Rhetorical analysis of the actual communications of the disciplines (whether undertaken by those trained in the arts of language who turn their attention to the disciplines or by disciplinary practitioners who develop self-conscious sophistication about language) opens up these suppressed issues of the dynamics and evolving knowledge production of the disciplines. Rhetorical analysis can make visible the complexity of participation by many people to maintain the large projects of the disciplines. It can recognize the linguistic practices developed in consonance with the goals of such projects, the constant struggle between competing formulations, and the innovation that keeps the discourse alive. Rhetorical analysis can also reveal exclusions and enclosures of discourse to see how and why they are deployed and to question their necessity in any particular case. But even more, it can provide the means for more informed and thoughtful participation. Through this activity we can help the disciplines do the best work they were created for, rather than be the self-protecting domains of vested interest and social power we fear. Such analysis allows insiders to move the discipline effectively and enables outsiders to negotiate with the discipline and regain territory that may have been inappropriately enclosed within the expert discourse.
Teaching students the rhetoric of the disciplines, understood in these terms, does not necessarily indoctrinate them unreflectively into forms that will oppress them and others, although such oppressions do happen often enough, as power and system become their own ends, and practice becomes habit and then rule. Such oppression of the self and others is more likely to occur when individuals learn communication patterns implicitly as a matter of getting along. Explicit teaching of discourse holds what is taught up for inspection. It provides the students with means to rethink the ends of the discourse and offers a widearray of means to carry the discourse in new directions. . . .
Once a rhetorical field is highly developed, individuals find themselves in the middle of intertextual webs within which they can act only by modifying the intertextuality through new statements. Our goals and activities influence our idiosyncratic placement in and interpretation of that intertextual field. When physicists read professional articles, they do so with an eye toward promoting their own research projects within a competitively structured argument over what claims are to be considered correct and important and how the literature should be synthesized and advanced (Shaping, ch. 8). There is constant negotiation among prior statements, new statements, responses, and further work over what constitutes credibility and creditability (Myers; Latour and Woolgar). By reconstructing the literature around their ongoing work and then representing their new work within that reconstructed matrix of the literature, individuals make the field over fresh and construct a new place for the self.
Discourse studies of the disciplines, which aim to understand the dynamics of each field and the state of play into which each new participant enters, can help build the intellectual foundations for courses that enable students to enter into disciplines as empowered speakers rather than as conventional followers of accepted practice, running as hard as they can just to keep up appearances. Even more, discourse studies can provide an enlightened perspective through which students can view the professional and disciplinary fields with which they will have to deal as outsiders. It is as important, for instance, for an ecologist or a community planner to recognize the complexity of the discourse of biologists, geologists, and petrochemical engineers as it is for those professionals to have command of their own discourses.
Taking the discourse of professions and disciplines seriously provides the understanding students and professionals need to develop as active, reactive, and proactive members of their communities. With a sense of individual power, students can press at the bit of the disciplinary practices they are trained into or run up against. Seeing through the appearances of the discourse allows them to keep the fundamental goals of the fields in front of them. They can ask what kind of communication structures, patterns, and rhetorics will enable the fields to achieve those goals, how they can contribute to those ends as individuals, and in what way the goals achieved through a single disciplinary discourse coordinate (if at all) with social goals from other forms of social discourse. By understanding how knowledge is constructed, they can judge what knowledge it is they wish to construct.