This course asks, how might we reconsider rhetorical theory, history, and criticism through an extended study of rhetoric(s) of seduction?

To explore this question, we examine how theorists of Western rhetoric have understood its relationship to seduction and courtship, both literal and metaphoric. Here we consider, for instance, Plato’s condemnation of sophistic rhetoric through a metaphoric distinction between rhetoric as mere flattery and dialectic as true love, Michelle Ballif’s argument about the systematic exclusion of sophistry and women throughout the history of rhetoric, and Kenneth Burke’s modern theorization of identification as a form of rhetoric akin to processes of courtship. Of course, rhetorics of courtship and seduction are always gendered, always concerned in one way or another with romantic, erotic, or sexual life. So our engagement with rhetorical theory, history, and criticism pays particular attention to how feminist and queer scholars have articulated questions about rhetoric in relation to gender and sexuality (including as they intersect with other categories of identity).

But rhetoricians are not the only people interested in the relationship between persuasion and seduction. Across diverse fields of the humanities and social sciences, scholars ask how the language of culture, business, education, and politics may persuade through seduction. In addition, popular books such as The Art of Seduction and The Art of Woo: Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas, along with countless websites and online guides, teach readers how to use rhetorical strategies of seduction in their everyday lives. We will curate online collections of these wide-ranging instances of seduction rhetorics, working together to assemble materials that are of potential use to our shared study, yet reflective of our varied research interests.

This course is thus relevant not only to students in rhetoric and composition, but also to those in literary and cultural studies, communication, education, and/or women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. Working from these various interdisciplinary locations, each of you will develop an original research project that explores how rhetorical theories of seduction shift your understandings of power, knowledge, and/or language at a specific site of your own choosing.