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.


Measuring the Strength of the Jewish People, Using Identity as an Indicator.

The blog post I read for this entry uses the fast day on the 10th of the Jewish month of Tevet as a springboard  of discussion. It analyzes the concept of Jewish identity using the perspective of the five authors. It breaks the concept into three individual components: cultural Judaism, Zionist identity (Jewish national aspiration), and religious identity, and then explains how these components overlap and play into one another. It then applies this concept to Jews today and uses it as a framework to compare and contrast the strength of the Jewish community today to the strength of the Jewish community during the Hellenistic era. It gauges ‘strength’ in terms of Jewish identity, and concludes that the fast day reminds us of our unfulfilled potential.

Analyzing the social context: five Modern Orthodox Jewish bloggers in Australia wrote the article, through the lens of Modern Orthodox Jews. The article is written in a style that responds to strictly cultural Jews (those who are in tune with their history and culture but not with traditional Jewish laws), but it is unlikely that these Jews will be reading the blog in the first place. Thus it can be concluded that the article is responding to Jews who abide by the traditional code of Jewish law but question the necessity of their practices.


Examining the Hierarchy and Salience of Multiple Identities: Are You An American Muslim or a Muslim American?

The article I read for this blog post models the development of second generation American Muslims religious identity, identifying three major stages of this development: religion as ascribed identity, religion as chosen identity, and religion as declared identity. It is unique because it examines the development of a religion and religious identity in a foreign land. It hypothesizes about what drives the formation of a religious identity, at least in this sample group of second generation American Muslims, and also looks at the level of importance of religion as opposed to other factors in forming identities. The article first argues the importance of religion in the formation of an identity, as Identity Theory and the larger sociological community leaves out religion as a factor in defining identity. For these Muslims who really make religion the most important factor in their identity, above their current country (America), ethnicity, and country of origin, this article really gets at why this is the case, and the role that this identity plays in larger social contexts such as high school or college setting. Using individual interviews, the article identifies the tensions between the main group and the minority group, in this case the tensions between secular Americans and religious Muslims. It supports my hypothesis that dress is an important factor in the expression of religious identity, by discussing the heavy implications of these Muslim’s dress both in religious practice and more importantly in declaring or hiding Religious identity. To what extent does dress define one’s religious identity, and to what extent dress trumps other identity expressions (such as skin color)? According to this article, enough for Muslim hatin’ Amurikans to give these individuals the stare down or to approach them and ask things like “What is Jihad?”

*The source is a study published in 2005 in the Sociology of Religion journal, and titled “Becoming Muslim: the Development of a Religious Identity”

What Do I Wear? Jewish Casual or Jewish Formal?

This article shows the ways in which a member of the Frum Jewish community feels he is being judged on a day to day basis. The author uses the idea that one’s Kippah can express his religious beliefs and practices to explain the surprising correlation between his Kippah style and his every day life in the community. From his perspective, the wearer’s actual individual’s beliefs and practices are irrelevant when it comes to the community making judgements on him.

In today’s world it seems that a religious artifact of Kippah has taken on a new and superficial role of identity expresser. This contrasts the Kippah’s ideal role, that is to remind the wearer that G-d is above him.

The audience of this website is other Jews who understand enough observant Jewish thought and practice to take meaning out of this blog. It is sort of like a day in the life of a Frum jew, with the question of what it means to be Jewish answered by detailing storys that would happen to Frum Jews. This website does a really good job of showing the reader life happenings from a Frum Jew’s perspective, and it may prove useful to examine
this perspective later on in my research.