Areas of Research

The Department emphasizes the cultural dimensions and implications of communication practices from oral and written language, to film, television, and digital narrative. Organized into three areas of research rhetoric and public culture, film and media studies, and performance and ethnography the curriculum brings together faculty with a broad range of backgrounds and interests within these fields and provides a solid foundation in the history and theory of each area.

Rhetoric and Public Culture

The study of rhetoric and public culture engages rhetorical theory and practice to analyze, interpret, and critique political life. We value rhetoric as a critical mode of cultural production that addresses democratic tensions and imaginaries as they are negotiated through a wide range of communicative performances, including language, embodied gesture, and visual image. This transformative project is one committed to a more just democratic world. It requires that we take seriously the tasks raised by historical and contemporary contexts, including both oppressive and resistant discourses constituting war and dissent, death and desire, law and judgment, race and ethnicity, feminism and sexuality, nature and environmentalism, and class disparity in a global economy. Such a robust enterprise hones our skills as rhetorical critics and inevitably requires a rigorous interdisciplinary plan of study both within our department and outside, involving areas such as media studies, visual culture, political and social theory, American Studies, and cultural studies. Through examining how rhetorical judgment and invention are articulated by democratic exigencies, we aim to challenge constraints to freedom and to foster a more participatory and responsible citizenry.


Film and Media Studies

The study of film and media focuses on the meanings generated and circulated in the global cultural economy through the technology of image and sound reproduction, including film, television, photography, and interactive digital media. Recognizing that these media are increasingly integrated, the study of media examines the structure and practices of transnational media corporations and government regulatory agencies, while also devoting attention to the practices of particular audiences and small-scale producers in their social contexts. This humanistic scholarly tradition employs interpretive methods to describe the aesthetics of media; to investigate the narrative strategies, genres, and modes of address that organize cultural production and reception within and across media; and to explore the connections among media, ideology, and politics that influence public cultures worldwide.

Performance and Ethnography

The study of performance investigates communicative practices in their sociocultural context from three related perspectives. First, it foregrounds the performativity of communicative forms and practices as modes of action, ways of accomplishing social ends. Second, it directs attention to the poetics of communicative practice; the ways in which communicative acts are crafted and communicative skill is displayed. And third, it focuses on performances as a special class of events, such as rituals, spectacles, festivals, or fairs, in which a society's symbols and values are publicly displayed, interpreted, and transformed. Performance Studies employs a variety of methods, but draws heavily on the ethnographic study of communicative forms and practices in their social context.