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Rhetoric and Science

Seminar leaders:

Leah Ceccarelli, University of Washington
Carolyn R. Miller, North Carolina State University

It’s been almost 40 years since rhetorical critic Philip Wander made an initial call for research on “the rhetoric of science,” once considered to be an oxymoron. Now, a thriving area of scholarship exists both to investigate the efforts made by scientists to persuade each other and to assess the place of science in the deliberation of public policy. In this seminar, we will examine current issues of interest to scholars of rhetoric who turn their attention to discourse of or about science. Science in the 21st century is challenged to address increasingly complex problems with health, safety, and policy implications, such as climate change and emerging infectious diseases; in addition, new media and modes of communication are changing the operations of science and its interactions with the public. These all pose new issues and problems for rhetorical study.

Some questions to be considered in the seminar are related to these new conditions for science: How do citizen science, open access publishing, and “parascientific” forums and genres challenge the boundary between science and the public? What can we learn from scientific controversies and from the role of science in public controversies? Other questions to be considered are related to the field of rhetoric itself: What makes something a rhetorical study of science? What can rhetoric of science contribute to the larger field of science studies? How might rhetoricians of science ensure the broader impacts of their work on scientists and various other publics? What are the similarities and differences between rhetoric of science work from scholars in English and Communication departments?

The exact agenda for the seminar will be informed by the interests expressed by seminar participants in their applications. During the seminar, participants will discuss recent scholarship in the field, explore the questions above and ways of addressing them, and workshop their own ongoing projects or project proposals.

Questions should be directed to Leah Ceccarelli, cecc@u.washington.edu


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