To my surprise, I made it to the symposium today where Stuart Blythe was going to speak as a guest speaker. The last days have been very very stressful for me (House shopping is no fun!) and I was looking forward to listen to this speech and just have some time for myself, without mortgage broker, cellphone and tons of paperwork.
Stuart Blythe is an Associate Professor of the Department of English and Linguistics at Indiana University and he has been working on a research project for about the last 5 years. His research has to do with "Wicked Problems". Now, I didn't know what wicked problems are so I'm just figuring that you don't know either. I'll try to explain the way I understood it. Wicked problems are complex problems that involve many variables and to understand these problems we need an easy explanation. The attempt to solve the problems raises very often new problems and with all those variables it's hard to know where to begin. That's why they are so wicked!
Wicked rhetoric occurs when somebody attempts to solve wicked problems. And this is where Stuart Blythe's research project comes in.
In this little town Harbour City (this is not the real name but he couldn't tell us the name for confidentiality reasons), somewhere in the US there is a polluted canal. Here comes the part where my mind must have drifted away a little bit (which is fine if you are about to sign the contract to buy your first place an hour later!) because I don't really remember anymore how it got polluted. I'm assuming it had to do with some factory which dumped their waste into the canal. This obviously causes problems. So they decided to create a landfill where the waste could be dumped, instead of dumping it into the water. The site that they had in their mind when they started planning this, was going to be close to a middle school, an elementary school and a public park. Not exactly where waste should be dumped. The citizens of Harbour city were not happy at all about this. Even when the government of the city came up with scientific studies about how much or little it would effect them, they didn't trust the science since it was researched by the government. And they wanted the waste site there. The citizens mistrusted the government.
In cases like these, a third party gets involved to conduct research without getting any kind of advantages out of it. With other words, they won't cherry pick which studies they will release and which not. The third party here is the Technical Outreach Services of Communities, or short TOSC.
They decided to ask Blythe and his friend Jeffrey Grabill to join them and act as a mediator between the citizens and the TOSC. The two spend 3 years of interviewing the citizens of Harbour city. They also attended public meetings to see what citizens think about the issues and how they are trying to make sense of these very complicated technical problems.
Blythe and Grabill slowly established trust between the citizens and TOSC. Their job was it basically to analyze the audience (the citizens) so that TOSC knew how to write their proposals.
The research project hasn't been published yet, it will be a little later this year. The problem of Harbour City is still not fixed, but they are on their way to come to an agreement between the citizens and the agencies.
Blythe used rhetoric as an attempt to solve a wicked problem. Therefore it is "Wicked Rhetoric".
I really enjoyed this speech and I am happy that my English teacher told us about it.
Sorry for the bad picture, but my new camera is driving my crazy! Stupid thing. Anyways, if you weren't there I hope my blog gave you an idea what it was about.