The Rhetoric of Studying Rhetoric

As a preliminary assignment, each stakeholder invented a backstory for themself. During the discussion, the student filling the spot of the head of National Government explained his backstory, telling us that his paper was full of exaggeration and was “total rhetoric.” I stopped. I thought, this is my chance to defend myself, to defend my degree from being portrayed yet again as an unnecessary, untrustworthy form of exaggeration and lie. I thought back to the first reading for this rhetoric course: Patricia Roberts-Miller’s essay on rhetoric and empty speech. Well, I didn’t.

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I thought back to the first day of my Local People International Conservation Course. My professor asked each student to introduce themselves to the class, and part of the introduction was stating your major. When I said that I studied English, Dr. Brooks looked at me with some confusion and nearly laughed as he asked why on Earth I was taking his course. I have to wonder whether or not researchers and professionals in the hard sciences (as well as those in the arts and humanities) genuinely believe in an interdisciplinary form of education. Hyper-specialization results in a reductionist form of academic research. How do we combat fears of uncomfortable, undesirable interdisciplinary work from undergraduates to Ph.D. holders?

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