Research

I study rhetoric and argumentation, especially in legal and professional communication. My communication research focuses on rhetorical and argumentation theory in context and practice, using text-analytic, computational, and cognitive methods. I attempt to draw explicit connections between legal philosophy or jurisprudence, argumentation theory, and empirical practice. My other research interests include law and rhetoric, digital media law, writing pedagogy, and research methods, especially as they relate to digital writing and digital humanities.

I’m at work on two book projects at various stages of completion and described below. I have an active research agenda supporting other projects related to my interests as well.

Book projects

Star-Spangled: Law and Rhetoric of a National Symbol

Dr. Genelle Belmas (University of Kansas) and I are writing a book addressing the development of a body of law around the U.S. flag and the interaction of the rhetoric of the flag in public discourse and the rhetoric of the law in cases about the flag. This interdisciplinary project is founded in Dr. Belmas’s expertise in media law and mass communications theory and mine in rhetoric and the law.

Law’s enterprise: Exemplary argument in the law

This project is an examination of argument by example in the law (which lawyers often call “analogical argument”),  addressing the question at three levels: Theoretical justification, empirical practice, and law-school pedagogy. The book will be of interest to rhetoricians and argumentation scholars, legal educators, and law students on at least three grounds. First, exemplary argument is at the heart of much legal argumentation, but such previous essays on the subject as Brewer (1996), Weinreb (2005), Posner (2006), and Macagno and Walton (2009) have struggled to offer a theoretical justification for its use. I propose to justify it with principles of argumentation theory and cognitive science. Second, no published study has systematically examined the uses of exemplary argument by lawyers seeking to persuade judges; previous studies looked at the opinions of judges, which play a different role than lawyers’ briefs, and have been limited to case studies. I’m collecting and annotating the data for it now in preparation for performing both “close reading” and automated “distant reading” analyses.

Finally, legal writing pedagogy (at least as evidenced in its textbooks) teaches exemplary argument in a way disconnected both from the theoretical justifications for it and from the practices of lawyers. I propose a pedagogy of exemplary argument that takes account of the theory and practices of professionals.

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