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Last update: 9 September 2006


D.K. Seaman Chair in Communication



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Dr. Jennifer MacLennan, D.K. Seaman Chair  in Professional and Technical Communication and Academic Director of the Graham Centre

Burton Urquhart, Instructor and Program Administrator for the Graham Centre

Current Graduate Projects in Rhetoric and Professional Communication

Project Abstracts

Read abstracts for the unique and innovative research projects my students are working on. With a userid and password, you can open an MS Word copy of the full proposal for each one.

Graduate Courses

Along with a number of courses in Religious Studies, Drama, Commerce, Sociology, Native Studies, Law, and Anthropology, Interdisciplinary students in rhetoric have the opportunity to take a number of courses in the discipline. This link takes you to the list of these courses.

Three MA students and one PhD student are currently enrolled in graduate programmes in rhetoric and communication through the Graham Centre; a fifth is about to start her PhD through the university's Special Case option, and three more have already completed MA degrees. Their profiles, and their programmes, are quite varied, and indicate how diverse the study of rhetorical communication can be. Their project proposals, shown below, deal with very different aspects of  rhetorical communication, as you will see.

If you are considering graduate study in rhetoric and communication, you may wish to study the proposals; you can also read more about what's involved in doing graduate work in rhetoric  at U of Saskatchewan by clicking here.    top

Abstracts of Graduate Projects in Rhetoric and Communication

Megan Huston, "Crime Scene Profiling as Rhetorical Analysis: An Application of the Dramatistic Pentad."

Huston (BA, U of Lethbridge, 1999; MA U of Saskatchewan 2002) came to the U of Saskatchewan with an undergraduate concentration in rhetoric and several conference papers to her credit. Huston's original project was to have focused on mediation as a communication process; her revised project, defended in November 2001, involved an analysis of the rhetorical foundations of the technique of crime scene profiling, using Kenneth Burke's theory of dramatism. Huston has since completed a law degree, and is practising law in Calgary.
Brief Description of the Proposed Research
My  project, entitled Crime Scene Profiling as Rhetorical Analysis, will treat the technique of criminal profiling,  a system developed in the 1980s by the FBI’s Behavourial Sciences Unit. I propose to show that profiling, as a system of interpreting the symbolic "text" of the crime scene for evidence of the criminal's personality, is essentially a rhetorical method that employs the elements and ratios of Burke’s dramatistic pentad. Central to Burke’s conception of human relations as a drama is the  "principle... that the nature of acts and agents [will] be consistent with the scene." As my analysis will reveal, this same concept of kairos informs the effective use of profiling techniques in the solving of baffling and brutal crimes .Download a copy of the complete project proposal in MS Word (requires userid and password).

Burton Urquhart,  "Professional Communication Strategies for the Technical Workplace: A Situational Analysis and Practical Handbook."
Urquhart  (BA, U of Lethbridge, 1999; MA U of Saskatchewan 2006), like Huston, came to the U of Saskatchewan with an undergraduate concentration in rhetoric and several conference papers to his credit. Urquhart's project works with theoretical models from Lloyd Bitzer, Wayne C. Booth, Kenneth Burke and Donald Schon as a means of understanding the communicative demands of the technical workplace, and includes a brief handbook for students making technical presentations. Urquhart is now a full-time Communication Instructor in the Graham Centre for the Study of Communication, where he teaches Oral and Written Communication, Rhetoric: Theory and Practice of Persuasion, and Oral Rhetoric: Theory and Practice.
Brief Description of the Proposed Research
The core of my proposed Interdisciplinary Studies MA programme is rhetoric and professional communication, specifically the ways in which theoretical models can be used to enhance both the understanding and the practice of communication. Although there are numerous programs in the US which allow for this intersection of disciplines, there are no programs in Canada as yet that combine rhetoric with the  study of technical communication. A Interdisciplinary  MA programme will allow me to combine my study of rhetoric and communication theory with an understanding of the communicative demands of a technical environment such as engineering.Download a copy of the complete project proposal in MS Word (requires userid and password).

Laura Patterson, "This Hour Has 22 Minutes and the Art of Resistance: A Rhetorical Analysis of Canadian Cultural Anti-Language."
Patterson  (BA, U of Saskatchewan, 2001; MA U of Saskatchewan 2006) took two intensive courses in rhetoric as part of her undergraduate degree before embarking on the MA. Her interest in the rhetoric of Canadian cultural discourse preceded her MA studies, and she had already presented a conference paper on the debate surrounding the Robert Latimer murder case before she entered graduate study. During her time in the MA programme, she presented several conference papers based on her thesis research.
Brief Description of the Proposed Research
My proposed area of study is Rhetoric, Culture, and Popular Media.  I am particularly interested in how a marginalized culture uses its popular discourse as a way of establishing and maintaining a sense of cultural distinctiveness in face of overwhelming external (in this case American) influences.  My project will address this question through an examination of the award-winning satirical television series This Hour Has 22 Minutes as an example of what Norman Fairclough calls the "anti-language" of Canadian cultural resistance.Download a copy of the complete project proposal in MS Word (requires userid and password).

Jeanie Wills, "Aspects of the Sacred: The Rhetoric of Print Adverting"
Wills (BA, U of Saskatchewan 1996; MA U of Saskatchewan 2002) spent nearly ten years in the broadcasting industry, first as a copywriter and later as Manager of the Creative Department for radio station CJJW in Saskatoon before returning to university as an adult student. Since 1996, she has taught a broad spectrum of courses in communication and English, and  is currently Assistant Professor of Communication and Rhetoric in the Graham Centre for the Study of Communication. At the time of her enrollment in the PhD programme, Wills had alreadycompleted two graduate courses in rhetoric and communication, and presented three conference papers, including one that uses pentadic criticism to analyse the motives of Desdemona in Shakespeare's play Othello. She continues to present her research at annual conferences and  has just published a paper on the rhetoric of Jim Pankiw.
Brief Description of the Proposed Research
My PhD project will be a humanistic study of socio-religious elements in contemporary advertising. It will consider verbal and nonverbal components from both print and electronic media sources, using the methods and perspectives of rhetorical analysis, principally the theory of Kenneth Burke. I plan to show that advertising campaigns consistently draw on a common fund of symbols to persuade consumers to consume, not just a particular product but as a way of life.Download a copy of the complete project proposal in MS Word (requires userid and password).


Rebekah Bennetch, "The Gospel According to Glamour: A Rhetorical Analysis of Revolve: The Complete New Testament"
Bennetch, (BA,  Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah, GA, 2002), got hooked on rhetoric after taking her first course in the subject during her undergraduate degree in English. Bennetch's primary interests is in rhetoric and popular culture, which she plans to continue studying at the PhD level.  As part of her MA experience, Bennetch has already presented a conference paper based on her thesis research. Bennetch is currently employed full time as an Instructor of Communication in the Graham Centre for the Study of Communication.
Brief Description of the Proposed Research
My project will centre on a recent version of the New Testament, entitled Revolve: The Complete New Testament. This popular Bible is published in a magazine format, and is specifically marketed to young girls, using the techniques of a fashion magazine to appeal to its audience. While Revolve does include the entire New Testament, integrated through the text are additional features commonly found in a fashion magazine; a few of these items include quizzes, beauty tips, questions-and-answers, and special segments on "guys speaking out" on various issues. Revolve thus represents a cross-pollination of religion and pop culture. I hope to show that the primary message in this discourse is one of consumption rather than spirituality, and that, far from using commercial appeals to communicate religious content, the magazine uses an overlay of religious themes to purvey an essentially commercial message. Download a copy of the complete project proposal in MS Word (requires userid and password).  

Julian Demkiw, "Taking Rhetoric to Work: A Dramatistic Analysis of Organizational Dynamics in The Office"
Demkiw (BE, Electrical Engineering, University of Saskatchewan, 1999), became interested in studying communication partly as a result of an active involvement in student government. After graduation, while working for the Office of University Advancement, he took his first course in rhetoric, and has since completed several more, one of which produced a successful conference paper that was later published. Demkiw's primary interests is in rhetoric and organizational communication, which he hopes will lead to a career in communication consulting. 
Brief Description of the Proposed Research
I am interested in exploring the ways in which a rhetorical approach can shed new light on the interpersonal and social identifications that influence human motivation and interaction in an organizational setting, and I have chosen to focus on the acclaimed BBC programme The Office, described as a “satire of TV's ubiquitous fly-on-the-wall documentary . . . [that dramatizes] the easily recognisable eccentricities, annoyances and petty rivalries of office life.”  The Office is a fictional drama, but what makes it important as a rhetorical object is its function as part of what interpreters of the great rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke have called “the drama of human relations.” It is my belief that, combined with traditional social-scientific approaches to organizational development, rhetorical analysis will provide greater insight into how organizations function by focusing on the ways in which the people within them interact with each other and with the organizational structure.  Download a copy of the complete project proposal in MS Word (requires userid and password).  

Janelle Hutchinson, "Goading, In the Spirit of Hierarchy:  Exigence, Audience, and the Maclean’s University Rankings"

Hutchinson holds two science degrees from the University of Saskatchewan (a BE in Agricultural and BioResource Engineering and a BSc in MicroBiology). She is currently employed as an Assistant Registrar for the University, and became interested in rhetoric after teaching our required undergraduate course in Oral and Written Communication for engineers, which led her to join our Rhetoric Study Group before embarking on her formal programme in the fall of 2005.
Brief Description of the Proposed Research

I am interested in the rhetorical dimensions and impetus of the annual Maclean’s University Rankings, which are released to the public in November of each year – much to the glee, anxiety, or despair of university administrations across Canada. The survey has been criticized since its inception as a meaningless ratings game, but the “Rankings” issue has become the most popular of the Maclean’s editorial year, turning it into a rhetorical exigence that university administrations seem unable to ignore. The rankings are compiled and published by an independent third party (Maclean’s magazine), yet universities readily supply all required statistical data to allow the comparison (indeed diverting more and more resources to this effort).  Despite their best efforts, however, a hierarchy can be a slippery slope, and even those at the summit are acutely aware that there is only one remaining direction. With resources scarce at most Canadian universities, many inside the institutions have begun to question the motivation for continuing the exercise, given the expenditure of resources required. The purpose of my project is to examine the forces that have transformed a magazine’s marketing gesture into a rhetorical exigence so powerful that university administrations seem unwilling to abandon what has turned out to be an increasingly costly exercise whose worth is still unclear. .Download a copy of the complete project proposal in MS Word (requires userid and password).

Tess Laidlaw,  "Journaling the Plague Years:  A Rhetorical Analysis of Media Coverage of the Avian Influenza H5N1 Threat"
Laidlaw holds a master's degree in journalism and an undergraduate degree in biology, and currently works as a Communication Officer for the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO), where she sees first hand the challenges and pitfalls of communicating scientific information to the public. Prior to embarking on her PhD programme in the spring of 2007, Laidlaw completed RCM (formerly GE) 498 and a graduate seminar in Rhetorical Interpretation.
Brief Description of the Proposed Research

As science and technology increasingly influence day-to-day life, scientific “illiteracy” seems to be increasingly widespread, with greater estrangement between experts and the public. As a result of this reliance, the mass media shape public understanding – and thus public policy and actions – to a startling degree. But since media coverage of any issue is driven by concerns other than scientific precision or educational value, the way in which scientific subjects are treated in the media may be heavily influenced by pressures extraneous to the science itself or even to the public interest. This being the case, how well are we served, both as researchers and as members of the public, by this status quo? My PhD project will attempt to answer this question through a case study of media coverage, specifically of avian influenza H5N1. I propose to conduct a textual analysis of media portrayals of the avian influenza H5N1 virus threat, from the time of its first appearance until experts began to warn that the threat was being overblown, a period of approximately three years. In conducting my analysis, I will draw upon the World Health Organization (WHO) report Outbreak Communications, developed predominantly by scientists and medical personnel to guide communication with the public in life-and-death situations.

Download a copy of the complete project proposal in MS Word (requires user id and password). top

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