Andrea Lunsford Presents “The Role of Rhetoric (and Social and Other Media) Writing in 21st Century Universities”

October 30, 2012

Andrea Lunsford, the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor of English and Director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) at Stanford University, visited California State University, Long Beach on Friday, October 5, 2012 on behalf of CSULB’s Composition Program. A crowd of 85 faculty members and graduate students from CSULB and several other southern California schools attended the workshop. Lunsford’s presentation was titled “The Role of Rhetoric (and Social and Other Media) Writing in 21st Century Universities.” Offering what she called a “pep-talk for rhetoric,” Lunsford discussed social media and new media writing within a rhetorical framework. She began her presentation by talking about rhetoric and then transitioned into a discussion about the type of writing that students engage in today.

Lunsford argued that one of the biggest challenges that writing teachers face is figuring out what of the old literacy is worth preserving and how to preserve it, while embracing the best of the new literacies. “I think that the very best of the old,” Lunsford claimed, “is rhetoric itself as a foundation.” She explained that the tension surrounding the definition of rhetoric, a tension that has persisted through the centuries, reflects western culture’s deep ambivalence toward both rhetoric and the nature of language. Lunsford illustrated how this tension and ambivalence about the definition of rhetoric is apparent given that rhetoric is often defined as rhetrickery, “as a bag of cheap tricks, the veil of truth, or mere words.” However, “when rhetoric is defined as the art of ethical communication and persuasion,” Lunsford explained, “then it provides a strong and positive catalyzing force in democratic education and society: one that aids in forging shared values and maintaining our social order and social fabric.” That said, Lunsford acknowledged that rhetrickery and ethical rhetoric co-exist in tension, and that either-or is unlikely to exist.

Lunsford discussed two Stanford University undergraduate writing courses, PWR 1 and PWR 2, to demonstrate the type of writing that students engage in today. PWR 1 is a project-based course, rather than a reading- or discussion-based course, that focuses on invention and arrangement. Students learn how to gather, evaluate, and integrate a range of primary and secondary sources into their own writing. PWR 2, designed to build on students’ introduction to research in PWR 1, adds a focus on delivery and thus on the written, oral, and multimedia presentation of research. Lunsford extended her discussion of these two courses to address the difference between an industrial and post-industrial mindset. “Our universities are in the physical, industrial mindset,” she said. “They focus everything in the individual student in spite of the fact that the world has changed.” Lunsford then introduced Knobel and Lankshear’s notion of the “cyberspatial-postindustrial” mindset to discuss how the new literacies facilitate more distributed and collective participation among students who transition from consumers to creators or authors. “In today’s media-saturated digital world, everybody can be an author for better or for worse,” she said.

Lunsford stressed that she does not want educators to lose the rhetorical foundation on which the new multimedia literacies rest. “We need the honorable and indispensable discipline of rhetoric more than ever before if we are to craft messages that use words, images, and sounds in responsible and ethical ways,” she concluded. “We need the art, theory, and practice of rhetoric if we are going to survive and flourish in this 21st century.”

Lunsford is a renowned scholar, teacher, and author of several academic works. Her scholarly interests include contemporary rhetorical theory, women and the history of rhetoric, collaboration and collaborative writing, current cultures of writing, intellectual property and composing, style, and technologies of writing. She has written or coauthored fourteen books as well as numerous chapters and articles. Her most recent books are The St. Martin’s Handbook, 7th ed. (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011), Everything’s an Argument, 5th ed. (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009), and Everyone’s an Author (Norton, 2012), and she has contributed essays and chapters to several volumes related to composition and rhetoric.

Lunsford served as Chair of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, as Chair of the Modern Language Association Division on Writing, and as a member of the MLA Executive Council.

Click here to view the video of Andrea Lunsford’s presentation. Video recorded by Cortney Smethurst and edited by Multimedia Services.


Andrea Lunsford                                          Andrea Lunsford and audience                     Andrea Lunsford and the 2012 TMACs


Written by Cortney Smethurst