Preface/How Many Rhetorics?

From The Rhetoric of RHETORIC: The Quest for Effective Communication, Wayne C. Booth, 2004
Read September 2010

In his book, Booth writes that the quality of our communication, and therefore, our lives, can be improved by rhetoric. He prefaces his book by giving a brief summary of the negative press that rhetoric has received—controversy over whether rhetoric is a valuable or superficial art going back to the time of Socrates. Booth’s own view of rhetoric is quite broad: he writes that

“[rhetoric] includes almost every corner of our lives. Rhetoric is employed at every moment when one human being intends to produce, through the use of signs or symbols, some effect on another – by words, or facial expressions, or gestures, or any symbolic skill of any kind” (xi).

In his first chapter, “How Many Rhetorics?” Booth describes and quotes from many different definitions of rhetoric. His own definition focuses on shared discourse and “the art of probing what we believe we ought to believe” (8). In another definition of rhetoric, Booth writes that it is

“The whole range of arts not only of persuasion but also of producing or reducing misunderstanding” (xii).

He includes discussion and communication alongside persuasion as equal partners. Booth urges readers to practice “Listening-Rhetoric,” which broadens communication to include the full understanding of opposite views.  In keeping with Bitzer’s seminal definition of rhetoric, Booth writes that rhetoric changes the realities of our lives.

Booth’s inclusion of listening and understanding to essential qualities of rhetoric can well be applied to the practice of human-centered design. His point that rhetoric can change realities applies to my thesis project as well, in which I am attempting to change the reality of how individuals behave towards the world around them.

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