Revisioning Strategic Communication through Rhetoric and Discourse Analysis

By Marcellino, William M. | Joint Force Quarterly, January 2015 | Go to article overview

Revisioning Strategic Communication through Rhetoric and Discourse Analysis


Marcellino, William M., Joint Force Quarterly


Strategic communication is an important but contested issue, visible in continuing criticisms over the last 5 years. One critique is that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) definition of the term strategic communication is vague and idiosyncratic in relation to the definitions of other agencies. In turn, this argument runs, the lack of conceptual clarity and of shared, precise terminology hurts the implementation and further development of strategic communication. (1) Additional concerns have been raised about the lack of both domestic interagency and foreign partner coordination and cooperation and the absence of credible expertise in strategic communication. (2) Still, criticisms point to high visibility failures in strategic communication--for example, the 2001 "Shared Values" campaign and the 2012 U.S. Presidential response to the "Innocence of Muslims" video--as evidence of both strategic communication conceptual flaws and implementation failures. (3)

I propose here that strategic communication can be made more conceptually robust and draw on a more powerful and useful suite of tools and methods by borrowing from two language-focused disciplines: rhetoric and discourse analysis. Rhetoric offers an explanatory framework for how and why communication fails or succeeds, as well as practical domain knowledge for how to design and effect sound communication strategies, while discourse analysis is a set of approaches and methods to analyzing real-world language use (discourse). Rhetoric, a humanities discipline centered on argumentation and persuasion, has had practical value and been effective since Aristotle's time, but it also has an empirical wing developed over the last 60 years. Discourse analysis is a relatively recent offshoot from sociolinguistics, which brings systematic, empirical analysis to language at the micro level and features a wide range of qualitative and quantitative methods.

This issue of which disciplines, and thus which conceptual models, to draw from has high stakes because they imply different practical choices and methods. As a simple example, ask yourself: if you had to convince the authorities that you were not at place X at Y time, and if you had to convince them you were sincere, how would you do it? From an empirical perspective in discourse analysis, the answer would depend on the discourse conventions of the authorities. If American English speakers were asking you, then brevity, concision, and coming straight to the point might be convincing. However, if Arabic speakers were your audience, repeatedly proclaiming your innocence might be the right strategy. Most importantly in this example, those strategies are opposed--strategies suited for one discourse and culture would likely fail for the other.

Below are two illustrative case studies that show both the conceptual power of rhetoric and discourse analysis and also the nuts-and-bolts methods for analyzing communication and communication failures. For these examples to make the most sense and provide context, I first briefly sketch out how rhetoric and discourse analysis conceptually differ from our current iteration of strategic communication. I then recommend how DOD in general and the combatant commands in particular could effectively and efficiently operationalize insights and methods from these disciplines.

Strategic communication as it currently stands draws primarily from communications theory, public relations, and marketing. In this model, communication is understood to be primarily monologic (from a speaker to an audience) and dependent on the ability of the speaker to manipulate or tailor language to properly craft and deliver the right message to persuade or change opinions of the audience. This model also implicitly borrows from linguistic theories popularized by Noam Chomsky that treat language as having a preexisting structure that good speakers use to their advantage. It is from such a model that a ubiquitous phrase such as "controlling the narrative" can have currency and be in circulation. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Revisioning Strategic Communication through Rhetoric and Discourse Analysis
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.