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Rhetorical Analysis: Content and Context

Page history last edited by Todd Breijak 9 years, 4 months ago


Rhetorical Analysis: Content And Context


Rhetorical Analysis: Content and





Since the start of this class, we have already been doing rhetorical analyses of written texts, on both of the two levels of analysis outlined in A Little Argument:


  • Analyzing rhetorical features (or "content") focuses on the work in the abstract - the internal features, strategies and conventions of the piece, such as its use of aesthetic appeals, it's core thesis/arguments, and use of evidence and support.


  • Analyzing the rhetorical context of a written work requires investigating factors of time, place, and audience of the piece and how those vectors impact its strategy and reception: what particular situation or conversation is the piece mean to respond to? what were the contexts of its publication?


The intro paragraph of the sample rhetorical analysis in A Little Argument - "An Argument of Reason and Passion: Barbara Jordan's 'Statement of the Articles of Impeachment'" - provides a solid example of the role context and content can be combined in starting off an assignment like Project Two:





On March 9, 1974, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee began an impeachment hearing against President Richard Nixon for his role in the cover-up of the Watergate scandal. On July 25, 1974, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan stood before this committee and delivered an 11-minute speech known as "Statement on the Articles of Impeachment." The argument of this speech is that the president should be impeached because his actions threaten both the Constitution and the people of the United States. Jordan states, "It is reason, and not passion, which must guide our deliberation, guide our debate, and guide our decision." Subsequently, she uses a strong logical argument that she supports with appeals to both her credibility and the audience's feelings of patriotism for the Constitution. (ALA 38)



The student example of Project Two on The Communist Manifesto devotes its first paragraph to contextual analysis:



For the last century, the greatest threat to the modern world was the Cold War; the threat of global nuclear destruction was a real possibility for over four decades and billions of lives were at risk due to the differing political philosophies of two superpowers. The United States government portrayed the communist ideology of the Soviet Union as a great evil and even today, communism has an undesirable connotation in America. However, very few Americans understand the basic principles of communism. The Communist Manifesto was written in 1848 by two social thinkers, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, in a call for action against the system of economy employed by a majority of Western nations.



And its second continues contextual analysis before segueing into features analysis and the thesis of the rhetorical analysis as a whole:



The 19th century witnessed the birth of the Industrial Revolution. The economic shift from small-scale production to production on a large-scale changed the lives of millions of people worldwide as well as altering history forever. The economic theory of capitalism governed this economic shift; the elite upper class, or the bourgeoisie as Karl Marx and Frederick Engels referred to it, controlled the means of production – the factories, the industrial equipment, and the capital, or money, needed to run the factories. Meanwhile, the massive working class, or the proletariat, would work in poor conditions for low wages. The authors argue that capitalism merely concentrates wealth into the hands of the few, and in doing so, power as well – “Capitalism has agglomerated population, centralized the means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralization.” The proletariat is forever confined to remain in poverty – “No sooner is the exploitation of the laborer by the manufacturer, so far at an end, that he receives his wages in cash, than he is set upon by the other portion of the bourgeoisie, the landlord, the shopkeeper, the pawnbroker, etc.” Therefore, The Communist Manifesto argues that capitalism will ultimately fail due to a revolution by the proletariat. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels effectively employ the art of rhetoric in outlining the goals and theory of communism as well as convincing the reader to take a specific course of action: revolution against capitalist society.



You took up both of these challenges - features and context analysis - in executing Project One; you identified the appeal of particular memes through analyzing its internal features and the particular audience(s) it was designed to attract. In Project Two we'll be handling these factors a bit more explicitly and in reference to writings that are in one way more complicated (longer and with more diverse goals than selling a discrete product) and in another more simple (the argument of the written work you choose is likely more straightforward and explicit than the advertisements you have studied).


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