Revolution Lullabye

August 2, 2012

Brent, Rogerian Rhetoric: An Alternative to Traditional Rhetoric

Brent, Douglas. “Rogerian Argument: An Alternative to Traditional Argument.” In  Argument Revisited, Argument Redefined: Negotiating Meaning in the Composition Classroom. Eds. Barabara Emmel, Paula Resch, and Beborah Tenny. Sage, 1996. 73-96. Web. http://people.ucalgary.ca/~dabrent/art/rogchap.html

Brent argues that Rogerian argument, a way to structure and conceive of argument based on psychiatrist Carl Rogers’ theories, is most beneficial for students not because of its form but because it introduces them to principles of invention and inquiry that help them construct more effective and ethical arguments. Rogerian argument asks students to read and argue with empathy, considering how alternative perspectives from their own may be valid and then constructing their arguments to account for their validity in a larger, holistic context.

Brent surveys Carl Rogers’ theories (grounded by his research in psychology) and the history of Rogerian argument’s adoption (and criticism) by the field of composition and rhetoric. Rogerian argument rejects the traditional adversarial and even evaluative approaches to argument. Instead, the theory is connected to the psychiatric principle of “saying back”: of restating the situation and sides of the position. It is not really argument – it is more of a method of communication that underlines the importance of understanding all perspectives on an issue as a tool for reaching a consensus. Scholars, though, have criticized Rogerian arugment for being manipulative, idealistic, detached from emotion, or not emphasizing understanding of the self.

Rogerian argument was introduced to the field by Young, Becker, and Pike, and it has been useful in negotiations about highly charged and emotional issues (Camp David, Northern Ireland.) It is based on the principle that reducing threat or vulnerability is critical in having conversation and encouraging sides to listen to one another.

Brent explains how he uses principles of Rogerian argument in his classroom to give students a new way to see how their arguments are situated in a larger context. Argument isn’t a straightforward statement of claims and evidence; it has to address the slippery grayness of human issues. Rogerian argument principles help students uncover assumptions under their arguments and the perspectives they might be arguing against.

 

Notable Notes

big difference between rebuttal and genuine re-stating of the opposition’s viewpoint.

 

Quotable Quotes

“But we certainly cannot make informed ethical choices without being able to explore other points of view.”

 

“Rogerian rhetoric is a broad rubric for a way of seeing, not just a specific technique for structuring a text.”

 

“It is still possible for students to learn how to apply a form of Rogerian principles in writing. To do so, they must learn how to imagine with empathy and how to read with empathy.”

 

“The challenge for the composition teacher, of course, is how to teach students to put Rogerian principles into practice. Rogerian rhetoric is often tried and dismissed as impractical, too difficult for students to use, too difficult to teach, or too easy for students to misinterpret as a particularly sly form of manipulation.

I believe that some of these problems stem from a failure to recognize just what Rogerian rhetoric really is. The basic model of Rogerian argument, particularly when abstracted from the rich context of heuristic techniques in which Young, Becker and Pike originally embedded it, looks like a form of arrangement: a recipe for what to say first. But arrangement is only part of the business of any rhetorical system. Logically prior to arrangement–and as I will argue, embedded in the process of arrangement, not separate from it–is the process of invention. In Rogerian terms, this means exploring an opposing point of view in sufficiently rich complexity that it is possible to reflect it back convincingly to an audience”

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