Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Argumentation & Pedagogical Development: Hunters or Farmers?

"Who are you hiring? Competing against? Teaching?"--Seth Godin

This morning, I intended to blog about one of my favorite classroom resources,, but instead, I got distracted by a short little article on a new blog I've been reading. The author, Seth Godin, is a rhetorician (

Okay, so I don't really know if Seth would describe himself in those terms (did I mention that, unlike a lot of the other bloggers I follow, I don't actually know Seth?). For all I know, Seth has never seen that super-cool American Rhetoric web site or even heard the word "rhetoric" (except from the poor 'ole White House, who, you know uses "rhetoric" too much most days) [insert sarcastic tone here]. But, as a business leader, as an author, as entrepreneur, heck -- even as blogger! -- I feel like Seth "gets" the real-world (yeah, yeah, I hate this phrase too -- more on that in a future blog) applications of many of the issues I've been discussing in both my Advanced Rhetoric class and my Theories of Writing graduate class. If I was unconvinced before, today's blog made it clear that he sees the practical purposes of knowing, using, deconstructing kairos in any rhetorical situation.

My rhetoric students are gearing up this week to debate, using all their strategies of classical argumentation, the "Socratic Problem," and my grad students are thinking pedagogically, as they blog about the "Emergence of a Field" (Writing Instruction) and the ways in which their own pedagogies serve as a reaction to or against some of the key theories in writing instruction. The amazing undergrads are turning theory into practice -- as they try their hand at a real life argument -- one that, I'm sure, will be full of ethical, emotional, and logical fallacies, and even a red herring or two (Meagan's purple shoes or sweet baby seals??). And, this week, the grad students are thinking critically about Richard Braddock, Richard Lloyd-Jones, and Lowell Schoer's, Research in Written Composition, Chaim Perelman's, Social Contexts of Argumentation, Ken Macrorie's, Telling Writing, Sharon Crowley's, The Evolution of Current-Traditional Rhetoric, and many, many more.

So, what, you might ask, does any of this regular scholarly stuff have to do with my good buddy, Seth? Well, today, on his blog, business-man Seth set up an interesting paradigm using the idea "farmers versus hunters." Now, I'm not even sure if Seth was the first to use this concept, but I like the way he explains it. He uses this construct in order to talk about the ways in which people interact with one another -- the ways in which we learn -- the ways in which we view the world. He writes, "Farmers spend time sweating the details, worrying about the weather, making smart choices about seeds and breeding and working hard to avoid a bad crop. Hunters, on the other hand, have long periods of distracted noticing interrupted by brief moments of frenzied panic." He goes on to provide a number of good examples (e.g.: "George Clooney and James Bond are both fictional hunters. Give them a desk job and they freak out"), and he connects each of these examples to technology, knowledge, even larger epistemic concerns. Yes, and even Seth admits that these categories may be nothing but a "convenient grouping of people's personas," but, like Seth, I see myself in these examples, and [sigh] had to admit that I'm sorta a farmer -- even if some part of me would really, really like to be a hunter.

Whether you're convinced that Seth is on to something or you think he's just another walking, talking, blogging self-promoter who sees the world in terms that are far too simplistic, I think that the more knowledge we gain about people -- the more ideas we encounter that allow us to understand our own habits (good and bad) -- well, all of these merge into one bag of knowledge was can store away until we need it. In the meantime, consider Seth's paradigm and whether or not, following his examples, you're a hunter or a farmer (or something in between); think about the ways in which you adapt your teaching, speaking, presentation strategies in order to appeal to the most people in both groups... And, if you think it's all utter nonsense, well, email Seth -- not me, mmm-k? --DR. SOUDER


  1. I really like his paradigm in regards to approaching any sort of discourse. Evaluating our own personal approach (hunter or farmer) will definitely play a key role in the way we debate. In general, I think I'm more of a farmer. I like to think about what's going on before I make any sort of decision. However, back in my debate days (pat on my shoulder), I would often react during cross-examination in a frenzied fit of adrenaline and do quite well. It took a LOT of practice and self-assessing to develop my own personal style. I agree with Seth that there definitely are two set types of rhetoricians, however, I think the more common is a hybrid of the two: the hunting farmer. At times, when absolutely necessary, I'd like to think we all have a bit of a farmer in us; we don't all hastily make decisions, and are, for the most part, rather rational people. We also have a bit of the hunter in us when instigated with something we feel passionate about.

    I also recognize that I don't believe in black-and-white; I like shades of gray.

  2. Your blogs are always so witty and full of your voice, Dr. Souder, something that never really ceases to impress me. Just for red herring's sake there's a typo somewhere between those purple shoes and the hunters killing baby seals :).

    Without a whole lot of doubt, I am a farmer, but I've never really seen anything wrong with that. I like being a farmer, earning an "honest" living, and working hard and for long periods of time in order to achieve my results. I can't stand to wait around until the right moment; I like to be working constantly, and can go without the "rush" of the kill.

    A friend's father was telling us a story, involving the "black-and-white" structure, the either-or dichotomy that we often assign to everything. His father had a tremendous ability to separate ALL people in the world into two distinct and opposite groups (and the groups were always different). "Son, there's only two kinds of people in the world. You're either a Chevy person, or a Ford person, OR you're the one who's dishing it out or the one who's taking it." There's no room for any gray areas, and in fact, this is probably common belief for many Americans today. "You're either a Republican or a Democrat, a supporter of the environment or a baby-seal killer." So, what about those people who prefer Toyotas, who sit on the sideline outside of the conflict, who have a neutral political opinion, or who think baby seals are cute, but aren't going to go live in a grass hut to prevent global warming? What do people like my friend's grandfather say about you? He'd probably just call you "difficult" and leave it at that. I, in fact, believe the opposite. Our world, and society, is too focused on the dichotomies that dictate our daily lives, and choose to ignore the both literal and figurative "blurring" that is occuring across political views, ethnicites, and even car owners, who started out with a Ford and bought a Chevy a year later. In no way does that make any of these people any less American. I thought that was what our country, "The Melting Pot," was all about.

    (Sorry if I ranted a little :))

  3. These two harvesters, the hunter and the farmer, oddly enough are aiming at the same purpose. It just takes one longer to accomplish.
    I, though I fight to admit it, am a farmer. Being a teacher doesn't allow one to be frenzied at any moment unless planning a prom is involved. As far as planning scholarship for high schoolers, we always have to have the end result in mind and grow EVER so slowly toward that to reach the end harvest.

  4. Dear Seth
    I think that it is dangerous rhetoric to divide and categorize people into any sort of groups whose basis for labeling resides in intangible and completely opinion based assertion. People who attempt to do this are not philosophers and should not be mistaken for one. This paradigm you have created or amplified, whichever it may be has no residual credibility past your own life experiences formed by your social standing and behaviors and is a perfect example of the Nietzche-ian idea of the will to power through philosophy. This rhetoric is effective like many other works of philosophical writing because you elicit such familiar emotions universal to the human condition that whatever label you would have to put to this paradigm, it would seem believable. You could have just as easily used a hawk and an ant, or an explorer and monk for his analogy and it would not have changed a thing. Both examples project equally the dual notion of the same intangible, road block for the mind, commonplace inherent in our thinking that, you are either brave or not brave, passive or aggressive, witty or lame, funny or bland, republican or democrat, the list goes on of spectrums we feel we must be at one end or the other, while also narrowing the prism of possible introspective growth of those who believe wholeheartedly his analogy.

    This set of labeling, admittedly, is not as dangerous for both the individual and the masses as other forms of labeling such as psychological labeling. For example, the stigma that comes with being labeled as schizophrenic is highly negative. In fact some people use the term schizoid as an insult, insinuating that a normal, mentally healthy person has schizophrenia, which can be devastating to a person’s self confidence as labels are hard to get rid of. This notion only emphasizes the need for careful usage of labeling and dividing people in this group or that group, placing merits and demerits on people for simply being themselves.

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  6. I believe that Seth's method of using the farmer v. hunter analogy is very insightful--perhaps insightful to the point where I would not be shocked to see this type of explanation appear in a textbook someday. After reading through Seth's description of a hunter and a farmer, I must say as several of my fellow classmates have, that I am a farmer. I think through and analyze every detail of things (as much as is possible) before I act. In fact, my entire life has run according to a set plan (again, as much as is possible--life always throws us some surprises). I believe that nearly every student can relate to this in one form or another. In order for us to be students at CSU-Pueblo, we each had to work to graduate high school, get good enough test scores, stress over college applications, and much more to be where we all are today. This very occurrence--the place we all find ourselves-- suggest that we all have planned extensively.

    Dr. Souder, as you state "I think that the more knowledge we gain about people -- the more ideas we encounter that allow us to understand our own habits (good and bad) -- well, all of these merge into one bag of knowledge was can store away until we need it" I am reminded of several situations where the more I learn about people, the more my idea of their character forms--which I (often subconsciously) compare against myself causing me to learn a great deal about myself from both my past actions and also the types of decisions I make today. I have recently found out about some normal (and quite frankly stupid) teenage activities a friend of mine has been involved in. My knowledge of his/her activities has not only continued to form my opinion of his/her character but forces me to recall what types of decisions and actions I made at that age. This knowledge causes comparison which in turn allows for a better perspective of youself, as well as the other person. In order to know yourself, you must use your knowledge of those around you.

  7. I think this is a very smart theory. I believe hunters and farmers have the objective in life, which is to provide. They just have very different strategies in reaching this goal. A hunter relies a lot kairos. When that certain time and place comes they attack on impulse. Farmers relate more to chronos. They take thier time, plan things out and let them fall in to place. With that being explained I am a hunter. Even if I may begin to plan things out if I real I have right opprotunity before my planning is done I will just act on impulse. It is important to me act quickly on certain issues because I don't want to regret missing an opprotunity, or my prey. Having a fixed schedule is perfectly fine, but in doing that Farmers aren't recieving the full enjoyment of life. There aren't able to experience an adrenaline rush and that's just no fun!

  8. I actually like this idea Seth gives us. I am, as some might know, a hunter. I can be patient and i rely a lot on kairos. In fact, my best friend and I even have a saying: Just let it happen. Sometime there is no time for preparation. However, I have a lot of farmer qualities in me as well. I have a set schedule but the hunter in me always finds a way to improvise :P.

    Seth's paradigm is a very insightful one. I see how similar kairos and the hunter are as well as chronos and the farmer. I do not believe being a full blooded farmer would be fun though? Whats the fun in predicting everything thats going to happen?

  9. To be completely honest, I have no idea what being a hunter and a farmer have to do with rhetoric. I have perused Seth's blog and the examples he gives of hunters and farmers and it still all makes no sense to me. How does it pertain to our position as rhetoricians? From what I can gather, some of us are behind the scenes folks who prefer caution and a mask as we perform our business--fearful that, should we make a mistake, it will be discovered and we shall be forever blemished and worthless. Whereas hunters are fearless, thrill seakers who prefer to be at the front of the stage. If this is what Seth is getting at, I believe Rhetoric has a need for both characters. The farmer is needed to guide the hunter and the hunter to lead the farmer in a skilled and bold argument.

    Being one who dreads, and avoids at all costs--even the cost of stepping out of the game, epic failure, I must undoubtedly be a farmer.

  10. I liked his theory very much! It's something pleasant to picture. In ways I think I'm both. I'm more of a farmer probably because I enjoy writing and debating how I will tell my stories to the world. I enjoy having the support group. Like a hunter though, I set my stakes high and I really enjoy those challenges.

    It was a very interesting approach to describing the types of work ethic in people. The groups they were divided into were ethical and they made sense. They could even make sense to a young child. It's a kind of theory you could even pose to a child when he/she is debating what they want to be when they grow up.

    It seems though that having both hunter and farmer traits is going to be more beneficial to a person in their future careers and lifestyles. A person would be even more successful if they could be daring and consistent.

    Very well thought out Seth.

  11. Wow. I really like Seth's idea of the farmer and the hunter. I believe that I am more of a hunter than a farmer, and seem to find myself experiencing many "brief moments of frenzied panic". In general, however, I think that most people have a combination of these traits.

    In the context of rhetoric, I think that either of these can dictate not only the persons stand on the issues, but also the way that they present their point. A farmer will probably spend hours and hours preparing his or her point, and may not be completely prepared if the opposition throws out something unexpected. A hunter, on the other hand, may not be as prepared as his opponent, but if he is faced with something he did not see coming, he will be able to come up with something crafty last minute.

  12. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed Seth’s blog entry about farmers and hunters, but as always my first thought was, “What’s wrong with this picture?” I love how he talks about farmers and hunters in school; one set of kids content to sit and learn, while the other group must be medicated and re-wired to be successful. It brings to mind that whatever nature has intended in its design, there is always a curveball thrown in for good measure to create an unexpected result that we must contend with in the end. Our modern society has created a plethora of curveballs for us to contend with! Like Sara stated wonderfully, we have a world full of different shades of gray; these shades will be the ones to upset the status quo, and in time they will forge their own identity that must be assimilated and accepted into the norm of everyday society. The gray “hunter-farmers” will demand recognition and separateness from each group, choosing to be their own entity. The “square peg in a round hole” will carve out it’s own destiny among a group of nay-sayers, as happens so often in history when you look back on it. They will be nomads! The roles we choose for ourselves are always expanding and changing; sometimes they change by the choices we make and other times they change because of circumstances we have no control over. When balance is achieved in a society that accepts room for hunters and farmers and nomads… life will once again throw in a curveball to shake things up.

  13. I seen some mentions of the shades of gray in the comments and I must agree. Although, simple signposts in black and white never hurt anything so long as the space in between is filled somehow and absolute polarity is not allowed. I like the reference to hunters and farmers although it was very brief, specific examples that left me feeling like my toes were dangling off the edge of the diving board. I'm fairly sure that more so than less of the folks I know from class are hunters when necessity dictates and farmers when opportunity offers. I guess that one could say I agree with the principle of his observation but not particularly with the method which he exposed it and exactly how he delivered it to me for digestion. I think that if we are wise we have a sort of mutability when it comes to being either a hunter or farmer. Since, even as he points out, sometimes one methodology works better than the other it would be in everyone's best interest to be fluent in both.

  14. Dr. Souder you always make me laugh when I read your posts. Thank you for that! Oh those sweet baby seals. I don't think I'll ever think of a baby seal in the same way.

    I think Sara's words sum me up really well: I'm a "hunting farmer!" Mostly, I plan my days out by the hour. I color code my planner (don't laugh!) I set reminders on my phone for important appointments, and I have a specific routine that I follow in the mornings. Without these things, I would be a hot mess running around trying to keep up with all my responsabilites. However, I can also can be impulsive and sometimes I find myself saying "whatever happens, happens." The hunter side of me can be fun and exciting. On the other hand, it can also be reckless. I'm much more of a farmer than a hunter.

    I may always be more farmer. However, I do agree with your idea of the bag of knowledge we will accumulate. I think that as I get older and experience new things, I'll learn a lot about myself and maybe I'll become more of a hunter.

  15. That is a simplistic view, but very accurate. There is not really an in-between here. I like his analogy about facebook and being farmers...

    I think that the focus of education should change like Seth mentioned. There are many different learning styles that are hardly ever addressed. The ones that succeed in school happen to be the ones that have the right learning styles. Lucky for me I am a farmer.

  16. After reading Seth's article I must say (not over zealously) that I am a hunter. I'm a big picture kind of thinker that likes to put my nose to the grindstone when things really get tough. I don't avoid challenges, and I'm more frequently eating my foot, than hiding my face. I enjoy the whole hunter vs. farmer paradigm that Seth presents. It's interactively a good idea for marketers as well as potential bosses to know what they are looking at before they actually see it. Does a person enjoy mindless grinding those math problems, or trying something out in the real world?

    One specific quote I enjoyed in his article was, "A kid who has innate hunting skills is easily distracted, because noticing small movements in the brush is exactly what you'd need to do if you were hunting. Scan and scan and pounce. That same kid is able to drop everything and focus like a laser--for a while--if it's urgent." If it's urgent. If it's absolutely needed, it can be done. That's definitely me in a nut-shell.

  17. Both the farmer and the hunter are both squirrels in this world trying to get a nut. Reaching for the same goal, however I believe the smartest person would be the one who farms during the day and hunts at night (always thinking about kairos) I'm too afraid to just go for something, I must analyze and pick apart every single detail, so bad that often i miss the point, alas, I fall into the category of farmer. I think his idea is a pretty awesome way to look at people and the way they interact with one another. (maybe it's because I'm a psychology minor) I feel it's imperative that we take a step back and revaluate the way we view the world,how we handle situations, and adjust to life's curve balls.

  18. I think that Seth makes a good point over all but I disagree. I think that many people can be both farmers and hunters. It is hard to say who makes a better farmer and who makes a better hunter. As Janessa stated in her comment, the smartest people are those who farm during the day and hunt at night, and I agree with that 100%. Using the resources that you have been given around you makes you the best person you can be. If you use the kairos that is presented to you, that is if you always take advantage of the time and place you are in, you will generally be willing, and able, to make some great decisions with what is presented to you.

    I can say that I am very excited for the debate that we have coming up. I feel that my team (Team 2) has a very strong argument that we are making and it is going to be one for the grade book (Hint: A+ for us!). I really look forward to presenting the facts that we have found and it is going to be a lot of fun to show how we have grasped the understanding in what we have learned in class.


  19. BABY SEALS?!? We must save the baby seals! Damn oil...! To begin with, I am a slacker and I already know I'm not going to write as much as these other kids did (over achiever's... jk!) Oh my, your blog cracks me up! I so get your sarcasm and sense of humor through these blogs. I think I'm more of a farmer. I can't be a hunter because I always need to be doing something with my time and my life, though I do get distracted easily, I try to not get too distracted!

  20. I thought that Seth’s blog, though short, was interesting. So interesting that I asked the principle of my children’s elementary school to read it as well, hoping it might give her some insight on how differently children can be. Sticking hunters and farmers into one room and expecting equal results seems like a dream. I myself am I farmer, not by choice. As we all know I have seven wonderful children living in my house, ok eight if you count my boyfriend, making the life of a hunter a dream. In an estimate I would say that five are hunters and two are famers. It’s a constant life of living the same day over and over with the smallest change one day to another. Dinner is never the same but breakfast sure is, and I really hate oatmeal now a days. In our debates, finding something to "hit everyone over the head with" may be difficult. This may take the task of using different voices in the same sentence. How can you capture the attention of all people and give them a reason to listen. I also agree with the statement that famers do not dislike technology, rather failure. I cannot say that only farmers dislike failure, as I would assume hunters would too.

  21. Hi all! Great comments, and I'm enjoying your thought regarding this binary thinking. I posted it -- sent you to his site -- but, believe it or not, the polarity that Seth describes is problematic. Of course, if you read back far enough, a number of his other posts suggest that he is not so limited in his world view or thinking about the complexities of "humanness."

    But, what I'd really like you 304 students (as well as David Armstrong and any other lurking grad students!) to think about and address (purty-please?) is Randi's comment: she asks, "I have no idea what being a hunter and a farmer have to do with rhetoric."

    Obviously *I* think there's a specific and direct connection to our thinking about Rhetoric and even our pedagogies -- and Seth's paradigm of the "hunter and farmer." What do YOU think is the connection...? Thoughts? --DR. SOUDER

  22. If I had to make a connection to the "hunter/farmer" discussion to rhetoric, I would say rhetoricians are divided into two kinds... one group that demands logic and structure while patiently cultivating their argument, and the other group that attacks an idea with everything they have, using whatever is at hand that can be used in an argument. One group relies on information that is given to them while the other takes initiative and goes out to find it without having worry about strategic back-up. Stockpiled resources vs. stockpiled resourcefullness.

  23. Nice thoughts, Jean-Luc! Yes...

    I think, for me, the connection is really even more simplistic -- audience. That is, who are you talking to, who are you teaching, who are you trying to convince? Anytime we speak to a group, we have to assess our audience. How do we this? What information is at hand? And, how will we adapt our rhetorical strategies once we "sum" them up? --DR. SOUDER

  24. OK, it's 10:58PM, and I ran out of time on posting 3 (this is my second). I think the blog doesn't tell time right on mine...
    I don't know if consider self farmer or hunter...perhaps a bit of both. 10:59PM

  25. I think that I am mostly a farmer, with some hunter tendencies mixed in. I tend to my crops (my students), but do not hesitate to break the monotony with a crazy move (an alternative, exciting teaching strategy).

    While I am mostly a farmer, I know that I cannot expect every single one of my students to be a farmer as well. There truly are some students who are just better at pulling something out of their hats at the last minute. While I am not like this, I understand that some people are. Being a teacher requires me to have an appreciation for farmers and hunters alike. It also requires me to make sure that my personal preferences do not skew or interfere with my judgment or grading of a student's performance.

    I like Seth's analogy!

  26. During several of my past lives (careers that emphasized marketing), I became very familiar with Seth Godin. I'm a huge fan. He is a precise and thoughtful interpreter of marketing theories -- early adopters, permission marketing, purple cows, etc. Even before reading your blog, I was immediately struck by Chaim Perelman's thoughts on audience and its connection with marketing. Your Godin reference -- particulary with his hunter v. farmer analogy -- is a modern, more fun reading of this idea of understanding your audience. It is fun to contemplate rhetoric's parallels with marketing (makes rhetoric more relevant to my life and skills). It is also interesting to further these correlations, considering the connections between marketing and the classroom.

  27. Amy & Dawn,

    I agree! Like you, Dawn, I knew Seth in one of my past lives (running an advertising agency), but I've found that his blog (a new find, I'll admit) resonates with me even more today. Though I'm not completely on-board with the simplicity of this analogy (hunter/farmer), I do think it is a relevant perspective we might consider in discussions of audience.

    I've always thought that the best teachers, coincidentally, had a pretty healthy sense of salesmanship... even if they were (are?) loathe to admit it. For me, rhetorical theory(and writing in general) has served as a fabulous link connecting all of my past lives and diverse academic and personal interests. --DR. DONNA

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