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RSA Institute Review


RSA members (new and continuing) have been reporting excellent experiences at the RSA Institute, held June 22-28 at University Park, Pennsylvania. 

The Institute format has proven to be popular and flexible.  From Monday through Friday morning, about 50 people, most of them graduate students or junior faculty members, took in the RSA Seminars:  one, on Visual Rhetoric, was led by Robert Hariman and John Lucaites; the other, led by Ruth Amossy, Michael Leff, Steve Mailloux, and Alysse Portnoy, was on Rhetorical Criticism.  Then on Friday afternoon, over 250 people (including some Seminar participants) joined one of the eighteen weekend Workshops.  Interestingly, there was a substantial international presence this year at the Institute, with participants from Canada, Columbia, Denmark, Israel, and Mexico.  RSA thanks the faculty and graduate students at Penn State, particularly Local Host Jeremy Engels, for hospitality, facilities, and great weather.  

The Institute program was put together by Institute Co-Directors David Kaufer (Carnegie Mellon) and Shawn Parry-Giles (Maryland).  "The Institute (both the seminars and workshops) affirmed both the disciplinary deepening and interdisciplinary expansion of the field of rhetoric," noted Kaufer. "It brought together twenty small groups of leading thinkers in rhetoric across a range of topical areas to explore and exchange ideas. The two seminars presented PhD and early career professors with the latest ideas in rhetorical criticism and visual rhetoric respectively. The eighteen workshops provided professors at all levels the opportunity to push the frontiers of rhetoric, from established topics like classical rhetoric, Lincoln, and Kenneth Burke, to emerging areas in medical rhetoric, performance theory, religious studies, gay and feminist studies, globalization, multi-lingualism, digital writing, visualization, and science." 

Because these subdisciplines of rhetoric so frequently cross borders with other disciplines, the keynote address, by Barbara Johnstone, stressed the interdisciplinary nature of rhetoric and the challenges facing rhetorical scholars who seek to continue speaking to the center of the field even when pushing its edges. 

"The RSA Institute exceeded our expectations in terms of both attendance and scholarly success," noted Shawn Parry Giles.  "It was an intensive immersion experience that produced a week of energetic intellectual exchange and camaraderie addressing the theoretical, practical, and pedagogical dimensions of rhetoric." One of the Workshop leaders agreed.  She described the experience as "both productive and pleasant.  Although I was officially my Workshop's leader, I learned such a great deal myself from my participants and their projects."

The success of the 2009 RSA Summer Institute is perhaps most visible in its aftermath.  Participants are continuing their discussions beyond the five-day seminars and the two-day workshops. Google listserves have been established to advance the intellectual conversations (for a good example, take a look at the wiki of the Medical Rhetoric group: Associate professors in the Career Bootcamp are developing research proposals.  Panels are being proposed for RSA in Minneapolis and for other academic conferences. Collaborative research projects are underway, with many people already thinking ahead to the 2011 RSA Summer Institute, which will take place in Boulder, Colorado. 

If you would like to view a few photos of the Institute, go to the Conferences & Institutes page of the RSA website.

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