Skip to content
Advances in Communication Theory and Research: Volume 1, Issue 2, 2008

The Rhetoric of Disaster Planning- Max O. Archer


The record of disasters in American culture provides evidence of the high stakes in planning response procedures. In the United States alone, over 1700 disasters have been declared since 1953 (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2007). The tragic losses experienced in events such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina reveal the extent to which communities have suffered from inadequate responses. These losses have been effected by disaster planning documents, most notably among them, the National Response Plan drafted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2004. Because these planning documents influence the public thinking and actions of a diverse audience, critically examining these documents as rhetorical texts is a significant social assignment for communication scholars.

This paper performs a fantasy theme analysis of the rhetoric of disaster planning in order to determine how rhetors situate their audience(s) around particular ideas and motives. The critic reveals that the arguments surrounding the National Response Plan structure the way citizens and officials manage disasters. By using fantasy themes to dramatize the collective experience of its audience, the Department of Homeland Security creates a rhetorical vision that disaster response agencies are rational, capable actors, worthy of the public’s trust and authority to implement the necessary emergency response procedures for crises in the United States.

Disasters and their responses afterwards arise within an “eminently social” context worthy of rhetorical analysis (Oliver-Smith & Hoffman, 2002, p. 12). The planning documents for such events are rhetorical texts which are laden with messages used to describe what constitutes a disaster and the procedures used to respond. First Responders such as firefighters, emergency medical technicians and law enforcement officers use disaster planning documents as a map to guide their responsibilities on the ground when a disaster breaks out. Elected officials use disaster plans and the testimony of emergency management agencies as evidence of the government’s forethought (or lack thereof) in catastrophic events since these officials often have very little practical experience in handling crises on the scale described by theses plans (Rodriguez & Dynes, 2006). And ordinary citizens recognize the plan as a “badge of rationality” (Clarke, 1999, p. 16), proof that “the powers that be” have our interests and safety in mind. Each of these audience members develops their understanding of how disasters should unfold and how the nation should respond through the rhetorical content of the disaster plan. More work must be done to examine the arguments used by these texts to motivate these audiences to act in ways consistent with the disaster response plan.

Clarke (1999, p. 136) and this critic argue that the assumptions and vocabularies used by organizations in disaster planning need to be rethought since those assumptions play an important role in how responses unfold. A rhetorical focus on disasters is warranted by a glance at the past collaboration between FEMA, the lead federal disaster response agency within DHS, and the scholarly field of communication. In FEMA’s

Disciplines, Disasters and Emergency Management textbook, provided free of charge to teach courses in a variety of disciplines (McEntire, 2006, preface), Richardson and Byers argue that our discipline’s contribution to emergency management lies in the call to “consider communication’s symbolic functions particularly within disasters contexts” (p. 19). This critic makes this contribution by offering a critique which draws attention to the rhetorical dimensions of the National Response Plan and disaster planning in general.

Now that it is understood what is at stake in the study of communication issues in disaster response, the remainder of this paper will describe and evaluate the rhetoric of disaster planning through fantasy theme analysis. The next section builds the case for focusing on the symbolic dimensions of disaster planning by describing the rhetorical artifact in question and the method of rhetorical criticism performed by this paper. The critic will then analyze of the rhetorical features contained by the specific artifact, describing and evaluating the use of fantasy themes which contribute to the creation of a rhetorical vision put forth by the rhetor to the audience. A discussion of the implications of this study on communication as a discipline and fantasy theme analysis as a method will conclude the critique. Continue reading ‘The Rhetoric of Disaster Planning- Max O. Archer’ »

Creating a Nation: The French Education System- Esther Otis

The purpose of this project is to explore the state of the modern French education system by investigating its core values and revered traditions through academic journal and textbook readings, as well as through personal interviews with French native Pia Decarsin.

I have been studying the French language and culture for quite some time now. Ever since I picked up my first grammar book, I’ve heard whispers about the infamously difficult French education system. When I complained in class, my French teachers looked at me sternly, and said I knew nothing about the French definition of the word “stress.” This piqued my curiosity. What is the school system like in a country where the letter “h” is silent, and everyone dresses fashionably? This intercultural interview project presented the perfect opportunity to examine the French education system on both an academic and a personal scope.

Before conducting my interviews with Pia Decarsin, I conducted preliminary research to gain an academic perspective on the French education system. My research revealed several key findings that I will expound upon in this section. After outlining my research, I will then construct hypotheses which will be tested and explored through anecdotal evidence from my interviewee. Continue reading ‘Creating a Nation: The French Education System- Esther Otis’ »

Testing the Integrative Theory of Cross-Cultural Adaptation: A Student’s Experience in Italy and Spain- Benjamin Harvey


To test the applicability of Kim’s integrative theory of communication and cross-cultural adaptation it is necessary to approach the theory in a holistic sense and not as a collection of independent theoretical pieces. As Kim points out, “the change from sojourner with an ethnic identity to an assimilated individual with an intercultural identity is a process rich in complexity, with a myriad of influential forces pushing and pulling in multiple directions but ending in an individual, changed, in varying degrees, by the experience” (Kim 2003)

While Kim’s theory includes empirically testable theorems for each of the ‘forces’ involved in the adaptation process, testing an individual theorem would be only minimally helpful in terms of validating the theory because it would only look at one aspect of adaptation in one direction and neglect the influence of all the other factors. Even a more ambitious project of empirically testing all 21 theorems would neglect explaining how all the theorems work together as a whole. It is the meaning and experience behind the axioms and theorems which change an interesting way of predicting outcomes in the process of adaptation into understanding of that process. This study seeks to test Kim’s theory as a whole from an ethnographic-case study perspective. Continue reading ‘Testing the Integrative Theory of Cross-Cultural Adaptation: A Student’s Experience in Italy and Spain- Benjamin Harvey’ »

Understanding Family Dynamics across Cultures- Aaron Bell & Stephanie Purtle


The Jardine apartment complex is home to many international K-State students. While living in Jardine, Aaron Bell has had the opportunity to interact with a diverse group of neighbors, which includes four young Chinese women. Aaron has been blessed with the opportunity to experience numerous cultures by traveling across the world, but he has yet to travel to Asia. These frequent encounters with his new Chinese friends has left Aaron interested in learning more about the Chinese culture, and this intercultural interview project was the perfect opportunity to conduct more research. While deciding on a specific topic, our major interests included Chinese family dynamics because of the differences between the American family and our preconceived notions of Chinese families. We specifically wanted to know more about the “one child policy” of the Chinese government, and the overall differences in family dynamics, i.e. how they discipline their children, and how their families reflect the larger cultural norms. Understanding how different families function is imperative to being an effective intercultural communicator because our family influences our individual identity and can work as an intercultural barrier if the differences and similarities are not recognized and understood (Kagitcibasi, 73). Continue reading ‘Understanding Family Dynamics across Cultures- Aaron Bell & Stephanie Purtle’ »