Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Mediated Communication—Rhetoric or Propaganda?: What a Humanistic Perspective Offers

Beth S. Bennett.

Throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, the study of persuasion, especially in terms of mass media effects, has been dominated by communication scientists interested primarily in influencing outcome. As communication technology has developed and public communication has become almost exclusively mediated in some form, whether for political, commercial, or “info/entertainment” purposes, has come the view that everything now is propaganda. Yet, to understand how these persuasive forces work, to encourage citizen participation in the public sphere, and to judge how these changes are influencing us individually and collectively, we need to be able to look at mediated communication apart from its technological or economic frames and to make critical distinctions among types of suasion, between deliberate influence and coercion.

The aim of my presentation will be to discuss how the rhetorical tradition provides an important alternative with its emphasis on the relationship being created with the audience by various communication efforts. In the early part of the twentieth century, propaganda research adopted the scientific perspective to serve particular intellectual and political purposes. As the economic benefits of outcomes research in mass media became apparent, the study of communication effects became the focus for communication science. I will argue that the humanistic tradition of rhetoric offers foundations for a functional, critical framework to study mediated communication in today's society, including the nature of choice offered and the desired response, the means employed, the truth conveyed, and the role of the communicator within that overall persuasive process.


Beth S. Bennett  (United States)
Associate Professor
Department of Communication Studies
University of Alabama

  • Rhetoric
  • Propaganda
  • Communication technology
  • Media
  • Audience

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)