(Re)Creating Real World Genres

Refer to the Real World Genres for Real World Audiences Assignment. Today we’ll work through how to best conceptualize your final Real World World Genre project. Although you will be receiving specific feedback on the genres you’ve already engaged, the final product should strive to respond to a real world situation.

Think about the contexts in which these different civic writing genres were placed, and about the rhetorical situation that they respond to/create. Can you think of specific examples you’ve noticed around campus? Write a five minute reflection on the rhetorical situation you want to respond to/create with your Real Word Genre assignment.


Definition of Civic Writing Workshop

Refer to the Evaluative Guidelines or answer these questions for yourself and then for your peers:

  • Does your paper account for previous understandings of what civic writing entails? Does it refer back to notes written at the beginning of the semester?
  • Does the final product show your conception of civic writing at this moment, accounting for the readings and class discussions we have had in class?
  • Do you refer to specific class activities that you haven’t referred to in previous papers? What new understandings have you reached?
  • Do you elaborate how you see civic writing taking shape in contemporary societies?
  • While accounting for your research on advocacy efforts around a particular civic issue, make sure to avoid spending the majority of your paper on regurgitating content you’ve previously written.
  • Do you refer to scholars, or speakers, without engaging in direct quotations? You should limit citations to a maximum of 3.
  • Does your paper demonstrate careful reflection?
  • Does your paper focus on the aspects of civic writing that you deem most important>
  • Is the piece should be directed at incoming students/people who are unfamiliar with the concept?
  • Does it define civic writing?
  • Is there an introduction that explains the purpose of the paper?
  • Do you include topic sentences and transitions?
  • Do you explain your claims and assertions?
  • Do you have a clear conclusion that does not simply reiterate what you’ve already written in your paper but still wraps up the definition?
  • Have you edited for grammar and spelling errors?


Artistic Advocacy

Based on your journal entries, it’s safe to say that art and activism are two concepts that are not commonly consciously paired up or considered critically. In an effort to continue exploring multimodal production of real world genres for real world audiences, I want to supplement your focus on Banksy with a profile on Chicana artist Favianna Rodriguez.

Not only does she advocate for women’s sexual liberation, she also advocates for immigration rights and social justice more broadly. Check out some of her prints here. I met Favianna a few years ago, when she gave a talk on Messages of Sisterhood at La Casita Cultural Center. It is important to note that I asked Favianna to skype in to our class a while back, and her assistant responded saying that she would be delighted to, but would be asking for a $200 fee. In other words, while some use their artistic endeavors to advocate for social justice, they still have to make a living.

Still, more established artists use their public platforms to express their support of civic issues they believe are important. Let’s watch Alejandro González Iñárritu’s recent speech: http://remezcla.com/culture/alejandro-inarritu-lacma-undocumented-dreamers-immigration-speech/

One of his notorious films is Babel, and you can check out the trailer here.

In Rhetoric and Composition, we talk about these productions as multimodal texts. You can see why I asked you all to illustrate your writing process last week, My own research has delved into the political work musicians do in the Puerto Rican indie rock scene. Locally, though, I’ve noticed how music is used to support civic advocacy for issues like suicide prevention. Therefore, there are, as you all pointed out, a variety of artistic ways in which to craft civic writing texts. Can you think about any artists whose work is political?

Spend the remainder of class reflecting on your already-existing creative skills and planning the creation of a multimodal text that will be your next real world genres submission.

Advocacy Genres and Practices

Given the recent efforts on behalf of the “Chancellor’s task force on sexual and relationship violence” there are a series of events that are meant to make “us” responsible for sexual assault. While awareness is an important step towards change, it’s important to consider the institutionalist efforts at play in making this campaign happen, as well as the forgotten insurrectionist approaches that led to a local creation of a task force.

  • What are some of the “official” catalysts for change? To what degree do you see these affecting campus life?

Moving away from the institutionalist and insurrectionist dyad, today I would like to point to a different sphere of activism. From Jill Lepore’s “Wonder Woman: the feminist” we can learn about the ways in which popular culture production, and genres like the comic book, can also provide avenues for activists, or at least determine how specific groups influence the creation of texts.

  • In small groups, determine what are the relationships between the creation of Wonder Woman and the women’s movement(s) mentioned in the reading. How does one help/affect the other?

A story that hasn’t been told, or celebrated as often, is that of the propaganda against women’s liberation struggles, specifically that of activism against women suffrage. In “The Male Madonna and the Feminine Uncle Sam: Visual Argument, Icons and Ideographs in 1909 Anti-Woman Suffrage Postcards” Catherine Palczewski explains how a series of postcards from the Dunston-Weiler Litograph Company in New York argued against suffrage based on the detrimental effects it would have upon the ideographs of <woman> and <men>. Besides exploring the disciplinary norms articulated in the postcards, Palczewski compares the importance of the postcard genre a century ago to the “power of the internet in contemporary times” (365).

  • Can you think of contemporary texts in which the importance of feminism is contested?

The series of texts we’ve been considering today can be considered from a visual rhetorics perspective, asking: what and how are arguments crafted visually? For your next Real World Genres assignment, you will craft a visual argument on a cause you are interested in (could be something different from what you’ve already studied). We will start working on it in class this Wednesday (as we meet in HBC 227). At this point, however, we will use class time for peer review of your definitions of civic writing. Any changes based on today’s discussion?

(Re)visiting Civic “Writing”

To start highlighting “writing” as a procedural concept, we should take a moment and reflect on the multiple writing processes we engage.

Let’s listen to Ta-Nehisi Coates on his views on writing. After watching the video:

  • What insights does Coates present about writing?

In addition to the writing process, focusing on the aspect of “writing” in the concept of civic writing can help us notice the multiplicity of perspectives (positionality) in regards to specific issues: I write, you write, s/he writes, ze writes. The New York Magazine piece assigned admonishes Ta-Nehisi Coates and his views on personal responsibility and poverty, especially among African American culture, but the writer, Jonathan Chait, also pays attention to the multiple divisions within politically aligned individuals. The author rhetorically analyzes Coates’ argument, and points to apparent fallacies based on Coates’ previous assertions. This is a technique Chait seems to rely on to form his criticism, as he does in this article on Naomi Klein. It is important, then, to notice how each argument made in support of a specific view will be scrutinized and rejected before it is accepted as a viable option.

On the other hand, at her talk yesterday, Naomi Klein celebrated Syracuse University’s fossil fuel divestment, calling it a victory made possible by student activism. She further encouraged students who are part of other organizations calling for divestment from fossil fuel funds, such as those from SUNY Buffalo and even ESF, to continue their efforts because every time the argument for fossil fuel divestment is made, whether it is at large scale protests or every time the argument for the importance of environmental issues is made to a friend, the argument gains validity.

  • Juxtapose this view on knowledge making with the scrutinizing tone in Chait’s pieces.

In spite of these diverging approaches to writing, I’d like for us to consider how the act of writing is fundamental to civic life; whether it is in its consumption or production, texts are essential to conscious and critical democratic participation. Taking it back now to a procedural approach:

  • Either write or draw out your writing process.

(Re)visiting “Civic” Writing

The following picture presents notes taken during last week’s discussion of democratic participation:

civic writing notes

As we get ready move on to the next major assignments, it is important to keep our focus on the main goal of this course—to study civic writing. This class period is meant to prompt reflection on the first word of the concept of civic writing. One way to highlight the “civic” in civic writing is to revisit the definition you started with on the first day of class.

  • After reading through your own writing, jot down a few ideas you might want to explore further. Write these on top of a blank piece of paper.
  • Think about the paper you wrote last week: how did you address civic life? Write a short reflection about the insights you came up with in the process of writing the paper.

According to the Center for Civic Education:

“Civic life is the public life of the citizen concerned with the affairs of the community and nation as contrasted with private or personal life, which is devoted to the pursuit of private and personal interests.”

  • How is your initial definition of civic writing addressing key aspects of the definition provided above?

Another way to reconsider civic writing is to (re)collect the concepts brought up in different course readings that have been important for your developing understanding of what civic writing entails.

  • While you revisit your glossary concepts, pay special attention to the ways in which aspects of civic life are discussed, and how you’ve come to understand these functioning in real life. Write a few preliminary ideas on the same piece of paper.
  • Besides re-structuring the order of these concepts (alphabetically or by themes), you should strive to make connections between the ways in which the concepts have been addressed by different authors we’ve read, and to make connections between concepts that are interrelated (i.e., “see discourse above”).

For our next class, you should continue recollecting the Glossary of Terms. You should also read over “Barack Obama, Ta-Neihisi Coates, Poverty, and Culture” and if you would like to take advantage of another extra credit opportunity, go see Naomi Klein tomorrow night:

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate
November 3, 7:30 p.m. Hendricks Chapel

Democratic Participation in 2015

Democratic participation is a highly exigent topic, given the imminent climax in Republican and Democratic primaries, which should influence the impending presidential race that should culminate in a 2016 election for a new president in the U.S.—which will inadvertently affect global political relations. In the midst of presidential debates, governmental procedures are resulting in a regression of democratic deliberation; Katrina vanden Heuval’s opinion piece in yesterday’s Washington Post addresses the problematic efforts of voting suppression.

Besides the question of resource distribution, there is a concern about the amount of participation that the demos (populace) actually want to engage. In “What Can Democratic Participation Mean Today?” Mark E. Warren, writing in 2001, evaluates the political landscape for the past millennium. Warren assesses the ways in which political participation has affected our conceptions of democratic potential:

Major strains of liberal democratic thought and culture have held that political equality requires that individuals participate in the processes of collective decision making, if not as a moral requirement and developmental opportunity, then as a strategic necessity. But this view of democracy-variously conceived by Rousseau, Jefferson, Emerson, John Stuart Mill, John Dewey, and still espoused today by progressive democratic theorists-seems harder than ever to sustain given the constraints imposed by today’s largescale, complex, and pluralistic societies.

But even less sparse conceptions of democracy-those of American pluralism, for example-accept the major premise that political participation by most people, most of the time will, of necessity, be limited to the act of voting. (678)

In spite of the problematic assumption that pluralistic societies are a recent phenomenon, given the fact that an assumed homogeneity was the result of colonization and imperialist expansionism, Warren’s focus on voting, juxtaposed to recent developments in Alabama, highlight the division of resources in a supposed democracy that values equality and not equity. In fact, Zuckerberg’s “Civic Insurrections” talk highlighted the following figure to demonstrate the difference between insurrectionist and institutionalist efforts:


The perceived notion of de facto equality can sometimes be used to defend oppressive policies, as in the case of Puerto Rico’s economic debt, and the structures put in place to protect Wall Street investors.

If “the people” believe that they have no control over the kinds of policies that affect their livelihoods, then how are they to participate in a so-called democracy?Warren also points to the ways in which there is a sense of apathy in recent generations, perhaps due to disillusionment, or maybe a simple lack of interest due to rugged individualism ideologies. How does that compare to the description of millennials we started the semester with? Moreover, what were you able to find in regards to appeals to governmental bodies in regards to your civic issue?

As mentioned in our last class: For the next Real World Genres assignment, you will be asked to write a letter to either a representative or a congressman in regards to your civic issue–Check out this example. Now that you have done some research about the kinds of legal routes advocates of your civic issue have taken, you can start to draft a letter that addresses particular stakeholders within governmental bodies.

Revisiting the Legal Routes

Legislative Options

Last Thursday, during his keynote address titled “Insurrectionist Civics & Digital Activism in an Age of Mistrust,” MIT Civic Tech Professor elaborated on the differences between insurrectionists and institutionalists. Insurrectionists, he argued, are those who don’t trust the government and believe that in order to make change there must be some kind of revolution. Institutionalists, on the other hand, are those who follow the “conventional model of civics” by relying on the government to enact change for the greater good of the state, here conceived as nation state, and following legal based theories of change.

  • Based on the reading assigned, what kinds of civic issues are addressed in the legal change addressed? What other legal routes can you think of?

On Friday there was a film screening of “A Sea Change” as part of the Syracuse International Film Festival. During a panel discussion on the different ways in which environmentalists can enact change, Dr. Bruce Monger from Cornell University said, “write a letter to Congress.” This is one of the genres in which civic writing can occur. As we know, there are numerous efforts and perspectives as to how to improve our society, so there might be a variety of concerns you might want to express to your governmental representatives. For example, and tied to the prison reform efforts, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators passed a resolution supporting states’ rights to decriminalization of marijuana. These efforts, for example, can be supported by the citizenry by demonstrating support via letters.

For the next Real World Genres assignment, you will be asked to write a letter to either a representative or a congressman in regards to your civic issue–Check out this example. In order to do so, however, you should do some research on what kinds of legal options the institutionalist advocates have already considered. Your research should help you in learning more about your Civic Writing in Action project. This week you should focus on doing the research, and next week we will work on drafting a letter.

Peer Review

Today you will be sharing a draft of the Civic Writing in Action paper with your peers. While sharing your papers remember to:

  • give a brief explanation of the topic you are addressing, where you are at in your research, and what you would like them to pay attention to in your writing (what are you struggling with the most?)
  • read your peer’s work closely and very carefully
  • focusing on ideas and content, make notes and comments on the margins; don’t proofread, but make note of salient grammatical errors
  • talk through your overall impressions of the work and the quality of writing
  • if there is time, look for introductory statements, topic sentences, and transitions
  • be generous but critical

Civic Writing in Action and Starting Media Kits

Civic Writing in Action

After having dome some research on your civic issue of choice, you should have significant information that can inform the general public about why it matters, and what kind of work (civic writing, broadly conceived) is being/can be done towards advocating for it. To recap, we’ll spend some time discussing the work you’ve done, and talking through any moments that you feel have been significant in your research.

Write a brief reflection on how you’ve learned about your civic issue:

  • What kinds of sources have you relied on?
  • How are you contextualizing your topic?
  • Which concepts/readings/class discussions can you apply to your issue?
  • Have you been able to talk to/set up interviews with key players?

As you write your first draft of the civic writing in action research report, you should make note of these methodological choices, but you should focus more on what you’ve actually learned about your civic issue:

  • What are the target publics through which your issue is manifested? Here, you should keep in mind publics and counter publics, so the advocates and their opposition).
  • How are these different publics circulating their information? You should focus on specific rhetorical situations, but also think about larger rhetorical ecologies.

Starting Media Kits

In Public Relations Writing: Form & Style, Doug Newsom and Jim Haynes elaborate on the multiple components of media kits and their purpose. Make note of the following excerpts:

Media kit 1 Media Kit 2

Keeping in mind that media kits may serve a variety of purposes (with a variety of intended audiences), we can infer that there are a variety of ways in which these can take shape. Look at how Jobs for the Future collects their media kit, or how the Pennsylvania Library Association describes their PAForward initiative, both civic-minded organizations.

Today you will practice creating a media kit for either an existing, or hypothetical organization that addresses your civic issue of choice. To do so you will have to rely on the research you’ve already done, but you may also have to look for more information on how the issue is represented in a variety of media platforms (perhaps through twitter or other social media, websites, google analytics, online newspapers, magazines, etc). Again, you should use this research towards your civic writing in action paper, but the media kit draft (due Monday) is also part of the real world genres assignment.

Although there are numerous ways in which one can present a media kit, we can start by following a DIY tutorial by an entrepreneurial blogger. Although her rhetorical situation is more business-oriented, her explanations might be useful for the kind of graphic-centered approach we are following this week. Go back to the last post on graphic design principles, for a reminder of what to pay attention to as you produce your media kit.

Becoming Activists and Fact Sheets

After watching a short clip from American Autumn: An Occudoc, we can make correlations between the way that Meyer describes the processes of “Becoming an Activist” as well as pay attention to the ways in which the producers of the film present facts.

  • Human Need vs Corporate Greed — 3:30

These are some other clips that may be of interest:

Bernie Sanders ~ 10:

Representatives and democracy — 11:56

Medea Benjamin (from CodePink, Ursula mentioned her) ~14:

Prison Industrial complex ~ 22:

More facts on economics ~ 33:

Fact Sheets

Today we are going to be creating fact sheets, which you can focus around your civic issue. Follow this link for an explanation of what fact sheets are, and how to go about creating one. The Community Tool Box is a useful source to acquire basic facts about the genre of fact sheets, among others.

One of the features they emphasize is the use of valid sources. Patrick Williams, librarian here at SU, has created an informational set of slides about how to assess and evaluate sources. As you look for sources to incorporate into your fact sheet, make sure you look for the ways in which they fulfill the criteria delineated by Williams.

Once you have found a set of sources, you can start choosing the kind of information you want to highlight. It would be ideal to have a specific audience in mind as you prepare your fact sheet. You can then start thinking about design. Although some of you may be aware of basic design principles, it’s important to know Robin Williams’ (not the actor) CRAP system:





The documentary film, Helvetica is also relevant in discussions of design. Listen to the creator of the font type, as he explains what he considers to be relevant aspects of font type design.

A useful tool to create fact sheets is Piktochart. Practice creating your fact sheet using Piktochart.

Localizing Activism and Avoiding Risk

Today’s reading addresses a local community and their attempts at civic writing towards social change. If you want more information on Gifford Street Press, you can visit their website, or let me know if I can put you in touch with any of the organizers mentioned. As Keubrich indicates, this project is a few years old (which speaks to the speed of academic publication), and it doesn’t reflect the exigencies of the current moment, but it still addresses an ongoing issue that affects local and national communities. His emphasis on community publishing is a prime example and an instance of civic writing. Besides providing us with another framework to think through advocacy towards social change, we can look at his writing to gain ideas about how to study your chosen civic issue.

Borrowing from other community publishing scholarship, Keubrich reminds us that it is important to take stock of the existing rhetorical resources that exist within particular communities. What are some of the rhetorical resources that organizers engage in advocating for your chosen civic issue?

It is also important to keep in mind the differences between open hand and closed fist rhetorics based on the rhetorical situation, as Keubrich states:

Change, of course, can also come through civil rhetoric, community think-tanks, and negotiation, but only when people at the table are relatively equal power holders or when an organized group presents a credible threat to established power. (575)

What kinds of situations/contexts would warrant open hand rhetorics towards your civic issue?

One of the risks that some of the residents face in “speaking Truth to Power” is increased surveillance and control. Switching to a more globalized perspective, there are precarious situations that writers may encounter in their inquiry. A very recent example focuses on reporting gang violence in El Salvador, as NPR correspondents explain the choices they had to make to safeguard their informants.

Keubrich suggests: “The move from critical consciousness to publication or public speech is often risky and always embedded in complex networks of power” (573). What kinds of networks of power will you be addressing in your project?


Due to the different risks that we might inadvertently impose on disenfranchised communities we aim to help, Keubrich cautions scholars “to participate by taking direction from neighborhood residents, not pushing them with academic prescriptions of civility nor with privileged notions of popular outrage” (580). In other words, you should strive to do more listening than talking. As you prepare to embark on interviewing key players in your study of civic writing in action, think about ways in which you can help these organizers to use this opportunity to become public, or as an opportunity to reach out to a university community.

If your interviews were to be shared in publications, they would have to follow Institutional Review Board guidelines. Still, you should make it clear that the purpose of your interviews is to understand the rhetorical strategies that organizers are already engaging, as part of a course that is meant to prepare you to better engage in ethical and effective civic writing in the future. A few pointers:

  • Email/Call in advance (at least a week).
  • Be understanding of their schedules and work around it in order to set up an interview time/place.
  • Ask whether the person wants to be referred to by a pseudonym.
  • Have a set of guiding questions, but be open to conversation.
  • Maintain objectivity by avoiding rhetorical questions, or inserting commentary.
  • Always take notes! Recording is useful, but would need permission from interviewee.
  • Do not manipulate their responses in your report, but make sure to contextualize these given the questions posed above.