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Classical Rhetoric and the Political Tweet

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Maps, Metaphors, Tweets, and Drafts

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Caroline Carvill Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Caroline Carvill is Professor of American Literature at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, where she teaches literature and composition courses, at all levels.

She completed her PhD at the University of Arkansas.

She served as an ASEE Visiting Scholar in Service Learning, served as Division Chair for the Liberal Education/Engineering and Society Division, and received the LEES Olmsted Award.

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Anneliese Watt Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Anneliese Watt is a professor of English at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. She teaches and researches technical and professional communication, rhetoric and composition, medicine in literature, and other humanities elective courses for engineering and science students. Her graduate work in rhetoric and literature was completed at Penn State, and her recent research often focuses on engineering and workplace communication as well as medical humanities.

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The popularity of Twitter in our daily lives and in the public forum has us reading shorter and shorter messages. Nevertheless, effective tweets employ the same rhetorical devices for the same purposes as other modes of argumentation. They increasingly influence public life from campaigns to advocacy (and governing). How do we negotiate meaning in 140 characters? In this paper, we will analyze the ongoing debates from the twitter feeds of the Democratic and Republican national parties. We will code individual tweets based on their classical rhetorical modes and see what patterns we can find over time. The three classical rhetorical modes are forensic, deliberative, and epideictic rhetoric. Judicial or forensic rhetoric places blame or praise for something that happened in the past, including accusations and defense. Deliberative rhetoric (also called political) makes a case for or against future action. Epideictic rhetoric commemorates or blames in official contexts and special occasions and focuses on the present time period. Our analysis of the DNC and RNC twitter feeds will show frequency of each mode as used by the two parties and whether or not the mix varies over time, or from issue to issue, or around a particular campaign. Does it change from election season to the off season? Does it vary from issue to issue? Which tweets get the most notice? What values do they celebrate? Which actions do they judge? We believe these results will be interesting, and we also believe this makes a good assignment for students to think rhetorically about the modes they use and read. We will share the process we used in our analysis and include some tweets for the audience to code with us. Initial sources include the following: C. Cherry, “Semeval-2016 task 6: Detecting stance in tweets.” Proceedings of SemEval, 16, 2016. J. H. Gross and K. T. Johnson, “Twitter Taunts and Tirades: Negative Campaigning in the Age of Trump.” PS: Political Science & Politics, vol. 49, no. 4.), pp.748-754, 2016.S. M. Mohammad, S. Kiritchenko, P. Sobhani, X. Zhu, and J. Ausserhoffer, “Politics and Twitter.” Information, Communication and Society. Volume 16, 2013—Issue 3. Ch. Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca, The New Rhetoric: ATreatise on Argumentation, trans. J. Wilkinson and P. Weaver, Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame Press, 1969. Ch. Perelman, “The New Rhetoric: A Theory of Practical Reasoning.” In The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s,1990.

Carvill, C., & Watt, A. (2018, June), Classical Rhetoric and the Political Tweet Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah.

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