English 651: Rhetoric and Composition Theory

English 651: Rhetoric and Composition Theory

(Santosh Khadka, Spring 2023, W: 7.00)

Professor: Santosh Khadka, Ph.D.

Office: ST 834

Classroom Location: JR 201

Email: santosh.khadka@csun.edu

 Office Hours: W: 6-7 PM & by appointment


Course Description:

This graduate seminar provides an overview of rhetoric and composition theory and explores how rhetoric informs contemporary composition theory and pedagogy as well as conceptions of (written) language, in academia and beyond. Some of the questions we will consider are: Where does rhetoric, the art of persuasion, figure in the contemporary scene of writing, sometimes also considered an age of the digital? How do diverse cultural-rhetorical conventions and language differences shape—and are shaped by—writing? Similarly, how do various genres, media, and modes function rhetorically in the new scenes of composition and writing instruction? English 651 addresses these questions by exploring the emergence and development of writing instruction in US higher education as well as the place and function of rhetoric in this development. As we survey the evolution of the field from its status as being mostly about (teaching) college composition to its growth as an interdisciplinary inquiry into written communication in multiple media and modes, the seminar will track the role that conceptions of language have played in our understanding of writing and its teaching over these years. 

We will begin with a quick survey of rhetorical theory and practice from classical times to the present. In the second part of the seminar, we will concentrate on composition studies. Some of our conversation will be on how contemporary approaches to rhetoric differ from ancient rhetoric; how those approaches shape our understandings of the function and power of language use; and how they influence the field of writing studies. 

The course serves as one of the foundation courses for students in the rhetoric and composition option of the M.A. program in English, but other graduate students interested in writing, rhetoric, and language, or who are simply interested in finding out more about rhetoric and composition, are also welcome to enroll.

📚 Required Texts:

Bizzell, Patricia, Bruce Herzberg, and Robin Reames, eds. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present, 3rd ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2020.

Miller, Susan, ed. The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Norton, 2009. [CSUN Library has only a hard copy]

👋 Additional Support & Resources:

Devices: If you need a laptop, tablet, or other device loan for remote learning, or you need internet access, please consult the following link: https://www.csun.edu/it/device-loaner-program

Wellbeing: If you need support for food, housing, or mental health, please consult the following link: https://www.csun.edu/heart

👩🏾💻 Course Expectations:  

Regular attendance and engagement are vital to successful learning in any class. I am cognizant of the fact that we are holding this class online during a very stressful time for everyone. Please do not hesitate to let me know how the course is going for you or if there are adjustments you want me to make or to take your situation into account. 

😇 Virtual Class Community: The most important rule for us all is to be generous colleagues. We will engage with one another respectfully and collegially. This doesn’t mean we have to always agree, but we should strive to interact with kindness and understanding. I also expect you to be a generous reader whether we are dealing with course materials or discussion posts. 

📝   Assignments and Evaluation Policy

  1. Reading Responses and Discussion Participation (20%): Serious reading, note-taking, and engaging in weekly discussions (during class sessions and on Canvas—see B below on how to respond to the weekly discussion prompts). While regular presence in the scheduled class sessions is expected, careful reading and active participation is required to do well in the class. You should respond to two questions on the Canvas discussion forum every week, and in keeping with the attendance policy, you can take a week off if you want (for whatever reasons). Your responses should show that you have carefully read the texts under discussion and thought about the prompts/questions carefully. Let’s make the Canvas forum a generative space for ongoing conversations about course readings and related topics.
  2. Discussion Host/Leader (20%): For the dates/classes of your choice, you and a peer will host a Canvas discussion and also lead class discussion on the weekly reading(s) twice during the semester. First, you will each choose one of the scheduled readings (two, if shorter pieces) and then post a concise paragraph highlighting the key concepts of the reading followed by a brief two-sentence analysis (or intertextual relationship, such as how Aristotle builds on and critiques Plato’s ideas on X), and use it to ask an open-ended question for the class to discuss. You will then follow the discussion, responding to observations on the thread where appropriate, professionally. For the class discussion in the same weeks, two of you will work together to create activities, such as whole class discussion questions, small group work prompts, or presentation slides and Q&A etc. and moderate the class discussion for an hour and 15 mins. You will cover the entire reading list for the week for class discussion unlike Canvas discussion. Process/Timelines: a) Please email me your synopsis-questions in advance for approval. b) Post your synopsis/questions no later than Sunday night before the class date. c) The whole class will respond to the hosts’ questions by noon on the class day. Also feel free to share your ideas (slides, discussion questions, other activities etc.) for moderating the class discussion The responses (200-300 words) should address the hosts’ questions, show that you have read the assigned texts, and also explain your impression of what is at stake in the readings. Feel free to draw connections between texts and ideas, and to share your reading experiences (joy/frustration/revelations or related to style/technique) in a meaningful way. These activities will form an important core to the asynchronous part of the class while also informing our class sessions. 
  • Contribution to the Collaborative Annotated Bibliography (15%): As you know, an annotated bibliography is a formatted list of citations with a summary for each source, usually followed by a brief statement of analysis/evaluation/judgment in relation to a project or topic under discussion. You will create three MLA-formatted contributions to our Collaborative Annotated Bibliography. You can provide this at any point in the semester, but I encourage you to share by the end of March. Sources should be peer-reviewed and deal with some aspect of the course topics (but cannot be one of the scheduled readings or the source already submitted by your peers). You are welcome to use these sources for your final papers.
  • Article Abstract (10%): The abstract is due by the article’s original submission date (although you are welcome to submit it early). I will hand out a quick guide of resources for abstract writing, and we may discuss this genre as needed.
  1. Seminar Paper/Article (25%): You will write a 15-page paper on any topic of your interest so long as it addresses an issue raised by the seminar. I also invite you to discuss your plans with me by the end of March. You will first submit your draft (at least 75% complete) for feedback (10% credit) and revise it based on the feedback, continued research, and your own evolving understanding of the topic. The draft should engage some scholarly sources (in addition to any course readings you use) on the topic. As you know, all scholarly work goes through many rounds of drafting, revising, seeking feedback, and repeating that process—true to the recursive nature of writing. I expect your work for this class to be the best work that you can produce. You will submit the revised draft on the revise-and-resubmit deadline along with the prior draft.


This class uses a plus/minus system of grading as follows:

Grade               Percentage Grade                     Percentage
A                       93% to 100% C                             73% to 77%
A-                      90% to 93% C-                            70% to 73%
B+                     87% to 90% D+                           67% to 70%
B                       83% to 87% D                             63% to 67%
B-                      80% to 83% D-                           60% to 63%
C+                     77% to 80% F                             Below 60%


👩🏾💻 Class Meetings: This class will meet in JR 201 every Wednesday at 7.00 as scheduled. I expect everyone to attend the class for about 90 minutes per week. Your independent work/asynchronous discussion posts will make up for the rest of the class hours. 

👋 Individual Conferences/ZOOM: I am available to chat (with video on or off) during office hours or by appointment throughout the week. Note the Zoom link on Canvas home page.


🙋🏻‍♀️ PARTICIPATION: Participation will be measured in a number of ways. I recognize that not everyone will always attend the class sessions and that not everyone thrives in highly verbal settings. However, I take note of those who have done the readings and activities, are actively listening, offer thoughtful questions, interact with me and classmates during class sessions and on the weekly discussion board (critically significant when you have to miss the class session). 

Writing deadlines: Working as writers: All work is due when scheduled. 

We will write our way into the projects; drafts will be due for the major writing assignment (final paper). Please see those as real deadlines and work accordingly toward them.

Academic Integrity 

All work submitted for this class has to be your own and for this class. Cite when and where appropriate. Talk to me if you have any questions. For CSUN policy on plagiarism, visit http://www.csun.edu/science/help/help_docs/plagiarism.html

Special Needs and Situations 

If you have a condition that requires accommodation or I should be aware of, please let me know as soon as possible. For official information and assistance, access the Disability Resources and Educational Services office at https://www.csun.edu/dres (email: dres@csun.edu; phone: 818-6772684; visit: Bayramian Hall, Rm. 110). The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that reasonable accommodations be provided for students with physical, sensory, cognitive, systemic, learning, and psychiatric disabilities.

😇 Fair Use 

Continued enrollment in this course will constitute permission for the instructor to use materials written for this course as samples in other classes or in research. Work will be presented anonymously in all situations. Staying in the class beyond the add/drop period indicates to me that you have agreed to all of the above principles and policies.

🗣 Class Netiquette (Online Etiquette)

Stay on topic: While discussion is encouraged in classrooms, rambling and tangential conversations may not be conducive to a quality learning experience. 

Use appropriate subject lines in your replies: As a conversation evolves, it’s helpful to change the subject line of a threaded message to reflect the changing topic. For example, if the subject line reads “Plato” and the conversation has now moved on to Aristotle, change the subject line accordingly in your reply.

Add multiple comments directly into messages in your replies: While a straight-forward reply is usually appropriate, interspersing your comments throughout an original posting may be more effective if you wish to respond to multiple points. 

Avoid ”I agree” and ”Me, too!” messages: Spending time reading messages without substance can be frustrating for all parties. 

Avoid the use of all caps (IT’S LIKE SHOUTING!): Use caps only for strong emphasis, only when warranted. 

Think about your audience and message clarity: Messages in the discussion forum are conversational and often informal; thus, they are prone to occasional grammatical, spelling, and typographical aberrations. Be sure to avoid sending confusing or mixed messages despite the informality of the environment. 

Carefully choose the format for your messages: Long paragraphs are difficult to follow on-screen. Avoid fonts that are difficult to read because of style, color, or size.

Avoid responding when emotions are running high: For example, if you are angry, put your message aside. Remember, the ability to write and save messages for later review is one of the advantages of asynchronous learning.

Course Schedule and Assignment Deadlines: 

Find the most current links, files and updated calendar @https://canvas.csun.edu/


  1. The reading load can be fairly heavy at times, so feel free to read ahead if you have time. Suggested Reading Strategy: Read everything, but pick one or two selections each week to read very carefully and become an expert on them. The greatest function of a survey course like this is to get a feel for the field, so just do your best.
  2. Although I have not formally assigned the section/author introductions in our text book, I encourage you to read them to enhance your understanding of composition and rhetorical theory. Every text, rhetorical or otherwise, arises out of—and responds to—a context (time, place, disciplinary/intellectual history), and understanding it helps appreciate that (con-)textual dialectic.
Part I: Rhetorical Theory
Week 1:1/25 Introductions and Orientations

A Brief History of Rhetoric and Composition (Bedford Bibliography for Teachers of Writing). PDF in Canvas.

Brief History of Rhetoric and Composition Group Activity (in Google Doc)

Extra ref. for the place of Rhet-Comp within English Studies: Brian McComiskey’s Introduction to English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline https://secure.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Books/Sample/15442Intro_x.pdf

Week 2: 2/1 Ancient Rhetoric/Greece: 

Gorgias (P. 47-48, The Rhetorical Tradition)

. Encomium of Helen (P. 50-52, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Aspasia (P. 53-57, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Menexenus (by Plato) (P. 58-68, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Anonymous (P. 69-71, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Dissoi Logoi (P. 71-77, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Isocrates (P. 84-87), Against the Sophists (P. 84-87)and Antidosis (P. 92-96) From The Rhetorical Tradition

Plato. Phaedrus (P. 161-199, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Week 3:2/8 Ancient Rhetoric Contd. (Greece to Rome)

Aristotle. Rhetoric  (P. 210-240, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Cicero. From De Oratore (P. 279-305) and Orator  (P. 306-309) FormThe Rhetorical Tradition.

Week 4: 2/15 Contesting Ancient Rhetorics, Globally

Biesecker. “Rhetoric, Possibility, and Women’s Status in Ancient Athens” (PDF in Canvas)

Bernal. From Black Aethena (PDF in Canvas)

Black Athena Explained (YouTube Video)

YouTube Documentary

Nagarjuna. From the Dispeller of Disputes (P. 410-424, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Nagarjuna (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Emptiness? Emptiness of What?

Are all things Empty? Nagarjuna and the Buddhist Middle Way

Flavius Philostratus and Julia Domna of Syria:

From Lives of Sophists (P. 403-405) and Letter to Julia Domna (406), from The Rhetorical Tradition

Baca and Villanueva. From Rhetorics of the Americas (Optional–PDF in Canvas)

Week 5:2/22 Medieval and Renaissance Rhetoric

Augustine. De magistro, or Concerning the Teacher (P. 466-487, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Enlightenment/Modern Rhetoric: 

Mary Astell. A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Part II (P. 905-919, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Adam Smith. From Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Letters (P. 954-961, The Rhetorical Tradition)

George Campbell. From The Philosophy of Rhetoric (P. 988-1024, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Hugh Blair. From Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Letters (Optional, P. 1029-1061, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Week 6:3/1 Contribution to Collaborative Annotated Bibliography? (due soon!)

Modern and Contemporary Rhetoric

Alexander Bain. From English Composition and Rhetoric (P. 1156-1159, Optional, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Frederick Douglas. From My Bondage and My Freedom (P. 1131-1135, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Friedrich Nietzsche. On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense (P. 1191-1199, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Heidegger. The Way to Language (P. 1231-1243, Optional, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Mikhail Bakhtin. From The Problem of Speech Genres (Optional, P. 1249-1267, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Week 7:3/8 Contemporary Rhetoric I:

Kenneth Burke. From A Grammar of Motives (P. 1271-1286), A Rhetoric of Motives (P. 1286-1292), and Language as Symbolic Action (P. 1293-1300) in The Rhetorical Tradition

J. L. Austin. From How to do Things with Words (P. 1304-1318, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Stephen Toulmin. From The Uses of Argument (P. 1347-1364, Optional, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Habermas. From Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (P. 1431-1446, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Hannah Arendt. From The Human Condition (Optional, P. 1369-1411, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Week 8:3/15 Contemporary Rhetoric II:

Michel Foucault. From The Order of Discourse (P. 1452-1463, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Jacques Derrida. From Dissemination (P. 1496-1511, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Hélène Cixous. The Laugh of the Medusa (P. 1539-1552, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Gloria Anzaldúa. From Borderlands/La frontera  (P. 1609-1620, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Henry Louis Gates Jr. From The Signifying Monkey (Optional, P. 1625-1644, The Rhetorical Tradition)

Part II: Composition Research 
Week 9:3/22 Spring Recess (No Class)
Week 10:3/29 Foundational Composition Scholarship Part I:

Wallace Douglas, “Rhetoric for the Meritocracy…” (P. 74-97, in Norton Book)

Braddock, Jones, Schoer, “Research in Writing Composition…”(P. 193-215, in Norton Book)

Janet Emig, “The Composing Process of 12th Graders” (P. 228-251, in Norton Book)

David Bartholomae, “Inventing the University” (P. 605-630, in Norton Book)

Albert R. Kitzhaber, “The Present State of Freshman Composition” (Optional, P. 257-270, in Norton Book)

Week 11:4/5 Due: Contribution to Collaborative Annotated Bibliography; Start work on your Seminar Paper

Foundational Composition Scholarship Part II:

James Berlin, “Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Classroom” (P. 667-684, in Norton Book)

Lester Faigley, “Competing Theories of Process” (P. 652-666, in Norton Book)

Ken Macrorie, “Telling Writing” (P. 297-313, in Norton Book)

Kenneth Bruffee, “Collaborative Learning and the ‘Conversation of Mankind’” (P. 545-562, in Norton Book)

John Trimbur, “Consensus and Difference in Collaborative Learning” (Optional, P. 733-747, in Norton Book)

Week 12:4/12 Foundational Composition Scholarship Part III:

Linda Flower and John R. Hayes, “A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing” (PDF in Canvas)

Russel K. Durst, “Writing at the Post-Secondary Level” (P. 1655-1689, in Norton Book)

Peter Elbow, “Inviting the Mother Tongue: Beyond ‘Mistakes,’ ‘Bad English,’ and ‘Wrong Language’” (PDF in Canvas)

Peter Elbow, “Being a Writer vs. Being an Academic” (PDF in Canvas)

Walter J. Ong, “The Writer’s Audience is Always Fiction” (Optional, PDF in Canvas)

Week 13:4/19 Work on your article draft this week: No Class 
Week 14:4/26 Due: Share your draft for peer feedback (with an assigned peer reviewer)

Submit a draft through Canvas for my feedback

Specialties in Composition Part I:

a. Developmental Writing 

Mina Shaughnessey.  Introduction to Errors and Expectations (P. 387-396, in Norton Book)

Mike Rose, “The Language of Exclusion: Writing Instruction at the University .(P. 586-604, in Norton Book)

Andrea Lunsford, “Cognitive Development and the Basic Writer (Optional, Online in CSUN library)

Digital Environments and Multimodality

Kathleen Blake Yancey, “Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key.” (Online in CSUN library)

(Dyehouse, Pennell, Shamoon, “Writing in Electronic Environments (PDF in Canvas)


Week 15:5/3 Specialties in Composition Part II:

Identity in Composition Theory (such as Feminism, for example)

Jacqueline Jones Royster, “When the First Voice You Hear Is not Your Own.” (P. 1117-1127, in Norton Book)

Nedra Reynolds, “Interrupting Our Way to Agency: Feminist Cultural Studies in Composition (Optional, P. 897-910, in Norton Book)

‘Everyday’ Writing:

Anne Ruggles Gere, “Kitchen Tables and Rented Rooms.(P. 1081-1096, in Norton Book)


Matsuda. “Composition Studies and ESL Writing: A Disciplinary Division of Labor. (Online at CSUN Library)

Revision and Continuing Education:

Nancy Sommers, “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers.” (Online at CSUN Library)

Week 16:5/10 Last Day of Class: New Directions in Composition Studies

a. Multimodal & Translingual Pedagogy:

 i) “Embracing the Perpetual ‘But’ in Raciolinguistic Justice Work: When Idealism Meets   Practice” (Online)

 ii) “Working Toward Social Justice through Multilingualism, Multimodality, and Accessibility in Writing Classrooms” (Online)

b. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Writing:

   i) “The Machine as Author” (2020) (Online in CSUN library)

   ii) “Choosing the Right Word . . . ” (Online)

c. (Hi)story as Future:

   “The Ethics of Storytelling: Indigenous Identity and the Death of Mangas Coloradas” (Online)



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