Vol. 5. No. 1 R-16 April 2001
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Contrastive Rhetoric Revisited and Redefined

Clayann Gilliam Panetta (Ed.) (2001)
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Pp. xxii + 134
ISBN 0-08058-8058-3635-7 (paper)
US $17.95 (also available in cloth, $39.95)

Since its inception in 1966 by Robert Kaplan, contrastive rhetoric developed as a theory and research approach used to examine different discourse and rhetorics. The primary focus of this research involves differences across cultures; the primary audience using this research has been English as a second language writing teachers. Contrastive rhetoric has provided insights into student problems with adjusting to English rhetoric by supplying information about the rhetorics used by other cultures, that is, non-English cultures. Using the findings from contrastive rhetoric analyses, researchers have suggested ways in which second language writers need to adjust to write in English. Although these findings, which have largely resulted from text study, have been used to improve pedagogy, it has been at the risk of creating stereotypes. This book seeks to enlarge the scope of contrastive rhetoric, from the foreward by Robert Kaplan to the last page.

Contrastive Rhetoric Revisited and Refined seeks to do two things: show how contrastive rhetoric can be useful for composition and rhetoric teachers in understanding and working with ESL students, and apply contrastive rhetoric to a wider range of cultural differences than previously examined. In doing this, Panetta has brought together five chapters devoted to composition and rhetoric issues and three chapters that explore different cultural groups. These chapters explore how contrastive rhetoric might be used to explain and understand resistance to a majority culture both in the forms it takes and how the people involved deal with the adjustments.

The five chapters devoted to composition and rhetoric deal with issues of understanding cultural differences, resistance to writing, rhetorical contrasts in business writing, and contrastive rhetoric in the computer-assisted classroom. In these chapters, the writers use contrastive rhetoric as a tool for analyzing student writing, understanding student classroom behaviors, and even exploring students' resistance and styles of accomodation.

Beginning with a traditional approach to contrastive rhetoric, the first section examines and details how contrastive rhetoric can be employed in second language pedagogy. This section begins with the a chapter by the editor, "Understanding Cultural Differences in the Rhetoric and Composition Classroom: Contrastive Rhetoric as Answer to ESL Dilemmas." Panetta's chapter provides an historical review of contrastive rhetoric's development along with its primary contribution, an increased awareness of the conventions L2 writers bring to composition classes. This awareness enables teachers to assist learners in analyzing their expectations versus the expectations of their English reading audiences based on the rhetorics they have learned in contrast to the rhetorics they are learning. [-1-] In the next chapter, "Rhetorical Structures for Multilingual and Multicultural Students," Anne Bliss uses Leech's (1987) ideas about functional language use to delve more deeply into different styles of rhetorical and pedagogical ordering to elucidate some of the problems second language students have with evidence use and presentation. This chapter provides several anecdotal accounts of student difficulties related to their cultural backgrounds, and it provides a deeper analysis of rhetorical differences, thus exhibiting the strength of using contrastive rhetoric in the composition classroom.

The next three chapters round out the discussion of second language composition with chapters that pose problems that contrastive rhetoric needs to meet more directly. Jan Corbett's chapter, "Contrastive Rhetoric and Resistance to Writing," deals with resistant writers who find that rhetorical differences silence their voices, although their awareness of this dynamic may be limited at the time. This resistance develops from the second language writer's lack of control over how they want to say something. Proceeding with the theory that the conflict in rhetorical expectations leads to resistant writers, Corbett catalogues and describes three types of conflicts: repressed conflict, suppressed conflict, and overt conflict. She describes a mestiza approach some writers use to find a voice. This approach provides further support for contrastive rhetoric as an analytical tool employed by student writers to better understand rhetorical differences.

Woolever's chapter on "Doing Global Business in the Information Age: Rhetorical Contrasts in the Business and Technical Professions" argues for expanding contrastive rhetoric to include business and technical professions, especially with the growth of Internet communication and English as an international language. Her point is that business and technical pedagogy needs to change to meet the demands of the growing multiculturalism of these areas. The section concludes with Dene Scoggins' "Contrastive Rhetoric Theory in an Electronic Medium: Teaching ESL Writers to Become Bricoleurs in a Computer-Assisted Classroom." His chapter analyzes his experiences with second language writers in a computer-assisted composition class in which he had to deal with some of the resistance problems Corbett described. He found that successful writers were able to use strategies from both their first and second languages in negotiating the rhetorical challenges posed by source-based writing. Success resulted in learners producing rhetorically sophisticated documents, while the students unable to negotiate the challenges produced documents characterized as define and list. These chapters suggest future directions for contrastive rhetoric to expand into, such as different genres and how to enable learners to use strengths from their first culture's writing in their English writing. These chapters suggest new approaches within the English composition classroom, L2 or L1, and lead into the second section of the book.

A brief essay by Ulla Connor, "Contrastive Rhetoric Redefined," helps make the transition from contrastive rhetoric as a tool for understanding English as a second language rhetorical and pedagogical issues to a means for culturally diverse exploration. She summarizes the first five articles, locating them within the traditional contrastive rhetoric approach, before she introduces the final three chapters. These chapters introduce issues that expand the circle of contrastive rhetoric: culture, literacy, and critical pedagogy or discourse analysis. This chapter positions the reader for a feminist exploration of gender contrasts, an examination of the struggles of Afro-American scholars to find a voice in their field, and a consideration of Gaylect as a rhetoric of identity and resistance. [-2-]

Arguing in her chapter, "Contrastive Rhetoric and the Possibility of Feminism," that contrastive rhetoric theory offers a possibility for understanding linguistic and political differences, Laura R. Micciche wants to expand it into L1 classrooms as well through feminism. Feminist theories supply the sociocultural insights which complement contrastive rhetoric. Feminist theory as applied in this chapter involves exploring how writing instruction involves a politics of representation. Also, feminist theory sees pedagogical scholarship as a form of cultural work. Combining these two elements Micciche discusses teachers' cultural identities and how students perceive these identities. In particular, she discusses the non-native English teacher and how she is perceived by different students in her classes. This expansion of contrastive rhetoric would take it from a limited tool in a limited domain to a more explanatory tool in multiple domains.

One of those domains could be the struggle that middle-aged African-American women found in attempting to "write themselves" into academic discourse. Juanita R. Comfort's chapter, "African-American Women's Rhetorics and the Culture of Eurocentric Scholarly Discourse," describes the use of contrastive rhetoric as a means of understanding the negotiation these women were making in attempting to find their own voices in the community of academic scholarship. She describes some painful experiences with faculty who provided little or no guidance in the process as these women moved from being valued members of different communities into what took shape for them as an exclusionary community unwilling to see the value of their writing unless they removed the heart of what they wished to say. Comfort's chapter articulates the struggle of moving across rhetorical cultures and the accompanying difficulties encountered when a writer's voice is devalued.

In "The Queen's English: A Queery into Contrastive Rhetoric," Mark McBeth uses contrastive rhetoric as part of a sociolinguistic study of gay men's language in Manhattan. His study examines the use of Gaylect to give a sense of community to its speakers while serving as a means of resistance to a society that is often hostile to the community's members. Through use of several texts and some oral transcriptions, McBeth describes Gaylect and examines its different uses. This type of study, he argues, provides a means for understanding various cultures within a society and challenging the society to recognize and value these cultures.

Contrastive Rhetoric Revisited and Redefined sets out to expand the possible uses of contrastive rhetoric. It starts out with the familiar and then keeps pushing the reader into going further into understanding what possible uses there are for this type of exploration. It succeeds in this endeavor. However, it does not model sufficiently the means for going forward. Much of the research reported in the chapters appears to be anecdotal. For a theory that grew out of textual examination, there is surprisingly little of this in many of the chapters. For example, Juanita Comfort's chapter describes the struggles the women in her study faced, but does not detail the language involved. The same criticism applies to Bliss, Corbett, and Micciche's chapters. Since there are few, if any, places to find the information they are discussing, given the newness of many of their approaches, the reader may feel cheated. Each chapter explores some potent ideas well but falls short in providing explanatory details.

Contrastive rhetoric developed to meet a need, to understand why second language writers had difficulties writing in English even when they had good control of grammar. For the most part, it has moved little from that original purpose. First language research has made little use of it and within ESL it has largely been limited to textual analysis. This book offers suggestions for enlarging the scope of contrastive rhetoric, suggesting means for making it an approach which can help identify the different rhetorics of communities existing within a society. The results, judging from the chapters of this book, could be a means of cross fertilization. They could lead to a better understanding on the part of members of each discourse community involved. [-3-]

What does this book offer the ESL teacher? First, it offers some pedagogical tools for dealing with L2 writers, not only suggestions for how to shape a class or a writing assignment, but also an understanding of how and why students may be resistant writers. The resistance may come from struggles with the differences between the target rhetoric and the ones they control. Or it may come from feeling their voices devalued as they struggle with how to accomodate their hard earned proficiency with mastery of a new discourse. The second thing this book offers is effective voices articulating the frustration and accompanying powerlessness that is part of the process of learning the target rhetoric as well as the potentially powerful rhetorics which can grow out of the resistance when negotiation occurs. In sum, this slim volume offers ESL teachers a chance to enrich their pedagogy both through new strategies and through a deeper understanding of their learners.


Leech, G. (1987). Stylistics and functionalism. In N. Fabb et al (Eds.). The linguistics of writing (pp. 76-88). New York: Methuen.

John Graney
Santa Fe Community College

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