Analyzing Everyday Texts: Discourse, Rhetoric, and Social Perspectives


Glenn F. Stillar

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Rhetoric & Society

    edited by Herbert W. Simons

    Temple University


    Michael Billig

    Department of Social Sciences, Lougbborough University

    Carole Blair

    Department of American Studies, University of California, Davis

    Richard H. Brown

    Department of Sociology, University of Maryland

    Rosa Eberly

    Department of English, University of Texas, Austin

    Dilip Gaonkar

    Communication Studies, Northwestern University

    James Jasinski

    Department of Speech Communication, University of Illinois

    Joyce Irene Middleton

    Department of English, University of Rochester

    Janice Rushing

    Communication Department, University of Arkansas

    Allen Scult

    Department of Speech Communication, Drake University

    This series will publish a broad-based collection of advanced texts and innovative works encompassing rhetoric in the civic arena, in the arts and media, in the academic disciplines, and in everyday cultural practices.

    Books in this series:

    Control and Consolation in American Culture and Politics: Rhetorics of Therapy

    Dana L. Cloud

    Communication Criticism: Developing Your Critical Powers

    Jodi R. Cohen

    Analyzing Everyday Texts: Discourse, Rhetoric, and Social Perspectives

    Glenn F. Stillar


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    For Rita and Elmer


    A student pleads for an extension of time on an already late paper. A famous artist is interviewed on British television by a friend and admirer. An automobile manufacturer “counter-advertises” by featuring a heavyset African-American woman purchasing its product. A Canadian bank makes a “gift” of its expertise in pamphlets offering to help customers in dealing with their financial problems. The promotional material on a box of cereal makes us feel better about ourselves in reinforcing our decision to purchase the product. A seemingly scientific report on a child's dysfluency problems offers the possibility of an ideological reading.

    These are the ostensibly simple but multilayered texts that Glenn Stillar, an English professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, subjects to uncommonly close analysis. In the process, Stillar teaches a system of textual analysis combining critical tools drawn from functional linguistics (Halliday), rhetoric à la Kenneth Burke, and the social theorizing of Pierre Bourdieu and Anthony Giddens. This is a heady mix, and before Professor Stillar sets to work on the more difficult cases, he provides chapters of introduction to the three subsystems comprising his framework for analysis.

    Originally called “The Rhetoric of Discourse as Social Practice,” Analyzing Everyday Texts should be of interest to rhetoricians in both English and Communication departments in North America and in programs of study across the Atlantic that feature the analysis of social texts under such headings as critical linguistics, discourse analysis, and cultural studies. So many fields have claimed property rights to the analysis of everyday texts, and under so many headings, that the beginning student must surely be mystified as to where and how to get the necessary preparation. Oftentimes, disciplinary programs in textual analysis compound their intellectual imperialism with blindness to what is going on across the hall in sister departments. If textual analysis is often “thin,” as some of my colleagues complain, it may be because critics often rely exclusively on the narrow metalanguages of their respective disciplines.

    Stillar's Analyzing Everyday Texts is not a survey of analytic techniques. Nor even is it a comprehensive introduction to the theorists featured in the book. For example, the Burkean scholar may be disappointed that Stillar says little or nothing about Burkean dialectics, or about cluster analysis, or about chart-prayer-dream, or about Burke's poetic categories. What Stillar does do extremely well is show how the critical tools he selects can be fitted consistently and insightfully to the cases he examines. Says Stillar:

    Even the selections I make within the fields of discourse analysis, rhetorical theory, and social theory stand as a deflection of other concerns, inventories, and methods which have been pursued in these disciplines. It can only be so. Deflection—in this case, drawing attention to this approach rather than that approach—need not be read as an attempt to suppress an “other.” Although I have not touched on narrative theory, poetics, conversational analysis, pragmatics, sociolinguistics, other types of discourse analysis, classical rhetoric, or other types of social theory, I acknowledge their relevance to this project and keep all doors open. However, by systematically outlining the inventories of theories I do use and showing how they may be applied, by presenting extended applications, and by presenting a model for both evaluating and understanding their complementarity, I am attempting to give you at least one explicit way to mark differences that make a difference in text and text practice.

    I applaud Stillar's selection of critical terms. Although the many metalinguistic tools in Chapter 2 don't come alive until Chapter 5, they are demonstrated over and over again to have critical value in close analyses. Stillar's readings of Giddens, and especially of Bourdieu, a difficult writer, are clear and cogent; they provide a convincing demonstration of how culture is both a cause and an effect of our seemingly innocent textual practices.

    As for Kenneth Burke, whose writings I know best, I am overawed at how well Stillar has woven together Burke on logology, on dramatism, and on rhetoric to produce a systematic method of analysis with which Burke, the least “disciplined” of theorists, would have been proud. When Trevor Melia and I sent around our prospectus for The Legacy of Kenneth Burke (1989), an astute acquisitions editor who had arranged for the republication of nearly the entire Burke corpus, advised us that the what the world needs now is not another assessment of where Burke fits in the pantheon of contemporary and postmodern theorists, but a methodologically self-conscious treatment that can teach would-be Burkeans how to read innovatively, as Burke did, and avoid cookie-cutter criticism. Glenn Stillar has taken us a long way in that direction.

    Herbert W.Simons


    I would like to thank several people for helping me with this project. My friend and colleague, Dave Goodwin, helped me at every stage by listening to my plans and by discussing details patiently. His suggestions were often more elegant than I have been able to execute. I acknowledge my debt to colleagues in the systemic-functional linguistics community-particularly Jim Benson, Jay Lemke, and Michael Gregory. Three graduate students (who I have the pleasure of supervising) spotted errors and offered encouragement along the way-Rachel Nash, Cameron Reid, and Tracy Whalen. My thanks also to the anonymous reviewers who provided encouraging and thoughtful criticism of the book in manuscript form. At Sage, Margaret Seawell (acquisitions editor), Renée Piernot (editorial assistant), Jennifer Morgan (permissions editor), Sherrise Purdum (production editor), and A. J. Sobczak (copyeditor) were all excellent people to work with. Finally, I thank Lesley Falkner for her spirited companionship and support.

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    About the Author

    Glenn F. Stillar, PhD, is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Ontario). He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in discourse analysis, linguistics, rhetoric, stylistics, and semiotics. He has published articles in journals such as Social Semiotics, Language and Style, Language and Literature, and Occasional Papers in Systemic Linguistics.

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