MPC Alumni Spotlight: Matthew Barnes

Master of Professional Communication (MPC) students have the opportunity to select a topic that piques their interest for their major research paper (MRP). As today is Earth Day, ProCom would like to spotlight one of their alumni whose work analyzes the use of environmental communication in ecodocumentaries. 

Matthew Barnes’ MRP Racing Rhetoric: A Burkean Analysis of Ecodocumentary Rhetoric explores the use of rhetoric in environmental documentaries through the use of Burkean analysis. Since graduating in 2015, he has been working as the Special Assistant, Communications in the Office of Honourary Bill Morneau, P.C., M.P. See what he has to say about his MRP and how it has continued to influence his career.  

What inspired you to choose your MRP topic?

Like many people, I have often shared or even advocated for the issues presented in documentary films, but rarely have I gone beyond what would be considered ‘slacktivism’. Having worked briefly in the ecotourism industry, I saw firsthand that despite sharing the belief system of a documentary film, audiences rarely took meaningful actions to create the change they believed in. As such, I wanted to look at how documentary films can be used as tools of social change, and why they are failing to do so, time and time again.

What are the key findings of your research? 

Using Burkean analysis, my research demonstrates how audiences identify with (or fail to identify with) narratives within environmental documentaries. In particular, I looked at the promotional content of Racing Extinction, by filmmaker Louie Psihoyos, and found that although the narratives were easy for audiences to identify with, they rarely used rhetoric to motivate action in a meaningful way.

How has your MRP influenced the work you do now?

The extensive understanding I developed of Kenneth Burke’s work has enabled me to uniquely analyze the rhetorical language that I produce, and review, in political communications. Understanding how effective language can motivate individuals to take action will be something that I carry with me for my entire professional career.

How would you sum up your experience in the MPC program?

Through the unique and flexible opportunities provided by the MPC program, I was able to explore a broad range of interests and develop a clear path in which my academic work could seamlessly transition into an enjoyable career.