The Scope of Rhetoric: Persuasion and Crisis 

English 460 | Washington State University | Fall 2021

Catalog Description

how WSU characterizes the course

3 credits. Major themes in contemporary rhetoric. Typically offered Fall.

Additional Description

how Dr. Edwards characterizes the course

"We're doomed!"

We've heard it from the experts and the conspiracy theorists, the scholars and the politicians, the billionaires and the pundits, the advertisers and the influencers: the world is ending in too many ways to count, and we're too busy doomscrolling and demonstrating and yelling at one another or the TV or our social media feeds to pay attention. 

"Now what?" 

This course poses the questions: what are the characteristics of apocalyptic rhetoric, what does apocalyptic rhetoric seek to do, and how can we more successfully use the arts of persuasion to get out of the huge and seemingly unsolvable messes we're in now? 

How the Course Will Work 

what we'll be doing

Each week, we'll read about 100 pages examining different aspects of crisis rhetorics, including rhetorical theory and popular examples, and use those aspects to define and discuss how they define the problems they seek to address and examine the possibilities for action. We'll also write short responses each week, for a total of 10, of which at least two must be in a critical and academic style and at least two must be in a more creative or popular or multimedia style: in other words, I'll ask you to both create and critique pieces of writing that embody, problematize, or represent aspects of what we understand as apocalyptic rhetorics and crisis persuasion. You will also propose and complete a semester-long written project that applies course topics and readings to a topic of your own definition, and for that project—and all work in the class—I encourage creativity and experimentation.


what we'll read 
probably mostly required      
"Probably mostly" means we'll likely drop one or more of these; I haven't decided which. I try not to assign more than 25–35 pages of reading for homework, and usually less if I'm asking you to write something in response.

Megan Eatman, Ecologies of Harm: Rhetorics of Violence in the United States (ISBN 9780814214343)

Casey Ryan Kelly, Apocalypse Man: The Death Drive and the Rhetoric of White Masculine Victimhood (ISBN 9780814255780) 

Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics(ISBN 9781478006510)  

Richard E. Miller, Writing at the End of the World (ISBN 9780822958864)

Sarah T. Roberts, Behind the Screen: Content Moderation in the Shadows of Social Media (ISBN 9780300261479)

Safiya Umojiya Noble, Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (ISBN 9781479837243)  

Jenny Rice, Awful Archives: Conspiracy Theory, Rhetoric, and Acts of Evidence (ISBN 9780814255797)

Roy Scranton, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene (ISBN 9780872866690)











Assignments & Grading

what we'll work on and what it's worth
  • Discussion forums: 30% (lowest 2 dropped) 
  • Midterm Proposal: 10% 
  • Short essays: 20% (lowest 1 dropped) 
  • Participation: 15% 
  • Final project: 25% 

Discussion forums, during the week due, will require an initial post of 300–400 words and at least 2 brief responses to other people's posts. 

Short essays should attempt to revise, synthesize, and expand upon insights from the discussion forums, and should be 600–1000 words long. 

The final project requires you to engage a problem from the course readings and develop a plan for how to respond to that problem, using library research to help you develop your plan. Collaborative projects are welcomed.

Tentative Schedule

our week-to-week activities
  • Week 1:  Defining crisis rhetorics; human agency in "the continuing catastrophe"; working toward change
  • Week 2: Learning to Die in the Anthropocene; definitions; overdetermination
  • Week 3: Apocalypse Man; supremacist rhetorics; entrenched power 
  • Week 4: Necropolitics part 1; the promise and critique of democracy; radical alterity 
  • Week 5: Necropolitics part 2: the ends of biopower; racism and critique
  • Week 6: Ecologies of Harm; rhetoric and violence; force and signification
  • Week 7: midterm projects 
  • Week 8: Behind the Screen part 1; human labor and machine capital 
  • Week 9: Behind the Screen part 2; violence and spectacle  
  • Week 10: Algorithms of Oppression ; nonhuman agency and algorithmic identity 
  • Week 11: Awful Archives; conspiracy theories, narcissism, and paranoid systems; rhetoric and truth 
  • Week 12: Writing at the End of the World; rhetoric and hope beyond humanism    
  • Week 13:  wrap-up; final projects workshopping 
  • Week 14: presentations 
  • Week 15: presentations 
  • Exam: final projects due