Scholarly article on topic 'Learning Public Skills – Teaching (Global) Publicity'

Learning Public Skills – Teaching (Global) Publicity Academic research paper on "Law"

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{Rhetoric / "vita activa" / "rhetorical paideia" / "public competence"}

Abstract of research paper on Law, author of scientific article — Petra Aczél

Abstract “The universal science of public life” is what Cicero called rhetoric – an art long referred to as the technique of persuasive discourse. Nevertheless, rhetoric can be considered from the very beginning as more of a complex educational program than a subject field, guiding and coaching learners to gain knowledge and skills for competition, cooperation and dialogue. In the culture of global participation, schools and teachers are constantly facing new challenges when educating students in this competence. In accordance with emerging new spaces of learning, new “literacies” need to be identified and taught. Among them is a (global) public literacy that may integrate community literacy, procedural literacy and media literacy. Rhetoric proves to be a treasure house for the educational programs of this integrative public literacy. The paper aims to introduce a frame for describing, interpreting and applying public competence and its teaching. An illustrative case of a rhetorical program is presented and, within this, competencies and literacies and their teaching methodologies will be dwelt upon. On the basis of classical and theoretical approaches, the essay endeavors to provide a rhetorical dimension of the education of our age.

Academic research paper on topic "Learning Public Skills – Teaching (Global) Publicity"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 93 (2013) 640 - 647 —

3rd World Conference on Learning, Teaching and Educational Leadership (WCLTA-2012)

Learning public skills - teaching (global) publicity

Petra Aczel*

Corvinus University of Budapest, Kozraktar str. 4-6., Budapest 1093, Hungary


"The universal science of public life" is what Cicero called rhetoric - an art long referred to as the technique of persuasive discourse. Nevertheless, rhetoric can be considered from the very beginning as more of a complex educational program than a subject field, guiding and coaching learners to gain knowledge and skills for competition, cooperation and dialogue. In the culture of global participation, schools and teachers are constantly facing new challenges when educating students in this competence. In accordance with emerging new spaces of learning, new "literacies" need to be identified and taught. Among them is a (global) public literacy that may integrate community literacy, procedural literacy and media literacy. Rhetoric proves to be a treasure house for the educational programs of this integrative public literacy. The paper aims to introduce a frame for describing, interpreting and applying public competence and its teaching. An illustrative case of a rhetorical program is presented and, within this, competencies and literacies and their teaching methodologies will be dwelt upon. On the basis of classical and theoretical approaches, the essay endeavors to provide a rhetorical dimension of the education of our age. © 2013TheAuthors.PublishedbyElsevierLtd.

Selection and peer review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Ferhan Odaba§i Keywords: Rhetoric, vita activa, rhetorical paideia, public competence

1. Introduction

Democracies have a fundamental need for informed publics to legitimate public policies and public actions. Yet we seem to have lost faith in our public's ability to exercise competent judgment. We live at a time when the types of problems confronting a technologically complex and culturally diverse society seem to outstrip the average citizen's capacity to comprehend them, much less to arrive at an informed opinion on their resolution. (Gerard Hauser, 1999, p. 279)

Gerard Hauser's words warn us that those new-media-native generations that we are now educating may be on the way to losing their public competence.

In the second media age, in which knowledge is hyper-shared, information is widely accessed and communities are networked, education is in need of a redefined view of public competencies that allow students to participate in the global communicative arena. This paper aims to outline the main characteristics and elements of those competencies on the basis of classical and modern rhetoric. Conceiving rhetoric as the discursive dimension of public life, this essay proposes a framework of integrative public literacy with which students could enact in (global) communicative situations. Within a theoretical-critical approach, an illustrative case will show how sub-skills and fields of public competencies are developed and performed.

* Corresponding author name. Tel.: +36-30-57-49-362 E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Ferhan Odaba§i


2. Rhetoric

Classical rhetoric derives from ancient Greece and Rome, where it served as the universal science of the public sphere, in which right acting and right speaking were considered one. Although widely recognized as the art of persuasion, it has always tended to outgrow its original concern with persuasive public speaking. Its genuine communicative, symbolic and strategic characteristics, its references to both the public and the personal, and its communicatively holistic nature have made rhetoric an interdisciplinary field of interpersonal, mediated and public discourse.

Rhetoric is "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion" as Aristotle (1355b) put it. Its status as a science debated, it has been mainly defined to be either a faculty or a virtue referred to as art. Its verbal persuasive function, however, has been accepted as dominant and it has, with a growing rational suspicion, been labeled agonistic. In the meantime, its reduction to the techniques of elocution has led to the pejorative use of the term rhetoric.

Classical rhetoric preserved a cultural ideal that is apparently dead in our age, the cultural ideal of the "politically and socially active polymath" (Halloran, 1994, p. 332), who possesses virtues and skills, who has an immediate access to all that is knowable and in whose world wisdom is public and commonly recognized. In this cultural ideal, the master of rhetoric "was the man who had interiorized all that was best in his culture and applied this knowledge in public forums" (p. 331). The existence of such a cultural ideal implied a worldview in which "values are coherent and the wisdom of public can be fully mastered by one man" (p. 333). Classical rhetoric was informed by the acting community that was clearly changed, mostly in the sense of coherence and eminence. As the original sociocultural-political context of rhetoric was being reconfigured, the discipline had to overcome several existentially critical phases. However, there were two eras of rejection that turned out to be almost fatal. According to the seminal essay of Bender and Wellbery (1990), this rejection of rhetoric was caused by both the Enlightenment and Romanticism. In the enlightened mode of discourse, transparency and neutrality became the determining merits. From this perspective, rhetoric seemed empty, blurred and diffuse. Public discourse had to be freed of its individual interests, deprived of rhetorical ambiguity, magniloquence and passion. As for Romanticism, rhetoric had become a craft of rather than a faculty of the genius: a way of producing rather than creating. These two sets of attack resulted in the rejection of the classical tradition of rhetoric for the following reasons: ascendant scientific objectivity with values of transparency and neutrality, a new emphasis on individual originality and authorship, liberalism's displacement of republicanism in political theory, the dominance of literacy over orality and the rise of the vernacular language nation state. With the recession of this rejection, rhetoric has actually regained its significance. This shift has been caused by those phenomena that characterize modern and postmodern scientific thinking and global communicative culture. With the advent of new media technologies a lingua franca of influential communication was reclaimed. New spaces of democratic debating called for a global language through which epistemological pluralism and individual voices were manifested.

In its capacity to relieve scientific and moral paradoxes of postmodern societies, to perform playfulness in communication, and to fulfill global communicative exigencies and objectives, rhetoric has managed to retrieve its practical and theoretical status among disciplines of discourse and has returned to the contemporary cultural and scientific landscape.

3. Definitions of rhetoric

The diversity of definitions of new and postmodern rhetoric is due to its relative resistance to being defined. Either regarded as a praxis (rhetorica utens) or a theory (rhetorica docens), rhetoric has had numerous explanations. According to the Hungarian scholar Kibedi Varga (1998), rhetoric is the seeking of order. It is a device to submit the world into an orderly state; it is a code of cognition and the structuring of ideas and opinions. Lloyd Bitzer (1968) defines rhetoric as the mode of altering reality by the creation of discourse that changes reality through the mediation of thought and action, while Cheney et al. (2004, p. 79) conclude that rhetoric is "concerned about the way discourse is intertwined with human relations". As a code to render the cognition of the world into an orderly

state, a mode of altering reality by discourse and a discourse that is bound with and by human relations, rhetoric is a system, a method and a language that can be applied to situations of human interaction. Rhetorical actions are always embedded into particular situations and historical time: they are not universal by nature. Gerard Hauser argues that

rhetorical transactions always take place among specific partners engaged in a collective process of sense-making within an indeterminate situation. The contingencies and multiple possibilities for resolution of an unbounded human world are constant reminders of Aristotle's observation that rhetoric's telos is judgement of and for the given case. Rhetoric's truths are not transcendental; they have validity only for the specific participants in the specific situation who acceded to specific appeals addressed to their specific concerns, needs and interests (1999, p. 277).

Rhetoric used to be considered the "language" of the vita activa or bios politikos, and was expected to be the praxis of the life devoted to the actual matters of polis - a life spent within a community, a life of producing deeds. This vita activa is never quiet and never intact (Arendt, 1998) and is thus about the engagement in the perpetuation of life and in issues of community.

3.1. Suspicion and coping

Even though the disciplinary survival of rhetoric was, by no doubt successful, it has never ceased to be surrounded by moral debates and political doubts. Drawing upon the claims of the Enlightenment, there is still a democratic suspicion of rhetoric as it may involve manipulation of the audience's mood and thus coercion (Dryzek, 2010). This suspicion can be traced to Kant, who believed that oratory propagated appealing illusions and so violated the autonomy of the rational agent. The Platonic commitment and its democratic-rational linking to truth seeking (with the virtue of reasonableness in justification) entails the abhorrence of rhetoric. Even though dismissal of rhetorical competence is generally approved of in scholarly discourses on deliberative politics nowadays, there are some theorists who think that rhetoric does have a role in public and civic discourse. Young (2000) emphasizes that rhetoric is a communication style that can be employed by those who are disadvantaged when it comes to rational argument, and Hauser (1998) thinks that rhetoric is what enables participation in a civil society.

There certainly is a "problem of rhetoric" caused by the significance of the autonomous self and the (democratic liberal, rational) disillusions in pathos and ethos - two of the three proofs of classical rhetoric. This problem can be answered by returning to a communitarian view of ethics and politics and constructing a coherent narrative of rhetoric's birth, death and resurrection, or by offering a new rhetoric that is applicable to modernity and its cultural and political changes, or by promising new forms of persuasion and multiple selves. These reactions, respectively labeled antimodernist, modernist and postmodernist by Aune (2009), articulate different reasons for the need for rhetoric.

The antimodernist view (Alasdair MacIntyre, Richard Weaver, Ernesto Grassi) has striven to discredit liberalism in the sense that it seeks continuity in rhetorical tradition and articulates the necessity of the civic rhetor. Rhetoric is a cure for the cultural crisis engendered by industrial capitalism, the loss of historical memory, mass media and mass education. Rhetoric serves here as the counterpart of modern neutral, objective, scientific communication for all acts of communication necessarily take a point of view and hold an immanent intention to persuade.

Richard Weaver also argues for a healthy balance of dialectic and rhetoric in culture and society: "Dialectic is abstract reasoning on the basis of propositions; rhetoric is the relation of the terms of these to the existential world in which facts are regarded with sympathy and are treated with that kind of historical understanding and appreciation which lie outside the dialectical process" (1995, p. 56).

Representative of the revived humanist tradition, Ernesto Grassi (1980) seeks to retrieve the ideas of the Italian humanists by showing how the starting point for humans is not rationality or logic but language, through which humans grasp and express their sense of reality. Based on Giambattista Vico's philosophy, Grassi's humanist starting point is the concrete situation that characterizes human existence, the given situation that demands a

response and a strategy for handling its challenges. The process by which these demands are met is the process of ingenium (archaic non-reducible power). Ingenium is a capacity that allows us to see the world and to make connections in experience. Ingenium frees humans to create and order their own lives, to choose how to respond to life's changing demands. Grassi differentiates between two types of speech: rhetorical and rational. It is the rhetorical language that is grounded in the ingenious function. Rhetorical speech is immediate, not deductive or demonstrative, illuminating, purely indicative, figurative, metaphoric and pathetic. Rhetorical speech is grounded in metaphor and is directly connected to the sensory images upon which humans come to know and create their world. It achieves an emotional identification with specific images that simply does not occur with rational speech. Therefore, rhetorical speech is of a dialogic nature.

For representatives of the modernist tradition (Kenneth Duva Burke, Chaim Perelman, Ivor A. Richards), the study of rhetoric furthers the goal of personal autonomy by freeing citizens from bewitchments of language and ideology and enabling practical reasoning under conditions of uncertainty. They were faced by the question, however, that for practical reasoning (and the public argument) new standards should be provided in a pluralistic and multicultural democracy. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca call for a "new rhetoric". They state that

the theory of argumentation cannot be developed if every proof is conceived of as a reduction of the self-evident. Indeed, the object of the theory of argumentation is the study of the discursive techniques allowing us to induce or to increase the mind's adherence to the theses presented for its assent. What is characteristic of the adherence of minds is its variable intensity: nothing constrains us to limit our study to a particular degree of adherence characterized by self-evidence (1969, p. 4).

Their stand is made clear in the statement that an "effective community of minds" should be realized at a given moment for arguments to exist. This effective community of minds is at least created through the existence of common language, through the importance attached by the person to gaining the adherence of his/her partner, and through the listening that displays a willingness to eventually accept the other's point of view.

Kenneth Burke (1969), in his unique approach, claims that rhetoric provides a name for a situation, represents a strategy for dealing with that situation and acts out a stylized answer to that situation. Rhetoric is concerned with identification, a term introduced by Burke as a supplement to traditional rhetoric. Identification is synonymous with consubstantiality and represents the alliance between man and his partner (and various properties) through the centrifugal and centripetal (dialogic and dialectic) usage of language. To put it simply, rhetoric is an attempt to bridge the conditions of dissociation and estrangement in order to facilitate identification.

Richards suggests that traditional rhetoric should be replaced by a view of rhetoric as a philosophical discipline aiming at a mastery of the fundamental laws of the use of language. His definition sees rhetoric "as the art by which discourse is adapted to its end". Its task is "to distinguish the different sorts of ends or aims, for which we use language, to teach how to pursue them separately and how to reconcile their diverse claims" (1938, pp. 12-13). The study of rhetoric should be a systematic study of misunderstandings that language offers and its remedies. Rhetoric should consider how losses in communication can be measured, how good communication differs from bad. It should not be limited to a discipline that is peripheral or irrelevant to other studies: "Rhetoric can provide the core of a sound educational curriculum at a time when nothing is central and primary in the educational curriculum" (Foss, Foss and Trapp, 2002, p. 23).

In the postmodernist approach (Friedrich Nietzsche, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida), new technologies are taken into account that promise new forms of argument and persuasion and an end to the autonomous humanist self. It is characterized by the rejection of the traditional canon or curriculum and a shift from the critic to the performer and finally "a contention that all is rhetorical ... because we can never escape the prison house of language" (Aune, 2009, p. 101). From this perspective, truths are illusions, the idea of public address should be forgotten as we now only have fragments, and ethos is described in terms of and in line with difference: multiplicity and mutation instead of identity, unity and continuity.

These three paradigms revisit rhetorical literacy in different ways; however, all point to the social nature of rhetoric and reveal the capaciousness of the 2500-year-long discipline. Rhetoric, reflected through any of these three approaches, turns out to be the complex knowledge of human relations and their situational dynamics.

4. Rhetorical education and publicness

As rhetoric is present in all socialization (Burke, 1969, p. 39), it provides interactants with skills to adapt themselves to situations, to identify themselves with emerging goals, and to accept argumentation and opinion. In a nutshell, these are the fields of public competence that call for emphatic attention, active participation, the urge to cooperate, the wish to persuade, the ability to judge, openness and reflectivity. Public competence encompasses the awareness of contingencies, the ambition to take up risks and to judge by situational and universal values. Classical rhetoric as pedagogy taught this set of competencies and built the radiant performance of the rhetor on them.

4.1. Rhetoric paideia and consciousness

Rhetoric can be considered as a teaching tradition: the pedagogy of good, ethical speaking. It teaches a rhetorical consciousness that is required whenever there is genuine communication. According to Johnstone (2007, pp. 21-23), to be conscious of something is always to interrupt the unity of the transaction between subject and object. Consciousness confronts the person with something radically other than himself. It is the relevant distance and distinction between subject and object, between the person and what is communicated. Rhetoric is the evoking and maintaining of this consciousness, an interface that enables the acceptance of refusal to accept statements.

Rhetorical teaching tradition is ethically based; the speaker should be a doer of deeds and oriented towards wisdom in civic affairs and moral responsibility. Phronesis, practical wisdom and situational knowledge, is at the heart of rhetorical paideia and rhetorical invention and this is what characterizes the speaker as well.

4.2. Rhetoric paideia and homo rhetoricus

In Richard Lanham's generic portrait (1976, pp. 2-3) of the almost unchanged rhetorical paideia (program of education) he lists the following main principles: o Start your student young,

o teach him a minute concentration on the word, how to write it, speak it, remember it, o stress memory in a massive almost brutalizing way, develop it far in advance of conceptual understanding,

o stress behaviour as performance: reading aloud, speaking with gesture, o require no original thought,

o demand an agile marshaling of the proverbial wisdom on any issue, o categorize the wisdom into pre-digested units, commonplaces, topoi, o dwell on their decorous fit into situation,

o teach a corresponding set of accepted personality types, a taxonomy of impersonation, o nourish an acute sense of social situation,

o let her/him translate not only from one language to another, but from one style to another, o shape the ability to argue with equal skill on either side of the question, o stress the need for improvisation, the coaxing of chance, o train with continual verbal play, rehearsal for the sake of rehearsal,

o urge the student to go into the world and observe its doings from the perspective of the historical situation,

o urge her/him to continue this rehearsal method all her/his life, forever rehearsing a spontaneous real life, o fill public life, forum, agora, court with men similarly trained.

Lanham (1976, p. 39) also raises the questions: "What kind of world would such a training create? What kind of man would homo rhetoricus be?" His notion of homo rhetoricus refers to some previous and upcoming contrasts and distinctions drawn between the rational (real, dialectical) and rhetorical (ingenious, metaphorical). He quotes Jaeger (Paideia 2, 1944), stating that there are two contrasting types of life. One is built upon the flattering quasi-arts and is the rhetorical ideal of life; while its opponent, based on knowledge of human nature, is the philosophical life. In Lanham's opinion the rhetorical man's common denominator is a social situation. He has more value-structures he dwells in. For him reality is what is accepted as reality, and what is useful. The rhetorical view of life begins with the centrality of language and homo rhetoricus is a free player of language without "transcendental loyalties". He feels and holds the eros of language and plays not only for advantage but also for pleasure: "He is not, like the serious man, alienated from his own language" (1976, p. 5). He also gains tolerance from knowing that he and others may think differently and be different: rhetoric represents half of man.

Rather than underestimating the power of the rhetorical ideal, it would make far more sense to recognize it as a world-view, a way and a view of life, a coherent counterstatement to serious reality. The western self, as Lanham (1976, p. 6) reconstructs, has been composed of an uneasy combination of homo rhetoricus and homo seriosus: of a social self and a central self. Without the former we would retain no social dimension. However, the human self exists only inasmuch as it continues to debate with itself. The struggle between social and central self is a self-generating, self-protecting device.

Rhetorical pedagogy in antiquity oriented the student to common traditions and forms of speech, the language and mode the learned world had been using for centuries. Rhetorical pedagogy of our age could orient the students to gain those competencies they cannot do without in the global, contingent public arena. Only based on the sense of situation, observation, lifelong rehearsal and the coaxing of chance, and on the premise that others may think differently, can rhetorical pedagogy operate best in order to feed public competencies.

4.3. Integrative public literacy and rhetoric

Teaching rhetoric entails a three-layered preparation to perform in public. At the first stage the raising of situation- and media-awareness and attentiveness, the implementation of rigorous criticism and the acting on a vision of transformation are done (Flower, 2008, p. 2). Considering the classroom as a public or semi-public space, students are expected to become clear-eyed critics and active participants. They are being trained to engage in common affairs with freedom and responsibility and so their symbolic (meaning-making), strategic (planning) and constitutive (forming) competencies are improved in the second phase. Symbolic competence addresses community literacy (Flower, 2008), strategic competence implies procedural literacy (Bogost, 2010) and constitutive competence is rooted in aesthetic literacy. It is actually a training of integration and reflection, an education of structuration and creation. Arriving at the third stage, the possible and typical aims and genres of communication are identified. Students can learn to differentiate between the intentions to speak up, speak for, speak against and speak with. Through these critical, analytical and productive skills they will be enabled to cooperate, not only in general but in particular as well. Hauser considers this rhetoric the rhetoric of publicness and presumes that it

keeps us empirically rooted in society's ever-present need to secure cooperation. In a world defined by awareness of the contingency of all, we cannot hope to secure cooperation without a language and reasons for acting that are perceived to accommodate the interests of others and instill mutual confidence that partners will act in ways that bear out the rhetorical performance of words in the performance of future deeds (1999, p. 281).

4.3.1. An illustrative case

The experimental 'Rhetorical Masters' Workshop' was organized as a university workshop for those students who had already finished their course in public speech at Pazmany Péter Catholic University. Upon invitation and with tutorial guidance, these twelve members formed a rhetorical community accepting the following principles:

1. One stands for her/his own words: we live our words. (This principle is influenced by the question of Isocrates (1929, section 278): "Who does not know that words carry greater conviction when spoken by men of good repute than when spoken by men who live under a cloud, and that the argument which is made by a man's life is of more weight than that which is furnished by words?")

2. Speeches are deeds.

3. Speeches can alter publicity.

4. Rhetoric is not monological.

5. Rhetoric opens up the space for dialogue.

6. Rhetoric is visionary.

7. Rhetoric is the interface on which sincere criticism can work without harm.

8. Rhetorical communication is neither egoistic nor conventional: it is situational and communal.

9. Persuasion is not winning over.

10. Persuasion is always mutual.

11. Speeches have to be heard and remembered.

12. Speeches have to enrich our knowledge of the world.

In the first semester of the academic year of 2009/2010 the group decided on the topics of public speeches they were to perform. The topics were drawn from those public issues that could be accessed both with and without dominant political attitudes discourses. Formal criteria of the speeches included the length, the audience and the place of performance. No role-playing was allowed (ethopoeia), the speaker had to speak in her/his own name. They met every week for five hours and prepared and performed their speeches on which the group commented immediately. Firstly they became disinterested critics of their own and others' speeches and realized the importance of invention (ingenium). Secondly they identified the significance of structure and the aesthetical joy it provides, and thirdly they categorized the generic forms of persuasion. Their rhetorical performances improved through the recognition that rhetoric is more of an invitation into a public space than a device for advocacy.

After four months spent in a classroom they moved out to the 'real public' and gave speeches in pubs, parks and squares. Without any prior publicity they gathered at a chosen public place and started performing their speeches. They gained encouragement from the spontaneous reactions of strangers, and the meaningful silence they created by their public acts. They also realized that speaking in public is a political act in the sense of vita activa, that through their speeches they were participating in their communities. They reported that they had become more conscious and literate actors through their activities on community sites, more critical in judging opinion and more selective in choosing information. The visual potential of their speeches grew significantly with unique metaphors overwhelming the spoken texts.

After the second semester, coming 'back' to the university, they started to organize a rhetorical competition and conference. In the meantime the tutorial guidance gradually diminished and the Rhetorical Masters' Workshop started to operate on its own, perpetuated by the hunger for new speeches. Using the model of this experimental group, a senior workshop made up of adults (named after Aspasia) and a new university rhetorical workshop were established and launched at the Corvinus University of Budapest in the 2011/2012 academic year. The 'biorhythms' of both are in accordance with the still existing pioneering one.

5. Conclusion

The spaciousness of rhetoric surely stores several perspectives that could fruitfully contribute to the teaching of public skills. Originally worked out as the universal science of public life, rhetoric has much to offer in terms of education. This essay aimed to unveil those aspects and ideals of classical and modern rhetoric and rhetorical pedagogy that are capable of being integrated into classroom practices.

Comprehending rhetoric as a discursive dimension of publicness opens up new horizons for teaching rhetoric as a set of public skills, as an education program of integrated public competence. This competence comprises visionary

communication, brave subjectivity, responsibility and situational knowledge, and the re-emergent rhetorical literacy serve as its main source. By illuminating the possibility and experiment of a three-layered rhetorical program, this article has striven to draw attention to the need for rhetorical literacy in educating students for and socializing them into public life.


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