The argumentative burdens of audience conjectures: Audience research in popular culture criticism

Jennifer Stromer-Galley, Edward Schiappa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


We define "audience conjectures" as claims about specific effects on audiences or claims describing the determinate meaning of a text for audiences. We note that audience conjectures are being advanced by rhetorical critics of popular culture texts without adequate evidence. Our thesis is that if critics make claims concerning the determinate meanings of the text or the effects those texts have on audiences, then the critic should support such claims with audience research. The essay begins with a theoretical and argumentative rationale for audience research. Next we note that audience research is an underutilized resource in rhetorical criticism that engages popular culture texts. We offer a series of examples of essays containing audience conjectures and provide an extended case study contrasting the audience conjectures in a text-centered criticism with audience interpretations gathered through focus group interviews. We conclude by noting three theoretical implications of our argument; namely, that wording in scholarly writing matters, that the lines between social scientific and humanistic research should be blurred, and that audience research enhances the connections between rhetorical and cultural studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-62
Number of pages36
JournalCommunication Theory
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language


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