Group A Moves

Preparation Guide 2014

Implicating Morality and History in Rhetoric

By now you have a sense for the active creative force of text in creating the socio-cultural world in which humans live. Discourse serves a practical role in the knitting of our day-to-day activities. Once rhetoric is seen as a force for textual merger, then a number of questions open seeking to understand traditional concepts and their relationship to this process. Two of those that have been a focus of rhetorical theorists are morality and history.

In addressing the practical reasoning problem, theorists had discovered that one of the most important advantages of rhetorical logic was its more powerful account of morality in human action. The initial development here was the concept of an advisory rhetoric: as individuals we use rhetoric to provide moral advice to others. But then, with the growth of the constitutive rhetoric, attention turned to rhetorically constituting morality. The rhetorical construction of morality became a central problem just as the rhetorical construction of reality was a problem for the social epistemics.

Similarly, history could be seen not as a study of material events told in language, but as a construction brought textually into rhetorically constituting the moment. But on what terms?

Clusters: Rhetoric as advisory; Rhetoric and history; Rhetoric and morality; Collective memory

Questions to stimulate thought:

  1. What are the definitions of and connections between history, morality, memory, and rhetoric?
  2.  In how far have the developments in the media landscape changed our perceptions of history and memory (and archives)? In how far is this reflected in theory?
  3. What are the implications of morality for memory and history?

Questions by topic:

  1. Morality
    1. How does Condit define morality? Are you comfortable with that definition?
    2. In connection to our discussion last week (think: Klumpp and Hollihan), how does this impact your perception of the scholar as a moral actor?
  2. History and Memory
    1. What is the difference between history and memory?
    2. Complicate “public” or “collective” memory. How do Hume and Philipps explicate the matter?

Basic Readings:

Additional Reading:

Recent Work: (Selected by Jaclyn Bruner & Janna Söder)

Identity and Subjectivity

Three problems have marked the stages in the development of this move in contemporary rhetorical theory. The beginning lay in George Herbert Mead's notions of the role of the communication in the formation of the identity of the individual. Mead theorized the individual integrated through what he called "gestures" (that we would call "symbolic acts") reflected off significant others to construct our notions of ourselves. Mead founded symbolic interactionism and his followers began to map the strategies by which identity developed and evolved.

Mead's notion of how the identity of individuals was formed involved an inherently social context. So it was a small extension to seeing how groups of people were integrated by common discourses and the symbolic actions that they performed with those discourses. Social order could be seen as arrays of identifications jockeying for position, gaining and losing strength, clashing with others, aligning with still others, and defining the texture of social action in their activity. Of particular interest was how new identities formed and became the grounds of social action. McGee and then Charland theorized the ways in which rhetoric birthed identity.

The introduction of new identities seeking power in the competitive environment of societies of interlocking identities gave rise to the third stage of this work: subjectivity. The question was how the process of identity formation empowered individuals and positions to resist hegemonic discourses of control. This overt insertion of the freedom/domination problem led to questions about the tensions that compose social order: silence and voice, power and powerlessness, individual and community. How can the rhetor empower his/her rhetoric? This became known as the problem of agency or subjectivity.

Clusters: rhetoric and identity, constructing the subject, constructing agency, constituting subjectivity, <the people>.

Questions to Guide Discussion:

We begin with the idea (originated by Mead, verbalized here by Burke) that identity “would not even exist were it not for the verbal.” To these early identity and subjectivity scholars, rhetoric was primarily the vehicle by which an individual or group communicated identity to others.

McGee’s piece begin the turn to constitutive rhetoric (exemplified by Charland’s article, “Constitutive Rhetoric: The Case of the Peuple Québécois”), and encourages us to ask:

  1. What makes identity rhetorical? How is it in discourse?
  2. How does rhetoric shift identity from being something in an individual, to something embedded in society?

McGee writes, “So long as ‘the people’ believe basic myths, there is unity and collective identity. When there is no fundamental belief, one senses a crisis which can only be met with a new rhetoric, a new mythology."

  1. What are some basic myths shared by all Americans?
  2. How do you account for people who still identity as Americans, but do not believe these myths?

Jackson and Moshin discuss the I-other dialectic. If we are to go beyond understanding “how the I-other dialectic operates… we must also recognize when Others are being marked or named.”

  1. How does theory inscribe power relations by identifying something as “Other”?
  2. Does the power that makes something Other also deny it the identify its own identity?
  3. How do “Others” obtain standing in the public sphere?

Jackson and Moshin call for scholars to “point out the illusion of differences… [and to] act and speak out for those who suffer because of them.”

  1. How might we pursue this activism through theory? Or is advocacy the purview of rhetorical criticism only?
  2. How can rhetorical scholars engages their own identity and subjectivity when they choose to advocate?

Foucault argues that “the subject (and its substitutes) must be stripped of its creative role and analysed as a complex and variable function of discourse.”

  1. What does it mean to be a subject?
  2. How does Foucault’s theory of authorless discourse trouble McKerrow and McGee’s theories of critical rhetoric?
  3. Why do we consider authorship to be important for scholarship?

Basic Reading:

Additional Reading:

Recent Work: (Selected by Devin Scott and Will Howell)

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