of threat messaging. What’s important, though, is Brulle’s articulation of fear as useful if/when it is accompanied with effective actions/solutions for productive behavior in deference to environmental problems/global warming. Can resiliency be communicated using a rhetoric of democracy that balances fear with opportunities, dreams, positive and productive actions as a means of long-term, sustainable response – the only type of response, per Brulle – to global warming? Can resiliency be accomplished via a rhetoric of democracy articulated through challenge appraisals?


Environmental Communication: Brulle’s Rhetoric of Change (Part One)

From Environmental Campaigns to Advancing the Public Dialog: Environmental Communication for Civic Engagement, Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture, 4(1), 82-98.

Brulle’s Rhetoric of Change: A Rhetoric of Civic Engagement 

“An effective rhetoric of change critiques the current situation and offers Utopian vision of where society needs to go …

Brulle’s rhetoric of civic engagement contrasts the ideology of environmental identity campaigns, which he explains are campaigns based on the idea that more effective environmental messages are developed through the application of cognitive science by professional communications experts; under the assumption that such message-delivery can favorably influence public opinion and ultimately support legislative action in favor of, for instance, climate change science* policy. He cites two prominent users of environmental identity campaigns – ecoAmerica and Lakoff – arguing that problematic messaging strategies (four in particular, listed/explained below) on which ecoAmerica/Lakoff’s campaigns are founded imply that even though their environmental identity ideology may offer short-term advantages, such campaigns are incapable of sustaining long-term and widespread support and mobilization that an environmental problem like global warming** necessitates. Brulle leverages his perspective by proffering theoretical evidence: “research that shows that democratic civic engagement is core to successful social change efforts” (82).

A Quick Note on the Rhetorical Distinction between Climate Science and Global Warming:

  • Global warming: Brulle’s consistent use of climate change science in terms of “global warming” emphasizes a singular problem of climate change science; the heating of the Earth, rise in Earth’s temperature, and the implications for public policy, etc. that seeks to address this particular problem
  • Climate change science: often used by climate change experts/scientists etc. to allude to the broader implications (one of which is global warming) of climate change.
  • Therefore, Brulle’s consistent use of “global warming” focuses his perspective on the communicative dynamics – the rhetoric – of this particular environmental problem.

Environmental Identity Campaign

A few words on Brulle’s perception of ecoAmerica’s/Lakoff’s messaging strategies:

  • Brulle criticizes ecoAmerica/Lakoff for adhering to messaging strategies that promote a marketing-based approach, one that is based on appeals to self-interest and “core progressive” values … essentially, one that “sells” a pre-packaged policy (versus a policy that involves stakeholders; one that involves civic engagement)
  • He suggests that because their strategy aims to fit within current political and economic institutions, it is subsequently constrained by key imperatives (like the necessity to maximize ROI, provide security, economic growth, and maintain political legitimacy) and because it is constrained within these directives, even positive, well-intended environmental actions that impinge on any of those imperatives will not be carried out … because of the way in which they could potentially jeopardize the imperatives of the system.

A few words on field frames:

  • “frames are collectively shared worldviews that define a field of interaction” (Bourdieu)
  • “Social order is made up of multiple discursive frames, each which defines a unique field of practice (Benson, 2000, p. 13; Laclau & Mouffe, 1985 cited in Brulle 85) … embedded discursive frames take the form of field frames, or political constructions that define appropriate/inappropriate practices in a given area” (Brulle 85)
  • Brulle suggests that environmental identity campaigns like ecoAmerica/Lakoff’s work within (and therefore maintain) the hegemonic frame via managerial rhetoric
    • Managerial rhetoric: “those rhetorical acts which by their form uphold and reinforce the established order or system” (Cathcart, 1978, p. 237 cited in Brulle 86)
    • Therefore, if environmental identity campaigns consist of messaging strategies that reinforce the current political/economic imperatives, and reinforcement of those imperatives precludes any long-term/sustainable change in behavior that – in this instance – seeks to counteract choices in favor of widespread support and mobilization for global warming policy – then, despite any short-term successes/support, such strategies will ultimately dissipate because of the ideology that global warming policy necessitates doesn’t match the frame within which it is being communicated/practiced
  • Furthermore, a managerial rhetoric is a “… rhetoric of piety, a system builder, a desire to round things out, to fit experiences together as a unified whole” meaning that such a rhetoric reinforces frames of social order/the world as an orderly system, potentially reinforcing an ideology of doubt, where uncertainty works as a deterrent – and even a preventative – for responding to global warming and climate change science more broadly. If managerial rhetoric is the rhetoric of environmental identity campaigns, and such campaigns seek (short-term) influence of individuals’ self-interest and “core progressive” values, then such a rhetoric disallows the type of scientific experimentation that is necessary for the development of responses to global warming, but also one that neglects to enable the engagement of non-managerial actors …


Part Two (coming soon) will detail Brulle’s articulation of the specific problems of an environmental identity campaign and the dimensions of the type of campaign Brulle advocates: an environmental communication campaign as a civic engagement agenda …

Part Two will conclude with an analysis of climate change rhetoric, especially as it is articulated through a rhetoric of crisis, fear, and will offer specific insight into how Brulle sees the rhetoric of fear as threat messaging versus challenge appraisals …  

Brief Post (and my response) re: Climate Change Denial …

Your question, “How do we know it’s us causing the warming and not natural causes?” intrigues me, as it is a question that I, too, have been ruminating over for quite some time…From what I’ve been reading/writing/thinking about concerning climate change denial/deniers, I want to point to two insights: First, I want to refer to Meadows, Meadows, and Randers’ “Limits to Growth,” more specifically, the authors’ list of what we’re certain of regarding climate change. The authors confirm that we’re certain that “human activities contribute to an increase in greenhouse gas concentration” (118). Shouldn’t we re-frame climate change conversations so that they support this certainty? But even if we disagreed with Meadows, Meadows, and Randers’ assertion, and chose to believe that we are UNcertain about the effect of human activities on greenhouse gas concentration, would it really be worth delaying – and perhaps preventing – policymakers from acting in response to the situation: the situation being that the earth is warming? In the end, it seems as though we have more than enough science to support global warming, but that we neglect the savviness to communicate those findings in a way that effectively convinces people to change their behavior in response to changes in the earth’s temperature. Perhaps the denial occurs as a response to the confusion that ensues from the ambiguous and often contradictory terminology that is being used to communicate climate change to the public. Perhaps we need to implement incentives for behavior that is responsive to climate change? Do we need a better understanding of climate change or a more effective means of disseminating consistent information, incentivizing positive responses to climate change, and managing climate change policy through the lenses of science AND public values?
Regarding the answer to your question, “Because we’ve directly measured it,” I see the logic in providing proof, especially in the sense that the purpose of the article is to identify THE question that seems to incite the most widespread doubt about climate change: whether humans are the primary cause or not. Your answer – that we have directly measured it – makes logical sense, and I certainly agree. However, I also want to suggest the following: first, that measurements aren’t always consistent across time, and therefore could “backfire” if a purported measurement ebbs and flows throughout time, deniers could claim that no changes in human behavior led to a decrease in impact… secondly, that we ought to be moving away from “directly measuring” and toward enabling a more effective management of uncertainties…hypothetically, even assuming ALL climate change science is uncertain we are still obligated to invest ourselves not in the application of science funding for the “discovery” of climate change “facts,” but to the experimentation of climate change scenarios… it seems to me as though this is the only segue to action… if we languish in fact-finding and directly measuring, climate change conversations easily become circular; delaying policy. If we engage in experimentation – even in the face of uncertainty – we will be better able to manage the real scenario: the warming of the earth and the consequences that ensue as a result.



Meyer’s Climate Science: Public Values, Usefulness, Knowledge and (real) Progress

Meyer, R. (2011). The Public Values Failures of Climate Science in the US. Minerva. Retrieved from

“The Public Values Failures of Climate Science in the US” suggests a refreshingly insightful perspective on the intersections between science, policy, and the implications – dangers, even – of current science policy practices/failures. Meyer’s resounding claim, which he iterates and reiterates throughout the article, is that not all advances in knowledge are inherently good, and that if/when knowledge = progress, a social problem with political and social facets (like climate change) is easily reduced to a science funding problem. As he explains throughout, this ultimately threatens the fulfillment of public values, subsequently delegitimizing the mission and vision of governmental policies intended to address citizens’ priorities.

Throughout his argument, he references the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP)  (defined below) explaining that the Program ought to (re-) focus its practices so that its actions actually speak to the connections between science values and public values. As it is currently structured, he explains, CCSP operates within a framework that adheres to the “knowledge as progress” ideology, which has consistently failed to efficiently address public values (identified/defined below). In an effort to emerge from this failure and to practice a science policy that effectively answers citizens’ priorities, more attention ought to be given to the organizational and institutional components of science funding.

Meyers analyzes how US policy pertaining to climate science – the Global Change Research Act/Climate Change Science Program – has failed to achieve its purported mission and vision: to research/produce information readily useable by policymakers. A basic definition of the GCRA/CCSP is articulated below:

  • Global Change Research Act (GCRA): “… the Global Change Research Act (GCRA), like most science policies, has a broader purpose—it constructs an aspirational link between science and some form of social progress (48)
  • Climate Change Science Program (CCSP): “The last two decades have seen considerable continuity in the general purpose of coordinating climate science among agencies, even if the language used to express that purpose and the means of achieving it have evolved. So far, under the Obama Administration, the US Climate Change Science Program (CCSP, as it was known under the Bush Administration) remains largely intact, except that it has reverted to its pre-Bush-Administration name of ‘‘Global Change Research Program.’’ For the sake of consistency, I will use CCSP as a reference to the federal interagency program in general” (50)

Meyer opens by asking, “What is the broad social purpose of US climate science?” The short answer: the social purpose is largely ignored, in the sense that the “knowledge is progress” ideology prevails; that science values assumptions trump an ideology of knowledge that could lead to progress toward public values.  At its core, the GCRA merely stipulates that funding for research ought to ‘‘produce information readily usable by policymakers.’’  He explains how science values (i.e. “knowledge as progress”) are inadequate for achieving broader public values; the problem is the lack of consistent/traceable progress in synthesizing research results or supporting decision making and risk management.

The trajectory of Meyer’s article can be broken-down into the following purposes: use of public value mapping as a means of investigating the link between climate science and the broader social purpose of climate science policies to explain how/why GCRA has failed to produce policy-ready science (Meyers 48); identification of key public values; assessment of those values with decision making and management (a public values failure assessment); identification of assumptions about the connections between knowledge advancement and social problems like climate change; and insight and recommendations about climate science and science policy in general.

Public Values

  • What public values does Meyer identify?
    • First, he cites Bozeman (2007, p. 13) who defines the public values of a society as: those providing a normative consensus about (a) the rights, benefits, and prerogatives to which citizens should (and should not) be entitled; (b) the obligations of citizens to society, the state and one another; and (c) the principles on which governments and policies should be based.

Meyer cites five public values (which he develops from “… interviews, meeting observations, and document analysis…” from which he examines the decision processes and institutional structures that lead to the implementation of climate science policy, and [from which he identifies] a variety of public values failures accommodated by this system” (47).

Meyer’s Public Values


1. Useful information; usefulness

  1. More information doesn’t necessarily equal better decision making/increased information use
  2. Programs (like GCRA) that aim at immediately useful knowledge must take reality into account and involve potential knowledge users throughout their research
  3. CCSP Strategic plan: three categories of decisions that program will inform: political decisions, adaptive management decisions, and decisions related to the evolution of scientific research agenda … BUT the program doesn’t specify a PLAN for delivering useful information to these groups

2. High quality science; political tool

  1. In many instances, a reference to the maintenance of high quality science does not just mean ensuring rigorous research; it implies a commitment to what has come before.

3. Coordination and collaboration; transdisciplinary opportunities

  1. Possibilities within (“new”) disciplines like Earth Systems Science, which integrates human and natural systems in order to generate comprehensive understandings of global processes

4. Transparency and communication; openness and problematics of ambiguity

  1. Ambiguity in CCSP’s role in advancing federal climate science à ambiguity subverts attempts to monitor via budgets changes in priorities in US climate science

5. Stakeholder participation and support; stakeholders

  1. “stakeholder” à one of the most important buzzwords in interagency climate science
  2. “involving stakeholders in the processes associated with research and research policies requires managing, incentivizing, and carrying out research in different ways … if the mission is to empower decision makers, then decision making agencies … should definitely be at the table” (Meyers 57-59)
  3. Foundational problem: all goals are concerned with expanding knowledge, and not with developing the capacity to apply it
  4. CCSP hasn’t offered a clear account of what kinds of science advance would help to satisfy the public values that motivate the program to begin with 

Emphasizing Uncertainty …

Meyer’s perspective on uncertainty is particularly interesting, in part because of the ideology of science as the management of uncertainty, but more specifically because of the rhetoric of climate change, in which (just to cite one example of the many frames that exist) uncertainty can be “exploited … in an effort to create a state of confusion …” (Meadows, Meadows, and Randers 116). Such confusion ultimately leads to even more political opposition, as in the interpretation of climate change in terms of a rhetoric of crisis versus a rhetoric of democracy. Such interpretations – framings – jeopardize the ways in which policy can speak to public values … (*more on the rhetoric of crisis and the rhetoric of democracy coming soon …  the foundation of my recent article re: a case study of Resilient Tampa Bay, in which resiliency is framed in terms of a rhetoric of crisis and a rhetoric of democracy …)

  • Meyer explains that many have pointed out that most decisions do not (indeed, they cannot) rely upon the eradication of uncertainty (Pielke 1995); that scientific uncertainty can be a political tool used to win additional funds for science, or to delay a decision indefinitely (Shackley and Wynne 1996); and that a great deal of our uncertainty about the behavior of the climate and related systems is irreducible (Dessai and Hulme 2004). Reduction of uncertainty offers neither a sensible metric by which to judge progress in climate science, nor a reasonable surrogate for the goal of generating useful information (NRC 2005).


Meyer’s Recommendations


  • We ought to reconsider how to relate public values with the Program (CCSP); that we reconsider program structure (i.e. a structure that better facilitates agency of CCSP, for instance)
  • High quality science and useful information relate represent compatible values; BUT the flexibility and ambiguity of the relationship leads to public values failures
    • Meyer’s suggestion: language and institutional processes that promote high quality science and that contribute useful information
    • The CCSP should pursue public values by setting goals for science policy rather than goals for science
      • As it stands, public values serve the Program as political cover versus as a basis for guiding politics and practice
      • CCSP and its successors need to reject science values assumptions and ask what kinds of knowledge would lead to desired progress toward public values, and they can potentially do so by making value chains more explicit and by distinguishing between goals that support science and goals that connect science to public values
  • Concerning climate science in particular, Meyers recommends that decision makers ought to identify the concrete areas of climate science in which it can make progress toward its own public values-based goals  … this would mean thinking small
  • CCSP may take on the role of a boundary organization, specializing in communication between normally disparate political and disciplinary worlds … with the goal of strengthening connections between science programs and regulatory/service programs …” (Meyers 68)
    • This implies incremental progress in addressing public values

Limits, Uncertainties, and Policies

What are the realities about limits and the impact of current policies on them? Meadows, Meadows, and Randers ultimately want realities about limits to entail serious discussions about “… the general problem of overshoot … pressure for the technical changes urgently necessary to make throughputs more efficient, and … willingness to deal with the driving forces of population and capital growth” (123). More succinctly, the authors draw our attention to:

  • Overshoot
  • Throughputs
  • Population
  • Capital growth

In my attempt to flesh-out the “how” of the authors’ priorities concerning growth and limits, especially as it concerns the points above, I want to focus attention on the concept of uncertainty, as it is the conditions under which I understand the functions of science. For me, and for (some) other rhetoricians of science, science is the management of uncertainty.


Ultimately, the realities about limits are that we are uncertain about what, exactly, they are. Secondly, concerning the impact of current policies regarding limits, the authors suggest that limits are largely misunderstood, primarily because of the lack of specificity and accuracy of how science is interpreted by policy; essentially, because policymakers often (understandably) don’t also have the depth of scientific expertise , and as a result, scientists often attempt to simply science so that it can be understood by non-scientists/policymakers, meaning that significant details, etc. aren’t communicated fully/at all. The authors explain this scenario in terms of its effect on environmental rhetoric, suggesting that because scientific terminology/environmental rhetoric like “resource” and “reserve” are often misunderstood and misinterpreted in policy, that we have effectually been “… paying attention to the wrong signal” and, as a result, have become tremendously confused about how to feasibly define terms like “resource” and “reserve” and “sustainability” (89). Understandably, this confusion leads to ineffective policies and, unfortunately, perpetuates the general problem of overshoot and enables the ignorance of concepts like throughputs and detracts serious attention to the exponential growth of populations and capital.

Regarding uncertainty, especially how uncertainty pertains specifically to climate change, the authors are careful to explain that, for instance, climate change has human causes. No proof exists. But, the authors write, absence of “proof” isn’t an excuse for ignorance of change. Despite proof of the exact extent of human causes – or the degree to which climate change will affect future human activity or ecosystem health – climate change is a real environmental situation. Because of the messiness and confusion inherent in addressing an issue that is uncertain at its core (uncertain causes; uncertain effects) “… some have exploited that uncertainty in an effort to create a state of [greater] confusion, and thus it is important to state clearly what we do know” (116). Below is a condensed list of the six certainties the authors identify (derived from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia; This is what we know – what we’re certain of – regarding climate change:

  • Human activities contribute to an increase in greenhouse gas concentration
  • Carbon dioxide is increasing exponentially
  • Greenhouse gases trap heat that otherwise would escape from the Earth into space
  • Trapped heat will increase the temperature of the Earth
  • The warming will be unequally distributed (more near the poles than the equator)
  • Sea levels will rise; polar ice will melt

There are significant uncertainties too, three that are particularly significant to Limits to Growth. Below is a condensed list:

  • What would global temperature have been without human interference?
  • What, exactly, does a warming planet mean for temperatures, winds, currents, precipitation, ecosystems, and the human economy in each specific place on Earth?
  • What are the possible positive and negative feedback responses to the rise in greenhouse gases? How will these feedback responses interact and will the positive or negative dominate? (118)

Concerning the implications of these three large uncertainties, how should policymakers appropriately respond to such questions? Is a response to such ambiguous uncertainties even possible? What would the implications be? What is at risk? The current system doesn’t necessarily allow for ambiguous/experimental/research-driven policy; the policy framework isn’t flexible to degrees or rates of change, but instead aims to react to what’s proven; what’s “factual”; often, quantitative data. Is this the only condition under which we are willing to act? What “facts” will be proof enough? What I’m suggesting is that even if policymakers intended to propose environmental policy in accordance with measures to reduce climate change, would those propositions move beyond intention into action? The authors cite an interesting illustration of these questions/suggestions in their explanation of overshoot, and the reasons for avoiding the issue of overshoot. (** I’m looking forward to applying Latour to these types of propositions later on this summer …) They write, “The reasons for avoiding the issue of overshoot are understandable and political. Any talk of reducing growth feeds into a bitter argument about distribution – of available resources and of responsibility for the current state of affairs …if the world as a whole is exceeding its limits, who should do something about it: the wasteful rich or the multiplying poor or inefficient ex-socialists?” (124). The answer, they write, is “all of the above.”

The questions above pertain to how I’ve defined science: as the management of uncertainty. When the science is uncertain, and if science – like climate change science – entails the management of uncertainty, then it is rhetorically implied that the management of climate change enacts the responsibilities of science, if we define science in even its broadest and simplest terms. Science is the management of uncertainty. Climate change is rife with uncertainties. Science must still be practiced; the science of climate change must still be managed, even in conditions of significant uncertainty. How ought we to act in the face of such uncertainty? Note the nuance of the question – not should we act in the face of uncertainty, but how ought we to act … as the authors write, “The question is not whether climate change will change further in the future in response to human activities, but rather by how much, where, and when …” (Watson cited in Meadows, Meadows, and Randers 118). The question is not whether we are certain of the causes or effects of climate change – see the six certainties above – but rather, it is a question of how we ought to negotiate – manage – such a reality despite the significant uncertainties pertaining to human causes, future effects, and the potential direction of feedback responses.

Rhetoric of Growth


Meadows, Meadows, and Randers

Limits to Growth Meadows, Meadows, and Randers


I’ve been thinking and writing about Meadows, Meadows, and Randers’ Limits to Growth at various moments in my graduate scholarship, the most recent of which was throughout the writing of my Master’s thesis, in which the text served as the framework from which I engaged in environmental rhetoric of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s management plan. Coming full circle to now, concerning my current/continuing engagement with science, policy, and outcomes this summer, I decided that revisiting the Limits to Growth would be a wise choice, and so far it’s proven itself valuable once again. I anticipate that it will become increasingly valuable to shaping my future scholarship at least at much – if not more than – it has shaped my scholarship in the past.

In the interest of writing as brief a post as possible, I wanted to list/highlight just one of the most pertinent terms to the authors’ framework, cite the rhetorical implications of that term, and – most importantly – suggest parallels with the ways in which I’m continuing to ruminate on Cohen’s Understanding Environmental Policy. The short-term goal of this posting is to show potential ways of meshing Cohen’s work with Meadows, Meadows, and Randers’ Limits to Growth, in my continual effort to connect multi-disciplinary approaches to environmental problems in a way that, as Cohen writes, elicits deeper understandings of the potential solutions to such problems. In particular, I’ll be attempting to focus more narrowly on the environmental problem of climate change, although as Meadows, Meadows, and Randers suggest, humanity is dealing with one, large, interlinked system (74) meaning that climate change only represents one component of a variety of severe and developing changes in ecological systems’ stability; sustainability.

Growth: In “Overshoot” (ch.1) the authors clarify the terms in which they’re defining the concept of growth. I simply want to reiterate/highlight a couple of what I see as the most important components for establishing an understanding of the authors’ perspectives about growth, and the relationship of growth with limits, and ultimately with sustainability. First, though, a very brief – and admittedly simplistic – overview.

  • Historically, “growth has been the dominant behavior of the world socioeconomic system for more than 200 years” (5); it is understood to provide ever increasing welfare, as a remedy to just about every problem … for these, and other, reasons, “… growth has come to be viewed as a cause for celebration” (consider the synonyms for the word: development, progress, advance, gain, improvement, prosperity, success) (5-6).
  • Because of this historical/proliferative ideology of growth, and the subsequent ignorance of the long-term effects of unchecked growth, the concept of “throughput” isn’t widely considered
    • “Throughput” is “… the continuous flows of energy and materials needed to keep people, cars, houses, and factories functioning” …
  • The authors summarize, “The physical limits to growth are limits to the ability of planetary sources to provide materials and energy and to the ability of planetary sinks to absorb the pollution and waste” (9)
  • The authors call our attention to the prevailing rhetoric of growth as that which is all things celebratory (as they put it); meaning that this prevailing ideology ignores the longer-term implications of – most damningly – “limitless” growth (which, as the authors explain, is actually impossible).
  • I’m interested in this rhetoric of growth because of the ways such a misunderstanding of growth affects policy, which of course ultimately affects the ways in which ecosystems are managed, meaning that even the most well-intentioned environmental policies – when subject to/defined in terms of the prevailing rhetoric of growth – aren’t feasible in practice; the motivations of such policies are lost to the confusion inherent in a misunderstanding of the way growth “works”
  • Concerning the prevailing rhetoric of growth, the authors want humans to understand that “the throughput flows presently generated by the human economy cannot be maintained at their current rates for very much longer” BUT that “… current high rates of throughput are not necessary to support a decent standard of living for all the world’s people” (9)
  • Therefore, the authors are calling for fundamental changes – “… fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present [unsustainable; limitless] course will bring about” (“World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” cited in Meadows, Meadows, and Randers 15).
  • My last point pertains to the connections I’m attempting to make between my selected readings. At this point, I certainly see many philosophical differences between Cohen and Meadows, Meadows and Randers, the primary of which I’d suggest is their perspectives on change: quite simply, the authors stand in opposition: whereas Cohen holds the perspective that change is not only unlikely but not feasible, Meadows, Meadows, and Randers emphatically advocate systemic change: in “Transitions to a Sustainable System” (ch. 7) they write: one possible way to respond to signals that resource use and pollution emissions have grown beyond their sustainable limits (235) is to “… acknowledge that the human socioeconomic system as currently structured is unmanageable, has overshot its limits, and is headed for collapse, and, therefore, seek to change the structure of the system” (236) …


Science, Policy and Outcomes: Cohen’s Framework for Environmental Policy

Cohen, S. (2006). Understanding Environmental Policy. New York: Columbia University Press.


After a few days’ worth of deliberation about how and where to begin my “new” discussion – specifically, my discussion of environmental policy from a wider frame, that of communications studies, public policy, etc. – I decided that the middle of the conversation is just about as good a place to start as any other. First, though, before delving in, I feel as though it would be useful to contextualize my broader agenda, so I’ll begin with a sort of preface outlining my short- and longer-term goals for the summer, before delving into a more specific analysis of how I’m beginning to understand environmental politics, beginning with Cohen’s Understanding Environmental Policy.

I’ve chosen to focus this summer’s scholarship on a study of science and politics. Although such a topic may initially seem out of focus from English: Rhetoric/Composition and my scholarship in the sub-discipline of the rhetoric of science, I see a growing space – and therefore growing demand – for interdisciplinary opportunities among rhetoricians of science with scholars of public policy, ecology, communications studies, etc. … and I see much value in investing my time in the rhetorical complexity of the science/policy mesh. (As a quick aside, I was extremely encouraged to read that Cohen agrees … in his conclusions about how we ought to improve the education of environmental professionals, he calls for a new type of professional, who would be “…trained in science, communication, and the analysis of policy, politics, and management [because] the environmental problem is only solved by a thorough understanding of earth systems and the macro-level thinking required to manage those systems. This requires an understanding both of ecological and planetary sciences and of organizational and network management” (149).) And from what I’ve been reading after only a couple of days, I’m excited about the parallels I’m seeing. For me, these parallels are extremely positive and valuable for their usefulness in providing reflective yet distinct perspectives on topics of concern, such as the “quintessential international issue” of climate change (Cohen 105). As Cohen explains, environmental problems necessitate multidimensional analysis because “the environmental problem is multidimensional, linked to the inescapable fact that human beings are biological entities that depend on a limited number of resources for survival” (11). A multi-faceted problem requires a multi-faceted approach, and Cohen suggests that his framework (explained in more detail below) provides a method for considering environmental problems from more than one perspective so that we are better able to “observe aspects of the issue that might otherwise be easily ignored” (10).  

Concerning the quintessential international issue of climate change, it is the environmental problem I’m most interested in studying, problematizing, and ideally, developing creative and feasible propositions about; therefore, I’ve recently drafted a case study of local (Tampa Bay, FL) response to climate change policy/knowledge-sharing about effective resiliency practices: “Constructing the Leviathan: A Case Study of the Rhetoric of Resiliency at Resilient Tampa Bay 2011” – which is, in fact, the primary “deliverable” of my summer scholarship re: science and policy (click here for my syllabus, “Summer C Reading List KPL May 5 2011”*, the title of which is adapted from Arizona State University’s “Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes”). It is the short-term goal of my summer scholarship to have developed a syllabus/reading list that is broad enough to speak to a variety of perspectives, across time, about environmental politics, while expanding the case study to include a variety of perspectives, and – it is hoped – a more insightful analysis of how this multi-faceted problem is best approached from a multi-disciplinary ideology. The longer-term goal of my summer scholarship is to continue revising my case study so that speaks to a broader, more useful, and more insightful interpretation of climate change politics as they’re practiced at the local level (which Cohen also suggests is intrinsic to effective policies because almost always, what’s in contention is the certainty with which we understand an issue: “as we seek to understand an environmental issue, an important dimension to consider is the level of scientific knowledge and certainty associated with the problem and its potential solution” (29) and  a major component to developing more certain hypotheses about environmental problems is proximity to the problem…)

Understanding Cohen’s Framework: AKA the beginning of my “new” discussion

In deliberating about where best to begin, I finally decided that in order to make the most sense of how I’ve been thinking about and analyzing Cohen’s text against/with my understanding of the rhetoric of science, I wanted to begin with a brief contextualization of Cohen’s thesis, and then move into a discussion/explanation of his framework, then onto the ways in which he models the application of his framework, and finally turn to a list of key terms that are particularly significant for the variety of scholarly and professional perspectives concerning climate change that I’m beginning to develop propositions about.

  • Contextualization

Cohen reiterates throughout Understanding Environmental Policy that “studying the multiple dimensions of a policy issue clearly leads to a more complete understanding of the issue and in turn heightens insight into the processes of change” (59). His emphasis on the significance and usefulness of multiple (disciplinary) perspectives occurs prior to p. 59; however, it is at this point that his insistence on such an ideology became most apparent to me. So I’ll (finally) begin here, in the middle of the conversation, with an explanation of the primary tenets of Cohen’s thesis. The following points occur primarily throughout Cohen’s modeling of the framework, in which he systematically applies the framework to four specific environmental problems:

  • Environmental Problem One: concerned with “Why New York City Can’t Take Out The Garbage”
  • Environmental Problem Two: “Why Companies Let Valuable Gasoline Leak Out of Underground Tanks”
  • Environmental Problem Three: “Have We Learned to Clean Up Toxic Waste”
  • Environmental Problem Four: “Have We Made the Planet Warmer, and If We Have, How Can We Stop?”

The points below represent a few of the most significant claims made throughout the modeling of each of the problems above.

*Attitudes, Values, and Beliefs

  • Concerning New York City’s solid waste issue, although “… some form of government-funded infrastructure is required, the type of infrastructure that might be developed is constrained by attitudes toward waste and the politics based on those attitudes … the public’s attitude toward “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” philosophy makes it difficult to combat the NIMBY mind-set” (59)
  • Essentially, attitudes, values, and beliefs often trump scientific data on environmental impacts when the data appears to conflict with existing values, etc.
  • Most importantly, “solutions (to NYC’s garbage crisis) must take into account the various dimensions of each issue regarding values, politics, technology, policy, and management and also consider their interactions” … and “Although we have the technology and management capacity to solve the problem, a cost threshold must be crossed before improved policy outweighs consumer-oriented values and the NIMBY syndrome” (60).


  • “It is sometimes more cost-effective in the short run to let a tank leak (for instance) than to stop the leak. Effective environmental policy provides incentives for institutions and individuals to alter the behaviors that are contributing to environmental damage” (70)


  • Re: the case of why companies let valuable gasoline leak out of underground tanks, Cohen suggests, “… tank owners have plenty of motivation to behave ‘correctly.’ Perhaps they simply lack the capacity to do what is in their obvious self-interest” … the organizational capacity to manage this environmental problem is incredibly complicated because of “the sheer number of them and the multiple actions required to ensure compliance” (71); the growing amount of work, compounded with the number of miles traveled by vehicles in the United States, and – most significantly – Cohen suggests that “the complexity of this work has also increased with the advance in technology and the implementation of many more regulations” (72)

*Economics and Values

  • The last two points I want to cite pertain to the ways in which attitudes, values, beliefs, incentives, capacity/management, and economics mesh. Within “What Have We Learned About Environmental Problems?” Cohen writes:
  • The capacity of economic interests to drive and manipulate the shape of environmental values over the past twenty years has been impressive and irrefutable. Our need to circumvent this basic fact is part of my motivation to develop a multifaceted framework for understanding environmental policy” (133)
  • I do not believe that a fundamental change in our value system is a realistic solution to environmental problems. Instead, we need to develop policy approaches that acknowledge the deep roots of our behavior and the critical need to solve our problems but without a fundamental change in the way we life” (134)  

Cohen’s perspective is unique in that it emphasizes:

  • Multi-disciplinary perspectives
  • Attitudes, values, and beliefs as THE primary factors affecting the viability of environmental policy/solutions to environmental problems
  • Attitudes, values and beliefs as deeply rooted – FUNDAMENTAL – and stubbornly resistant to change

This last component to Cohen’s thesis is the most interesting to me, considering the context of what I’ve been studying and writing about so far. To put it all-too-simply, (from the way I’m seeing things now, influenced primarily by a rhetoric of science but moving towards Cohen’s environmental politics) the rhetoric of science seems less leery of proposing large-scale/systemic changes in ideology, values, etc. and often sees the articulation of a large-scale ideological change as the primary concern of work in the philosophy of science/rhetoric of science. Although practice is subsequently demanded, theory is primarily emphasized. Cohen’s environmental politics, on the other hand, sees such changes – such changes in foundational ideology – as unrealistic. For the rhetoric of science, and even more specifically, philosophies of like Morton’s, radical changes in ideology, values, and policies are necessary for progress toward more intelligent and respectful ecological practices. For Cohen, successful environmental policy hinges on developing approaches to policy that allow for the persistence of current attitudes, values, and beliefs, while addressing – or at the very least, keeping up with – the consequences of such practices. This is a contentious point for me, and I certainly wonder whether such an ideology can provide impetus enough for the productive development of propositions that prove effective in resolving compelling environmental issues.

In the conclusion to Understanding Environmental Policy, Cohen reiterates a major component of his perspective: that a large number of environmental problems persist because of management, and “effective management may seem simple and is often assumed to already be in place, but it is frequently the missing piece of the policy puzzle” (137).

  • Framework

Cohen’s framework constitutes the theoretical foundation of Understanding Environmental Policy, which is applied throughout the majority of the text in four environmental problems, as a way of modeling how his framework enables engagement in trans-disciplinary conversations. Again, for Cohen, trans-disciplinary cooperation is integral to analyzing, problematizing, and ultimately solving environmental crises. As he succinctly states, “In the effort to understand environmental policy, one must learn some science, engineering, economics, political science, organizational management, and even other branches of learning” (9). Concerning his framework, Cohen articulates five major foci- which, again, he applies to environmental problems with the intention that such a theoretical foundation can provide “… a method for looking at environmental issues from more than one perspective [so that in] applying the framework to specific cases, a practitioner, student, or analyst is able to observe aspects of the issue that might otherwise be easily ignored” (10). At its most basic level, the framework concerns:

  • An issue of values
  • A political issue
  • A technical and scientific issue
  • A political design and economic issue
  • A management issue

In a succinct synopsis of the framework, Cohen suggests that “… the strength of the framework is that it can be used to understand the causes of environmental problems, the way our society’s systemic and institutional policy agenda defines them, as well as their evolution over time” (12).

  • Key Terms

The key terms I’ll be elaborating on within a subsequent posting on Cohen are:

  • crisis
  • visibility
  • nature
  • uncertainty
  • definition
  • fear
  • technology
  • climate change politics
  • thinking

Rhetoric of Science: Science and Citizenship per Beck, Bennett, and Bauer

Click here for my mind-map of “Science and Citizenship: What do we mean when we say that “science is the management of uncertainty“?

I use Ulrich Beck’s Risk Society, Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter, and Martin Bauer’s “The Evolution of the Public Understanding of Science – Discourse and Comparative Evidence” in Science, Technology & Society in my attempt to work through what we have been discussing in Dr. Herndl’s “Rhetoric of Science” at USF primary concerns of rhetoricians of science: the challenges of engaging research (risks) and the sciences (uncertainties), asking questions like:

  • Beck’s ultimate question (from chapter seven of Risk Society): How do the (calculable; fixed; closed) qualities of the Sciences  (Beck’s chapter seven focuses on 1. symptoms, 2. fallibility, and 3. *hyper-specialized Science) affect how actors are participating from within/with-out the discipline?
  • Beck frames uncertainties as “ruptures”: “The Demonopolization of Science” allows for SPACE in which more (non-experts) can participate … but to what extent? and with what reception from Scientists? with what reception from scientists?
  • Bennett’s ultimate question (from chapter seven of Vibrant Matter) is framed within the distinctions she makes between methods of evaluating, demystifying and critiquing (what I emphasize as“big-S” Science, alluding to Latour’s distinctions between Science and the sciences (research))  versus  critique with positive formulations of alternatives (with subsequent critique and reform) (Bennett xv)
  • Bennett’s ultimate question: How does a vital materialist theory affect participation in an (ecosystem-like) political system?
  • Bennett frames uncertainties as “disruptions,” asking: How does a vital materialist theory affect participation in an (ecosystem-like) political system?
  • Bauer’s “The Evolution of the Public Understanding of Science – Discourse and Comparative Evidence” distinguishes the (old) deficit-model (knowledge-attitude) of Science versus post-industrial model of PUS (core-periphery model of the sciences) (229)
  • Bauer’s ultimate question frames uncertainties as “variables”: the public understanding of the sciences is variable –  flexible, changeable, not constant, ranging in VALUES … in that it is an “activity of outreach” (235) and a type of “social science research [that is] full of common sense speculations” (235)

Re: Harman’s post on Bolivia and Mother Earth

Click here for Harman’s post “Bolivia and Mother Earth” …

my humble response:

Dr. Harman –

I can’t tell you how excited I was to see this post re: Bolivia, nature/culture and policy! I attempted to “leave a comment” and wasn’t able to do so … maybe a problem on my end.

Either way, I “like”-d your post and want to elaborate on why this particular post of yours is so pertinent to my research/scholarship on Latour, and especially my concern with how Latour’s theory of political ecology is answerable in science policy.

In the Rhetoric of Science (Dr. Carl Herndl) course I’m enrolled in at the University of South Florida, we’ve been focusing on questions pertaining to the ways in which rhetorical study can help us to understand how science might or might not participate in social change, how science affects policy, how science cooperates with citizens to evaluate technology and manage controversy/crisis, and most importantly – what we mean when we say that science is the management of uncertainties.

Regarding your objection to the “… continued notion of nature as one pure realm and humans as another pure realm that should not taint one another with interaction,” I couldn’t agree more, and you’re right to suggest that Latour articulates this best. Your allusion to the “continued notion of nature” … as bifurcated from “humans as a … pure realm …” parallels with Latour’s articulation of the old constitution, Science, in which this “… first [old] style of political ecology believed that it was innovating [modern] by inserting nature into politics, whereas in fact it was only exacerbating the paralysis of politics caused by the old nature”. And like Latour, you seem to suggest that “to give new meaning to political ecology, we need to abandon Science in favor of the sciences conceived as ways of socializing non-humans, and we have to abandon the politics of the Cave for politics defined by the progressive composition of the good common world” … (but these are things we are both well aware of …)  

So what I really want to point to is how Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter answers Latour. You write that you haven’t heard an answer to Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern, and I want to (very humbly) suggest that Bennett’s text may be one way of answering – extending, conceptualizing, and practicing – Latour’s political ecology (as it seems as though Bolivia is beginning to do  …*on this note, yesterday morning I heard a BBC report on NPR about Ecuador, where a similar type of policy is going into effect … I’ve e-mailed NPR re: the report/transcript and am waiting on the document as we speak …)   

Anyways, regarding the Rhetoric of Science course I mentioned above, I’m actually leading today’s discussion on “science and citizenship” and so I’ve asked for our class to read chapter seven, “Science Beyond Truth and Enlightenment?” in Beck’s Risk Society, and chapter seven, “Political Ecologies” in Bennett’s Vibrant Matter, which is why I wanted to respond to  your post … by pointing to how Bennett’s vital materialist theory calls for the accounting of the contributions of (Latour’s) nonhuman actants in publics, and even how the CHOICES they make implicate them in political action.  From what I can tell, Bennett answers Latour, especially concerning the core argument of her text: that disruptions – the very disruptions that are understood to incite the formation of publics – consist of human and nonhuman disruptions, the desires – choices – of both to engage in reasoned discourse. In her own words, she explains: “… I seek to extend awareness of our interinvolvements and interdependencies. The political goal of a vital materialism is not the perfect equality of actants, but a polity with more channels of communication between members. (Latour calls this a more ‘vascularized’ collective) … Perhaps we can make better progress … by looking at a theory designed to open democracy to the voices of excluded humans. I turn to Ranciere’s theory of democracy as disruption … (104). Bennett repurposes – extends – Ranciere’s theory by asking, “Is the power to disrupt really limited to human speakers?” (106) Her most interesting extension seems to me to be what we’re asking for – how we want Latour’s theory of political ecology to be practiced. She writes, “A second opportunity for a more materialist theory of democracy arises when Ranciere chooses to define what counts as political by what effect is generated: a political act not only disrupts, it disrupts in such a way as to change radically what people can “see”: it repartitions the sensible; it overthrows the regime of the perceptible. Here again the political gate is opened enough for nonhumans to slip through, for they also have the power to startle and provoke a gestalt shift in perception: what was trash becomes things, what was an instrument becomes a participant, what was foodstuff becomes agent, what was adamantine becomes intensity. We see how an animal, plant, mineral, or artifact can sometimes catalyze a public, and we might then see how to devise more effective (experimental) tactics for enhancing or weakening that public” (107) …

I’ll be posting  my more detailed presentation notes on my site this afternoon …

A quick excerpt from a note to a colleague who studies Dewey and political ecology …

Another very exciting and productive direction for Dewey!
-via Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter
you MUST read Vibrant Matter. MUST. Especially for how you’re re-purposing Dewey …

What Bennett is trying to do is link ecophilosophy and vital materialism, as a means of articulating a political ecology (in Latour’s vein of how political ecology ought to occur). What I really respect is Bennett’s questioning and literal purposing of political ecology (she asks questions like “What is the difference between an ecosystem and a political system? Are they analogs? What is the difference between an actant and a political actor? Does an action count as political by virtue of its having taken place “in” a public? Are there nonhuman members of a public? What … are the implications of a (meta)physics of vibrant materiality for political theory? (94))
What’s most pertinent about all of this to Dewey, though, is her use – her re-purposing … She writes, “I use (and stretch) John Dewey’s model of a public as the emergent effect of a problem to defend such an idea … (xviii)” “… in [Dewey] the analogy between an ecosystem and a political system is fairly strong and the gap between action and political action relatively small. Key here is Dewey’s notion of the generative field that he calls “conjoint actions” … Dewey’s theory leaves open the possibility that some of the acts of conjoint action originate in nonhuman (natural and technological) bodies” (95).
After reading the Preface, I decided to focus first on chapter 7, “Political Ecologies,” which is where Bennett maps Dewey with Darwin, as a means of articulating what agency means (for nonhuman life (like worms) and objects) as a way of segueing into political participation and, therefore, Dewey. Pages 100-104 are the most detailed (from what I can tell at this point) for her explanation of how to re-purpose Dewey as a way of answering what “… worms and trees and aluminum … say about political participation” (100); essentially, as a way of articulating how a political ecology can be practiced (i.e. if we understand “Dewey’s account of a public as the product of conjoint action … as a picture of a political system that has much in common with a dynamic natural ecosystem” (103) …

Ulmer’s Eight-Point Pitch: On Being a HEUretic* … (*n. “one who practices heuREtics”)

This is only the beginning (the first three points of eight …) of my re-articulation/analysis of Ulmer’s Eight-Point Pitch, which he delivered at the University of South Florida on Friday, March 25. Constructive Criticism and Commentary is absolutely welcome! Deconstructive Criticism also welcome …

John Batman meets Eliza Callaghan 1971. By Albert Tucker. Courtesy Barbara Tucker and the National Library of Australia, NLpf759.994T891

John Batman meets Eliza Callaghan 1971. By Albert Tucker. Courtesy Barbara Tucker and the National Library of Australia, NLpf759.994T891

“The only one who can really change your mind is you.” This primary insight is followed by an even more impressive, insightful, and entertaining eight-point pitch addressing the issue Ulmer wants us – pleads with us – to take up. The issue at hand, for Ulmer – and for us, the “consultants”- pertains to the changing of minds (which, per Ulmer, begins with opening up lines of communication between “I” and “me”) within the apparatus (Ulmer explains the apparatus in terms of electracy, in that electracy is the apparatus of digital technology (i.e. “technology” is not just equipment) but technology with the rhetoric/practices of electracy that citizens invent and use; the practices of electracy are INVENTED just like the equipment is, just not by the same people …).  This constitutes the first point. The line of communication that really needs to be opened up is the line of communication between “I” and “me”; because the only one who can really change your mind is you.

Ulmer’s second point pertains to an applied case, in which he posed specific questions about an “accident” (would this qualify as an accident for Ulmer? I’m unsure …) and the decision-making process that led to the accident, like: “Which individuals contributed to the occurrence of this accident?” “Who were the decision-makers involved?” Our question (as consultants in Ulmer’s EmerAgency) is “What does electracy bring to the question?” Ulmer’s consultants, participating within the apparatus of electracy, want to know what new angle or dimension of understanding we can add to what we already know in order to further thrive.

The third point pertains to our research goal: Ulmer posits that what needs to be invented is a strategy to guide policy and decision-making on matters of public good. He claims that in order to understand public policy (as it pertains to the address of accidents like the site of poisoned trees in Gainesville, FL, he mentions …), it’s important for us to keep in mind that our policy debates today are structured by the existing apparati (a very fun word to say out loud, by the way … “apparati” … ). Per Ulmer’ there are two existing apparati: orality and literacy …

What Does Ulmer Want? Image, Haiku, and what it all has to do with Electracy, Connecting, and W~R~I~T~I~N~G

Why Ulmer? Why Internet Invention? Why now?

As to the first question, “Why Ulmer?” the answer is pretty simplistic: I find Ulmer’s unique breed of pedagogy to be exciting, insightful, bold, challenging – and fantastically quirky and intelligent. Scholars who dare to be as avant-garde, original, and elusive as Ulmer are what motivate learning – the risking, the mastering, and, given time, the enhancing of our studies, pedagogies, lives- at least this is how I see it.

My answer to the second question, “Why Internet Invention?” can be traced back to my Contemporary Rhetorics course at USF, in which – in the spirit of postmodernist pedagogy – we were “allowed” to select our own reading assignments (this occurred during the second half of the course, in which we focused on the present legacy of contemporary rhetorics; our “Postmodern Freedom Rock” section). As to “Why now?”, I’ve decided that because Ulmer will be visiting USF in a few months (March 25) and because I want to be able to use this opportunity to engage with him about the nuances of his theory and pedagogy (i.e. it’d be nice to be able to say something smart) I thought that it would be wise to revisit Internet Invention as a means of re-immersing myself in the pedagogy that so excited me not too many months ago.

So, what does Ulmer want?

One of the first and most general distinctions between Ulmer’s revolutionary (?) pedagogy and that of the traditional institution is the distinction between connecting versus cultivating. Whereas the traditional institution seeks to cultivate, Ulmer’s pedagogy – Ulmer’s “electracy” seeks to connect. To connect, for Ulmer, essentially means that a student must disconnect him/herself from the inherent obsession (for cultivation; the breeding of “good” and “obedient” students who seek an absolute, defined truth/answer/”right”) of education: i.e.,  Ulmer would ask us, “Why does everything you learn have to immediately show its utility?” (quote adapted from a 2010 lecture by Dr. Marc Santos).


Why connect? Because connecting achieves the “subject-ification” of things (versus the objectification of things, like words, students, realities). In connecting via the electracy – specifically, with images (analogous to haiku … more of that in a moment) “electracy extends poetic and art imaging into a general practice of language, used by all citizens for quotidian, personal, and specialized thought and expression” (Ulmer 47). What about haiku? What does haiku have to do with images (in this case, photographs of things) and the way in which photographs of things can enable us to think about how to elicit moods and alternate meanings? Why do this?

Ulmer explains that haiku – like the photograph – is undevelopable. He writes, “A trick of vocabulary: we say ‘to develop a photograph’; but what the chemical action develops is undevelopable, an essence (of a wound), what cannot be transformed but only repeated under the instances of insistence (of the insistent gaze). This brings the Photograph (certain photographs) close to the haiku … because the haiku is undevelopable: everything is given, without provoking the desire for or even the possibility of a rhetorical expansion. In both cases we might (we must) speak of an intense immobility …” (Ulmer 45).

So how is it that the image and the haiku extend … into a general practice of language … specialized thought and expression”? These electrate equivalents are so diminished – so brief – so fleeting – so simple – that they open up … in a way that intensely complicates, in fact completely eludes, meaning. (Ulmer explains that “punctum” – that which stings or pricks one emotionally – (Ulmer 44) is what is to be felt, what is to cause disturbance – that which is disequilibriating – what is extended and added to “a new dimension supporting a new order of thought and expression” (Ulmer 47). Latour calls this “lengthening the list”. Ulmer calls “electracy” and “extension” and “connecting” with electrate identities in which we learn first about ourselves and then about how we can be re-purposed, reinvented – better connected – free to invent the future of W~R~I~T~I~N~G – and of ourselves.


Concerning “connections,” the break-down can be articulated as the difference between utility and resistance – or, even more simply, the difference between what you know and how you think. Whereas the culture of school, the culture of the traditional institution, is concerned with what you know (a standard methodology of “learning”) Ulmer’s pedagogy – electracy – resists the pressure to conform by proposing a new approach to learning, one which focuses on ME and how I can reevaluate ways of thinking, and apply that thinking to broader cultural situations and ideas. To make Ulmer’s point more clear, I’d suggest that what Ulmer ultimately wants is for education to speak to the broader experiences we face in life. Ulmer’s concern with how you think (versus what you know) means that my responsibility to participate in the solving of public and community problems begins with ME; it begins with understanding the “why” and “what” of my stories (the discourses of my career, family, entertainment, community) as they always have – and will always continue to – invent and re-invent my self. Essentially, electracy is concerned with making a self-portrait – a pleasurable experience – a practice “… as old as the humanities itself: the unexamined life is not worth living” (Ulmer 8)

Byron Hawk’s Counter-History: Narrative Inquiry and Researcher’s Task of Re-Mapping

Go here <Byron Hawk’s Counter-History: Narrative Inquiry and Researcher’s Task of Re-Mapping> for Dan Richards’ insightful/summative post on Hawk’s “A Counter-History of Composition: Toward Methodologies of Complexity (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007).

My thoughts …? I see parallels with OOO Rhetoric – and especially given Morton’s most recent posting, concerning a re-modeling of the rhetorical canons – it appears to me as though there’s something intriguingly (and addictingly) strange* about Right now, it seems as though the best way to segue from Dan’s post to my more personal concerns (specifically, concerns about OOO Rhetoric) is to capture part/s of our conversation here:

*strange: This is a reference to Morton’s “strange strangers,” which he describes in this post as “… real, ontologically prior, while the mesh is the emergent effect, the sensual object” (a revision of the initial definition of the term in The Ecological Thought).

  • March 8:

Dan –
Throughout your presentation, I was listening for answers to the question that continues to *haunt* any of the scholarship I’ve engaged in post- Santos’ Contemporary Rhetorics course … which is, “What does _______ (in this case, Hawk) want?” I want to address only two (of the many) answers you offered:

First, you explained that Hawk articulates vitalism as NOT romanticism … that what Hawk wants is to re-frame the field of Composition Studies with an ontological lens – one that espouses vitalism – and as a means of doing so, he uses Coleridge to argue that vitalism was the first form of the complexity theory … (*admittedly I need to spend more quality time with the text before I can articulate this any further …!) But for now, I’d certainly side with Hawk’s articulation, especially given his alignment with compositionists like Ulmer and philosophers like Latour (OOO).

Second, The Haunting … Hawk wants us to break from the old Composition narrative in order to move away – literally – from the traditional dialectic (a dialectic that doesn’t work any longer) toward new, technological ways of thinking through technology as it acts with writing. As we discussed, if we don’t break from the traditional dialectic of Composition, it will perpetually haunt – impede upon? over-shadow – our well-intentioned efforts at teaching writing with technology …

* … My little synopsis is a pretty simplistic re-cap of your more elaborate presentation … for me, Hawk’s propositions are not only insightful but worth extending further into my research and pedagogy … thanks for your analysis … WELL worth our time and attention …!

  • March 9:

Thanks for the feedback/response Karen. While we are relatively sure of what Hawk *wants*, I’m more sure of what will happen after this treatise of sorts. We spoke earlier of developing an OOR(hetoric), and what I think Hawk’s work does is open up an object-oriented pedagogy, a rhetorical education – in the vein of Ulmer and Kameen, and Rickert – that leads to more vacancies in our thinking about what a OO pedagogy would look like. This is where I think Dewey can help – in the educational aspect. I just have to show people that Dewey can be considered, ontologically speaking, object-oriented.

My question to you is: Does an OOR necessarily have to be couched in terms of scientific discourses/technical communication? Are we going to need to distinguish between OOR (science) and OOR (humanities?). I’m interested in what you’re doing/will be doing (or, if we follow today’s class discussion, what you’ll be pigeon-holed into doing) in terms of OO scientific discourse, if this does indeed interest you.

  • March 11:

Dan –
I’ve been looking forward to responding to your response to my response (nice, I know) because I knew that I’d have to do a little sleuthing in order to find the answers I was wanting (which was actually convenient, given the fact that Santos shared with us his handy-dandy list of blogs he follows … a simple search of key words within those blogs led me to some great insights).
I began with Harman’s blog ( which led me to Scot Barnett’s Review of Graham Harman, Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects and Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things (in Enculturation).
Having read Barnett’s review (, I feel a bit more capable of answering the two (interrelated) questions you posed in your response above.
You ask, “Does an OOR necessarily have to be couched in terms of scientific discourses/technical communication? Are we going to need to distinguish between OOR (science) and OOR (humanities)?
My answer: No, and No. (but then “yes” regarding your questions about whether all of this interests me.)
I’ll elaborate: First, I’ll turn to Barnett, who writes, “At first, some may find Latour’s … idea of ‘a few mundane artifacts’ having agency … wildly speculative if not outright anthropomorphic. For Latour, however, making such a claim not only makes good scientific sense, it also (and perhaps more interestingly) serves as a generative impetus for rethinking the very foundations of sociology itself “. Essentially, the answer to the question of whether OOR has to be framed in terms of scientific discourses/ technical communication is “no” because the very tenets of OOO/OOP itself (Harman’s wonderful elaboration on the difference between these two in a moment) suggest that this dichotomy (between science and the humanities) is not only false but paralyzing; it is impossible for philosophers to overcome this dichotomy. Latour claims that we shouldn’t even try to overcome it (Pandora’s Hope 294) and, furthermore, that the “… more plausible explanation for the stubbornness of this divide (he’s speaking to the subject/object divide, but can we re-articulate this divide as the sciences/humanities divide for the purposes of our argument?) [can be understood by accepting that] the object that sits before the subject and the subject faces the object [as] polemical entities, not innocent metaphysical inhabitants of the world” (Latour 294). The agenda of OOR is – presumably – much bigger and much more challenging than the dichotomies (i.e. sciences and humanities) that exist within (what Latour calls) the “old” modern Constitution (the Old Regime, the “Cave,” in which bicameralism of nature and society is a legitimate binary). I’d assume that OOR sees the sciences and the humanities as entities that are to be TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT and INTEGRATED … (what Latour calls “collective experimentation” … see Politics of Nature 238). Anyways, I could continue to spiral on and out for quite some time … so I’ll stop there for now …
Before I conclude, though, I want to reference Harman’s post about the differences between OOO and OOP: (
Most importantly, though, is what I think you’re asking of OOR – that is, how to think about Object-Oriented Pedagogy, and how to integrate Dewey’s philosophy into such a pedagogy. Since you want to “.. show people that Dewey can be considered, ontologically speaking, object-oriented,” I’d suggest looking to Barnett, again … he writes, “Among a host of others, [Latour’s] material objects – these missing masses – have included: technology, the body, space and place, and the natural world. Not separate or merely additional constituents in rhetorical situations, these materialities and their intertwinings constitute our reality – are part of the very is-ness of that reality – in ways that fundamentally shape our very senses of what writing means and how we practice and teach writing in the world today.”




Scandalous (?) Science: Redefining the Kilo and Latour’s Intellectual Paxil

A few days ago I was driving to campus and going through the same motions I go through every weekday at 6:45a.m. (well, every weekday except Friday): *carefully* drinking a ridiculously huge insulated mug of black coffee, intently listening to NPR, and – inevitably – frantically – searching for something (usually the previous day’s Starbucks receipt, but this week, it’s been a birthday card I received a few months ago …) to jot down “things to remember and research” as NPR churns out more and more relevant, interesting, and applicable (at least to my scholarly interests) daily news. One such example of a morning scribble that I’ve really been wanting to follow-up on is this: BBC’s “Curbing the kilogram’s weight-loss programme.” For me, this particular conversation is way more than simply a “scandalous proposition” … it’s reflective of the conversations we’ve been having in one of my graduate courses, “Rhetoric of Science” taught by none other than The/our Herndl (Dr. Carl Herndl) and, more generally, it is certainly reflective of Latour’s political ecology (one of the primary motivators that continues to shape and influence my scholarship in English/Rhetoric at USF).

During Herndl’s Wednesday class (and, now that I think of it, throughout our discussions from the beginning of the semester) we’ve argued in favor of Latour’s science/s: science (little “s”) as practices of doing, not of knowing. For Latour, the sciences ought to be concerned with the doing (practicing, risking), not obsessed with the knowing (fact-discovering, etc.). In this particular session of Rhetoric of Science (Jan 26 2011), we decided that Latour’s theory of science articulates science as a practice, as a doing, versus the tried-and-“True” science: science as “knowing.” For Latour, science is DOING not KNOWING, because, as Gross articulates, “Science is rhetoric without remainder, we don’t discover, we make facts.” Discovery or construction? For Latour, it’s most definitely the latter. (Yet – NOT social construction … )

Ok, so although it’s nice and all that I can simply re-articulate a Herndl lecture on Latour … what does The Herndl’s most recent lecture have to do with the scandalous science and the most recent news (via NPR, as mentioned above)? From the way I see things, the noted concern with “the goal … [of creating] … standards that, unlike the almost-a-kilogram of platinum in France, won’t change with time”  … is particularly relevant for measuring small changes that happen over the course of years or decades” (Palmer). The “small changes” Palmer refers to manifest in political anxieties over debacles like the climate change “debate” (“debate” alluding to its political … well, its political messiness, in general … meaning it is framed as though it were a negotiable “fact” to be proven/dis-proven). For Latour, quibbles over “standards” and especially, standards that, purportedly, “won’t change with time” aren’t sufficient ways  for practicing the sciences/political ecology. Are there such standards? If so, what are they? Can we think of any specific cases?  Per The Herndl, Latour isn’t interested in these standards, these Universal/s or Truth/s, rather, he’s interested in what’s INVARIANT and what’s USEFUL … meaning that we “get there” through language as DOING, as a kind of material performative, in a sense …

Those who understand Latour’s theory of political ecology, a theory within which he has invented a new “language” to articulate the terms of the (old) debate, are instantly satiated -alleviated – of the anxieties that inevitably accompany the old debate of Science. Whereas the old debate perpetuates Science, Latour’s sciences are an intellectual paxil, in The Herndl’s framing of it: Latour’s new language of political ecology frees us from the circular and paralyzing dichotomies of the old politics, the politics that subsumes nature within itself: the politics of nature that is concerned with creating standards that … won’t change with time.

Feb 3: Are they learning yet? The Redux

This morning I received this from In Socrates Wake. A few days ago, in Dr. Joe Moxley’s ENC 6720 Studies in Composition Research, we had discussed the recent release of Academically Adrift, in which the authors conclude that students “aren’t learning much” in contemporary higher education. HERE is my initial response to Academically Adrift. Below is the redux – a response to Chris Panza and, in effect, a redux to my initial response to the text. *My response (and Panza’s subsequent response to my response to his post …I know … ) is also posted HERE, on the In Socrates’ Wake blog.

Karen Langbehn said…
Michael –
You’re right, Chris makes an intelligent point re: habits. But while reading Chris’s/your post, I wondered about HOW this habiting occurs. How does a student decide to commit to a habit of doing anything? I suppose my questions would consist of something like, “How do students decide which habits to foster and which to avoid? What are good habits for [anystudent]? What are counter-productive habits?”
From the way I see things, when we seek the answers to these questions, we find ourselves arriving at something significantly bigger: motivation. Is it logical to assume that a student will develop a habit because they have identified a motivation/motivations? I believe so. In fact, I firmly believe that a student’s (or anyone’s – yours, mine, …) diligence in asking him/herself simple yet profound questions like, “Why am I here?” and “What do I want?” require indulgence in dreaming … dreaming about purpose – which seems to offer long-term goals (or at least ruminations about long-term goals) or, in other words, motivations. From these motivations, then, students can more easily decide on the habits that reflect, enhance, and – ultimately – realize – their larger-scale motivations. 

*As an aside, at the end of each semester, I’ve made a habit of writing my version of “The Last Lecture” (see To be brief, my last lectures serve two purposes: the primary purpose of the practice – the habit – of writing this type of reflection reminds me of “why I’m here” and “what I want”. The secondary purpose is to tell a story about what motivation may look like; to use my/others’ narratives as suggestions for how to model/channel our dreams into realities. I post all of my “last lectures” here (
Again, thanks for sharing such an intelligent, insightful, and productive post.

February 3, 2011 6:02 AM