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Rhetoric of social intervention model


The "rhetoric of social intervention" (RSI) model is a systemic communication theory of how human beings symbolically constitute, maintain, and change social systems (e.g., organizations, societies, and cultures). The RSI model was developed in the writings of communication theorist William R. Brown. The model provides a framework for analyzing and interpreting social system change and its side effects from a communication perspective. It also suggests a methodology for acting as an intervener to encourage and/or discourage social system change. The model offers an alternative approach to understanding social system change by its emphasis on communication as the driver of change in contrast to models that focus on social, political, economic, and technological forces as catalysts for change. The RSI model is envisioned as three communication subsystems that function as starting points for interpreting or enacting social system change. The subsystems, known as attention, power, and need, form the RSI model framework. This entry describes the assumptive foundations of the RSI model. Then it discusses the attention, power, and need patterns of communication that that model identifies as points for generating social system change and continuity.

The beginnings of Brown's RSI model are reflected in three main documents—a book about Will Rogers that reports research on American dream ideology, a book chapter that outlines how human beings strategically use symbols to create, maintain, and change symbolic realities, and a journal article in which he sketches the RSI model foundations by theorizing about the process by which human beings strategically use symbols to create, maintain, and change symbolically constructed ideology.

Imagemaker: Will Rogers and the American Dream was based on Brown's doctoral dissertation. An Oklahoman like Rogers, Brown was curious about Rogers' influence and popularity in the 1920s and 1930s. Brown researched the source of Rogers' ability to be persuasive and authoritative and concluded that it arose from Rogers' ability to embody and reflect characteristics that the U.S. public associated with the American dream. The book describes American dream attributes, such as "the dream of the dignity and worth of the individual, of freedom and equality, of success, and of progress," and shows how Rogers symbolically identified with them. Although Brown acquired an in-depth understanding of American dream ideology, he later reported that the research left him wondering how social systems construct ideology. To address this question, Brown began reading books and articles on language, philosophy, rhetoric, and linguistics.

A book chapter called Language and Strategy, written for The Rhetorical Dialogue: Contemporary Concepts and Cases, reflects Brown's initial investigations into the process by which human beings symbolically constitute reality, and, by extension, ideology. The chapter describes how human beings learn to categorize experience symbolically and how this symbolizing activity functions rhetorically. Brown draws his ideas for what he calls the "naming" process from scholars such as rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke, philosopher Susanne Langer, psycholinguist Roger Brown, and psychologists Jerome Bruner, Jacqueline Goodnow, and George Austin.


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