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Putting It All Together

Final Rhetorical Analysis

Throughout my fall writing course at Georgetown my class focused heavily on studying rhetoric in all of its forms. The course started by framing a very important question- what is writing? We dissected the different forms of writing and how they are manifested within our world. By keeping records of the different forms of writing that I encountered in my commonplace books and ethnographies, I was able to become more cognizant of the purpose behind writing. By understanding that everything is full of rhetoric it becomes much clearer to see how writing, buildings, advertisements, or even cities as a whole are put together. In this spirit, our final project was to dissect the rhetoric of a building or location within Washington D.C. My location was the FBI Headquarter building located at


935 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20535



At first, I was thrown off by our task. Analyzing the rhetoric of a building seemed like we were fishing for something that did not exist. Even after spending a semester studying rhetoric in a multimodal form, there seemed to be certain ideas or objects that were simply not rhetorical. After all, a building is just a building. A week or so before embarking on this project we were tasked with reading parts of the book City of Rhetoric: Revitalizing the Public Sphere in Metropolitan America by David Fleming. In his book, Fleming talks about the rhetoric behind entire cities. In other words, he analyzes the purpose of cities and the purpose of certain places within these cities. For example, he dissects locations that are not easily accessible via public transportation and the purpose behind it. Fleming argues that many of these locations are not accessible via public transportation because they are meant to subtly exclude certain members of society by isolating the location to only those who have the means to reach it. Similarly, some areas have bridges with height restrictions meant to keep the location free from large buses. Nevertheless, the main takeaway from Fleming’s book is that rhetoric exists beyond just text. Rhetoric is manifested in the physical world just as much as it is in the world of, say, politicians. In short, rhetoric truly is everywhere.

David Fleming- City of Rhetoric

Although the ideas of Fleming resonated with me strongly, I still did not know how I was going to approach rhetorically analyzing the FBI Headquarters building. Thus, I began my journey by gathering data. I visited the FBI Headquarters and spent two or three hours walking around the building, attempting to go inside, and visiting the surrounding area. I wanted to get data of the interior, exterior, and the overall atmosphere of the area. I took very sporadic notes during my visit and concluded with the thought that I had to come back during a different time of day. In the end, I visited the building three times and each time experienced a different perspective.


Although I had all of this data I still did not know what the focus of my project was going to be, nor did I really understand the rhetoric that existed in this building. Thus, I decided to do research on the building and the area. I started with the history of the building and the Bureau as a whole. I wanted, first, to understand why the Bureau was created and why the building was built in that specific area. After doing research on the building and having my notes from my visits, I had a more complete picture of the rhetoric behind the building. Still, I felt that in order to truly understand the rhetoric of the building I had to understand how the building and primarily the Bureau had evolved throughout history.


Researching the history of the building and of the Bureau was very simple. It merely consisted of a Google search and reading through a few different websites. Attempting to understand how both of these have evolved throughout history, however, proved to be much harder. I began by researching the FBI in the news, however, I became inundated with articles over the recent Brett Kavanaugh hearings. These articles were valuable to my overall research, however, I wanted to expand my readings. By researching the diversity, or lack thereof, within the Federal Investigation Bureau I was able to more clearly see the culture of the FBI. Following this research, I came across very interesting articles over the various controversies the FBI has faced in the past. Specifically, the tension between Martin Luther King Jr. and former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover caught my eye. It was by understanding the controversies that the FBI has faced that I was finally able to piece together the rhetoric behind the bureau itself and the building in which it resides.


The FBI Building is a very plain and boring building in the middle of not only a very vibrant city but in the middle of a very vibrant area within this city. The exterior, atmosphere, and secluded interior of the building all have a form of rhetoric within themselves. That of which I analyze in the prior tabs. Nevertheless, the building can truly be summed up in the fact that it is extremely bland. However, after collecting all of my data I realized that the blandness of the FBI building reflects the mysterious and controversial past and present of the FBI.


The FBI is portrayed in movies and TV shows as being this very heroic and all-good crime-fighting force. However, beneath this facade is a bureau that is full of issues in diversity, illegal methods to obtain evidence, controversial political ties, and tension between civil rights figures. Every part of the bureau is hidden in one way or another. Nothing is truly all open to the public. Even the statistics of the demographics that they hire are not totally available to the public. In short, everything within the Federal Investigation Bureau is somewhat hidden to the public yet it seems to be an organization that everyone is familiar with. This very same idea is manifested within the physical presence of the building. It is mysterious, ugly, and somewhat hidden or camouflaged within the rest of the city, yet it lays in one of the most visited parts of Washington DC.


The rhetorical purpose of the building reminds of wrapped up Christmas gifts. Christmas gifts are placed under a very large and bright tree for everyone to see and are left there for days before Christmas. Kids look at them from every angle trying to guess what it could possibly be. These gifts could very well be placed out of sight, however, they are intentionally wrapped and placed under the tree in order to create an atmosphere of curiosity. They are placed in plain sight, yet hidden under the wrapping so that children during Christmas time can constantly be thinking about what their gift is. Similarly, the FBI building is placed in plain sight in one of the most visited areas of Washington DC, yet it is extremely hidden from the public. It is as if the building is placed there with the same intention that a gift is placed under a Christmas tree. The building is located in plain view of millions of tourists so that their curiosity may continue to flourish, however, it is hidden behind a bland facade and heavily armed security in order that the true secrets may remain hidden.


Reflecting on this project I realized that I found the process of collecting all of the data and writing shorter analyses on smaller pieces of the FBI building and the bureau itself to be the most enjoyable. Although sometimes it may be hard to see, rhetoric truly is everywhere


Works Cited

Fleming, David. City of Rhetoric: Revitalizing the Public Sphere in Metropolitan America. SUNY Press, 2009.

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