The pupil in the text : rhetorical devices in classroom teaching films of the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s

E.L. Masson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


Since the late 1990s, there has been a marked increase in academic interest in what are sometimes referred to as ‘utility films’: audio-visual texts intended not so much for the entertainment of an audience, but rather to inform it, train it or teach it a specific skill, or to convince it of the merits of a given service or product. This attention is long overdue, because such items form part of the collective memory of several generations of viewers – much like the feature films that have been part of the media studies canon for decades. However, the research carried out so far is somewhat restricted in scope: it primarily concerns the history of production and distribution, and questions concerning pedagogical or entrepreneurial success. Much less attention has been given to the films’ textual features: the means they deploy in defending their informational, educational or commercial argument. In the absence of such studies, the image survives of very ‘formulaic’ genres, which are thought to make use of a very limited number of (highly recognisable) textual ingredients. The purpose of this dissertation is to modify this picture. The starting point for the research is a collection of (Dutch) classroom teaching films: a corpus of shorts designed to be used in support of the lesson programme of children in primary and early secondary schools. The analytical method employed is based on two conceptual pillars. The first is that films function, and therefore acquire meaning, as part of a wider configuration: the set-up of technology, text and viewing situation that some media theorists designate as a ‘dispositif’. In the case of teaching films, the screening is inextricably intertwined with the educational institution in which it takes place; therefore, this set-up is designated here as a ‘pedagogical dispositif’. The second pillar is that of textual implication, derived from the study of literary texts. Analysis in this work is based on the assumption that the rhetorical functioning of films is always a matter of somehow incorporating into the text itself the audience addressed. The dissertation consists of two parts. The first, introductory section serves the purpose of positioning the study’s research object. It explores the concept of ‘teaching film’, both in a historical sense and in a theoretical one; subsequently, it (re)delimits it, with an eye to the rhetorical analysis that follows. The second part aims to find an answer to the question of how teaching films address their viewers. It starts off with a methodological section, which explains among others how the term ‘rhetoric’ is understood. Next, there are two analytical chapters. The first deals with the ways in which teaching films motivate their viewers to stay tuned (addressing them, in the process, as film viewers), and the second gives examples of so-called ‘references to the pedagogical dispositif’ (textual elements which help position the audience as one of learners, or pupil-viewers). The latter type of features, the dissertation also argues, do not occur in all (the) teaching films (discussed), but tend become more common over time.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Kessler, Frank, Primary supervisor
  • Verhoeff, Nanna, Co-supervisor
Award date22 Jan 2010
Print ISBNs978-90-6103-001-6
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jan 2010

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