Robert Asen

Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture




6142 Vilas Hall


Office Hours:

  • By Appointment

Current and Future Projects

  • Analyzing approaches to racial and economic inequalities in contemporary discourses about public education
  • Analyzing laws and policies that seek to proscribe discussions of structural racism in public education
  • Interviewing advocates for racial justice and equity orientations to public education

Expertise and Activities

Robert Asen conducts research and teaches in the areas of public policy debate, public sphere studies, and rhetoric and critical theory. Asen focuses on the ways that political, economic, and cultural inequalities interact with relations of power to shape public discourse. He considers how powerful individuals and groups use discourse to maintain their privilege and how marginalized people seek to overcome exclusions to represent their needs, interests, and identities in the public sphere. Asen explores the democratic possibilities of rhetorical practice, as ordinary folks may connect with others to build diverse communities and support individuals, as well as the ways that rhetorical practices may divide and scapegoat people, and sustain oppression. Engaging relationships of rhetoric and democracy, Asen explores ideas and practices that may promote just, equal, and free democracies as well as contemporary threats to democracy, like white nationalism and authoritarianism.


  • Ph.D. Northwestern University, 1998
  • M.A. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1994
  • B.A. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 1991


  • Golden Monograph Award, National Communication Association, 2018
  • Honored Instructor, University of Wisconsin Housing, 2018
  • Distinguished Scholar, National Communication Association, Rhetorical and Communication Theory Division, 2014
  • Vilas Associate, UW Graduate School, 2013
  • Resident Fellow, UW Institute for Research in the Humanities, 2012
  • Kohrs-Campbell Prize in Rhetorical Criticism, Michigan State University, 2011
  • James A. Winans-Herbert A. Wichelns Memorial Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Rhetoric and Public Address, National Communication Association, 2010
  • Marie Hochmuth Nichols Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Public Address, National Communication Association, 2010
  • Principal Investigator, How School Boards Weigh Research Findings in Policymaking, William T. Grant Foundation, 2009


  • 2021. “Knowledge, Communication, and Anti-Critical Publicity: The Friedmans’ Market Public.” Communication Theory.
  • 2018. “Public: A Network of Relationships.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 48, 297-305.
  • 2017. “Neoliberalism, the Public Sphere, and a Public Good.” Quarterly Journal of Speech, 103, 329-49.
  • 2013. “Research Evidence and School-Board Deliberations: Lessons from Three Wisconsin School Districts.” Educational Policy, 27 , 33-63.
  • 2012. “Lyndon Baines Johnson and George W. Bush on Education Reform: Ascribing Agency and Responsibility through Key Policy Terms”. Rhetoric and Public Affairs, 289-318.
  • 2011. “The Research Says’: Definitions and Uses of a Key Policy Term in Federal Law and Local School Board Deliberations”. Argumentation and Advocacy, (47): 195-213.
  • 2010. “Reflections on the Role of Rhetoric in Public Policy”. Rhetoric and Public Affairs, (13): 121-43.
  • 2009. “Ideology, Materiality, and Counterpublicity: William E. Simon and the Rise of a Conservative Counterintelligentsia”. Quarterly Journal of Speech, (95): 263-88.
  • 2004. “A Discourse Theory of Citizenship”. Quarterly Journal of Speech, (90): 189-211.


  • 2021. School Choice and the Betrayal of Democracy: How Market-Based Education Reform Fails Our Communities. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • 2016. Text + Field: Innovations in Rhetorical Method (edited volume). University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • 2015. Democracy, Deliberation, and Education. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • 2010. Public Modalities (edited volume). Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
  • 2009. Invoking the Invisible Hand: Social Security and the Privatization Debates. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.
  • 2002. Visions of Poverty: Welfare Policy and Political Imagination. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.
  • 2001. Counterpublics and the State (edited volume). Albany: State University of New York Press.


  • CA 360 – Introduction to Rhetorical Theory and Criticism
  • CA 969 – Theories of the Public Sphere
  • CA 967 – Rhetoric and Public Policy
  • CA 969 – Rhetoric and Critical Theory
  • CA 571 – Contemporary Rhetorical Theory
  • CA 610 – Democratic Deliberation and American Education


Curriculum Vitae