Foss & Griffin, “Beyond Persuasion”

Foss, Sonja K, and Cindy L. Griffin, “Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for Invitational Rhetoric” Communication Monographs 62.1 (Mar. 1995): 2-18. (17 pages)

Foss and Griffin introduce (propose) the idea of an invitational rhetoric. Such a rhetoric manifests from a feminist perspective on rhetoric, and challenges patriarchal characterizations of rhetoric. The begin by charting out the patriarchal bias of rhetoric, looking specifically at the implications in a conception of rhetoric as persuasion: namely, such a conception implies that it is a necessary human function to alter environments and social affairs of others. “embedded in efforts to change other sis a desire for control and domination, for the act of changing another establishes the power of the change agent over that other” (3). This desire for control—and feeling of success, power, and self-worth in creating such control—forms the basis of the patriarchal conception of rhetoric as persuasion.

Rather, the authors propose the concept of invitational rhetoric, one that reimagines the relationship between rhetor and audience through three principles:

  • Equality: “feminists seek to replace the ‘alienation, competition, and dehumanization’ that characterize relationships of domination with ‘intimacy, mutuality, and camaraderie” (4).
  • Immanent value: “every being is a unique and necessary part of the pattern of the universe thus has value” (4)
  • Self-determination: “allows individuals to make their own decisions about how they wish to live their lives. …involves the recognition that audience members are the authorities on their own lives and accords respect to others’ capacity and right to constitute their worlds as they choose” (4).

In invitation rhetoric, the audience members “accept the invitation offered by the rhetor by listening to an trying to understand the rhetor’s perspective and then presenting their own” vice versa for the rhetor (5). The central goal is not the create superiority, domination, or control, but rather a rhetor seeks to understand and appreciate another’s perspective. Thus, change “occurs in the audience or rhetor or both as a result of new understanding and insights gained in the exchange of ideas” (6). In other words, while in traditional rhetoric the end is change in the audience, invitational rhetoric sees the sharing and understanding of perspectives as an end in itself where change may emerge from such understanding.

Foss and Griffin describe the process of invitation rhetoric in two forms: offering perspectives & creating external conditions.

Offering Perspectives: “offering—the giving of expression to a perspective without advocating its support or seeking its acceptance…rhetors tell what they currently know or understand; they present their vision of the world and show how it looks and works for them” (7). This includes a willingness to yield, meeting another’s position, and allowing it to have an impact. The authors also offer the idea of re-sourcement as a means of approaching potentially hostile environments: “it is a means, then, of communicating a perspective that is different from that of the individual who produced the message to which the rhetor is responding” (7). In other words, re-sourcement involves a disruption of the context in order to break down hostility: a police guard may approach a scenario with (or expecting) violence and hostility, but a rhetor approaches this situation with non-violence and connection.

External Conditions: “the creation of an atmosphere in which audience members’ perspectives also can be offered” (10). This form of invitation rhetoric is focused on creating environments that are conducive for connection; the authors organize this form in three ways:

  • Safety: “the creation of a feeling of security and freedom from danger for the audience. Rhetoric contributes to a feeling of safety when it conveys to audience members the ideas and feelings they share with the rhetor will be received with respect and care” (10).
  • Value: “the acknowledgement that audience members have intrinsic and immanent worth” (11). Such worth can be realized through “absolute listening”: listening without interruption and with respect.
  • Freedom: “the power to choose or decide…rhetors do not place restrictions on an interaction” (12). No subject matter is off limits and all presuppositions addressed.

Invitation rhetoric becomes very much a revitalization of a theory of invention where ideas are dynamically generated through connection and understanding.


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