Introducing the Rhetoric of Review: Not If, but How We Make Superficial Judgements About Others

This blog post is a response to an article titled “The Discourse of Dress and Appearance: Identity Talk and a Rhetoric of Review.” It serves to demonstrate the process of argument analysis and how the results can be used as a springboard for writing.

Context: This is an academic argument published in a sociological journal from 2005.

Claim: This article argues for the inclusion of non-verbal rhetoric, with an emphasis on physical appearance, in sociological studies of identity formation within broad cultural contexts. It also makes preliminary generalizations (which I consider to be claims) about the rhetoric of review that individuals employ when making judgments about other people. An important sub-claim in this article is the idea that individuals attempt to minimize the critical review of their appearance by others and by themselves.  It also has to make the sub-claim of understanding a sociological phenomenon from both sociological and rhetorical perspectives.

Reasons: Interviews with Sorority girls are used as evidence. The author strings together individual quotations in the form of a narrative that does the following:

– Discuses the array of discourse (mostly implicit) surrounding physical appearance and dress.

– Discusses the identities created, preserved, and transformed by the effects of such discourse.

What judgements are you making about these girls  just by looking at them?

A Demonstration of the Rhetoric of Review: What judgements are you making about these girls just by looking at them?

-The author also introduces the concept of “Rhetoric of Review” through which the reader looks at dress and appearance.

An additional reason the author uses is that certain sociological phenomenon, like the one related to making judgements about individuals based on their appearance, are not accurately modeled by the current sociological models.


– A sociological model is shown to be inaccurate should be modified. This model can be modified by including concepts from the field of rhetoric.

– The argument was driven by personal testimony, which counts as evidence both in the rhetorical discourse community and in the sociological discourse community.

– The author introduces the more novel idea that the term discourse, from the sociological community, does not only refer to verbal communication. However the author does not cite any sociological scholars to back up this warrant, it simply seems logical enough for scholars in the field of rhetoric.

– Many other types of people experience very similar thought processes to these sorority girls; many other types of people analyze others’ appearances in much the same way.

– The sociological idea of impression management is critical to relating the rhetoric of review and identity formation

– The warrant for the subclaim made about people desiring to conform (minimize critical review of themselves) is an academic citation, in essence “see this academic author because I do not need to explain why this idea is true”.


Now the Fun Part: Using This Argument Analysis as a Springboard:

The author in her conclusion addresses the criticism that one can not generalize about the thought proceses of people as a whole based on eighteen sorority girls. He certainly agrees with this and explicitly mentions that there are probably a wide array of codes and rules that individuals use when making judgements about others’ appearances. An importnat idea that can not be generalized to apply to all people is the subclaim about people dressing to conform to the unwritten judgement codes and rules.

In fact I know of instances in which people dress to do quite the opposite of conforming. One of the consequence sof wearing a Kippah is that you violate the social norms of dress and presentation. An example of this: in some public schools students are not allowed to even cover their heads, unless for religious reasons. This policy automatically highlights religious individuals because it makes them look so different than the general student body.

The article even mentions ways in which people intentionally do not conform to social dress norms. The article talks about one way in which individuals neutralize critical reviews of their appearance: this neutralization technique is called “The Appeal to Higher Loyalties.” With the Kippah an individual would think about the way he knows that G-d wants him to dress. G-d is a higher authority, and to the individual G-d’s critical review of his dress is more important than Joe Shmoes.Therefore the individual would not care about the critical review of others.

This last paragraph is about an important understanding about the concept of program neutralization. It can be concluded that program neutralization is a strategy used by individuals for two reasons: to justify their deviant behavior when confronted about it, or to justify their deviant behavior to themselves (see page 75 for an example). While everyone might not necessarily try to conform to society, this article sees individuals as always conforming to some kind of authority, be it society norms, religious norms, or some other kind of authority.


One thought on “Introducing the Rhetoric of Review: Not If, but How We Make Superficial Judgements About Others

  1. -The author in his conclusion addresses the criticism that one can not generalize about the thought proceses of people as a whole based on eighteen sorority girls.

    I like this statement. It highlights the fact that individuals in a certain social group, be it sororities, religions, political parties, etc., are going to have certain differences in their opinions or judgements, even if they tend to agree on a majority of their issues.

    A loud minority should not be used as an example of how each and every person who identifies themselves in the same group behaves, the Westboro Baptist Church being a good example off the top of my head.

    Excellent post.

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