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364 pages
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Rhetoric in Civic Life
third edition

Catherine Helen Palczewski
University of Northern Iowa

Richard Ice
College of Saint Benedict | Saint John's University

John Fritch
University of Northern Iowa

Ryan McGeough
University of Northern Iowa

Rhetoric in Civic Life provides a richly textured, conceptually organized introduction to rhetorical theory and concepts. Sophisticated yet accessible, it guides students in exploring rhetorical action in a democratic society.

Interweaving classical and contemporary concepts of rhetoric, the book shows how people in a diverse society shape ideas through discourse, make decisions about common concerns, and create social realities through symbolic action.

Thoroughly updated to reflect current theory, issues, and events, the new edition provides a rich array of historical and contemporary examples that show how words, images, arguments, and narratives create social and cultural identities and have consequences to civic life, public discourse and dissent, and social policies.


  • conceptual organization interweaves classical and contemporary theories, illuminating rhetorical concepts through the interplay of various perspectives
  • civic advocacy emphasis focuses rhetorical concepts in terms of public engagement
  • substantive, clear, engaging explanations make complex ideas accessible and pertinent to students
  • abundant historical and contemporary examples illustrate the role of rhetoric in political, cultural, and social contexts, as well as in students’ own lives


  • theory and research updated throughout, including ethical considerations in a visual age (Chapter 4) and evolving conceptualization of the rhetorical situation in a digital age (Chapter 9)
  • civic functions of rhetoric enhanced and updated throughout, including a new section on political friendship (Chapter 1) and theoretical implications of civic action in the digital age (Chapter 10)
  • new appendix on classical Greek and other traditions in western democracy, as well as their influence on the formation of US democracy
  • examples updated to reflect current issues, controversies, and events
  • enhanced emphasis on social diversity, including race, gender, sexuality, and marginalized populations


  • key concepts listed at the beginning of each chapter
  • discussion questions at the end of each chapter
  • recommended readings for each chapter

For more information, please see the preface and table of contents.


Rhetoric and Civic Life has been an excellent text for my purposes. The examples are timely, relevant, and well-executed. The discussion questions are useful. The explanations of theoretical concepts are clear.”
Christine Harold
University of Washington

“This is a truly exceptional textbook.”
David Supp-Montgomerie
University of Iowa

“This book has many, many strengths. Its goals and orientation are precisely what I was looking for. Its coverage of important theorists, theories, concepts, and issues is the finest and most comprehensive available. The numerous examples interspersed throughout are exceptional.”
Randall Lake
University of Southern California

“The current examples and clarity of writing are great strengths of this textbook. But as a rhetorician, I adore that the primacy of rhetoric as a cornerstone to a strong democracy is a consistent theme in the book.”
Elizabeth Benacka
Lake Forest College

“This book does an excellent job of showing the stakes of communication for civic engagement for everyone. It does a phenomenal job of making communication exciting and engaging and consequential.”
Jonathan Rossing
Gonzaga University

“Substantive, clear, with just enough theory and nice examples—complex and ideologically significant.”
Margret McCue-Enser
St. Catherine University

 “The text excels at addressing concepts and showing how they help in analyzing a variety of messages. This text is accessible without being shallow.”
Adam J. Gaffey
Winona State University

new edition

“The revisions add a new sharpness and urgency to what is at stake in political engagement and activism.”
Kamran Afary
California State University, Los Angeles

“The new edition has done an amazing job of paying attention to race, gender and sexuality, and marginalized populations. These are important issues for students (and important issues for all of us), and they will make the ideas of rhetorical engagement seem all the more pressing and relevant to public life.”
Paul Stob
Vanderbilt University

“The updated examples and stories are excellent throughout. I appreciate a focus on international, activist, and political concerns as a way to educate students about those events/moments, too. I particularly like showcasing student activism.”
Spoma Jovanovic
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

emphasis on civic life

“It offers a nuanced, scholarship-based, compelling, and accessible discussion of rhetorical theory and its connection to civic life, both historical and contemporary.”
J. Blake Scott
University of Central Florida

“The section on political friendships is unique and timely.”
Kamran Afary
California State University, Los Angeles

“The chapter on narrative includes a useful discussion of concepts with a theme of citizenship.”
Elif Guler
Longwood University

“It has met my teaching purposes quite well. Its major strengths are the ways it introduces and explains rhetorical concepts and applies them to civic issues.”
J. Thomas Wright
University of Central Florida

substance and clarity

“Rhetoric in Civic Life has worked well for me. It highlights what I consider to be the important theories of rhetoric and does a good job of introducing those theories to beginning students (freshmen/sophomores).”
John W. Self
Truman State University

“Robust treatment of theory. I like that it exposes students to a wide range of rhetorical theories. The organization, focused first on the forms of symbolic action and then on the components is helpful.”
Samantha Senda-Cook
Creighton University

“The content is clear. If I don’t have enough time to cover the material in class time, I know that if students read the book on their own they will understand most if not all of the material.”
Pat Arneson
Duquesne University


“My students seemed to especially appreciate the extended examples provided in each chapter, and they responded well to the conceptual focus.”
Daniel Grano
University of North Carolina at Charlotte

“It is written in clearly understandable terms, using just enough examples to make a point.”
Dr. Anke Wolbert, Lecturer
Eastern Michigan University

“Good contemporary examples.”
Elizabeth Chiseri Strater
University of North Carolina at Greensboro

“It is written in a way that is easily comprehensible and includes examples that teach students about the role of rhetoric in American history.”
Angela McGowan-Kirsch
The State University of New York at Fredonia

“Engaging text featuring an appropriate mix of historical and current examples of civic engagement. Rigorous and readable.”
Tony Palmeri
University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh

emphasis on diversity

“I like the extended material on race as a linguistic construction. It really bolsters the notion that words use us as much as we use words—that we can invest so much in categories and that they are connected to power.”
Casey Kelly
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

“A major strength of the book is the rich examples that are so intentionally thoughtful about diversity, equity, and inclusion. The fact that the book engages examples about trans rights, Black Lives Matter, feminist activism, queer civic engagement, and much more makes the book stand apart from most communication textbooks, especially ones that would be used for an introductory, core curriculum class. I think this new edition is perhaps even better in this regard.”
Jonathan Rossing
Gonzaga University


"This text stands alone in its coverage, prose, and use of real world and updated examples. It has been the perfect textbook for my course."
Isaac West
Vanderbilt University

"I very much like and appreciate the conceptual orientation of the book. The examples superbly illustrate the concepts."
Roger Aden
Ohio University

"A great text overall! It shows how rhetoric is useful or applicable to civic participation and democratic practice."
Billie Murray
Villanova University

"I appreciate the care that the authors took in their choice of materials. They took the leading literature and big debates in our field and made them accessible to students unfamiliar with the field of rhetoric."
M. Kelly Carr
University of Baltimore

"Rhetoric and Civic Life is a very relevant book that is well structured and very well written. The text provides students with a strong foundational knowledge of rhetoric."
Janice Hamlet
Northern Illinois University

"The book is written with admirable clarity, conciseness, and consistency, without sacrificing the substance of concepts or the integrity of theoretical positions."
Bryan C. Taylor
University of Colorado Boulder

"The addition of digital publics is well done."
Christine Harold
University of Washington

"It covers key concepts in rhetorical theory and criticism, vital to understanding the connection between rhetoric and public advocacy."
Tony Palmeri
University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh

"The discussion of e-mail, petitions, Twitter, and Facebook as civic platforms through the chapters are all very topical to my course."
Heather Lettner-Rust
Longwood University

"I liked the civic engagement focus of this text. I want rhetoric to be relevant to students’ lives."
Elizabeth Chiseri Strater
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

"The examples to illustrate concepts are one of the textbook's major strengths. While students also need the historical examples, the contemporary examples resonate more with the students and lead to wonderful critical engagement in the classroom."
Janice Hamlet
Northern Illinois University

"The authors have taken care to keep examples up to date and accessible to students."
Heather Ashley Hayes
Whitman College

"It’s a great book. I look forward to using it for many years to come."
Paul Stob
Vanderbilt University

"Rhetoric in Civic Life is a fantastic resource."
Brandon Inabinet
Furman University

"Excellent book overall!"
Tony Palmeri
University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh

"I really appreciated what the book allowed me to accomplish with my class."
Kara Shultz
Bloomsburg University

"This is an outstanding book!"
Ross Singer
Saginaw State University

"I am proud to use this text."
David M. Lucas
Ohio University


Catherine Helen Palczewski is professor of communication and media, former director of debate, and an affiliate faculty member of women’s and gender studies at the University of Northern Iowa. She received her BS, MA, and PhD from Northwestern University. She teaches courses in social protest, rhetorical criticism, argumentation, and gender in communication. She has served as coeditor of Argumentation and Advocacy. She has served on the editorial boards of and published essays in the Quarterly Journal of Speech, Women’s Studies in Communication, Argumentation and Advocacy, Communication Studies, and the Southern Communication Journal. She received the Francine Merritt Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Lives of Women in Communication, the Iowa Regents Award for Faculty Excellence, the George Ziegelmueller Outstanding Debate Educator Award, and the Rohrer Award for the Outstanding Publication in Argumentation. She has served as the keynote speaker at the AFA/NCA Summer Conference on Argumentation, directed the conference, and edited its selected works (Disturbing Argument, 2020).

Richard Ice
is professor of communication and provost at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. He received an AB from Wabash College and his MA and PhD from the University of Iowa. He has taught courses in rhetoric, freedom of speech, public address, group communication, and organizational communication. He has published essays in Management Communication Quarterly and Communication Quarterly. He received the St. John’s University Robert L. Spaeth Teacher of Distinction Award and the College of St. Benedict / St. John’s University Academic Advisor Award.

John Fritch
is professor of communication and media at the University of Northern Iowa, and dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Sciences. He received his BA from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and his MA and PhD from the University of Kansas. He has taught courses in rhetoric and ethics. He has coedited Argumentation and Advocacy and published essays in that journal and in A Century of Transformation: Studies in Honor of the 100th Anniversary of the Eastern Communication Association. Previously, he was director of forensics at Southwest Missouri State University. He received the Outstanding Teaching Award from the College of Arts and Letters and the Outstanding Graduate Faculty Member in Communication Studies Award from Southwest Missouri State University. The Eastern Communication Association has recognized him as a Centennial Scholar.

Ryan McGeough
is professor of communication and media at the University of Northern Iowa, director of the oral communication course, and head of the department. He received his BA and MA from the University of Northern Iowa and his PhD from Louisiana State University. He teaches courses in oral communication, political communication, and rhetoric. He has published essays in Argumentation and Advocacy and Communication Education and is the author of The Essential Guide to Visual Communication (2019). He received the Rohrer Award for the Outstanding Publication in Argumentation, the Robert Bostrom Young Scholar Award, and the Dwight L. Freshley Outstanding New Teacher Award.



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