SUMMARY OF THEORY
Rogerian rhetoric was introduced by Young. Becker and Pike in their 1970 textbook, Rhetoric: Discovery and Change. Traditional rhetoric, Young, Becker and Pike claimed, assumes an adversarial relationship in which the rhetor uses modes of persuasion to break down the audience's resistance to the claims presented. This rhetoric may work when the audience has a dispassionate desire to seek truth through argument or is an objective third party such as a judge. In emotionally charged situations, however, the audience will hold more strongly to its beliefs the more strongly those beliefs are challenged.
Young, Backer and Pike suggest breaking these barriers to communication by using a variant of Rogers' non-directive therapy. In "Communication: Its Blocking and its Facilitation," Rogers suggests that in emotional disputes, neither party should put forward a position until she has carefully, non-judgmentally and with the maximum possible empathy restated the position of the other, to the other's satisfaction. This will convey to the other the sense that he is understood and that the two parties are more similar than different, thereby creating a context for communica tion.
Young, Becker and Pike admit that this is not as easy to accomplish in writing as it is in face to face discussion. However, they claim that a writer can approximate Rogerian discussion through a strategy with the following general stages:
1. An introduction to the problem and a demonstration that the opponent's position is understood. 2. A statement of the contexts in which the opponent's position may be valid. 3. A statement of the writer's position, including the contexts in which it is valid. 4. A statement of how the opponent's position would benefit if he were to adopt elements of the writer's position. If the writer can show that the positions complement each other, that each supplies what the other lacks, so much the better. (283)
It is vital that when the rhetor imagines and restates the audience's perspective, she does so not to find holes in it or even to make partial concessions as in traditional debate, but genuinely to search for areas of validity.
Because of such theoretical objections, combined with the practical difficulty of conveying empathy without sounding like a politician trying to buy votes, Rogerian rhetoric has had difficulty achieving unqualified acceptance. Yet it has had an uncanny persistence. For many scholars, the turn toward dialogism, collaborative learning and social construction of knowledge makes Rogerian rhetoric more rather than less interesting, despite problems with its earliest formulations. Teich's 1992 collection Rogerian Perspectives: Collaborative Rhetoric for Oral and Written Communication brings together a number of long-term supporters of Rogerian rhetoric (Coe, Bator, Zappen, Teich, and Young himself) with newer scholars to offer ways in which Rogerian rhetoric can still be relevant in the nineties.
Rogerian rhetoric may have been handicapped by a tendency to see it merely as a persuasive technique, in which capacity it is inadequate or contradictory. Rogerian argument is perhaps best seen not as a persuasive strategy but as an invention heuristic that encourages writers to begin by imagining the world as others see it (Brent 1996). Rogerian rhetoric may have retained its appeal in composition studies not so much because it helps students win arguments as because it may help them grow into more tolerant, more inclusive, and more dialogic human beings.
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Brent, Doug. "Rogerian Rhetoric: Ethical Growth through Alternative Forms of Argumentation." Argument Revisited, Argument Redefined: Negotiating Meaning in the Composition Classroom. Ed. Barbara Emmel, Paula Resch and Deborah Tenney. Thousand Oakes: Sage, 1996.
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Lassner, Phyllis. "Feminist Responses to Rogerian Argument." Rhetoric Review 8 (1990): 220-32.
Lunsford, Andrea A. "Aristotelian vs. Rogerian Argument: A Reassessment." College Composition and Communication 30 (1979): 146-51.
Pounds, Wayne. "The Context of No Context: A Burkean Critique of Rogerian Rhetoric." Rhetoric Society Quarterly 17 (1987): 45-59.
Teich, Nathaniel, ed. Rogerian Perspectives: Collaborative Rhetoric for Oral and Written Communication. Northwood, N.J.: Ablex, 1992.