My research has been energized by three interrelated ideas: the importance of critical puzzles, the relationship between form and function in rhetoric and argumentation, and the centrality of argument and narrative to human civilization. Critical puzzles are places where rhetoric or argument works (or fails to work) in contexts where that result was not expected, or where it works (or fails to work) in unexpected ways. One example of such a puzzle is the rise of Donald Trump, something almost no one thought would happen when he announced his campaign for the presidency. Over the years, I have focused on many such puzzles involving a multiplicity of issues in argumentation, genre studies, political communication, and other contexts. Rhetoric is where the work of any democratic society occurs. Consequently, elucidating the various puzzles is essential to explaining why and how rhetoric sometimes works to produce inclusive and functional outcomes, but unfortunately often fails to do so in our country.
A second focus of my research has been on the relationship between form and function in rhetoric and argument. This focus is perhaps most obvious in my research on the
A second focus of my research has been on the relationship between form and function in rhetoric and argument. This focus is perhaps most obvious in my research on the relationship between the work done by and formal components of societal narratives, secular and religious, myths, and rational argument. A focus on the relation between function and form also provides grounds for judgment, a principle I have developed in research on the dangers associated with contemporary myth systems and extremist rhetoric, much of which is deeply racist or sexist.
The third focus of my research is on narrative and argumentative forms of rhetoric. This research coheres around the idea that narrative is particularly associated with creating a sense of community and reinforcing values, while argument is the most productive means of problem identification and problem solving. Put more simply, we find meaning in narrative, especially myth, and epistemological answers through argument.
Over the years, I have written about a host of at first glance quite different topics, from Battlestar Galactica, to Ronald Reagan, to Barack Obama, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and so forth. While the particular topics of this research appear quite different, they are all unified by the three principles of resolving critical puzzles, explaining the link between function and form in rhetoric and argumentation, and elucidating how narrative and argument function in society.