Space in Rhetorical Theory
- Joan Faber McAlisterJoan Faber McAlisterStudy of Culture and Society, Drake University
The phrase “space in rhetorical theory” refers to scholarship that explores the relationships between place and persuasion, location and identity, and/or spatial dimensions of communication and communicative functions of spaces. These relationships have been theorized in a wide variety of ways, from classical conceptions of topos and the agora to recent work on new materialist and mobile rhetorics. Key themes in this research have included (1) settings where rhetoric takes place, (2) spatial metaphors for theorizing rhetoric, (3) rhetorical representations of public places, (4) the role of place in identity, (5) spatial aspects of rhetoric, (6) rhetorical functions of space, and (7) spatial-temporal-material relations.
Rhetorical scholarship on such topics has been shaped by metadisciplinary movements, such as the visual, spatial, and affective “turns” in the humanities and social sciences. Rhetoricians of space have drawn on and contributed to widespread interest in public memory, mobile technologies, national borders, environmental communication, and global flows of capital and labor and tourism. Researchers in this arena of rhetorical studies have also addressed problems taken up by critical/cultural theorists more recently, including collective agency, posthuman subjectivity, and animate matter—each of which poses challenges to conventional distinctions between subjects (as individual human rational actors) and objects (as lifeless things to be acted upon). Reconsidering these categories is important when conceptualizing place-making processes and the forces exerted by living landscapes. In pursuing these topics and questions, rhetorical theorists have contributed to conversations among researchers in multiple areas of specialty within communication studies. Such research also engaged themes of interest to scholars of cultural geography, urban planning, gender and sexuality studies, literary criticism, environmental science, and additional diverse disciplines as well as interdisciplinary movements.
Communication scholars studying precarity, mobility, and other evolving topics are generating promising new contributions to conversations on space and rhetoric each year. However, essential insights regarding space and rhetorical theory are still being mined from postcolonial/decolonial, critical race, feminist, and queer approaches that many critics argue are insufficiently incorporated into the rhetorical theories of space or spatial theories of rhetoric most often applied and taught.