Zazil Reyes García
The growing field of visual rhetoric explores the communicative and persuasive power of the visual artifacts that surround us. This relatively new branch of rhetoric emerged in the late 20th century, disrupting a discipline that was traditionally concerned with the spoken and written word.
The artifacts studied through the lens of visual rhetoric comprise visual images and objects that are human created and culturally meaningful. They include two-dimensional images, such as political cartoons and video advertising, and three-dimensional objects such as museums and murals. Visual rhetoric can also include the analysis of embodied performance and thus examine the body as argument.
Although much of the scholarship focuses on the power of images in shaping people’s understanding of the world, there is also a recognition of the power of looking. Meaning does not reside in the images around us; we participate in its construction. To better understand visual rhetoric, it is important to review its emergence as an area of study, its definitions, and some of the recurring themes in the scholarship.
Bradley A. Serber and Rosa A. Eberly
Mass public shootings in the United States have generated increasingly urgent efforts to understand and prevent active shooter scenarios. After the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, government officials tried to no avail to identify a demographic profile of those who might become active shooters. Confronted with the limitations of identifying potential shooters in advance, government officials, mental health professionals, criminologists, and others interested in preventing active shootings have shifted their focus to guns, mental health, and location security. However, the terrain of each of these topics is murky and exposes additional uncertainties. The sheer number of readily available guns, the prohibition of gun violence research by federal public health and justice institutions, and the variance in attitudes toward and laws about guns in the United States inhibit clear and consistent gun policy. Further, linking active shooters with mental illness risks stigmatizing the vast majority of mentally ill individuals who are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence. Because different locations vary in design, function, funding, resources, and vulnerabilities, no organization or institution can guarantee total security despite extensive and costly efforts. While political and social changes can lead to incremental and important improvements in each of these areas, the problem of active shootings is large, multifaceted, and evolving. Adding to the urgency is the increasing number of U.S. states voting to allow concealed and/or open carry of firearms on public college and university campuses.
In the absence of certainty and in recognition of contextual differences, government agencies and educational institutions recently have promoted variants of a “run, hide, fight” approach to active shooter situations, and many schools, workplaces, and other sites have subsequently adopted these tactics in their active shooter training messages. From a rhetorical perspective, pentadic analysis (Burke, 1969) of “run, hide, fight” and its variants reveals the complexities of trying to prevent active shootings. “Run” and “hide” demonstrate both the possibilities and challenges associated with the scene, or when and where an active shooting might occur. “Fight” implies the ambiguities of agent and agency, that is, who gets to fight and how, in debates about gun-free zones, concealed and open carry, and on-site and off-site law enforcement. Meanwhile, the multimodal nature and often disturbing content of active shooter training messages sensationalize the act of active shootings, making them seem more real and present despite the low probability of such an event occurring in any particular place at any particular time. Given these complexities, active shooter training messages as a whole illustrate a tension of purpose in that they presumably attempt to alleviate fear while simultaneously producing it. By looking at a variety of government documents and workplace active shooter training messages, this analysis will explore uncertainties, controversies, and lingering questions about the content and consequences of active shooter training messages and how the producers of these messages frame active shooter scenarios as well as efforts to prevent and respond to such occurrences. No previous studies of the rhetorical or communication dimensions of active shooter training have been conducted, and no archives yet exist that cull such training materials for purposes of comparison, contrast, and analysis in the aggregate.
The convergence of rhetoric, culture, and communication has led to the development of two predominant areas of study within the field of communication: intercultural rhetoric and comparative rhetoric. Intercultural rhetoric illustrates how culture-based arguments are constructed by advocates during intercultural interactions and how the arguments make sense within a particular cultural frame or worldview. These studies attempt to represent the cultural sensibility and rhetorical traditions invoked by a particular intercultural interaction. Rhetorical practices are seen as emerging from the beliefs and values of distinctive cultural communities, and the convergence of intercultural communication and rhetoric becomes evident when people act rhetorically and their diverse cultural assumptions gradually or suddenly become apparent during intercultural interactions. Comparative rhetoric focuses on the cross-cultural study of rhetorical traditions, past or present, in societies around the world. Comparison of (rather than interaction between) the rhetorical practices of two or more cultures is often the focus of comparative rhetoric studies. Comparison helps in the identification of rhetorical features in one culture that might not be evident otherwise, to unearth what is universal and what distinctive in any rhetorical tradition, including that of the West. Intercultural rhetoric and comparative rhetoric share some conceptual and methodological features; both fields are characterized by similar beginnings and some shared debates. However, they also have distinct characteristics, challenges, and historiographies.
For intercultural rhetoric, approaching intercultural contexts and situations utilizing theories and concepts from rhetorical studies affirms non-Western modes of reasoning and advocacy. Recent methodological developments have allowed critics to more comprehensively represent rhetorical traditions and to discover novel ways to understand intercultural conflicts and mediate cultural differences. Conceptualizing rhetorical situations as intercultural dialogues suggests the ways in which intercultural rhetorical theorists need to be mindful of the multivocal quality of social discourses.
Rhetorical interpretation of texts benefits from a comparative approach that allows for speculation with respect for and grounding in another culture’s history, as well as reflection on the cultural outsider’s motive and assumptions. It is useful for the quest of meaning not to be limited to the standpoints within each disparate culture; pragmatically, they must have a dialogue since comparative rhetoric allows the analysis of different discourses, the discovery of common grounds of engagement, and the revelation of cultural assumptions.
Visual Rhetoric (VR) is a field of inquiry aiming to analyze all kinds of visual images and texts as rhetorical structures. VR is an offshoot of both visual semiotics, or the study of the meanings of visual signs in cultural contexts; and of the psychology of visual thinking, as opposed to verbal thinking—defined as the capacity to extract meaning from visual images. The basic method of VR, which can be traced back to Roland Barthes’s pivotal 1964 article “The Rhetoric of the Image,” is to unravel to connotative meanings of visual images. The picture of a lion, for instance, can be read at two levels. Denotatively (or literally) it is interpreted as “a large, carnivorous, feline mammal of Africa.” This level conveys informational or referential meaning. But the image of lion in, say, an advertisement or music video invariably triggers a connotative sense—namely, “fierceness, ferociousness, bravery, courage, virility.” The key insight of VR is that connotation is anchored in rhetorical structure, that is, in cognitive-associative processes such as metaphor and allusion, which are imprinted not only in verbal expressions, but also in visual images. So, the image of a lion in, say, a logo design for men’s clothing would bear rhetorical-connotative meaning and affect the way in which the clothing brand is perceived. This same basic approach is applied to all visual expressive artifacts, from traditional visual art works to the design of web pages and comic books. VR is showing that visual objects are rhetorical objects and that, therefore, they can be used to influence and persuade people as effectively as rhetorical oratory, if not more so. Given its simple, yet effective method of analysis, VR is spreading to various disciplines as a technique, including psychology, anthropology, marketing, and graphic design, among many others, affirming how visual images tap into a system of symbolism that is interconnected with other forms of symbolism and representation.
Quotations, something that a person says or writes that is then used by someone else in another setting, have long been a staple of news stories. Reporters use quotations—both direct and paraphrased—to document facts, opinions, and emotions from human and institutional sources. From a journalistic standpoint, quotations are beneficial because they add credibility to a news report and allow readers/viewers to consider the source of information when evaluating its usefulness. Quotations are also valued because they are seen as adding a “human” element to a news report by allowing sources to present information in their own words—thus providing an unfiltered first-person perspective that audiences may find more compelling and believable than a detached third-person summary. Research into the effects of news report quotations has documented what journalists long assumed: Quotations, especially direct quotes using the exact words of a speaker, draw the attention of news consumers and are often attended to in news stories more than statistical information. Studies show that the first-person perspective is considered both more vivid and more credible, a phenomenon that newspaper and website designers often capitalize on through the use of graphic elements such as the extracted quote. Quotations in news stories have also been found to serve as a powerful persuasive tool with the ability to influence perception of an issue even in the face of contradictory statistical information. This is especially true when the topic under consideration involves potential risk. Direct quotations from individuals who perceive high levels of risk in a situation can sway audience perceptions, regardless of whether the quoted risk assessments are supported by reality. The power of quotations remains strong in other forms of communication involving risk, such as public service, health-related, or promotional messages. The vivid, first-person nature of quotes draws the attention of audiences and makes the quoted information more likely to be remembered and to influence future judgments regarding the issue in question. This presents the message creator, whether it be a journalist or other type of communicator, with a powerful tool that should be constructed and deployed purposefully in an effort to leave audiences with an accurate perception of the topic under consideration.
Katherine E. Rowan
Explanations designed to teach, rather than to support scientific claims in scholarly works, are essential in health and risk communication. Patients explain why they think their symptoms warrant medical attention. Clinicians elicit information from patients and explain diagnoses and treatments. Families and friends explain health and risk concerns to one another. In addition, there are websites, brochures, fact sheets, museum exhibits, health fairs, and news stories explaining health and risk to lay audiences. Unfortunately, research on this important discursive goal is less extensive than is research on persuasion, that is, efforts to gain agreement. One problem is that explanation-as-teaching has not been carefully conceptualized. Some confuse this communication goal and discursive type with its frequent verbal and visual features, such as simple wording or diagrams. Others believe explanation-as-teaching does not exist as a distinctive communication goal, maintaining that all communication is solely persuasive: that is, designed to gain agreement.
Explanation-as-teaching is a distinct and important health communication goal. Patient involvement in decision making requires that both clinicians and patients understand options underlying health-care choices. To explore types of explanation-as-teaching, research provides (a) several ways of categorizing health and risk explanations for lay audiences; (b) evidence that certain textual and graphic features overcome predictable confusions, and (c) illustrations of each explanation type. Additionally, explanation types succeed or fail in part because of the social or emotional conditions in which they are presented so it is important to note research on conditions that support patients, families, and clinicians in benefiting from explanations of health and risk complexities and curricula designed to enhance clinicians’ explanatory skill.
Simon Zebregs and Gert-Jan de Bruijn
Meta-analyses are becoming increasingly popular in the field of health and risk communication—meta-analyses allow for more precise estimations of the magnitude of effects and the robustness of those effects across empirical studies in a particular domain. Despite its popularity, most scholars are not trained in the basic methods involved with meta-analyses. There are advantages to meta-analysis in comparison to other forms of research synthesis. An overview of the methods involved in conducting and reporting meta-analytical research is helpful.
However, the methods involved with meta-analyses are not as clear-cut as they may first appear. Numerous issues must be considered and various arbitrary decisions are required during the process. These issues and decisions relate to various topics such as inclusion criteria, the selection of sources, quality assessments for eligible studies, and publication bias. Basic knowledge of these issues and decisions is important for interpreting the outcomes of a meta-analysis correctly.
Rhetorical invention is both a practice and its teaching—the capacity to create effective communication, and the instruction in this capacity. Teachers of rhetoric have provided over time a rich and durable supply of pedagogical resources for crafting communication in speech, writing, and multi-modal composition. These resources come down to us through traditions of teaching and practice, in handbooks, theoretical tracts, exemplary models, and heritable pedagogies. Such materials have sometimes succumbed but often resisted the temptation to standardize and systematize, since the art of rhetoric in its very nature speaks to each particular audience and occasion, a requirement that hinders efforts to give it rule-bound methods. The reasons for this resistance to standardization need to be explored as well as how invention has continued to provide heuristic guidance without prescriptive methodological tools. Lacking method, rhetoric is aided by the cultural support of convention, which in turn is modified for each new situation. Such a dialectic of convention and invention animates the ongoing registration of rhetoric to communicative practices and explains its durability as an unsystematic art.
Matthew Bost and Matthew S. May
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri are among the most powerful theorists of communication and social change under present-day global capitalism. In their Empire trilogy and other individual and collaborative works, Hardt and Negri argue for the fundamentally communicative nature of contemporary power. Their analyses demonstrate the ways that media technology, global flows of finance capital, and the contemporary shift to economies based on information and affective or emotional labor create new, more complex networks of oppression and new possibilities for more democratic social change. Hardt and Negri’s work, therefore, shifts the focus of critical communication and cultural theory from attaining or challenging political power within the nation-state and invites scholars to rethink sovereignty as empire: an interconnected global phenomenon appertaining to capitalism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. They furthermore reimagine dissent as a constitutive process of resistance and mutual aid through which the multitude simultaneously withdraws from empire and composes itself through the social communication of struggles across time and space. Hardt and Negri’s work has been taken up in communication studies to theorize the materiality of communication; the labor performed in cognitive, communication, and service industries; contemporary media audiences and reception; and historical and contemporary social movements, from the Industrial Workers of the World to the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street.
Rhetorical judgment is a syncretic term that marries the classical concepts of prudence and rhetoric, and suggests their mutual interdependence. The traditions of rhetoric and prudence have had uneven histories, their legitimacy and utility ebbing and flowing within the dominant strains of Western culture. There are four key moments in histories to help find their points of contact, their disjunctions, and their fickle alliance. The key points of tension in their collaboration occur, first, within the Aristotelian corpus itself, next between Greek and Roman conceptions of social reason, then between the ancient and early modern conceptions of prudence, and finally in the fitful return of interest in both of these classical approaches to social reason in late modernity. Their alliance is actuated most potently when the inherently social dynamism of rhetoric transforms prudence from a virtue into a practice. The capacity for prudence to trade in the contingent circumstance then becomes a powerful political resource. Rhetorical judgment is now realizing this potential as critical theory engages it to redefine the terrain of the political, and to reimagine the contours of a seemingly antiquated body of traditions. The dimensions of power, contingency, and expedience that have always had a place within rhetorical and prudential practices are now finding radical new forms of expression and pointing toward new conceptions of democratic practice.