Hi! I’m Jarron Slater, and I teach and research technical and professional writing and rhetoric.

This website provides you with a brief description of my work, including more information about courses I have taught, presentations I have given, and articles I have published. You can also

If you have any questions, please contact me. Thanks for stopping by!

Oh, and by the way, this website also has a few blog posts and summaries of texts that I wrote while I was a graduate student. They might be a bit juvenile, but they might also still be useful to someone, so you can find them here. You can also view my Academia.edu profile.

Book Review: The Rhetoric of American Civil Religion

I’ve recently received word from Taylor & Frances Online that a book review I wrote was published in the Journal of Religious and Theological Information. As one who studies rhetoric and is pursuing a PhD in Rhetoric and Scientific & Technical Communication, I thought it would be appropriate to review a book called The Rhetoric of American Civil Religion. 

According to Taylor & Frances Online, the first 50 people to click on this link can access the article: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/9jIhcGg8jKujBXVQ6nww/full.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. So check it out, send me a message, and have a great day.

Thinking about Rhetoric while Shopping at the Grocery Store: Food or Plastic?

Last Saturday when I was doing some grocery shopping, I saw something that I had never seen before. Here’s a picture of 2 different kinds:

Apparently somebody thought that this is something that would sell. Not just “somebody,” but an entire group of people believed that a number of other people would want to pay money for it. 

The product is basically a small container that has 3 compartments containing a variety of fruit, cheese, and some other kind of snack. These were normally $1.89 but the price had been marked down to $1.00. 

Each product has around 1.5 ounces of food–and some of that weight of course consists of the plastic that it takes to make the 3 containers of food. I picked one up and wondered if the people who purchased this would be buying about equal amounts of plastic and food, but it was of course hard to tell. Iron could have been added to the granola to further increase the product’s weight, but I didn’t look, and I don’t remember. 

Whatever happened, the food would be eaten, and the plastic would be thrown away.

The product is for people who want a quick snack and who are trying to eat a certain type of diet, but it’s also for those who may not think much about the amount of post-consumer waste to which they are contributing. I am curious about the circumstances that provide the possibility of this product’s existence in the first place. I mean, for the same price, I could buy an entire apple and a whole chocolate bar–so why would I instead settle for a plastic container with tiny bits of dried apples and little chunks of chocolate? Maybe I would do it for the convenience. Maybe I would do it because of the appearance of variety and efficiency. But if I considered the act of purchasing and all its rhetorical implications, I don’t think I would be persuaded to put the product in my shopping cart. I wasn’t.

Using the Whole Self to Speak a New Language

There are always dark nights and cold winters in our lives, but these dark nights and cold winters don’t last forever. Like it has this morning, the sun eventually rises, and light disperses the darkness. And while in a few months, winter will come and it will bring snow and storms as it usually does, eventually, winter will give way to spring, and with it will come new warmth and new life. Then the trees that are now losing their leaves will begin to grow new ones.

Recent events may bring with them new challenges, but it’s not the end of the world! Let’s learn what we can from our experiences by getting to work!

Maybe we can start by spending a bit more time getting to know some of the people in our very own neighborhoods. What about the people next door? Who are they? Who in our very own communities needs a helping hand, a warm smile, or a listening ear? We can start by going out and showing people that we care–especially those who feel like they have been pushed to the sidelines. As we come to know the people who live in our own neighborhoods and communities, we will discover that there is not a shortage of people who need our help, and that there is much that each of us can do to show that an individual is appreciated and that, as a human being, theirs is a dignity that cannot be taken away.

To show that respect and not just to say it is itself a language that must be learned, and speaking that language involves more than just the lips (or the fingers)–it is spoken especially from the heart, but it involves the entire self, for it is a language that is really spoken as it is enacted. And it can be enacted by freely giving of one’s time, talents, and energies.

Life is so much more than sitting in a room by one’s self and reading endlessly!

So let’s get to work! 🙂

Interviewed by Stephanie Glaros from Humans of Minneapolis

A few weeks ago I was sitting on a bench in Holmes Park writing in my journal when a woman approached me and asked me if she could interview me and take my picture. She said her name was Stephanie Glaros and that she was from Humans of Minneapolis.

One of the things I appreciate about Stephanie’s work is how she is telling so many stories about so many people. Her work shows that all of us have something interesting to talk about, and that we all have a story to tell. Not only that, but by listening to the stories of others, we enable ourselves to empathize with them.

Here is the link to the Humans of Minneapolis blog:

Photograph by Stephanie Glaros

Rhetorical Theory and Visual Rhetoric PhD Preliminary Exam List

In October, I’ll be taking PhD Preliminary Exams. So, just for fun, here’s one of my lists, called Rhetorical Theory and Visual Rhetoric, in a rough chronological order. There’s also a note at the bottom that explains some of the sources.
Gorgias, “Encomium of Helen” (ca. 414 B.C.E.)
Isocrates, Against the Sophists (ca. 390 B.C.E.)
Plato, Gorgias (ca. 386 B.C.E.)
Plato, Phaedrus (ca. 370 B.C.E.)
Aristotle, On Rhetoric (Aristotle taught a course in rhetoric in ca. 358 [Rhetorical Tradition 169]. The exact date of the Rhetoricis not known or disputed.).
Isocrates, Antidosis (ca. 353 B.C.E.)
Cicero, De Oratore (55 B.C.E.)
Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria. Selections from books 2, 6, 10, 11, and 12. (95 A.D.)
Kenneth Burke, Counter-Statement (1931)
Kenneth Burke, Permanence and Change (1935)
Kenneth Burke, Attitudes Toward History (1937)
Kenneth Burke, “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s ‘Battle’” (1939)
Kenneth Burke, Philosophy of Literary Form (1941)
Kenneth Burke, A Grammar of Motives (1945)
Kenneth Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives (1950)
Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts‐Tyteca, The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation (1958)
Kenneth Burke, A Rhetoric of Religion (1961)
Gui Bonsiepe. “Visual/Verbal Rhetoric.” Ulm 14/15/16 (1965): 37-42.
Kenneth Burke, Language as Symbolic Action (1966)
Lloyd Bitzer, “The Rhetorical Situation” (1968)
Michel Foucault from The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969)
Chaim Perelman, “The New Rhetoric: A Theory of Practical Reasoning” (first published in 1970)
Michel Foucault from The Order of Discourse (1971)
Richard E. Vatz, “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation” (1973)
Scott Consigny, “Rhetoric and Its Situations” (1974)
Chaim Perelman, The Realm of Rhetoric (1977)
Roland Barthes. “The Rhetoric of the Image.” Image/Music/Text. Ed. and trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. 32-51.
Carolyn Miller. “Genre as Social Action.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 70 (1984): 151‐176.
Hanno Ehses and Ellen Lupton. Rhetorical Handbook: An Illustrated Manual for Graphic Designers. Design Papers 5. Nova Scotia: Design Division. 1988.
Kenneth Burke, On Symbols and Society. Joseph R. Gusfield, Ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1989.
Scott McCloud. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperCollins. 1993.
Andrea Lunsford, ed. Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the Rhetorical Tradition. Pittsburgh:
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995.
J. Anthony Blair. “The Possibility and Actuality of Visual Arguments.” Argumentation and Advocacy 33, 1996. 23-39.
Richard Graff and Michael Leff. “Revisionist Historiography and Rhetorical Tradition(s).” In The Viability of the Rhetorical Tradition. Albany: SUNY Press, 2005. 11‐30.
Gesche Joost and Arne Scheuermann. “Design as Rhetoric—Basic Principles for Design Research.” Paper Presented at the Symposium of Swiss Design Network, 2007. 1-15.
Caroline van Eck. Classical Rhetoric and the Visual Arts in Early Modern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Kathleen S. Lamp. “‘A City of Brick’: Visual Rhetoric in Roman Rhetorical Theory and Practice.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 44(2): 2011. 171-193.
Gillian Rose. Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials. 3rd ed. Los Angeles: Sage. 2012.
J. Anthony Blair. “The Rhetoric of Visual Arguments.” Groundwork in the Theory of Argumentation: Selected Papers of J. Anthony Blair. Argumentation Library 21, 2012. 261-279.
Note: The dates from Gorgias to Quintilian came from The Rhetorical Tradition 2nd edition that was edited by Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg in 2000.

Also, the total number of texts is a bit misleading because, for example, Joseph Gusfield’s On Symbols and Society, is a collection of excerpts from Kenneth Burke’s major books, though in this list I have listed the major books as well as Gusfield’s own book. Foucault and Perelman are also excerpted in The Rhetorical Tradition, 2ndedition, too. I made this list just for fun. And I also wanted to see everything in a sort of timeline. That’s all for now.

Two Boys Perform an Act of Kindness

I personally believe that kindness is something that is good. I like the following story because it illustrates a small act of kindness that had positive consequences. The story is pretty short:

An older boy and his young companion were walking along a road that led through a field. They saw an old coat and a badly worn pair of men’s shoes by the roadside, and in the distance they saw the owner working in the field. 

The younger boy suggested that they hide the shoes, conceal themselves, and watch the perplexity on the owner’s face when he returned.  

The older boy thought that would not be so good. He said the owner must be a very poor man. So, after talking the matter over, at his suggestion, they decided to try another experiment. Instead of hiding the shoes, they would put a silver dollar [which was then a commonly used coin] in each shoe and see what the owner did when he discovered the money.  

Pretty soon the man returned from the field, put on his coat, slipped one foot into a shoe, felt something hard, took his foot out and found the silver dollar. Wonder and surprise shone upon his face. He looked at the dollar again and again, turned around and could see nobody, then proceeded to put on the other shoe. When to his great surprise he found another dollar, his feelings overcame him. He knelt down and offered aloud a prayer of thanksgiving, in which he spoke of his wife being sick and helpless and his children without bread. He fervently thanked the Lord for this bounty from unknown hands and evoked the blessing of heaven upon those who gave him this needed help. 

The boys remained hidden until he had gone. They had been touched by his prayer and by his sincere expression of gratitude. As they left to walk down the road, one said to the other, “Don’t you have a good feeling?” (As quoted in Gordon B. Hinckley, Way to Be! 16-18)

Why Mom is Awesome

Today, we think about Mom. 

We think about that time when we had finished kindergarten and were sad because we didn’t study dinosaurs as first graders like we did in kindergarten, and so Mom gathered some materials together and acted as our dinosaur mentor. We think about that time when, at age 11, we moved to a strange city in a new state, and we we didn’t feel like we had any friends–except for Mom. And we think about that time when we didn’t get that job or promotion or grade or whatever that we really wanted. But Mom didn’t think any less of us. She loved us.

I don’t know why I’m using the first-person plural (we/us), and I guess it sounds kind of funny. But maybe you can see yourself in some of these stories, too. I don’t know. Maybe you and I both have similar stories of Mom doing things for us because she loved us. 

That love Mom has for us is profound. Maybe it has something to do with the pains and travails that she goes through so that we can take our first breath in this world and have a mortal life. I don’t know. It’s impossible for me to know by my own experience, but I believe the sources that say that giving birth includes a great deal of physical pain. 

But that physical pain Mom feels for us at birth isn’t all that Mom goes through for us. She sacrifices a lot so that we can have what we need when we are small, even helpless creatures. She gives us attention. She plays with us. She feeds us–some of us even from her own body. She teaches us to be kind, to clean up after ourselves, and to respect others. She teaches us to take care of our bodies and to be wise about the things that we do. She’s done more for us than we perhaps realize. She loves us. 

It’s true–mothers have a profound influence on us. Perhaps there is no greater influence a person can have than that which a loving mother has for her children. 

I don’t mean to assume that mothers are perfect. Nobody is perfect. But one does not have to be perfect to have a lot of influence. 

In 1821, the English poet Percy Shelley wrote a treatise called A Defense of Poetry, the last sentence of which reads, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World.” He was talking about how poets have a greater influence on society and the world at large than people realize, and he was partially right, though that’s a discussion for another day. What I am curious about is the degree to which we can substitute “mothers” for “poets” in his treatise and still have true statements. Are mothers unacknowledged legislators of the world?

Furthermore, because of the potential positive influence of mothers, we must be cautious that, in our zeal to ensure that both men and women are treated equally in the workplace and in the home and in society and everywhere, we should not mock those courageous women who freely choose motherhood, the raising and teaching and loving of children, over and instead of other pursuits. A woman that chooses to be a mother–or even a full-time stay-at-home mom if she thinks that is what is best–ought to be honored, not demeaned, respected, and not debased. Besides–that mother may have more of an influence than she–or the world at large–may acknowledge. 

But her children will certainly at least try to acknowledge it, won’t we? I confess I don’t totally understand all of the good my mom has done for me, but I do know that I simply can’t say how grateful I am for the positive influence she has had in my life. I thank her. And I thank all of the other moms out there, if not the unacknowledged then perhaps too often the underacknowledged legislators of the world. Today, however, we remember you and honor you.

Numbers, Motives, and Rainbows: Let’s Try to Relate these Three Seemingly Unrelated Things, Shall We?

The original name of this post was “Lying with Numbers,” but for some reason that didn’t sound cool (or long?) enough. Anyway, while I was typing this post, the lines to Kermit’s Rainbow Connection kept playing through my mind. Here’s a link to the original from 1979.

Actually, that link might not work. And even if it does, it’s 3-and-a-half minutes long. So here are the lyrics:

“Why are there so many songs about rainbows
and what’s on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
and rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it.
I know they’re wrong, wait and see.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

“Who said that every wish would be heard
and answered when wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that and someone believed it.
Look what it’s done so far.
What’s so amazing that keeps us star gazing
and what do we think we might see?
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

“All of us under its spell. We know that it’s probably magic.

“Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices?
I’ve heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound that called the young sailors.
The voice might be one and the same.
I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it.
It’s something that I’m supposed to be.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.”

But I didn’t begin this post to talk explicitly (thought on retrospect, if we wanted to, I suppose we could still say that the ideas are implicit–but let’s not go there right now) about rainbows. Sure, some have chosen to believe that “Rainbows are . . . only illusions, and . . . have nothing to hide.” But I want to write about something else that “Somebody thought of . . . / and someone [else] believed.”

One of the things we’ve been told, often enough that we sometimes believe it, is the idea that “The numbers don’t lie,” or, it’s near equivalent, that “Numbers speak for themselves,” as if numbers were things that necessarily were honest all the time. Almost as if they were, well, pagan gods or something. But really? Gods? Numbers?

This is sort of what Plato believed. No, Plato didn’t think that numbers were the same thing as gods, but he does say in his Republic that numbers and mathematics at least lead us towards Truth, with a capital T, because numbers are abstract concepts, and we can’t see, hear, taste, or touch what the true “essence” of a number is. But I’m not here to either refute or support Plato. Whether or not numbers really do lead us towards Truth because they are purely symbolic and do not refer to anything that is specifically “here” is beyond the scope of this post (cf. Plotinus. Or not.). Whether or not Plato was right, numbers as we now have them certainly do not speak for themselves. Somebody thought of that, and someone believed it.

No. They’re not gods, either. But god-terms, on the other hand? Yes, absolutely. It’s hard to say no to something that seems infallible.

But numbers, whatever they are, are used by human beings, and we know that human beings have motives, desires, passions, emotions, and attitudes. Human beings think and feel. Human beings are not computers, machines, or dictionaries, and when we see numbers, we would do well to remember that, as long as we’re mortal, there is always a person behind those numbers. Numbers do not speak (cf. Hoffman). Human beings speak, and human beings use numbers when they speak because numbers have a strong persuasive value behind them.

We see this a lot in advertising. We’re given numbers so that we’ll be persuaded to choose product A over product B.

Let’s look at an example, Gmail’s homepage. Here’s what it looks like:

This isn’t anything new; you’ve seen this before. But check out the left side of the screen:

There it is. The “Lots of space” thing is really interesting to me. But my picture doesn’t do it justice. Not only does it have a number that tells me how much space I get if I have a Gmail account, but on the actual website that number constantly counts up (while the picture says “Over 10329.002272 megabytes (and counting) of free storage,” when I look at the website right now it says 10329.007630–it’s counted up since I’ve taken that picture).

Of course, one might say that the number is just telling us things as they are–Google is simply just telling possible users how much free storage they get if they have a Gmail account, and that’s just the way things are. But if we look a bit deeper, we can see a motive behind behind the numbers–as long as there are mortals, there will always be a motive behind the numbers. Google wants people to use their services, so they put a number on their homepage as an attempt to persuade users. Google is certainly using numbers as a means of persuasion. Numbers are a powerful persuasive tool because they’re hard to disagree with.

Of course, it’s not just the number that is being used, but the fact that the number is constantly increasing. Sure, the number is probably accurate–why would Google want to lie to us? But by using a number that is constantly increasing, it’s as if Google wants to argue that by using their services, we’ll be using a service that is constantly improving, never stale, stagnant, or static. Dynamic. Since more is better, the service is always getting better all the time. By themselves, the numbers don’t (or wouldn’t) say this, but the human beings behind the numbers are using the numbers to say it.

I have nothing against Google, by the way. I’m using Blogger (which is owned by Google), and I also use Gmail. I just think their homepage is interesting.

I want to repeat what I said earlier, that numbers do not speak for themselves because there are human beings behind the use of numbers. Of course, if we could gather all the data in the universe then perhaps numbers really would speak for themselves. (After typing that sentence, I suddenly think it may have been more “correct” to write it in passive voice: “Of course, if all the data in the universe could be gathered, then perhaps numbers really would speak for themselves.”) But then, the infinite result would likely be impossible for our mortal minds to grasp, anyway. Unless we could become immortal. I believe there’s a way, but now I’m hinting on something that I didn’t intend to write about, so we’ll save that one for another day.

[Originally, I wanted to end this post on, “But then, the infinite result would likely be impossible for our mortal minds to grasp, anyway,” but I felt that it seemed a bit pessimistic, so I added the last two sentences. I don’t believe that humanity is doomed, nor do I think that death is the end. And I don’t know why I’m telling you that at the end of this post.]

Ruminations on Desire and Knowledge

Aristotle wrote at the beginning of his Metaphysics (the first line, actually), that all human beings, by nature, desire to know.

The word desire is significant. I think–at least I want to say–that to have a desire is somehow related to having an emotion, a belief that stems from something that philosopher Robert Solomon once wrote, that a large part of having an emotion includes a desire to act, to engage in the world in some way (True to our Feelings 238). Daniel Gross and Brian Jackson have made a comparable argument (The Secret History of Emotion: From Aristotle’s Rhetoric to Modern Brain Science 2, 44, 80-1; “Neuroscience and the New Urgency of Emotional Appeals” 491).

All human beings, by nature, desire to know. Here, we have a universal statement, a statement that will become useful as soon as we existentially instantiate. Whatever that means. What I think it means has to do with Kenneth Burke’s definition of form: “Form . . . is an arousing and fulfillment of desires” (Counter-Statement 124). Elsewhere, he also says that it is the creating and fulfilling of expectations and appetites.

This statement is where rhetoric gets its power. When we human beings have desires, we will work to fulfill those desires. For example, the hungrier I am, the more I will work to fulfill my appetite.

If all human beings, to some degree, already have a desire to know, then that desire can be used against (or for or with) them. This is why it’s so appealing to us to be in on a secret. We like to know things, especially things that were heretofore hidden (or seemingly hidden).

Suddenly, I’m wondering if this has something to do with the supply/demand thing in economics. If supply is low, demand is high because people sometimes want things that they don’t think they can have, things that are (or seem) unavailable. Whereas, on the other hand, we human beings sometimes take for granted the things that we have or that are easily attainable.