Hrs (sam): organizational rhetoric— texts, identities, domination, and resistance Dr. Erika Kirby

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HRS ___ (SAM): ORGANIZATIONal rhetoric—

texts, identities, domination, and resistance
Dr. Erika Kirby

309 Hitchcock Communication Arts (CA)

(402) 280-2630 office—this forwards to my cell phone /

Tuesday/Thursday: 10:15 a.m.–12:15 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.-3:15 p.m. and as needed

(additional hours available by appointment)

Course materials

Conrad, C. (2011). Organizational rhetoric: Resistance and domination. London: Polity Press.

Hoffman, M. F., & Ford, D. J. (2009). Organizational rhetoric: Situations and strategies.

Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Access to BlueLine2 for ongoing supplemental readings on organizational rhetoric (see potential reading list at end of syllabus; all finalized readings will be posted by week two).
Course Description
Organizational rhetoric is the strategic use of symbols to generate meanings—the communication processes through which formal organizations exert influence on popular attitudes and public policies. Students explore how people within organizations use language to generate collective identities, to communicate with stakeholders, to reinforce particular organizational values and goals, and in many ways, to control. Students learn different theories and approaches to rhetorical criticism in order to engage and critique particular “artifacts” created by organizations (e.g., handbooks, websites, letters, press releases, public relations efforts, policies) using appropriate critical methods. [This course meets the requirements of a Sources and Methods course for HRS.]

As articulated in your Hoffman and Ford (2009) text: “Most people’s lives are structured in large part around organizations. As a student, you are a part of a university and usually one or more student groups. Outside of school, you may hold a job in an organization or be a member of a civic or religious group or a political party…each of these organizations influences how you structure your time, with whom you interact, how you spend your money, and how you formulate your personal values. Even organizations of which you are not a member have a tremendous influence on your life. They influence national policy and public thinking…[and] one of the most common, and often understudied, ways that organizations exert this influence is through the use of rhetoric” (pp. 1-2)…

“Though you may not have heard the term before, you are very familiar with organizational rhetoric—you are bombarded by it every day. When your University sends you a free [blue] t-shirt to help build school spirit…or when a charitable organization asks for a donation by showing you the victims of a disaster, you are the audience of organizational rhetoric” (p. 6).
In this course, we begin with grounding in the principles of organizational rhetoric, and then we will focus on examples of organizational rhetoric that have been analyzed and published. In general, we will take a critical approach toward organizational rhetoric, looking for issues of voice and choice in organizational texts. Moreover, we will also analyze current controversies. For example, the recent organizational rhetoric(s) regarding the “Health and Human Services Mandate” of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (sometimes known as Obamacare) provides many potential arguments to explore from the numerous organizations who weighed in, including Creighton and the Catholic Church. During the fall of 2011, the “We are the 99%” campaign created many sources of discourse that could be analyzed. During the fall of 2008, the most recent wave of corporate shenanigans created the “Great Recession,” and spawned an unprecedented wave of government “bailouts.” These are contexts worthy of study: thus, our focus will be not only to understand but to apply organizational rhetorical methods.
Course objectives
Specifically, after this course, students will be able to:

  • Explain how organizational rhetoric shapes everyday life and frames public discourses

  • Articulate theories and methods of organizational rhetorical practice

  • Articulate the role of audiences, both internal and external, and “the rhetorical situation” in organizational rhetoric

  • Practice the method(s) of organizational rhetorical criticism to analyze texts, social phenomenon, and material practices from a theoretically grounded [organizational] rhetorical perspective

  • Utilize organizational rhetorical methods to author an organizational rhetorical criticism

  • Present an organizational rhetorical criticism in a “conference presentation” format

assignments to assess course objectives *

Application Activities………………………..……………………..


Discussion Facilitation……………………………………………..




Rhetorical Analysis Project (all facets combined)…………………


* Make up exams and/or work will only be given (1) with advance notice/ approval (2) in extreme cases and (3) as determined by instructor. In-class activities cannot be made up and extra credit is not an option unless it is given to the entire class. For all assignments, further details/criteria will be provided on BlueLine 2.

application activities
I consider (a) being prepared for class and (b) participating in class to be very important to your learning. Therefore, in this course, I will work from the assumption that you have read the reading assignment in the chapter prior to coming to class. This will allow us to work with the information in class (in short, we will all learn more and enjoy class more!). Some questions to ask yourself when engaging with the readings include: (a) What are the key arguments advanced? (b) How does this material fit in with other materials in the course as well as with relevant outside materials? (c) To what extent does this information and/or approach allow me to understand or illuminate real world circumstances? and (d) What doesn’t make sense to me? What does? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the approach taken in this reading? In order to assure that everyone is prepared and ready to participate, there WILL be an online “application activity” in BlueLine2 for each and every class session. They are designed to both prompt discussion and illustrate your knowledge of the subject matter. Activities are graded on an ongoing basis. For each class period, the activity needs to be completed by class meeting time.
An ongoing part of application activities can be thought of as a “rhetorical show and tell.” During most class periods starting around week four, students will have the opportunity to introduce some unique (or even mundane) organizational rhetorical artifact to share with the class. By the end of the semester, you should plan to bring in (and briefly discuss) at least 3 artifacts—these might be newspaper clippings, ads, annual reports, brochures, newsletters, company policy statements, training videos, or any other artifacts you may run across that illustrate, contradict or in some other way speak to the issues raised in the readings.
My attendance policy is somewhat embedded within application activities, because you must be present to earn full credit for any activity.*/**/*** Thus, if you miss class but submit a BlueLine2 activity, you will not receive full credit; if an activity is not posted prior to when an activity closes, you will not receive full credit if allowed to complete it. You are responsible for all information and assignments presented in class whether you are present or not. Regarding this policy, there may be exceptions at my discretion for absences. However, you must personally discuss it with me, at the time it becomes a problem. If the absence is related to extreme circumstances (family emergencies, hospitalization), you should follow the procedures of the College of Arts and Sciences for notifying faculty. Application Activities are worth 17.5% of your course grade.
*Note on “being present”: To me, “being present” does not just mean being a body in the classroom…it means being present to discuss with me and your classmates (which obviously cannot happen if you are texting, checking e-mail/Facebook, etc.). If you are in class, but not “present,” this will impact activity scores because every class session, I will grade participation for quality and depth of discussion on a scale that equates to 20% of the worth of the activity.

**Note on University activities: University activities require documentation of the activity from the advisor/coach of the event, prior to the absence. You will not be penalized for missed in-class activities due to university activities, but only based upon a note from the advisor/

coach as to the days you will be absent from class due to travel AND making up the activity.

*** Note on allowable absences: Even with this “embedded” attendance policy, once a student has missed more than two full weeks of class she or he will need to discuss with me the potential for finishing with a passing grade; I reserve the right to grade an “AF” at that juncture.
discussion facilitation
As previously noted, the success of this class is largely dependent on your critical engagement with the material at hand as learning depends upon preparation and involvement by the students as well as the professor. To this end, each student will facilitate (or co-facilitate, depending on the number of students enrolled) discussion for a class period on a particular topic and related readings (the chapter(s)/readings assigned as well as external sources you choose). Dates for discussion-facilitation will be chosen within the first several weeks of class. In order to lead this discussion effectively, you should go quickly beyond summarizing the reading to evoke discussion with key questions, insights, examples and provocations. For instance, you may address the theoretical assumptions, conclusions or practical implications of a reading. An outline of your discussion plan should be submitted to BlueLine2 prior to your assigned class discussion.

When you are actually facilitating discussion, you should first PREPARE by posting two things to BlueLine2: (a) four to five (4-5) discussion questions for students to think about and respond to verbally in class and (b) a summary outline that delineates main points of the required readings; include page numbers intermittently whether or not directly quoting material. Then on the day of class, your goal is to review, integrate and expand the readings’ main concepts. You will briefly review all readings’ main points to begin discussion, and then ask your questions—reviewing points as relevant to your discussion questions AND allowing classmates to respond rather than providing answers. Discussion facilitation is worth 10% of the course grade; facilitators will be graded upon thoughtfulness and timeliness of discussion questions; thoroughness, readability and format of summary outline; liveliness and organization of discussion facilitation; and command of topic.

The course will include one exam to both test your retention and understanding of rhetorical theory and practice as well as encourage you to apply these concepts; consequently, questions will be objective, short answer, essay (and potentially take-home essay). Questions will be taken from lectures, book chapters, assigned articles, application activities, rhetorical show and tells, and in-class exercises and discussions. It is your responsibility to read all the assigned material, even though the material may not be covered in class. The test is worth 22.5 percent of your course grade.
[ORGANIZATIONAL or HEALTHCARE] rhetorical analysis project
This project is the capstone of the course. You will be responsible for authoring an article-length paper that could be presented at an undergraduate research conference. It is your chance to generate (and present) your own organizational rhetorical criticism. You can choose any appropriate topic within the scope of organizational rhetoric, including rhetoric(s) of health and medicine. Some recent examples to get you thinking: an analysis of responses to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; an analysis of Chick-Fil-A’s traditional marriage rhetoric; and an analysis of how beef producers responded to the labeling of “pink slime.” Of course, there are ongoing examples to be found such as: an analysis of an organization’s anti-union rhetoric; an analysis of a year’s worth of a University’s alumni magazine; or an analysis of how a human rights organization communicates through social media (e.g., Human Rights Campaign,, etc.).
After topic approval, several assignments will help you build a complete, 18-25 page paper (excluding references and title page) in which you will apply principles of rhetorical criticism to an organizational communication message or set of messages. [Additional details, including individual weightings and grading rubrics, will be posted to BlueLine2; in combination, the Organizational Rhetorical Analysis Project is worth 50% of your course grade.]
rhetorical analysis PROPOSAL AND WORKSHEETS: In a two(ish) page synopsis, you will briefly identify (a) the organization you propose to study, (b) the textual artifacts or organizational issues that you plan to analyze (and a rationale for their selection) and (c) the central research question you wish to explore. You may complete this project using only publicly accessible messages. The paper should give a brief summary of the issue and how you propose developing answers towards the research question(s). You will attach to this proposal several “rhetorical analysis worksheets.”
Hoffman and Ford provide numerous worksheets for analyzing organizational rhetoric, including for (a) Identifying Rhetorical Strategies in Organizational Texts, (b) Describing Rhetorical Situations in Organizations, (c) Conducting an Evaluative Reading, and (d) Conducting a Critical Reading. You MUST complete worksheets (a) and (b), and then you will choose whether to complete (c) or (d) based on your project. Conduct an exhaustive analysis of the artifacts/messages collected at the time this assignment is due. Since these messages will most likely be included in your final analysis, the more the better, but as a guideline at least 5 should be used for this initial analysis. A copy of your pieces of discourse should be turned in with the proposal and worksheets.
Critical Problem Statement and Literature Review: This paper will be approximately 8-10 pages. In this section of the project, you will write a two to three (2-3) page critical problem statement (sometimes called a rationale in other types of writing) which answers the following questions: what is the purpose of this study? what is the [organizational] rhetorical situation being addressed? and why is it important? Then you will develop a traditional literature review for the project. A literature review is involved at the beginning of any research report to explain the issues from the literature (books, journal articles, dissertations, etc.) the research proposes to address. A literature review links your work with the work of others in a field, so explain how your work is related to other scholarship. Summarize and analyze the information from these sources. You will be responsible for including at least 10 scholarly sources in this section.
RHETORICAL ANALYSIS FINAL PAPER: In this 18-25 page paper, you will add a more formal introduction to your critical problem statement to introduce your topic and preview your structure and claims in the paper. You will then make any necessary changes or additions to the literature review, providing historical-contextual background as needed as well as outlining theories that help us understand this case of organizational rhetoric. You will also provide a methodology section (approximately a page) which describes the artifacts used for analysis, why they were chosen to represent the organization’s rhetoric, where/how they were retrieved, the dates they were retrieved, and the rhetorical criticism methods used to analyze them and draw your conclusions. Next, you will develop your analysis section, which should provide a descriptive/critical analysis that examines the organization or organizational issue/artifact from a rhetorical perspective—this is the rhetorical analysis portion of your paper. It should provide a thorough explanation of your findings and introduce conclusions directly supported by your analysis (approximately 8-10 pages). Last, provide a discussion section which reiterates the value and implications of your findings (including what it teaches us about rhetoric and organizational communication), acknowledges the limitations of the study, suggests potential areas for future research, and summarizes the paper (approximately 2 pages).
Thus, the structure for your paper is:

 [Introduction] and Critical Problem Statement

 Literature Review

 Methodology

 Analysis

 Discussion

RHETORICAL ANALYSIS CONSULTATION: Each student is required to have at least one individual, face-to-face consultation with me concerning her or his final project; I am sure most of you will want more than one and I will be more than willing to oblige.
RHETORICAL ANALYSIS PRESENTATION: Once all rhetorical analyses are complete, each person in the class will present her or his project work in a conference-quality presentation. You will need to decide on the highlights of your analysis to make the presentation informative and organized for 10-11 minutes, using visual aids if appropriate.
course grading policies and criteria:
Assignments in this course are graded in terms of percentages. To arrive at these percentages, each assignment is broken into grading areas or rubrics (different areas of content and/or writing style) within which I utilize six levels: 0 = missing, 1 = poor, 2 = fair, 3 = average, 4 = above average, 5 = excellent (and you are given these criteria before an assignment is due). This percentage scale is used for each individual assignment, as well as for the final grade. A grade of “C” is considered average, and indicates that the minimum requirements of the project/course have been met. If you are unsure about evaluation criteria, do not hesitate to see me—I prefer that concerns you have about grades on particular projects be addressed with a “24/7” mentality—waiting at least 24 hours to talk after you have reflected, but within one week after receiving the score.
At the end of the semester, your percentage will be compiled, and a grade assigned using the following grading scale:

A = 90-100%

B+ = 87.5-89.99%

B = 80-87.49%

C+ = 77.5-79.99%

C = 70-77.49%

D = 60-69.99%

F = less than 60%

The following will be used as an overall guide for your written work. Grading sheets with specific rubrics will be available on BlueLine2.

The poor or unacceptable paper (“F”) would be characterized by:

  • lack of clear focus or purpose.

  • lack of support/specific content; examples are severely lacking.

  • lack of relevant information acquired from outside sources when required

  • lack of conformity with paper requirements and conventional manuscript style.

  • plagiarized or stolen material.

  • incoherent sentences and unorganized paragraphs; the reader says, “what?”

  • severe lack of professionalism in writing; undue amount of grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors.

  • references that are missing/incorrect/incomplete/inappropriately cited.

The below average paper (“D”) would be characterized by:

  • clear focus but unclear organization of intro, body, and conclusion.

  • inadequate integration, support, analysis, and/or evaluation.

  • negligible relevant information acquired from outside from sources when required.

  • inappropriate method of written expression.

  • poorly constructed sentences and paragraphs that the reader finds hard to decipher.

  • lack of professionalism in writing; many grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors.

  • references that are incomplete and incorrect.

The average paper (“C/C+”) would be characterized by:

  • clear specific purpose that is adequately supported with relevant developmental materials.

  • clear central idea that achieves specific purpose.

  • clear intro, body, and conclusion.

  • appropriate word choice and grammar.

  • some synthesis of ideas, original analysis, and evaluation.

  • a few sentences that are awkwardly structured and an occasional unorganized paragraph.

  • some grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors.

  • minimally appropriate referencing (as per 5th Edition APA style manual).

The above average paper (“B/B+”) would be characterized by (in addition to the average paper):

    • relevance of content to the internship class.

    • clear development of all components of intro, body, and conclusion.

    • organized with clear internal structure (within main points).

    • clear analysis and evaluation which includes personal reflection.

    • most sentences and paragraphs are well constructed.

    • occasional grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors.

    • appropriate references (as per 5th Edition APA style manual).

The excellent paper (“A”) would be characterized by (in addition to the above average paper):

    • clear personalization of paper to the writer.

    • clearly and accurately identify any referenced material.

    • personal insights that are relevant and well thought out.

    • well-supported conclusions and implications.

    • almost all sentences and paragraphs are well constructed with appropriate transitions.

    • minimal grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors.

    • complete citations and reference page (as per 5th Edition APA style manual).

As noted, to convert these general guidelines into specific expectations, assignments are graded using criteria sheets with points that are then converted to a percentage. It is your responsibility to keep a record of your graded assignments until the end of the term; I do utilize the grading function in BlueLine2.

LEARNING: I designed this course to provide you with a variety of learning experiences. But I cannot make you learn. It is up to you to take advantage of these opportunities to ensure your own learning. I believe that students learn more when actively engaged in class, so please be prepared for class and be ready to discuss, challenge and question. Furthermore, having fun and learning are not necessarily in opposition. I pledge to make learning in this course a worthwhile and even an enjoyable experience; I welcome your suggestions for achieving these goals.
SEE ME: As a general rule of thumb, PLEASE come and see me outside of class and let me know how things are going. I tend to be understanding and flexible if you talk with me about problems and concerns BEFORE the fact (less so AFTER the fact.) So, please come and see me. In addition, feel free to consult me in preparation for your assignments. I welcome your visits during office hours, and have no problem with students calling me. I also respond to my e-mail whether I am on or off campus. If you want quality feedback, consult with me PRIOR to the day your assignment is due.
SYLLABUS: This syllabus contains course requirements as well as the course schedule. In addition, you will be provided with assignment sheets to supplement this material. Please read this syllabus from cover-to-cover and use it regularly; I designed this syllabus with much care and detail to provide you with helpful, useful information for succeeding in this class. You are wise to take advantage of it.
RESPECT: I prefer informality—do not mistake this for a lack of rigor. In reference to class discussion, in this class we will respect diverse ideas, experiences, values, and communication styles. All comments deserve and will receive respectful hearings. You are not pressured to agree with everything others say. Rather, you need to respect what others say, and their right to say it.
WRITTEN ASSIGNMENTS: All out-of-class writing assignments MUST be typed (unless otherwise indicated by me). Style and mechanics of writing will affect the grade. Unless otherwise directed, all outside of class assignments are due at the beginning of class on the due date. Work is late as soon as I have finished collecting papers. Late assignments in this class will result in a loss of 10% of the assignment’s total points per day late. After one week, there will no longer be credit awarded for an assignment. If you have an emergency, please notify me as soon as possible. Emergencies do NOT include computers and printers that crash or otherwise do not work. Allow yourself enough time to print professional-looking work despite possible equipment failure; know where you can use back-up equipment quickly.
CLASS CANCELLATION: If the weather is severe enough to create a question as to whether we will have class, my policy is: If I decide to cancel a class for inclement weather, I will leave a message on my voicemail at #2630 as well as send an e-mail to the class listserve using the e-mail address you provide me with. If for some reason I am ill, I will do my best to contact you as well.
ACADEMIC CONDUCT: You are expected to abide by general University rules and regulations. Academic dishonesty of any type will not be tolerated. Plagiarism, cheating and other acts of academic misconduct, will result in, at a minimum, a failing grade (0) for that assignment, at an intermediate level, a drop of a letter in your final course grade, and at my discretion, a failing grade for the entire course. For more details, consult the policy in Arts & Sciences at

To help preserve academic integrity, the Student Senate drafted an Integrity Code in 2003 and asked the College to endorse it and promote its use by our faculty through an Integrity Pledge. The Code and Pledge exists to remind you of your responsibilities to (a) work as hard as you can, (b) learn as much as you can, and always (c) ensure that the work you submit is your own (or that those portions of it that have been based on outside sources are appropriately acknowledged).

In keeping with this policy drafted by your peers, I may from time to time present the Pledge for your signature on tests and ask you to include it with your signature on writing assignments you submit. The intent of this Pledge is not to act heavy-handedly, but rather to serve as a regular reminder of Creighton University’s commitment to the very highest standards of integrity—not only academic but also personal integrity. The Pledge reads as follows: In keeping with Creighton University’s ideals and with the Academic Integrity Code adopted by the College of Arts and Sciences, I pledge that this work is my own and that I have neither given nor received inappropriate assistance in preparing it.
course topics and schedule *
* For each week, there will also be supplemental readings that are not in your textbooks. These will be drawn from recent scholarship and the list of articles at the end of the syllabus. They will be always be posted more than a week ahead of time, and all will be chosen by midterm so you have time to prepare for facilitating discussion.



Week 1:

Introduction to Course

(Application Activities start)

Week 2:

Organizations and Rhetoric in Contemporary Culture

--Hoffman & Ford Preface and Chapter 1; Conrad Chapter 1

Rhetorical Situations in Organizations

--Hoffman & Ford Chapter 3

Week 3:

Identifying Organizational Rhetorical Strategies

--Hoffman & Ford Chapter 2 (Ethos, Pathos, Logos)

--Conrad Chapter 2 (Mythos)

--Metaphor (Supplemental)

(Discuss Rhetorical Analysis Project Topics)

Weeks 4-5:

Critical Approaches to Organizational Rhetoric

--Conrad Chapter 3 (The rhetoric of managerialism)

--Hoffman & Ford Chapter 4

--Organizations as Instruments of Domination (Morgan supplement)

Ethics and Organizational Rhetoric

(Rhetorical Show and Tells begin)

Week 6:

Evaluating and Critiquing Organizational Rhetoric

--Hoffman & Ford Chapter 5

--Ideological criticism (supplement)

(Rhetorical Analysis Proposals with Rhetorical Analysis Worksheets DUE)

Week 7:

Identity Rhetoric

--Hoffman & Ford Chapter 6; parts of Conrad Chapter 5

(Discussion Facilitations begin)

Week 8:

Issue and Policy Rhetoric

--Hoffman & Ford Chapter 7

--Conrad Chapter 4


Week 9:

Crisis Rhetoric and Apologia

--Hoffman & Ford Chapter 9; Parts of Conrad Chapter 5

(Critical Problem Statement and Literature Review DUE)

Week 10:

Rhetoric for Internal Audiences

--Hoffman & Ford Chapter 10

--Work-Life Ideologies (supplement)

Week 11:


Risk rhetoric

--Hoffman & Ford Chapter 8

Week 12:

Rhetoric of Technology and Progress

Week 13:

Rhetoric of Health and Wellness

Week 14:

Rhetoric of…Student Choice

Week 15:

Rhetorical Analysis Presentations

(ALL Rhetorical Analysis Projects DUE)

Week 16: (finals)

Rhetorical Analysis Presentations

Wrap Up: The Ancient Art of Rhetoric in a Complex Organizational World

--Hoffman & Ford Epilogue


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Brinson, S. L., & Benoit, W. L. (1999). The tarnished star: Restoring Texaco’s damaged public image. Management Communication Quarterly, 12, 483-510.

Bute, J. J., Harter, L. M., Kirby, E. L., & Thompson, M. (2010). Politicizing the personal? The storying of age-related infertility in public discourses. In S. M. Hayden and L. O. Hollstein (Ed.), Contemplating maternity in the era of choice: Explorations into discourses of reproduction (pp. 49-72). Rowman and Littlefield.

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Conrad, C. (1988). Work songs, hegemony, and illusions of self. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 5, 179-201.

Conrad, C. (2003). Stemming the tide: Corporate discourse and agenda denial in the 2002 “corporate meltdown.” Organization, 10, 549-560.

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Harter, L. M., Kirby, E. L., & Gerbensky-Kerber, A. (2010). “Transforming or fracturing a 145-year-old entity(?)”: The enactment and disruption of the single-sex mandate of the YWCA. Women and Language.

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Meisenbach, R. J., & McMillan, J. J. (2006). Blurring the boundaries: Historical developments and future directions in organizational rhetoric. Communication Yearbook, 30, 99-141.

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