Made-to-measure rhetorical acts from James P. Beasley

Spring 2016 RSA Conference Abstract: "This Story (Still) Isn't True"

“This Story (Still) Isn’t True”: the Changing Sites of Rhetorical Narrative

 When Socrates spun his tale of the history of rhetoric for Phaedrus, his embellishments were designed to reorient Phaedrus away from the rhetoric of the textbook writers towards its more philosophical functions. As scholars such as Derrida have pointed out, these origin stories are used as sites of resistance and power, and are so even today in the face of a multitude of local pressures, such as the corporatization of the university, for example.

If rhetorical histories are site-specific to influence local attitudes, then graduate students who change graduate schools will hear differing versions of rhetorical history. What are the zones of conflict in those experiences? What are the points of connection? How do those contradictions and continuities inform rhetorical education and its localized implications?

One of the most accessible methods of tracing these points of connection and disparity is found in Jeff Rice’s “network tracing.” The benefit of utilizing this network trace is that “its focus is on shifts in connectivity (or lack of connectivity) rather than on conclusive moments that remain fixed” (Rice 2011), and how a network trace can “reveal the ways that ideas and practices are moving across a variety of experiences and preparing for a variety of challenges” (Rice 2011).


This roundtable discussion features how the narratives of rhetorical history changed for three graduate students from their “original” understandings as they moved through their graduate study to the Ph.D. This panel is unique in that they share their network tracings while keeping their “original” rhetorical history narrative in mind, all within the presence of their “first” rhetoric professor. While all three of these students started at the same school and took the same rhetorical history course, they all have gone on to other Ph.D. programs in rhetoric. This panel puts that original professor in conversation with their changing historical narratives of rhetoric, illuminating both the possibilities and limitations associated with origin stories of rhetoric for localized purposes. Roundtable presented with Jacob Greene (UF), Jenna Pack Sheffield (Arizona), and Lindsay Head (LSU).