Goaded, in the spirit of hierarchy : exigence, audience and the Maclean's university rankings
A rhetorical analysis, this thesis applies a neo-aristotelian framework to an examination of the speaker, audience and messages relationships encompassed within the Maclean’s University Rankings, a series of annual news reports which provide a ranking of Canadian universities based on a series of variables. As this analysis reveals, the Maclean’s University Rankings function ostensibly as a public discourse both informational and scientific in its statistical presentation, but beneath this gloss is a subtle promotion and reinforcement of a perception that universities are not properly accountable to the Canadian public and deserve to be publicly graded. The analysis dedicates a chapter to each of three rhetorical theories: Ernest Bormann’s Fantasy Theme Criticism, Daniel Boorstin’s Pseudo-event and Image construction and Lloyd Bitzer’s Rhetorical Situation in order to analyze the artefact from the speaker-audience, audience-message, and speaker-message relationships. The analysis then concludes that Maclean’s carefully highlights the financial risk of all choices involving university education (both with pursuing it and with not doing so) to keep readers fearful about the risks involved in specifically selecting a post-secondary institution and more generally about the state of Canadian university education. This fear serves a dual purpose: it offers Canadians an exigence to resolve, while simultaneously serving to strengthen Maclean’s ethos as a source of expertise on post-secondary education. Highlighting risk enables Maclean’s to persuade Canadians to accept the magazine as an expert authority in a highly specialized field, able to provide the general population with the clarity necessary to make informed decisions. Ultimately, this thesis interrogates the rankings’ reliance on audience perceptions of risk as a primary means of persuasion; the very act of soliciting trust in “expert opinion” reinforces certain divisive and value-laden hierarchies that underlie the rankings, allowing Maclean’s to extend its social and cultural authority beyond its traditional function as a source of information and opinion.
Maclean's, Maclean's University Rankings, Boorstin, Bitzer, Bormann
Master of Arts (M.A.)