Robert Asen

Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture



6142 Vilas Hall

Professor Robert Asen

Office Hours:

  • By Appointment


Expertise and Activities

Robert Asen’s research and teaching focus on the intersections of democracy, discourse, and education. Asen is driven to understand the dynamics and implications of the important relationship between public education and vibrant democratic practice. He recognizes that public schools serve as vital community institutions that prepare students to discover their interests and talents and strengthen communities. Asen examines public discourses on education, including recent policy efforts to privatize public education and propogate market-based reforms, as well as responses by local communities to support their public schools. Asen is currently working on a book project titled Democratic Relationships: Publics, Markets, and the Struggle for Education. In this book, he compares education debates at the federal level, state level in Wisconsin, and local level in communities across Wisconsin. In recent years, at both the federal and state level, policies like vouchers and tax credits have situated public schools as market actors competing with charter and private options. At the local level, community advocacy groups have offered a different vision of public education that views local schools as serving a variety of important functions and anchoring their communities. Asen argues that federal and state policymakers should pay greater attention to the voices in the local communities they serve.


  • 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


  • 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.


  • 2016. Text + Field: Innovations in Rhetorical Method (edited volume). State College: Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • 2015. Democracy, Deliberation, and Education. State College: 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