Invitational rhetoric is a theory of rhetoric developed by Sonja K. Foss and Cindy L. Griffin in 1995.[1]

Invitational rhetoric is defined as “an invitation to understanding as a means to create a relationship rooted in equality, immanent value, and self-determination.”[1] The theory challenges the traditional definition of rhetoric as persuasion—the effort to change others—because the objective of invitational rhetoric is not to persuade but to gain an understanding of the perspectives of others.[1][2][3][4][5]

Invitational rhetoric is part of an effort to formulate alternative conceptions of rhetoric that are not “exploitative and oppressive but that contribute to a more respectful way of being a rhetor in the world.”[4] A major assumption behind invitational rhetoric is that “the communication discipline, through its traditional constructs and theories, participates in this culture of domination,” and invitational rhetoric constitutes an effort to “contribute to the creation of more humane lives” for individuals.[4]

Core elements

Invitational rhetoric is rooted in three feminist principles that “explicitly challenge the positive value the patriarchy accords to changing and thus dominating others”—equality, immanent value, and self-determination.[1]

Participants in invitational rhetoric value diverse perspectives because they recognize that every perspective is partial; as a result, they seek multiple perspectives to gain a more comprehensive understanding of an issue or situation. Invitational rhetors are particularly interested in exploring perspectives that are different from their own because they provide them with new information that enlarges their understanding.[6] Because they are eager to engage different perspectives and to allow them to affect their own thinking, invitational participants enter an interaction willing to call into question their own perspectives.[1][8]

In contrast to persuasive rhetoric, which involves power-over and an attempt to establish power over others by changing them, in invitational rhetoric, the kind of power involved is power-with.[1] This type of power is shared among the audience members and the rhetor and is used by all participants together to come to an understanding, to make a decision, or to solve a problem.[6][9][10]

Invitational rhetoric is one of many useful rhetorical options; it is not designed to be used in all situations.[3][1] It is one of five modes of rhetoric available to rhetors:

Rhetorical options in invitational rhetoric

There are two primary rhetorical options in invitational rhetoric: (1) offering perspectives; and (2) creating external conditions that encourage audience members to share their perspectives with the rhetor.[1]

Offering perspectives

Offering perspectives is the way by which rhetors share their perspectives with audience members, explaining what they know or understand about an issue or idea without advocating for those perspectives.[1] Offering occurs verbally through the use of words to explain a rhetor's perspective or nonverbally through wearing particular kinds of clothing or displaying symbols that suggest an individual's identification. Wearing a charity bracelet, for example, suggests that a rhetor is identified with a certain cause or issue. Wearers of the bracelets are not attempting to persuade others to support the cause but are simply offering a perspective so that those who are curious about the bracelet can choose to explore the perspective being offered.[1]

Offering perspectives may be difficult to do in hostile situations when other interactants are not interested in hearing a different perspective or when conquest and conversion rhetorics are being used.[2][1][6] In such cases, invitational rhetors may use re-sourcement so that they can offer their perspectives and continue to engage in invitational rhetoric. Re-sourcement is a term coined by Sally Miller Gearhart that means drawing energy from a new source—“a source other than the individual or system that provided the initial frame for the issue.”[12][1]

Re-sourcement involves two basic processes. The first is disengaging from the frame of the precipitating message—stepping away from the frame in which the message is being offered and recognizing that the response does not have to be couched in that same frame.[1][6] The second process is developing a message that “does not directly argue against or even address the message being offered. It presents a response addressed to a different exigence, need, or problem from the one implicit” in the initial message.[6] The use of re-sourcement allows rhetors to value both themselves and their audience members and provides a space for more options for interaction in the future because it has not locked participants into an adversarial framework.[1]

An example of re-sourcement is a response suggested by Suzette Haden Elgin to instances of sexual harassment. She offers what she calls the Boring Baroque Response to unwanted sexual proposals or sexually suggestive remarks. This strategy involves responding to such messages by telling a long story with many tedious details that is unrelated to and does not address the proposition offered by the instigator of the message.[13] [6]

Creating external conditions

The second primary rhetorical option in invitational rhetoric is creating external conditions. This option involves creating an environment that encourages audience members to share their perspectives with the rhetor.[3][1] To accomplish this objective, the invitational rhetor attempts to create three conditions—safety, value, and freedom.[1][2]


Both Sonja K. Foss and Cindy L. Griffin have applied the theory of invitational rhetoric to public speaking and have written textbooks on the subject rooted in invitational rhetoric:

Critiques of the theory

Following are the major critiques that have been offered of the theory of invitational rhetoric. Some of the criticisms of invitational rhetoric concern conceptions of the nature and function of persuasion:

Other critiques of the theory of invitational rhetoric are concerned with the nature of rhetoric and rhetorical theory:

Other critiques of invitational rhetoric have to do with a variety of other aspects of the theory:

Two of the common criticisms of invitational rhetoric are misreadings of the theory. They attribute claims to invitational rhetoric that are the opposite of what Sonja Foss and Cindy Griffin explain in their original article on invitational rhetoric:[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac Foss, Sonja K.; Griffin, Cindy (March 1995). "Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for an Invitational Rhetoric". Communication Monographs. 62: 2–18. doi:10.1080/03637759509376345.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Emerling Bone, Jennifer; Griffin, Cindy L.; Scholz, T. M. Linda (October–December 2008). "Beyond Traditional Conceptualizations of Rhetoric: Invitational Rhetoric and a Move Toward Civility". Western Journal of Communication. 72 (4): 434–447. doi:10.1080/10570310802446098. S2CID 144343478.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Foss, Sonja K. (2009-08-18). "Invitational Rhetoric". In Foss, Karen A.; Littlejohn, Stephen W. (eds.). Encyclopedia of Communication Theory, Vol. 1. Los Angeles: SAGE. pp. 569–70. ISBN 978-1-4129-5937-7.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Foss, Sonja K.; Griffin, Cindy L.; Foss, Karen A. (Fall 1997). "Transforming Rhetoric Through Feminist Reconstruction: A Response to the Gender Diversity Perspective". Women's Studies in Communication. 20 (2): 117–136. doi:10.1080/07491409.1997.10162406.
  5. ^ a b Meyer, Michaela D. E. (2007). "Women Speak(ing): Forty Years of Feminist Contributions to Rhetoric and an Agenda for Feminist Rhetorical Studies". Communication Quarterly. 55: 1–17. doi:10.1080/01463370600998293. S2CID 145353886.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Foss, Sonja K.; Foss, Karen A. (2012). Inviting Transformation: Presentational Speaking for a Changing World (3 ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-57766-721-6.
  7. ^ Makau, Josina M. (Spring–Summer 1996). "Notes on Communication Education and Social Justice". Communication Studies. 47 (1–2): 135–141. doi:10.1080/10510979609368469.
  8. ^ a b c d e Ryan, Kathleen J.; Natalle, Elizabeth J. (2001). "Fusing Horizons: Standpoint Hermeneutics and Invitational Rhetoric". Rhetoric Society Quarterly. 21 (2): 71–80. doi:10.1080/02773940109391200. S2CID 28663745.
  9. ^ Starhawk (1990). Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority, and Mystery. San Francisco: Harper & Row. pp. 10–11. ISBN 978-0-06-250816-4.
  10. ^ Foss, Karen A.; Foss, Sonja K.; Griffin, Cindy L. (1999). Feminist Rhetorical Theories. Long Grove, IL: Waveland. pp. 182–83. ISBN 978-1-57766-496-3.
  11. ^ a b Lloyd, Keith (Spring 2014). "Feminist Challenges to 'Academic Writing' Writ Larger: Changing the Argumentative Metaphor from War to Perception to Address the Problem of Argument Culture". Intertexts. 18: 29–46. doi:10.1353/itx.2014.0004. S2CID 145640489.
  12. ^ Miller Gearhart, Sally (1982). "Womanpower: Energy Re-Sourcement". In Spretnak, Charlene (ed.). The Politics of Women's Spirituality: Essays on the Rise of Spiritual Power within the Feminist Movement. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. p. 95.
  13. ^ Haden Elgin, Suzette (1997). How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable: Getting Your Point Across with the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense. New York: John Wiley. pp. 145–46. ISBN 978-0-471-15705-2.
  14. ^ a b c d Griffin, Cindy L. (2018). Invitation to Public Speaking. Boston: Cengage. p. 250. ISBN 978-1-305-94808-2.
  15. ^ a b c d Lozano-Reich, Nina M.; Cloud, Dana L. (April–June 2009). "The Uncivil Tongue: Invitational Rhetoric and the Problem of Inequality". Western Journal of Communication. 73 (2): 220–226. doi:10.1080/10570310902856105. S2CID 145803372.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i Condit, Celeste Michelle (Fall 1997). "In Praise of Eloquent Diversity: Gender and Rhetoric as Public Persuasion". Women's Studies in Communication. 20 (2): 92–98, 101–107. doi:10.1080/07491409.1997.10162405.
  17. ^ a b c Jørgensen, Charlotte (2007). "The Relevance of Intention in Argument Evaluation". Argumentation. 21 (2): 165–6. doi:10.1007/s10503-007-9044-0. S2CID 91171164.
  18. ^ a b c Fulkerson, Richard (Spring 1996). "Transcending Our Conception of Argument in Light of Feminist Critiques". Argumentation and Advocacy. 32 (4): 204–5. doi:10.1080/00028533.1996.11977995.
  19. ^ Lloyd, Keith (2016). "Beyond 'Dichotonegative' Rhetoric: Interpreting Field Reactions to Feminist Critiques of Academic Rhetoric through an Alternate Multivalent Rhetoric". Rhetorica. 34: 78–105. doi:10.1525/rh.2016.34.1.78. S2CID 147736745.
  20. ^ a b Mathison, Maureen A. (May 1997). "The Complicity of Essentializing Difference: Complicity as Epistemology: Reinscribing the Historical Categories of 'Woman' Through Standpoint Feminism". Communication Theory. 7 (2): 149–161. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2885.1997.tb00146.x.
  21. ^ a b c Dow, Bonnie J. (Spring–Summer 1995). "Feminism, Difference(s), and Rhetorical Studies". Communication Studies. 46 (1–2): 110–11, 113. doi:10.1080/10510979509368442.
  22. ^ Pollock, Mark; Artz, Lee; Frey, Lawrence R.; Pearce, W. Barnett; Murphy, Bren A. O. (Spring–Summer 1996). "Navigating Between Scylla and Charybdis: Continuing the Dialogue on Communication and Social Justice". Communication Studies. 47 (1–2): 142–151. doi:10.1080/10510979609368470.
  23. ^ a b Bruner, M. Lane (Spring 1996). "Producing Identities: Gender Problematization and Feminist Argumentation". Argumentation and Advocacy. 32 (4): 185–198. doi:10.1080/00028533.1996.11977994.