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Community Engagement
Defining “Rhetorical”
I think my favorite descriptions of rhetoric comes from English novelist Sam Leith in his book
Words like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama. I searched for the phrase “rhetoric is” in
his book, and I found a few lines on page two that I think illustrate rhetoric in a way that most people
understand it. Rhetoric is: “a field of knowledge”, “a practical skill”, “directed at a practice goal”, “means
to an end”, “hustling” (Leith, 2012). These are common perceptions of the uses of rhetoric.
Yet as his introduction carries on, his description of rhetoric becomes more creative and
overarching. A few pages later he writes, “[r]hetoric is language at play” (Leith, 2012). Which it is, it’s a
way of forming words and putting them together in a way that is both interesting and appealing. It is art.
He continues with his description of rhetoric by saying, “[r]hetoric is what gives words power” (Leith,
2012). This is how politicians accomplish what they do, if there were no power behind the words that
they said behind a podium nothing would change or get done. It is the fuel behind any and every good
On one of the later pages of the introduction, Leith describes Aristotle’s grasp on rhetoric as, “the
study of humanity itself” (Leith, 2012). This rings truer than true because rhetoric is all about
understanding your audience so well to the point that you know exactly what it is that they need to hear.
Kairos is a good example of this. Kairos is explained by Sharon Crowley, a professor at Arizona
University, and Deborah Hawhee, a professor of English at Pennsylvania State University, in their book
Ancient Rhetorics for the Contemporary Students. They define it as a “kind of ready stance, in which
rhetors are not only attuned to the history of an issue (chronos) but are also aware of the more precise
turns taken by arguments about it and when the arguments took these turns.” (Crowley & Hawhee, 2011)
The rhetor must always be knowledgeable and equipped when a communication catalyst presents itself.
Rhetoric is fluctuating because society is constantly changing and shifting its perception on subjects and
the way they approach those subjects. As a rhetorician, you must understand and accept the mutability of
rhetoric because you have to be ready for any and every kairotic moment.
I see rhetoric as a form of communication through which people share ideas in a process aiming
to reach a certain conclusion. It’s both persuasive and collaborative because the only way for an issue or
a problem to be resolved is if both the rhetor and the audience want to progress forward.
Edward P. J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors were two American professors of English
specializing in rhetoric. Their definition of rhetoric is one that resonated closely to my belief as far as its
flexibility and usage is concerned. It is found in their book Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student:
Rhetoric is art or the discipline that deals with use of discourse, either spoken or written, to
inform or persuade or motivate an audience, whether that audience is made up of one person or a
group of persons… Although informative, directive, or persuasive objectives can be realized in
stop-and-go, give-and-take form of dialogue, rhetoric has traditionally been concerned with those
instances of formal, premeditated, sustained monologue in which a person seeks to exert an effect
on an audience. (Corbet & Robert, 1999)

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What I take away from their understanding of rhetoric is that there are two entities involved: an
audience and a rhetor. There are multiple objectives that rhetoric can accomplish, but the overall arching
point of rhetoric is for the rhetor to get a reaction from the audience in some way. If I combine their
definition of rhetoric and my definition of rhetoric, I believe it creates a cohesive explanation of the term
in an understanding way. “Rhetorical” is a term that can be defined as a moment or a situation where two
or more groups of people are involved. This situation requires a response in which those groups of people
must come together to address it in order to reach a resolution.
Defining “Citizenship”
Citizenship is a subjective term with different connotations and responsibilities depending on
your political stance. Amy J. Wan is an assistant professor of English at Queens College, New York. Her
article in the College English journal entitled “In the Name of Citizenship: The Writing Classroom and
the Promise of Citizenship”, makes a lot of good points concerning the term “citizenship”. I support her
statement, “Citizenship is not just a static status, but a standing one that can change through behavior and
desire” (Wan, 2011). Citizenship, like rhetoric, is fluid. It shifts and evolves every year for every person
no matter your political stance. It doesn’t have to be in relation to your views on particular subjects, it can
also be about how and when you are involving yourself in your community. Citizenship is more than its
most basic definition which Wan states, “legally as membership in a particular nation-state” (Wan, 2011).
It’s an emotional connection to your community.
On that same page, she goes on to say that theorist have expanded their point of view about
“citizenship beyond legal status to understanding citizenship as cultural identity, standing and status,
civic virtue, everyday habits, and participatory action” (Wan, 2011). Citizenship can’t be put into a box
of definitions; it is more than politics and government-related civic duties. Legal scholar Linda Bosniak
writes that “in psychological or cultural terms, the term citizenship is invoked to refer to an experience of
identity and solidarity that a person maintains in collective or public life” (Bosniak, 2000). I agree with
her 100% because citizenship is something more than a conscious, legal choice. It’s a state of mind and a
way to identify yourself as a person within your community.
I define citizenship as having a passion for your community by actively getting involved in one
way or another to help improve its current status. It’s feeling responsible for the community around you.
Connecting “Rhetorical” and “Citizenship”
Now that I have defined “rhetorical” and “citizenship” as separate entities, it is time to combine
the terms in a comprehensive way. The first source I am going to pull from is a sophist named Isocrates.
The author of this source states that, “[t]he Roman historian Velleius Paterculu goes so far as to call him
the sole figure of note in the whole history of rhetoric.” (Isocrates, 1928) Isocrates was, and still is
considered a knowledgeable rhetorician. In his speech he illustrates how one must handle being a juror:
“You must bear these things in mind and not judge any matter without discussion, and when you
are jurors, you must not behave as you do in personal matters, but you must be precise on each
point and seek the truth.” (Isocrates, 1928)

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This can be translated into how one must handle any sort of civic responsibility that affects one or
more other people in your community. An example of this is in politics, rhetoric is used by candidates
through their speeches in an attempt to sway a community one way or another like budgeting. Isocrates
takes citizenship very seriously when rhetoric is concerned because he understand that it can be used for
both positive and negative outcomes. “If one must summarize the power of discourse, we will discover
that nothing done prudently occurs without speech (logos), that speech is the leader of all thoughts and
actions, and that the most intelligent people use it most of all” (Isocrates, 1928). Verbalizing thoughts
leads to actions, the use of rhetoric in communication has the ability to build up or tear down a
community. It is important to know and understand the connection between rhetoric and citizenship.
Isocrates connects rhetoric and citizenship through civic duties which is a good way of looking at
it. The link that he creates is logical because it is something everyone can relate to or understand once
they are an adult. For example, when we are called for jury duty we have to be as impartial as possible so
they screen us to make sure that we have no connection with the alleged perpetrator for a fair trial to
occur. The same goes for being a citizen, no matter our personal feelings on the matter we have to act for
the greater good of the community.
When it comes to community and giving the citizens the power to be involved, Grassroots is a
software just for that purpose. Amy Diehl has a Master’s degree in Digital Rhetoric and Professional
Writing. Jeffrey Grabill is a professor of Rhetoric and Professional Writing. Bill Hart Davidson is an
associate professor of Rhetoric and Writing (Diehl, Grabill, & Hart-Davidson, 2008). These individuals
took it upon themselves to create a software for mapping objects to give people in a community the
power to understand and share information readily.
“The importance of understanding that by mapping objects one is making rhetorical choices
encapsulates the power of the map’s writer to socially construct a viewpoint: a way of looking at
space selectively. That is, whoever in the community or outside the community holds the
functionality to create maps also decides through which window the viewer of the map will look.”
(Diehl, Grabill, & Hart-Davidson, 2008)
Grassroots is more than just a software to create and share maps. Their goal is basically what
rhetorical citizenship is. It is a tool that allows them to engage and overcome issues in the community
where they are members and then transfer that information to others. “[T]he most exciting features of
Grassroots may lie in the functions it will provide for sharing maps within and across communities.”
(Diehl, Grabill, & Hart-Davidson, 2008) It gives more power to the general public which is the whole
point of rhetorical citizenship. Rhetoric is about coming across a problem and then finding an effective
way to overcome it. Citizenship is engaging in a community where you find common ground whether it’s
physically or not. Grassroots embodies rhetorical citizenship through its harmonious link between the
people and a tool.

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Activities Encompassing Rhetoric
When it comes to citizenship, rhetoric encompasses both big and small activities. These can range
from involvement in presidential campaigns to attending your community’s monthly meeting. Rhetoric is
used in both ways whether it is consciously or unconsciously done. For example, as a volunteer in a
presidential campaign, oftentimes you must call constituents to gather information concerning what area
should be targeted more. This is a form of rhetorical citizenship because you are actively involving
yourself in your community to cause a certain change in who’s in charge of a government office. Another
example is going to your community’s meetings where problems and concerns are addressed, like the
lack of filtration in a park’s water fountains where children spend a lot of their afternoons or the building
of a shopping plaza and how that would increase traffic but raise property values. Involving yourself in
the decision making of your community is rhetorical citizenship because you are striving for changes that
will better those around you whether you know them or not.
Being a Citizen
When I think of being a citizen it is taking pride in a specific community. It’s putting your mind
and heart into bettering it in one way or another. Being a citizen doesn’t have to be in reference to a
nation or a country, it can be to your town or subdivision. It just has to include a larger scale of people
than just one person can control.
Semester Project
I am used to being involved in my community. I’ve volunteered in one way or another growing
up. When I was old enough to understand politics, I helped in local campaigns. Now that I’m even older I
can actively take part in my community whether it’s raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network
or researching safety concerns on the UCF campus.
This semester I have experienced rhetorical citizenship through our class’s joint effort in making
the University of Central Florida a safer place. UCF is a community even though the area that it covers is
not as large as the United States of America; it is a place where people gather and share common space.
We, as a group of students, decided to research safety concerns on campus. Half of the class was going to
survey students on how safe they felt, and the other half was going to conduct research correlating the
blue emergency lights, lighting, and crime occurrences.
My part of the assignment was going around campus at night and checking the lighting situation,
seeing what areas were well-lit and what areas needed to be improved. I decided to be as thorough as
possible because I pride myself on being a UCF Knight. It makes me both sad and frustrated when I
receive UCF alerts to my phone in the middle of the night. To me, the victim of any crime could have
been me or one of my friends and that scares me. I am a 5’2” female who weighs a little over 100 lbs. so
I’m an easy target. I accepted the night-time research because I wanted and needed to represent other
females. This community should feel safe for everyone.

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To conduct my research, I rode around campus on my bike for two hours. I started a little after
8:30pm and ended just after 10:30pm. During my ride, I had google maps open on my phone so that I
was sure to ride through all the smaller pathways that people don’t normally notice. Whenever I rode
through an area that was almost entirely dark, I dropped a pin on my app to mark where another light post
wouldn’t hurt. I also had notepad open on my phone to write down observations I made whether they
were positive or negative.
I chose my bike partially to make my research go faster, and partially because if a dangerous
situation presented itself I’d be able to escape quickly. Also, on my body I carried a compact pepper
spray that was in an easy to grab area so that I can reach it at a moment’s notice. To some people that
may seem extreme, but you don’t know fear until you’re a female out at night (especially when you’re
small enough for someone to just grab). I avoid taking evening classes because I’m not comfortable with
being out past sunset. Last semester one of my male friends happened to have a night class in the same
building as me so he would walk me to my car. I shouldn’t have to depend on someone else to feel safe. I
don’t want to avoid night classes anymore, and I don’t think anyone else should have to either.
Rhetorical citizenship is more than just voting. This is a subjective choice that has no legal
obligations or grounds. It’s about actively caring about the strangers around you and seeing a problem or
a situation and wanting to be a part of the resolution. Rhetorical citizenship is productively engaging in
your community.

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Bosniak, L. (2000). Citizenship Denationalized. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 237-52.
Corbet, E. P., & Robert, C. J. (1999). Classical Rhetoric fo the Modern Student 4th edition. New York:
Oxfod, UP.
Crowley, S., & Hawhee, D. (2011). Kairos and the Rhetorical Situation: Seizing the Moment. In Ancient
Rhetorics for Contemporary Students (5th Edition) (p. Chapter 2). Longman.
Diehl, A., Grabill, J. T., & Hart-Davidson, W. (2008). Grassroots: Supporting the Knowledge Work of
Everday Life. Technical Communication Quarterly, 413-434.
Isocrates (1928). Antidosis. (George Norlin, trans.) Harvard, Harvard UP, 350
Leith, S. (2012). Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama. New York: Basic Books.
Wan, A. (2011). In the Name of Citizenship: The Writing Classroom and the Promise of Citizenship.
College English, 28-49.