Contrasting Views of Meaning
Referential Accounts of Meaning
- Things of the world are independent of language. Traditional referential theories of
meaning are materialistic. Reality is in the arrangement of things. Words refer to those things.
Meaning is in the correspondence between word and thing.
- People can change the world. Note the assumption of stability: whether the world changes is
up to people. People manipulate the material things of the world to bring about change.
- Discourse can shape change. Rhetorical change is mediated; that is, people can use discourse
to persuade others to exert their power toward change. Note that attitudes and beliefs are
materialized; that is, traditional rhetorical theories take them as materially real, located in the
mind, and susceptible to rules of cause as is the material world. Thus, an intellectual notion of
causal chains can accomodate a theory of rhetoric.
- Rhetorical Theory is about things that effect change. Rhetorical theories are manuals of
typology and process that instruct inventors of discourse on how to formulate effective
participation in the causal chains.
Symbolic Construction of Meaning
- Discourse constructs meaning by transforming values, materiality, history, society, and
other sites of experience into negotiated interpretation. The meaning of a moment is not
presented but constructed in the active force of discourse. Meaning is a social process, either
explictly or implictly. The force of discourse is the weaving of a fabric of meaning from the
strands of context.
- Continuity of life experience comes from the successive construction of meaning. Life is
lived in a flow of interpretation. Discourse provides a re-member-ing by constructing time as a
flow of meaning.
- Rhetorical theory empowers interpretation by providing strategies of construction.
Theory provides a vocabulary that structures the possibilities for interpretation.
Return to the Introduction to Contemporary Rhetorical
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