Below are excerpts to Phylis Mentzell Ryder's "Rhetorical Publics," available to the public
Ryder, Phyllis M. "Rhetorical Publics." Enculturation 6.1 (2008). 17 Apr. 2009
In Easy Writer, a pocket reference similar to handbooks used in many composition courses, Andrea
Lunsford asserts, “In the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, many audiences expect a writer to
get to the point as directly as possible and to articulate that point efficiently and unambiguously”
(139). She points out that this expectation—one which, it is fair to say, is often attributed to “good”
public writing in America—is not shared by other cultures, and cautions her readers to think carefully
about their readers’ expectations. Throughout the small text, she includes thoughtful advice for
multilingual writers about the nuances and quirks of American writing.
What I like about Lunsford’s textbooks is her attention to moments like these, where she situates
common expectations within a broader context. At the same time, I find myself questioning the
assertion that American writers are all about efficiency and directness. This move is the method by
which a particular American public asserts itself as “the public.” To be an American, the move argues,
is to be part of a group that is most comfortable speaking directly and for whom the ideal relationship
among citizens is one of efficiency. While I agree that many Americans sit comfortably with that
vision of themselves, the move affirms this as the very nature of a single, unified American public—
that all citizens, when they seek to make change in democracy, come into the same conceptual space
and agree to use the same set of rhetorical conventions as they negotiate and engage with each other.
The move doesn’t accurately describe the full range of rhetorical interactions within American
democracy, where multiple publics struggle and vie to be accepted however briefly, as “the” public;
one in which publics are solidified through various rhetorical conventions that affirm their (differing)
beliefs about the ideal relationships among citizens.
When we teach students to consider public writing in terms of a unified public sphere, we lose the
opportunity to examine the ideologies inherent in the structures of public discourses—both the
dominant discourse and others. And, we lose an opportunity to investigate how publics work with
and against each other’s discourse conventions as they struggle for recognition and power in the
democratic framework. I propose pedagogy that teaches students to practice the rhetorical moves of
creating, entering, and challenging (multiple) publics . . .
A voyeuristic approach to citizenship suggests that the role of citizens is to sit back and analyze the