Writing the thesis
When students pay close attention to the rhetorical actions of a social group and the power relations within it as they occur, they see for themselves the inadequacy of the traditional rhetorical triangle of rhetor, text, and auditor.
Eth- nographic research, on the other hand, treats culture as a process of emergent meanings and knowledges, rather than as a series of positions and texts. Derek chose to study the persuasive strat- egies of a seventeen-member committee, of which he was a mem- ber, in his Assembly writing the thesis of God congregation. The committee needed to select a new pastor for the assembly of five hundred to six hundred congregants before the previous pastor of thirty-five years retired. But when he responded to his field notes and discussed them in class, he saw little controversy, believing he would now have a tough time writing the actual paper. This assisted me in expressing my opinions and in voting about potential candidates. He analyzed why committee mem- bers, himself included, implicitly consented to stifle legitimate questions and complaints in their arduous selection process. For comprehensive teaching models in the writing process of ethnographic research, I recommend Chiseri-Strater and Sunstein (1997), Zebroski (1994), and Zebroski and Mack (1992). Questions for Rhetorical Inquiry Social Interaction: How would you describe the kinds of social interac- tion going on? What is the relationship between speakers and audiences (or rhetors and auditors)?
Acts of Persuasion: Who seems to be persuaded by whom? What assumptions and values underlie the statements, actions, and motives that group members find internally persuasive? Use of Discourses: What kinds of discourse (general ones and ones spe- cific to the group) are used by individuals in the group?
How persuasive to others is the use of this discourse?
Questions for Ethnographic Inquiry Talk: What is said, who says it, and in what contexts? What communi- cations are openly stated and what are unspoken? Behaviors: How do people act and react to each other? What values might be associ- ated with these behaviors? What might they be saying to each other about their dress, manner, and so on? How might talk and behaviors relate to different social roles within the group and culture? Do they relate to gender or social class or other social positions? Location: How do people relate to the setting(s) they are in? What does it suggest about the values and attitudes of the culture and the individu- als in it? I owe much of this rhetorical view of ethnographic method to con- versations with my colleague Julie Lindquist. Speaking Culturally: Explorations in Social Communication. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. Thinking through Theory: Vygotskian Perspec- tives on the Teaching of Writing. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. FSU is a public, coeducational university with a student population of approximately 33,000. Women con- stitute 55 percent and minorities 22 percent of the enrollment.
Students write articles for various sections of this online college newspaper (sports, en- tertainment, opinions, travel, etc. Examples of hypertext essays from past class Web sites include a guide to Florida beaches, reviews of local restaurants, opinion essays on the parking problem at FSU, and a research hypertext on Pete Rose and the Baseball Hall of Fame. The first time I tried this assignment, I knew very little about Web publishing. I found that many of my writing the thesis students had already published their own Web sites, and I relied on these com- puter-literate students to both create the site and act as technical support for the other students. In fact, my role in the actual cre- ation of the Web site was minimal. Students simply e-mailed their essays to editors, who added links and images and published the final version.
Students also look at the online version of the FSView and other local newspapers and magazines, and we compare the online versions to the print ver- sions. We analyze the use of images and links and the ways hypertext differs from printed text. Last semester, for example, we discussed the way an image of the Seminole mascot holding a flaming spear seemed to undermine an article in the online ver- sion of the FSView that argued in favor of Native American mas- cots. One student pointed out that even though the article claimed to respect the point of view of Native Americans, the list of links that appeared at the end of the article all led to other pro-Native American mascot articles. Catego- ries students have chosen in the past include fiction and poetry, opinions, health and fitness, entertainment, sports, and travel. After the class has decided on the basic design of the hypertext, I choose two or three of my most computer-literate students to be editors. I ask students to e-mail their articles to the editors for publica- tion to the Internet, although I also give students the option of creating their own Web sites with the assistance of the editors.