The Freedom/Domination Problem:

Feminism and Critical Rhetoric

Preparation Guide 2014

Contemporary rhetorical theory moves the locus of rhetoric from the individual speaker making the rhetorical decisions to address an audience to communities of discourse within which socio-political life proceeds. But what if this greater circumference is itself too narrow? What if the power of language to guide human action gives language sufficient power to constrain that action? Foucault makes this move.

The question that opens up runs through contemporary rhetoric. In 1969, Robert Scott and Donald K. Smith charged rhetorical critics and theorists to consider that traditional rhetoric entailed assumptions of oppression. Traditionally rhetoric has been punctuated as a means of individuals exercising power over other human beings. This raises the problem of the distinction between power and domination: Is rhetoric a means of domination? Much of this work answers "Yes" but adds that rhetoric also contains the power of freedom from that domination. Foucault objects quite explicitly to thinking of power confined to domination. Once this issue has been raised, however, then the problem of whether rhetoric's power is best seen as a power of the individual or of the culture comes to the foreground. Within issues of how power is performed, freedom/domination becomes a central dimension of theorizing about rhetoric.

In many ways the most thorough work on these issues is by Michel Foucault. Foucault lays out a relatively complete theoretical basis for the move complete with concepts that allow it to be perceived and tracked. But the move is also central to the great concentration of work surrounding the feminist critique. Of course, the intellectual movement we call "feminism" is as multifaceted as any other movement. There are political feminists, cultural feminists, radical feminists, marxist feminists, and so on. Not all are amenable to a role for rhetoric. The ones we will read take the feminist critique as a rhetorical problem. Finally, those of us in rhetoric, particularly those of us who are rhetorical critics, should attend to McKerrow's important work on the "Critical Rhetoric." McKerrow is explicit in his acknowledgement of his debt to Foucault, but he brings it down to the question of the purposes of the critic.

Clusters: Discursive formations; Postmodernism; Feminism; Ethnocentrism; Afrocentrism; Postcolonialism; Critical Rhetoric; Intrersectionality

Questions for Reading Preparation

On November 11, I suspect you will have passages of Foucault that you do not understand. Bring those and we will work on them.

On November 18, these questions should assist your reading:

Hariman; Charland; McKerrow

Klumpp & Hollihan; Biesecker; Harnett

Foss & Foss; May;Wang; Gengler

Broader Concepts/Questions for Discussion (11/18):

Basic Readings: * = Reading for November 11; ** = Reading for November 18

Additional Reading:

Recent Work: (Selected by Amanda Gogarty and Melissa Lucas)

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