Carter, Locke. “Rhetoric, Markets, and Value Creation: An Introduction and Argument for a Productive Rhetoric.” Market Matters: Applied Rhetoric Studies and Free Market Competition. Ed. Locke Carter. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton P, 2005. 1‐52.

  • Carter begins by recognizing that we live in a changing capitalist configuration – fast capitalism, distributed capitalism, the information economy, etc.  This new era is far more competitive – especially in the realm of academia.  Because this new economy relies on customization (think The Long Tail), rhetoric is particularly positioned to make useful interventions because of it’s focus on analytics (using “razor-sharp” theories to analyze sign systems), production (producing textual objects in all forms), context, and audience-orientation (ideas in and of themselves don’t have value; rather, audiences give those ideas value because they create cultural capital and match the audience values)(2).
  • C. worries that despite the use of rhetoric for participation in the information economy communications experts (and communicators more generally) are perceived merely as tool-wielding translators (think the tech school approach to rhetoric a la journalism).  Further, C. claims that the ideological and theoretical bent of communications scholars doesn’t equip them for participation in the competition of communication in the information economy.
  • C. claims (I don’t know if I’m on board here) that our leftist political positions position us as mere critics standing outside of an economy, not as producers of value enmeshed in an economy.  C. sees Tech.Comm. as a space where departments have adjusted toward a “productive” rhetoric; however, he thinks the broader discipline isn’t all that relevant in the information economy.  To address this, C. claims that we should teach rhetoric in ways that will allow our students to succeed in competitive, free-market environments [1. I really hope he’s going to address how this can happen with an anti-capitalist, anti-proprietarian ethics. . . otherwise, well, UGH.].
  • C. also reads the market over rhetoric claiming that “rhetorical communications themselves behave in market-like ways.  Thus, competition, markets, resource allocation decisions can provide us with new ways of examining what we do as communicators” (4).  Further, C. claims that rhetoric should pander to the market by “aligning our field with society.” [2. Again, I hope these claims will be met with a degree of ethics instead of a wholesale market-medicine treatment.  I’m afraid that’s where this is going though – C. claims that “humanist, socialist, and literary essentialist foundations to applied rhetoric – although historically and critically essential t the field’s growth – are insufficient to provide for a full participation in the new economy by communicators.” (5).]
  • C. claims that before we can locate value in rhetoric operating in the free-market economy we first need to “consider both the act of communication and the agents of communication from a free-market, competitive perspective and examine how communicators create value in such a setting.  We need to understand how messages compete with each other, to recognize common points of interest at the intersection of the free-market and applied rhetoric from a theoretical, pedagogical, and curricular perspective” (4).  Exploring this claim is the first part of C.’s paper.
  • C. likens the market to rhetoric because in both systems individuals consumer information, interpret signals, and argue from a perspective to achieve a desired outcome.  They also both share an emphasis on meeting the audience by adjusting the message.  In other words, markets are “society’s rhetorical activity in the economy” (7). [3. It would be incredibly beneificial, IMO, if Carter would take the time to point out that when he is discussing economies he is discussing an idealized version of capitalism, a version where things like the “invisible hand” truly operate equitably in all transactions. . . not the system we have now where the “invisible hand” merely pulls capital from the pockets of the working class and inserts it into the pockets of the super-rich through bailouts, corporate welfare, etc.  Of course, capitalist purists will simply chalk this up to a corruption of capitalism by government intervention. . . I’d say the situation is more complicated as the collusion between capitalism and governmental entities grows stronger and stronger.  In other words, consumers have choice but all choices aren’t created equal and certainly the power of each choice varies wildly.]
  • Value = market value or how much someone would pay or exchange for a service or good given enough information in the marketplace.  In this way value is contextual.  In this way C. makes an appeal to the poststructuralists out there: economies are relative and socially defined.  (8-9).  Cost = the sum of all a products imputs: materials, labor, advertising, etc.
  • Relying on Perelman, C. claims that choice is fundamental to rhetoric and markets because we all have an infinite number of choices all the time [4. A reification of complete and total  agency that is intensely American/individualist/capitalist – YOU ARE THE CHOOSER THEREFORE YOU ARE.  Boo.] (11).
  • C. recognizes that value is difficult to recognize in educational settings because a lot of what needs to be considered is non-monetary and exists in the realm of the social [5. Shocking!  Fortunately for C. this is exactly what will supercede the capitalist system – the inability of capitalism to capitalize on the excess of biopolitical production created in social relationships. For more info see Hardt & Negri.].  C. also claims that value is difficult to quantify because not a lot of research exists that supports the claim that composition is making more literate, more democratically informed citizens.
  • While I recognize a partial legitimacy of this statement, I can’t condone the “oh well, that’s just the way it is” approach she takes toward it:  “The climate for higher education is such that it is harder and harder to justify programs based on their inherent value, but rather on their economic value” (14).  She traces the historical situation that has made this possible but denies the possibility of questioning the role/influence of private enterprise (read: corporations) on post-secondary education.  C. notes, “The question is no longer a matter of which paradigm (liberal humanist or economic) to embrace, but in what proportions the two paradigms should be mixed” (16).
  • C. makes claims like this: “If accountability is oppressive, it is because it identifies value-destroying activities, shining a bright light on actual practices and outcomes instead of relying on hunches and assertions” – yet, the problem here is what is valuable.  If what is valuable is profitable, economically sound, capitalist enterprise then her indictment of Downing is legit; however, if you don’t accept that paradigm as what is valuable then the critique doesn’t work.
  • C. critiques other use of the term “corporate” because it isn’t accurate to the real-life of what constitutes a corporation – interestingly, this is about as non-rhetorical as you can get.  Just because a word’s pejorative use invokes connotations not in line with definitions doesn’t mean they can’t be used (and shouldn’t be used in this case) for rhetorical affect (20).
  • C. accepts the state-market binary fairly uncritically.  Fortunately, there are other ways, third ways like the common.
  • C. claims that “Instead of viewing competition as something unfair to weaker players, a more useful stance is to see it as a mechanism for identifying value, as a practical implementation of rhetoric, even as a validation of one’s mission” (21).  Again, the problem here is the key term value – in the markets that C. is describing the value is usually (if not always) monetary.  If you don’t value that value then her critique falls apart.
  • Another of my critiques (I mention it earlier): C.’s argument hinges on the autonomous ability of the consumer to chose ANY CHOICE AT ALL.  This is flawed for so, so many reasons (see section on 24).
  • C. recognizes the difference between opportunism and self-interest; however, she somehow argues that individuals in successful capitalism, pure capitalism, will necessarily be self-interested by exercising their ethics.  It’s a wonder as both opportunism and self-interest have the same goal: self-interest and capital.  She claims that good capitalism means making rational decisions for oneself and one’s family. . . but this too implies a universal ethics (that all families have the same idea of rational and good behavior seems ridiculous.  What is the universal moralizing system here that is making everyone self-interested and non-opportunistic?)
  • Well, it’s official: Carter and I are simply at serious odds.  She notes “Key to a capitalist system are property rights for individuals, who may do anything they want with their property” (26).  UGH – I wonder how she feels about intellectual property – is it a natural right?  How can you encourage progress and innovation while also supporting constrictive IP regimes?  C. notes, “In the same spirit of property ownership, rule of law, contract formation, and other rules that provide free markets with the structure necessary to operate”
  • C.’s central critique of non-market rhetoric (non-productive rhetoric) is that it simply criticizes and resists – it doesn’t create.  Of course, this critique relies on a production of commodity to function.  If social production results in the creation of social relations that aren’t commodifiable then, in C.’s estimation, the production is not productive.  This is the central weakness in her argument (See Benkler, H/N).
  • Three dimensional real-world applied rhetoric:

o    Dimension 1: instrumental – teach the fundementals of communication

o    Dimension 2: critical dimension involves teaching humanism, criticism, observation, analysis, and ethics (this should destroy the capitalist value issue that C. is carrying on about).

o    Dimension 3: productive – value creation, markets, strategic thinking, action (or, if framed in economic terms, how to move into the capitalist system).  (37)


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