Rhetoric & Argumentation

29 Including Cultural Rhetorics

Kate L. Pantelides

Often when we talk about argument, we talk about evidence. Good rhetors base their arguments on what they learn from asking questions and learning with an open mind, and good arguments are supported with evidence. However, what functions as effective evidence differs across rhetorical traditions. In fact, when it comes to writing, “good,” “bad,” “successful,” and “ineffective” are largely dependent on the particular situation. Instead, it’s useful to think about what is conventional (or expected) in a particular writing situation, what deviates from convention (what is unlike what your audience may have expected), and whether or not that deviation works well for the intended purpose.

Arguments that rely primarily on logos, and particularly quantitative evidence, have become largely conventional in Western rhetorical traditions. Of course, this is not the case in all situations, but often, large quantitative data sets are especially persuasive for Western audiences. There are other rhetorical traditions, however, that prioritize other types of evidence and myriad strategies for structuring arguments. We encourage you to seek out and research indigenous and non-western rhetorics, and we note just a few traditions and scholars below that might, we hope, serve as starting points for your inquiry.


North American Indigenous Rhetorics

North American Indigenous rhetorics often consider how multiple stories constellate—or meet together to form cultural practices. Phill Bratta and Malea Powell describe this complex understanding of collaborative authoring as follows: “Constellative practice emphasizes the degree to which knowledge is never built by individuals but is, instead, accumulated through collective practices within specific communities. These collective practices, then, are what create the community; they hold the community together over time even when many of them are no longer practiced day-to-day but are, instead, remembered as day-to-day events.” Such a perspective acknowledges how authorship is distributed, rather than solely individual. Bratta and Powell, and other scholars of cultural rhetoric, examine how culture is always already rhetorical, and rhetoric is always already cultural. By this they mean that ways of organizing our communication, whether it’s written or spoken, is inherently cultural, and these cultural practices are made up by communities rather than individuals. It’s complex, but it’s worth thinking through because such understanding is central to being a flexible, effective rhetor.


Cultural Rhetorics

The Chicana scholar Gloria Anzaldúa is often credited as a foundational thinker for Cultural Rhetorics. You may have read her frequently anthologized “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” which derives from her beautiful book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. The essay begins with an anecdote about her experience at her dentist who attempts to “tame” her wild tongue so that he can work on her teeth. But Anzaldúa expands on this experience, noting her feelings of being caught between Mexican and American language and culture, a feature she ties to the geography of the Mexican-American borders. Anzaldúa theorizes Borderlands as important, generative spaces, and she combines history, personal narrative, poetry, and appeals to logos. Her text blends many modes and structures, demonstrating that effective texts may employ multiple forms. Thus, both the method of her text and its content live in the borders between formal and informal, personal and “academic,” historical and forward-reaching.



Embodiment—which draws attention to the knowledge we glean from our body, not just the mind—and Sensorality—which invites attention to the information we receive with our five senses—is often minimized in Western rhetorical traditions. Instead, the Western rhetorical tradition largely values the mind and, to some extent, asks us to prioritize such learning above the knowledge which we take in from the rest of our body.  However, many rhetorical traditions value knowledge gleaned from our body and senses. Sarah Pink describes some of these ideas in her text, Doing Sensory Ethnography. She draws attention to the information we glean from seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching our environment, and she provides extensive evidence that what we learn from sensing our environment is just as important as what we think about our environment. Interdisciplinary scholar Sarah Ahmed extends this understanding of embodied, sensory knowledge, demonstrating that our identities often impact how both our bodies and our arguments are read. In particular, she describes the relationship between bodies and arguments as such: “some bodies have to push harder than other bodies just to proceed; this argument might be true for arguments as well as bodies” (20).

As you conduct research this semester, consider how you might collect evidence that relies on embodied and sensory experiences rather than purely intellectual ones. What might such evidence look like? What rhetorical traditions might you  investigate further to understand where they come from?

A good, perhaps surprising way to start this work is to simply listen. Krista Ratcliffe offers a methodological framework for engaged, active listening, called Rhetorical Listening. Ratcliffe suggests that rhetorical listening is a particular method of listening in which the listener is not trying to evaluate whether they agree or disagree with the speaker. Instead, they listen to hear and identify with the speaker. She suggests that listening in this way requires the same strategic, rhetorical efforts as do writing, reading, and speaking. Ratcliffe posits Rhetorical Listening as a strategy for cross-cultural communication.



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

The Ask: A More Beautiful Question Copyright © 2021 by Kate L. Pantelides is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book