Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated. - Martin Luther King, Jr. (Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story)

COM690/400 Special Topic: Communication for Civic Engagement

COM690-001/COM400-002 Winter '14-15; Wednesday, 6:00 pm-8:50 pm
Lawrence Souder, Ph.D. Voice: 215-895-2730
Classroom: CURTIS 353 Office Hours: Wednesday 5:00--6:00 pm, PISB Glass Tower
Office: #47, Room 324 E-mail: LS39 @


Extremist rhetoric and divisive politics seem to go hand-in-hand in today’s public deliberations. The media so often pair the word rhetoric itself with the pejorative adjectives mere, empty, and deceptive, that anything rhetorical becomes vilified. This course draws from the ancient accounts of rhetoric and the contemporary studies on rhetoric to rehabilitate it as a way to inform our efforts towards a more civil public discourse. This course also will host guest speakers from local civic and political organizations who engage in rhetorical practices in the service of civic engagement, which includes the discourse both of people who exercise political power and of citizens who debate over public policies and cultural identity.


Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:

*Relevance to Drexel Student Learning Priorities

Textbook and Readings: Grading: Scores and grades will be computed as follows: 98-100% = A+; 93-97% = A; 90-92% = A-; 87-89% = B+; 83-86% = B; 80-82% = B-; 77-79% = C+;  73-76% = C; 70-72% = C-; 67-69% = D+; 60-66% = D; <60 = F.

We will use the text to explore the conventions of public discourse in civic life, which is the primary goal of this course. Our secondary goal is to explore the recent attempts to challenge those conventions. For this goal we will read and discuss supplemental readings. Students taking this course for graduate credit are required to present two of these readings and conduct the relevant class discussions. These readings are listed at the end of the relevant study guides. See presentation guidelines for details.


You are expected to attend all classes. Attendance is important to your progress and your classmates'. Much of what you learn will come from discussions and interactions with your fellow students. A formal presentation for which you are absent will be graded as an F. If an emergency prevents you from attending class (such as a personal illness or family emergency), please contact me in advance of your absence. You may miss one class without penalty; any additional absences will reduce your final grade.


You are expected to be on time for all classes. Late arrivals are disruptive to the instructor and your fellow students.

Academic Honesty

It is assumed that the work you submit for this course, whether written or spoken, is your own. Any attempt to represent someone else's work as your own will be considered plagiarism. See the University's policy on plagiarism--a form of academic misconduct. Plagiarism includes copying another student's work on papers or tests, copying without attribution the ideas or words from published sources, and submitting papers written in previous semesters. Such academic misconduct will result in a failing grade for the assignment, a probable failing grade for the course, and a report to the Dean for possible disciplinary action.


Each class meeting will require you to prepare a reading and a writing assignment. Late assignments will be penalized one letter grade increment for each class day late. See the Assignment Schedule for details. Click on the chapter designators for study guide questions to help you focus on the key concepts. Expect a short quiz on each chapter as a check of your understanding of the concepts. Click on the project designators for specific details on the writing assignments.

Special Needs

Students with disabilities requesting accommodations and services at Drexel University need to present a current accommodation verification letter (AVL) to faculty before accommodations can be made. AVLs are issued by the Office of Disability Services (ODS). For additional information, contact the ODS at, 3201 Arch St., Ste. 210, Philadelphia, PA 19104, V 215.895.1401, or TTY 215.895.2299. Other resources for students with special needs are available from the following:

Course Add/Drop/Withdrawal Refer to the University's policies to add, drop, or withdraw from this course.

Assignment Schedule

Week Due
Topic Reading* Writing Speaker
1 1/7 Introduction      
2 1/14 Rhetoric as Symbolic Action 1; Asen    


Rhetors 6; Nakayama    
4 1/28 Audience 7; Black    
5 2/4 Rhetorical Situation 8; Bitzer/Vatz Project 1  
6 2/11 Publics and Counterpublics 9; DeLuca    
7 2/18 Language 2; Rowland    
8 2/25 Argument 4; Simosi Project 2  
9 3/4 Narrative 5; Fisher    
10 3/11        Student Presentations
    Project 3  

* Numbers refer to chapters in the textbook; names refer to authors of journal articles