Protest Rhetoric

— ENGL 584: Topics Discourse and Writing
— Spencer Schaffner, Associate Professor of English
— spring semester 2017, U of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
— Mondays 1:00-2:50pm / 123 English Building
— email:
— office hours EB 310, 10-11:00 a.m. & by appointment
— website:

This image (at right) captures some of the cross-sectional rhetorics of contemporary protest: the image references history, is racialized, depicts an embodied gesture, references iconographic symbolism, circulates online, and is a template.

People routinely get naked, burn, and bleed in protests. They also write, speak, and sing. Some protestors are peaceful while others are armed to the teeth. Many protests are online, while others are in our streets, homes, and classrooms. This class is aimed at understanding protest rhetoric and developing productive research with protest as the topic.

To make sense of protest, we will study protest from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Your reasons for being in graduate school should inform the work you do in this class.


James Jasper, Protest: A Cultural Introduction to Social Movements

Srdja Popovic and Matthew Miller, Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World

Other readings are online and linked through the course calendar

Student Work

This graduate seminar is project based and experiential. If you're used to seminars that require a large final project, you'll have to shift gears in this class to complete a number of small individual and group projects throughout the semester.

1. Lead discussion(s) on contemporary protest strategies ("Protests of the Day")
Each week, we'll start class by discussing a group of thematically aligned contemporary protests. Everyone in the class will be responsible for getting familiar with these protests (histories, participants, events, strategies, etc.); each week, one discussion leader will lead our discussion about these protests. When you're the discussion leader, come to class with some ideas about how to guide the class. Sign up on the first day of class so you know which days your leading discussions.

2. Group in-class presentation on protest in fiction, film, and/or TV (sign up on Jan. 30th)
Protests of various kinds appear in a wide range of novels (e.g. The Hunger Games, "Bartleby, the Scrivener," Stuck Rubber Baby, March), films (e.g. Chi-Raq, Pride, Milk, Gandhi), and TV. With a partner, focus on a fictional text involving protest and describe how protest works in the narrative. How is protest represented? What types of strategies are deployed? How does the protest work out? What narratives about protest and dissent emerge in the text? Are there connections to the course you can make? Are there connections to contemporary events in the "real world"? Presentations should run 5-10 minutes, follow any format, and get us thinking in new ways.

3. Short Position Papers (3 over the course of the semester)
Three times during the semester, write a two-page, single spaced position paper focused 1) your ideas, 2) the day's readings, and 3) larger themes in the class. Assert a position, develop your ideas, and make connections. This exercise is intended to get you thinking critically while engaging with the reading. Sign up for the due dates of your position papers on the first day of class.

4. Group engagement project (Planning time March 6th &13th; Present April 17th & 24th)
This project is intended to leverage experiential learning. Form a small group (3-4 people), identify something in the world you all want to change, discuss various strategies and approaches you could follow, choose an innovative and original approach you want to pursue, and do it. (Note that the student code addresses what are called "disruptive or coercive demonstrations.") In your intervention, be creative and try to do something that we can all learn from as a class. Document what you do so you can present on your efforts in class toward the end of the semester. (If you haven't seen a PechaKucha presentation, check out a few online. Your presentation should be based on roughly 20 slides that you discuss for 20 seconds each. This means your presentation will be about six minutes long, followed by discussion.)

5. Chart/diagram on the rhetoric of protest
Beginning on the first day of class and continuing on throughout the semester, maintain and revise an informational chart/diagram/info-document (of some kind) on the rhetoric of protest. When you encounter a new idea, trope, or rhetorical strategy relating to protest, account for it on your chart. When the structure of your chart won't accommodate a new strategy, revise your chart/diagram so that everything fits. This chart should, ultimately, tell a story about the rhetoric of protest. Your chart should include entries/categories for such things as embodiment, risk, visual rhetoric, technology, performance, and so on. Bring working drafts of your chart to class on February 20th & March 27th. Final version due on the last day of class, May 1st.

6. Short final summative assignment
This final summative assignment can take many forms, but what you do/express should directly relate to the findings expressed in your chart. You can produce a short piece of writing (a manifesto?) or a video (a how-to video?), a podcast or a visual text. Following your interests as a scholar, create something that is summative in relation to your findings in your chart. Make connections across what we've covered, respond to "big questions," think through puzzling conundrums. Turn in your this summative assignment on May 1st.

Course Calendar (subject to change)

Date 1.23.2017: Introductions & Overview of the Course

— Activity: introductions
Protests of the Day
Women's March on Washington (; examine reporting on the march in the news media, as well as videos of the march on YouTube
Read for today
— Watkins, S. Craig. 2001. "Framing Protest: News Media Frames and the Million Man March." Critical Studies in Media Communication. 18:1. Online at
— Discussion: marching on Washington
— Activity: small-group discussion of personal experiences with protest
— Practical stuff:
      => overview of the class and syllabus
      => Sign up for leading discussions
      => Sign up for the due dates of your 3 position papers

Date 1.30.2017: Occupation and Taxonomies of Protest

— Discussion Leader:   Jon  
Protests of the Day
— Alcatraz:
— Malheur:
— Occupy Wall Street: &
— Wisconsin capitol building occupation:
— J.W. Bowers and D.J. Ochs. l980. Chapter 2: "The Rhetoric and Strategies of Agitation." From The Rhetoric of Agitation and Control, Online at
— James Jasper, Protest: A Cultural Introduction to Social Movements. First half of the book, up to page 107
— Small-group discussion: Planning your charts in relation to the readings
— Discussion questions: What are our perspectives on taxonomies of protest? Strengths and weaknesses of this kind of representation of protest? Uncharted territories in these readings? Violent vs. non-violent occupation?
— Film/fiction/TV project: Form groups, plan, and sign up for presentation day (these will happen before Spring Break)
— Position papers due today: Carrie & Jon

Date 2.6.2017: Cooptation/Appropriation and Street Theater

— Discussion Leader:   Carrie  
Protests of the Day
— Pussy Power Protests:
— Knitted Hats:, (note that hats are a larger tool in protests:
— Slut Walks:
— James Jasper, Protest: A Cultural Introduction to Social Movements. Pages 108-186
— Phaedra Pezzullo. 2003. "Resisting “national breast cancer awareness month”: the rhetoric of counterpublics and their cultural performances," Quarterly Journal of Speech, 89:4. Online at
— Helene Shugart. 1997. "Counterhegemonic Acts: Appropriation as a Feminist Rhetorical Strategy," Quarterly Journal of Speech, 83. Online at
— Debate: reification vs. overthrowing dominant, stereotypical views
— Discussion questions: Who are the audience members for such protests? Do these protests offer/take advantage of opportunities for persuasion? What roles do costumes and dress (and other, larger social semiotics) play in these protests?
— Class time to plan your film/fiction/TV group projects
— Position papers due today: Logan

Date 2.13.2017: Hacktivism and Slacktivism

— Discussion Leader:   Logan  
Protests of the Day
— Anonymous hacks and actions:
— Chelsea Manning's actions:
— Lulz/LulzSec: &
— Kristofferson, White, & Peloza. 2014. "The Nature of Slacktivism: How the Social Observability of an Initial Act of Token Support Affects Subsequent Prosocial Action." Journal of Consumer Research, 40. Online at
— Joannah Portman-Daley. 2010. "Reshaping Slacktivist Rhetoric: Social Networking for Social Change," Reflections, 10:1. Online at
— Henrik Serup Christensen. 2011. "Political Activities on the Internet: Slacktivism or Political Participation by Other Means?" First Monday, 16:2. Online at
— optional/bonus reading:
— Read the first 20 pages or so of Srdja Popovic's Blueprint for Revolution
— Activity: Come to class prepared to describe an example of online activism, hacktivism, and/or slacktivism that you've been involved in
— Discussion questions: Can we develop taxonomies of protest online? How do you experience online protest? Why, now, would anyone take to the streets?
— Protest in film/fiction/TV Presentation today: ________________________
— Position papers due today: Logan & Jon

Date 2.20.2017: Art Installations and Protest

— Discussion Leader:   James  
Protests of the Day
— Some context for art and performance & protest:
— Worker hard hats:
— PETA wrapping humans like meat:
— Other examples here:
Complete Srdja Popovic's Blueprint for Revolution for today
— Small groups: identifying key arguments and tactics in the book
— Discussion questions: How do people-less protests make meaning? The politics of risk in protest art? Views on performance vs. installation based protest art?
— Due today: draft of your chart (come to class prepared to explain your approach)
— Discussion: our charts and what they tell us
— Protest in film/fiction/TV Presentation today: Logan & Dan
— Position papers due today: Alexis, James, & Jon

Date 2.27.2017: Shock and Risk

— Discussion Leader:   Andy  
Protests of the Day
— World Naked Bike Ride:
— PETA's naked fur and wool ads:
— The Trumps & naked protests: & &
— More recent examples:
— Johnson, Levy, Manthey, & Novotny. 2015. "Embodiment: Embodying Feminist Rhetorics," Peitho Journal, 18: 1. Online at
— Barbara Sutton. 2007. "Naked Protest: Memories of Bodies and Resistance at the World Social Forum," Journal of International Women's Studies, 8: 3. Online at
— Imogen Tyler. 2013. "Naked Protest: The Maternal Politics of Citizenship and Revolt,", Citizenship Studies, 17: 2. Online at
— Phil Bratta. 2015. "Rhetoric and Event: The Embodiment of Lived Events," Enculturation. Online at
— Small groups: Identifying disciplinary markers in the various readings
— Discussion questions: How do nakedness and gender inform one another in scenes of protest? What rhetorical meaning comes from the naked protesting body? Does the spectacle of nakedness in scenes of protest distract/confirm/accentuate/confuse "the message"?
— Protest in film/fiction/TV Presentation today: Jon & James: Southpark Episode
— Position papers due today: Alexis, Dan, James, Autumn, & Andy

Date 3.6.2017: Disgust
Discussion Leader:   unassigned  
Protests of the Day
— Spit:
— Urine:
— Semen:
— Fake blood: &
— Real blood:
— Feces:,
— Human milk:
— Haidt, McCauley, and Rozin. 1994. "Individual Differences in Sensitivity to Disgust: a Scale Sampling Seven Domains of Disgust Elicitors." Personality and Individual Difference, 16: 5. Online at
— Smith, Oxley, Hibbing, Alford, and Hibbing. 2011. "Disgust Sensitivity and the Neurophysiology of Left-Right Political Orientations," Plos. Online at
— Inbar, Pizarro, Iyer, and Haidt. 2012. "Disgust Sensitivity, Political Conservatism, and Voting," Social Psychology and Personality Science, 3: 5. Online at
— "Hegemony, democracy, agonism and journalism: an interview with Chantal Mouffe" Online at
— Before class today: Take an online disgust sensitivity test
— How did you do on the disgust sensitivity test? Where might a "rhetoric of disgust" fit into your chart/graph/diagram for this class?
— Discussion questions: Have you witnessed "the rhetoric of disgust"? Is protest a fundamentally or "primal" expression? Can throwing body fluids be a productive form of discourse? Why appeal to someone's gag reflex?
— Protest in film/fiction/TV Presentation today: Carrie & Autumn
— Position papers due today: Andy, Autumn, & Carrie

Date 3.13.2017: Clothing and Gestures
Discussion Leader:   unassigned  
Protests of the Day
— hoodies:
— "hands up, don't shoot":
— raised fists:,,
— Guy Fawkes masks: (history if interested:
— pussyhats (again):
— Kristen Ann Hungerford. 2015. "The Hoodie and Other Protest Strategies Following the Death of Trayvon Martin: Conflicting Discourses of Social Change and White Privilege," Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric, 5:3. Online at
— Sonja K. Foss. 2004. "Theory of Visual Rhetoric," in Handbook of Visual Communication: Theory, Methods, and Media. Online, CLICK ON P. 141 HERE
— Position papers due today: Alexis & Andy: First Wives Club or Pride
... there will be class time to plan your group projects ...

Date 3.13.2017: Intervention and Direct Action
Discussion Leader:   unassigned  
Protests of the Day
— Google image search: "direct action protest"
— Google image search: "protestors block"
— Google search: "protestors stop train"
— Sea Shepherd:
— Earth First! on direct action:
— Earth First! —Examine this site: —Selectively read parts of: "Direct Action Manual, 1st Edition." Online at
— Brian Doherty, Alexandra Plows, and Derek Wall. 2007. "Environmental direct action in Manchester, Oxford and North Wales: A protest event analysis." Environmental Politics, 16: 5. Online at
— Discussion questions: Is this kind of protest in any way part of the larger system? Is direct action rhetorical or an attempt to persuade? What role do outside viewers and actors (via the media) play in direct action protests? What are the roles of risk and civility in direct action?
— Class time to plan group interventions
— Protest in film/fiction/TV Presentation today: ________________________
— Position papers due today: none

Date 3.20.2017: NO CLASS, SPRING BREAK

Date 3.27.2017: Music
Discussion Leader:   unassigned  
Protest Music of the Day
— Hip-hop:
— YouTube search for "protest music" (listen around)
— South African examples:
— Shirli Gilbert. 2007. "Singing Against Apartheid: ANC Cultural Groups and the International Anti-Apartheid Struggle," Journal of Southern African Studies, 33: 2. Online at
— Erin K. Sharpe. 2008. "Festivals and Social Change: Intersections of Pleasure and Politics at a Community Music Festival," Leisure Sciences, 30. Online at
— Greg Mitchel. 2014. "For the 25th Anniversary: The Music That Inspired Chinese Students in Tiananmen Square," The Nation. Online at
— Max Fisher. 2013. "This is the song of Tiananmen: ‘Blindfold my eyes and cover the sky’," Washington Post. Online at
— Discussion questions: How do we make sense of the commodification of protest music? "That's a song about protest?" Is there an intrinsic power in music?
— Due today: rough draft of your chart
— scheduling: final class meeting with other seminar?
— Position papers due today: Logan & James

Date 4.3.2017: Sabotage
Discussion Leader:   Alexis  
Protests of the Day
— tree spiking
— ecoterrorism
— monkeywrenching (peruse parts of
— Michel de Certeau. 1984. "Ch. 3 'Making Do': Uses and Tactics," from The Practice of Everyday Life. Online at
— F. Analoui. 1995. "Workplace Sabotage: Its Styles, Motives, and Management." Journal of Management Development, 14:7. Online at
— Steve Linstead. 1985. "Personnel Review: Breaking the 'Purity Rule': Industrial Sabotage and the Symbolic Process," Personnel Review, 14:3. Online at
— Discussion questions: Do our understandings and definitions of protest include such things as ecoterrorism and tree spiking? What about other forms of terrorism? Certeau speaks of subtle acts—are there corollaries in our own lives? What can we learn about sabotage from the management literature?
— Position papers due today: Alexis & Dan

Date 4.10.2017: Culture Jamming & Protestainment
Discussion Leader:   Evin G.  
Protests of the Day
— UW Center for Communication and Civic Engagement. "Culture Jamming." Online at
— Kembrew McLeod, "Everything is Connected," 2010, Quarterly Journal of Speech, Vol. 96 No 4. Online at
— Discussion questions: The powers and weaknesses of parody? Is this protestainment? Does "the system" work better with this kind of resistance? Asked another way: is this kind of resistance part of the larger system?
— Position papers due today: Autumn & Andy

Date 4.17.2017: Vigils, Hunger Strikes, & Self-Immolation
Discussion Leader:   Dan  
Protests of the Day
— White House Peace Vigil, since 1981:
— Google news search for "hunger strike"
— Thich Quang Duc self-immolation
— Michelle Murray Yang. "Still Burning: Self-Immolation as Photographic Protest." Quarterly Journal of Speech. 2011. Vol 97, No. 1. Online at
— Discussion questions: How legible is self-determination and will power? How do we make sense of the rhetoric of self-sacrifice?
— PechaKucha Presentations on group projects: Jon's group (of one)
— Position papers due today: Dan

Date 4.24.2017: Graffiti and Murals
Discussion Leader:   Autumn  
Protests of the Day
— other protest graffiti:
— "Build the Wall" mural and response:
— James Brassett. 2009. "British irony, global justice: a pragmatic reading of Chris Brown, Banksy and Ricky Gervais," Review of International Studies, 35:1. Online at
— David Leeds. 2011. Blog Post: "The Passion, the Majesty, and the Politics of Diego Rivera." Online at
— Allison Keyes. 2014. NPR article: "Destroyed by Rockefellers, Mural Trespassed on Political Vision." Online at
— Discussion questions: Irony can be challenging to understand—is that a problem or challenge in these works? If a mural is painted in a back alley or train station, does anyone hear it fall?
— PechaKucha Presentations on group projects: Fake-News Awareness; Gender Surprise
— Position papers due today: Carrie & Autumn

Date 5.1.2017: Last Day of Class & Possible Meeting with Other Seminar

— Note: we may be meeting on a different day this week
— Due today: Final Chart and summative statement (writing, video, audio, etc.)
— Showcase: 3- 5-minute discussion of your chart and summative statement
— Wrap up and celebration ... summer is near!