Michael Calvin McGee

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Michael Calvin McGee (October 21, 1943, Rockwood, Tennessee – October 27, 2002, Iowa City, Iowa) was an American rhetorical theorist, writer, and social critic.

Personal life[edit]

The son of John Vester and Dorothy Eloise (Hicks) McGee, he spent his early years in Knoxville, Tennessee. He graduated with a B.A. in Speech from Butler University, where he was a champion debater. In 1967 he graduated with a M.A. in Rhetoric from Cornell University. In 1973 he married Lyda Eugenia Twitty. In 1974 he received his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa, writing his dissertation "Edmund Burke's Beautiful Life: An Exploration of the Relationship between Rhetoric and Social Theory" under Donald C. Bryant. He received some criticism for his teaching because of his staunch liberalism, which had an effect on his teaching style, but despite this, he was still a very sought-after professor, teaching at major universities in the United States such as the University of Alabama, the University of Memphis, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is known for his materialistic views of rhetoric, summarized from the lesser known McGee essay "The Practical Identity of Thought and Its Expression".[1] In 1979 he moved to Iowa City, where he settled in at the University of Iowa.

Major contributions[edit]

McGee had many major contributions in the realm of rhetoric and in cultural studies. He published three major works: Rhetoric in Postmodern America, The Ideograph: A Link between Rhetoric and Ideology, and Text, Context, and the Fragmentation of Contemporary Culture.[2] The most important of these is considered to be his second major work, The Ideograph. McGee was the first rhetorical theorist to propose this concept on an ideograph, which he described as, “an ordinary-language term found in political discourse. It is a high order abstraction representing commitment to a particular but equivocal and ill-defined normative goal." [3] Also he was a critic of what he saw going on in the world around him. The most well-known of these critiques was his critique of Spike Lee and his association with Nike ads. McGee said that these ads were too racially stereotypical and made a case for Lee to cease these ads but Lee continued with them nonetheless.[4]

Later life[edit]

McGee was one of the founders of the American Communication Association and a member of the National Communication Association. In his last years he was very active in virtual rhetorical communities and on-line debates. McGee founded a website, (f)ragments, for rhetorical research and created a virtual learning community.


  1. ^ http://ac-journal.org/journal/vol6/iss4/iss4/mcmcgee/haskins.htm
  2. ^ Rhetoric in Postmodern America: Conversations with Michael Calvin McGee. Edited by Carol Corbin. New York: The Guilford Press, 1998
  3. ^ McGee, M.C. (1980). The “ideograph”: A link between rhetoric and ideology. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 66, 1-16.
  4. ^ http://www.cjc-online.ca/index.php/journal/article/view/1067/973