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.