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  • Participatory Critical Rhetoric: Theoretical and Methodological Foundations for Studying Rhetoric In Situ by Michael Middleton et al.
  • Caitlin Frances Bruce
Participatory Critical Rhetoric: Theoretical and Methodological Foundations for Studying Rhetoric In Situ. By Michael Middleton, Aaron Hess, Danielle Endres, and Samantha Senda-Cook. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015; pp. xxix-210. $67.49 cloth; $44.99 paper.

In early August, I attended an inauguration event for a week-long series of programming hosted by the Municipal Youth Institute (Instituto Municipal de la Juventud [IMJUV]) in León, Guanajuato, Mexico. The director's opening remarks could be approached from a fairly traditional perspective: the speech is the text, and the inauguration and celebration of International Youth Day (ceremonial) are the context. However, as a rhetorician invested in performative, affective, embodied, and multisensorial analysis, the event could be engaged more dynamically.

Held on a Monday morning, August 7, International Youth Day, the auditorium was well-equipped with a modern sound and projection system and outfıtted with large banners with the JuvénFest logo in bright, almost fluorescent, colors, including intense purples, blues, greens, and pinks. This fırst day, one of seven, had the theme of "research." The director, Ricardo Morado, was the fırst to welcome the audience and offer some framing thoughts for the day. Morado spoke of the event's importance with arms outspread, shoulders relaxed, hands active, and feet fırmly planted on the ground, thereby sharing intense energy. He embodied a certain rhetorical style and interpersonal approach: intimate, energetic, affırmative. He invited the audience to offer their own theories about the major challenges facing youth in the municipality. One-by-one, different youth shouted out a hypothesis, including "lack of focus," "apathy," and "lack of spaces for self-expression." Morado then asked us to raise our hands if we identifıed with different elements of youth culture: "Who among us has tattoos, or is thinking about tattoos; likes rock and roll or extreme sports; has picked up a can to paint graffıti; is a fan of comics?" As we each raised our hands to [End Page 332] identify with these different elements of youth culture, some riskier than others, the panelists in business-casual attire seated on the stage at a long table covered in a black tablecloth also raised their hands, enabling the audience to wonder about what these middle-aged or mid-30s people were like years ago. Through this exercise, one was invited into a public and experienced a sense of shared objects of attention that created the groundwork for intimacy, curiosity, and investment. The event's location in the city, an educational and cultural hub, rather than, for example, one of the casas de cultura in a more peripheral neighborhood, also implicated the kinds of publics magnetized to the event, and those absent.

In this snapshot of fıeld work, we can see how participatory rhetorical fıeld methods change the scope of analysis, questions asked, and types of insights generated from rhetorical inquiry. The collaborative text of Hess, Middleton, Endres, and Senda-Cook, Participatory Critical Rhetoric: Theoretical and Methodological Foundations for Studying Rhetoric In Situ, offers a helpful resource for teachers and practitioners of rhetorical fıeld methods to conceptualize, develop, and advocate for the value of such methodologies. It offers conceptual frameworks for a form of research that is somewhat recent in our discipline of rhetoric.

Largely oriented toward an audience of rhetoricians, the coauthors make a sustained argument for the value of participatory critical rhetoric (PCR) to rhetorical criticism and critical rhetoric in particular. Although the approach is indebted to methods and approaches from ethnography and performance studies, the coauthors insist that a rhetorical approach is different because rhetorical practice is the guiding focus. In other words, the focus is on symbolic practices and negotiations over meaning that emphasize strategic and communicative components of communal practices (23). The payoff of such an approach, they argue, is manifold. First, it allows for a multimodal approach to the immediate rhetorical event, allowing the critic to account for not only textual statements but also spatial, sensorial, embodied, affective, and performative qualities of the rhetorical scene, as well as...


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