Transactional Rhetoric

In Rhetoric and Reality (1987), James A. Berlin created a three-part taxonomy of rhetoric theories, based on epistemology. Objective rhetoric asserts that reality is empirically verifiable and in the material world. Subjective rhetoric states that reality is not material, but rather exists within the individual’s perception apprehension, and that the writer or speaker is very much the author, since he or she discovers a subjective reality. The audience can be persuaded (or not) to a find certain meaning. Transactional rhetoric contends that reality is a social construct; it is formed through interaction and discussion within a certain rhetorical situation. The writer or speaker poses a version or reality that is affected by his or her cultural and other experiences. The audience is also a writer. Berlin goes on to detail transactional rhetoric in three sub-divisions:

  • Classical rhetoric is frequently adapted to modern situations, where reality is formed of the interaction between the rhetor and audience, from discourse in socio-political communities. New knowledge is created from such interaction.
  • Cognitive rhetoric links the mind to nature, where reality arises out of the interaction between one’s mind and both social and natural environments.
  • Social-epistemic rhetoric locates reality in all the elements of the rhetorical situation. It contends that language is the foundation of all human experience and that reality is formed from the interactive discussions between individuals within discourse communities.

My study will apply a social-epistemic transactional theory of rhetoric. It will consider subjective rhetoric theory, since much of my data collection and inquiry considers the subjective perception of the individual. However, it will largely draw on social-epistemic transactional rhetoric, since I am examining online verbal transactions and discussions–including student’s previous experience with video technology–in a particular rhetorical situation, as the setting in which these transactions are perceived by the author and audience, roles which have much crossover. Additionally, since this study is heavily supported by theories of oral communication, it will apply various elements of classical rhetoric.

Berlin, J. A., & Conference on College Composition and Communication (U.S.). (1987). Rhetoric and reality : writing instruction in American colleges, 1900-1985. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

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