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Rhetorical Approaches to Communication and Culture  

Soumia Bardhan

The convergence of rhetoric, culture, and communication has led to the development of two predominant areas of study within the field of communication: intercultural rhetoric and comparative rhetoric. Intercultural rhetoric illustrates how culture-based arguments are constructed by advocates during intercultural interactions and how the arguments make sense within a particular cultural frame or worldview. These studies attempt to represent the cultural sensibility and rhetorical traditions invoked by a particular intercultural interaction. Rhetorical practices are seen as emerging from the beliefs and values of distinctive cultural communities, and the convergence of intercultural communication and rhetoric becomes evident when people act rhetorically and their diverse cultural assumptions gradually or suddenly become apparent during intercultural interactions. Comparative rhetoric focuses on the cross-cultural study of rhetorical traditions, past or present, in societies around the world. Comparison of (rather than interaction between) the rhetorical practices of two or more cultures is often the focus of comparative rhetoric studies. Comparison helps in the identification of rhetorical features in one culture that might not be evident otherwise, to unearth what is universal and what distinctive in any rhetorical tradition, including that of the West. Intercultural rhetoric and comparative rhetoric share some conceptual and methodological features; both fields are characterized by similar beginnings and some shared debates. However, they also have distinct characteristics, challenges, and historiographies. For intercultural rhetoric, approaching intercultural contexts and situations utilizing theories and concepts from rhetorical studies affirms non-Western modes of reasoning and advocacy. Recent methodological developments have allowed critics to more comprehensively represent rhetorical traditions and to discover novel ways to understand intercultural conflicts and mediate cultural differences. Conceptualizing rhetorical situations as intercultural dialogues suggests the ways in which intercultural rhetorical theorists need to be mindful of the multivocal quality of social discourses. Rhetorical interpretation of texts benefits from a comparative approach that allows for speculation with respect for and grounding in another culture’s history, as well as reflection on the cultural outsider’s motive and assumptions. It is useful for the quest of meaning not to be limited to the standpoints within each disparate culture; pragmatically, they must have a dialogue since comparative rhetoric allows the analysis of different discourses, the discovery of common grounds of engagement, and the revelation of cultural assumptions.

Article

Ancient Rhetoric  

Susan C. Jarratt

In the Greek-speaking cultures of the ancient Mediterranean, effective and artful speech was highly valued: practiced and reflected upon from the time of Homer (ca. 8th-century bce), and conceptualized as “rhetoric” in the 5th and 4th centuries bce. At the moment of its emergence, rhetoric was bifurcated: the new discipline of philosophy denigrated it as a realm of mere opinion and potential deception while teachers and public figures began a process of building from its resources an elaborate edifice of training—a paideia—essential for success in political, legal, and cultural life. Consolidated as the queen of arts in the medieval curriculum, rhetoric was studied by European and Arabic scholars and remained at the center of elite learning for centuries, reaching a high point in the Renaissance, when significant texts of ancient rhetoric were revived. With the study of ancient Greek and Latin languages and literature at its foundation, this model of university education was adopted by colleges in the American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries. The rise of modern science and the utilitarianism of the Industrial Age eroded this classical foundation in the late 19th century. The rediscovery of ancient rhetoric in 20th-century U.S. university departments of speech communication beginning in the 1920s and 1930s and a decade or so later in the adjacent fields of English and composition studies has brought ancient rhetorical concepts and debates under new scrutiny. A story dominated by readings of Aristotle’s Rhetoric for most of 20th century has been transformed by revisionist reinterpretations from the 1990s onward emphasizing, among other changes, (a) a sophistic line of influence running from classical Athens through the Roman imperial period, (b) a revaluation of epideictic (ceremonial) rhetoric with its wide range of genres, and (c) a shift in periodization to take in late antiquity and the Byzantine era. Twenty-first-century scholars draw on ancient sources to generate new rhetorical conceptions of time, space, energy, and imagination, putting visual and material as well as verbal texts under analysis in this dynamic field of study.

Article

Sound Studies and Speech Rhetoric  

Justin Eckstein

The communication discipline has a unique take on the intersection of sound and rhetoric that comes from the history of speech. While scholars of composition examined text as a way to understand sound and rhetoric, the legacy of public speaking teachers (who insisted that speech expressed something beyond the text itself) led to a foundational shift. Speech rhetoric gave birth to a new set of objects, research, and instruction around sound. The public conditions and topoi that help determine signal from noise create a robust area of study. While there are different avenues around how sound is known, each gets at this basic intersection of sound and the contingent of a civic movement that makes up the center of the communication discipline’s unique contribution to the interdisciplinary conversation on rhetoric. The unique configuration of sound and rhetoric that makes up speech was born from the history of communication studies. The vocality inherent in a speech of any form is about drawing relations together in time’s presence, something not captured by the metaphor of the text. Speech as metaphor gives rise to three facets of investigation into rhetoric. The first focuses on sound’s pre-symbolic and pre-cognitive influence on the listener. The second examines sound’s unique contributions to speechmaking from both the speaker’s perspective and the listener’s; it asks how sound serves as a resource for invention and what individual opportunities and constraints it produces. Lastly, the examination moves from individual to societal as speech becomes a mode for public advocacy and cultural exchange, adding to the broader conversation on rhetoric across disciplines.

Article

Rhetoric and Critical Affect Theory  

Marnie Ritchie

Critical affect theory continues to hold promise for rhetorical theory and criticism. This article revisits the so-called affective turn in rhetoric and addresses subsequent critiques of the idea of a turn. Accounting for scholarship published since 2010, this article then groups critical affect work into six subareas of research in rhetorical studies: feminist, queer, trans, and crip affects; race and affect; Black women’s affective labor; affective publics and counterpublics; new materialism, materiality, and affect; and affective economics. This article outlines affective methodologies in rhetorical studies and highlights the affective dimensions of “theories of the flesh” in rhetorical inquiry. It ends by considering what is critical about affect theory in rhetoric.

Article

The Rhetoric of Style  

Barry Brummett

Style is in the traditional canon of rhetoric and means the manipulation of language for rhetorical effect. Historically, eras that emphasized style in rhetoric also tended to regard rhetoric as of secondary importance in public discourse, as the window dressing for logic and more substantive modes of invention. When we think of style more broadly as the use of gesture, clothing, decoration, objects, grooming—in short, of style in the more colloquial sense of “he’s got style”—then we see a wider and more important role for style as a major form of rhetoric. Today, the need of global capitalism to sustain artificially high levels of consumption is largely achieved through a rhetoric of style. The public must be persuaded to churn its clothing, decoration, grooming styles, and so forth constantly to keep consumption up, and the most effective way to achieve that end is through creating in people a preoccupation with style. Once that happens, then style becomes the major way in which we think about presenting ourselves to others. Style becomes the way in which people say who they are, who they want to be, and who they feel opposed to. Style becomes a major expression of political commitment. In short, style has become a major if not the major rhetorical system at work in the world today. We understand what others mean, and we influence others, through style much more than we do through carefully planned discursive discourses, argument, and expository presentations. Because global capitalism is the engine behind this preoccupation with style, style is a system of communication likely to increase in dominance and importance.

Article

Rhetorical Dimensions of “Active Shooter” Training Messages  

Bradley A. Serber and Rosa A. Eberly

Mass public shootings in the United States have generated increasingly urgent efforts to understand and prevent active shooter scenarios. After the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, government officials tried to no avail to identify a demographic profile of those who might become active shooters. Confronted with the limitations of identifying potential shooters in advance, government officials, mental health professionals, criminologists, and others interested in preventing active shootings have shifted their focus to guns, mental health, and location security. However, the terrain of each of these topics is murky and exposes additional uncertainties. The sheer number of readily available guns, the prohibition of gun violence research by federal public health and justice institutions, and the variance in attitudes toward and laws about guns in the United States inhibit clear and consistent gun policy. Further, linking active shooters with mental illness risks stigmatizing the vast majority of mentally ill individuals who are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence. Because different locations vary in design, function, funding, resources, and vulnerabilities, no organization or institution can guarantee total security despite extensive and costly efforts. While political and social changes can lead to incremental and important improvements in each of these areas, the problem of active shootings is large, multifaceted, and evolving. Adding to the urgency is the increasing number of U.S. states voting to allow concealed and/or open carry of firearms on public college and university campuses. In the absence of certainty and in recognition of contextual differences, government agencies and educational institutions recently have promoted variants of a “run, hide, fight” approach to active shooter situations, and many schools, workplaces, and other sites have subsequently adopted these tactics in their active shooter training messages. From a rhetorical perspective, pentadic analysis (Burke, 1969) of “run, hide, fight” and its variants reveals the complexities of trying to prevent active shootings. “Run” and “hide” demonstrate both the possibilities and challenges associated with the scene, or when and where an active shooting might occur. “Fight” implies the ambiguities of agent and agency, that is, who gets to fight and how, in debates about gun-free zones, concealed and open carry, and on-site and off-site law enforcement. Meanwhile, the multimodal nature and often disturbing content of active shooter training messages sensationalize the act of active shootings, making them seem more real and present despite the low probability of such an event occurring in any particular place at any particular time. Given these complexities, active shooter training messages as a whole illustrate a tension of purpose in that they presumably attempt to alleviate fear while simultaneously producing it. By looking at a variety of government documents and workplace active shooter training messages, this analysis will explore uncertainties, controversies, and lingering questions about the content and consequences of active shooter training messages and how the producers of these messages frame active shooter scenarios as well as efforts to prevent and respond to such occurrences. No previous studies of the rhetorical or communication dimensions of active shooter training have been conducted, and no archives yet exist that cull such training materials for purposes of comparison, contrast, and analysis in the aggregate.

Article

Rhetorical Invention  

John Arthos

Rhetorical invention is both a practice and its teaching—the capacity to create effective communication, and the instruction in this capacity. Teachers of rhetoric have provided over time a rich and durable supply of pedagogical resources for crafting communication in speech, writing, and multi-modal composition. These resources come down to us through traditions of teaching and practice, in handbooks, theoretical tracts, exemplary models, and heritable pedagogies. Such materials have sometimes succumbed but often resisted the temptation to standardize and systematize, since the art of rhetoric in its very nature speaks to each particular audience and occasion, a requirement that hinders efforts to give it rule-bound methods. The reasons for this resistance to standardization need to be explored as well as how invention has continued to provide heuristic guidance without prescriptive methodological tools. Lacking method, rhetoric is aided by the cultural support of convention, which in turn is modified for each new situation. Such a dialectic of convention and invention animates the ongoing registration of rhetoric to communicative practices and explains its durability as an unsystematic art.

Article

Public Discourse and Intergroup Communication  

Mikaela L. Marlow

Discourse analysis is focused on the implicit meanings found in public discourse, text, and media. In the modern era, public discourse can be assessed in political or social debates, newspapers, magazines, television, film, radio, music, and web-mediated forums (Facebook, Twitter, and other public discussion). Research across a variety of disciplines has documented that dominant social groups tend to employ certain discursive strategies when discussing minority groups. Public discourse is often structured in ways that marginalize minority groups and legitimize beliefs, values, and ideologies of more dominant groups. These discursive strategies include appealing to authority, categorization, comparison, consensus, counterfactual, disclaimers, euphemism, evidence, examples, generalizations, rhetorical questions, metaphors, national glorification, and directive speech acts. Evoking such discourse often enables prevailing dominant groups to reify majority social status, reinforce negative assumptions about minorities, and maintain a positive public social image, despite deprecating and, sometimes, dehumanizing references.

Article

Visual Rhetoric and Semiotic  

Marcel Danesi

Visual Rhetoric (VR) is a field of inquiry aiming to analyze all kinds of visual images and texts as rhetorical structures. VR is an offshoot of both visual semiotics, or the study of the meanings of visual signs in cultural contexts; and of the psychology of visual thinking, as opposed to verbal thinking—defined as the capacity to extract meaning from visual images. The basic method of VR, which can be traced back to Roland Barthes’s pivotal 1964 article “The Rhetoric of the Image,” is to unravel to connotative meanings of visual images. The picture of a lion, for instance, can be read at two levels. Denotatively (or literally) it is interpreted as “a large, carnivorous, feline mammal of Africa.” This level conveys informational or referential meaning. But the image of lion in, say, an advertisement or music video invariably triggers a connotative sense—namely, “fierceness, ferociousness, bravery, courage, virility.” The key insight of VR is that connotation is anchored in rhetorical structure, that is, in cognitive-associative processes such as metaphor and allusion, which are imprinted not only in verbal expressions, but also in visual images. So, the image of a lion in, say, a logo design for men’s clothing would bear rhetorical-connotative meaning and affect the way in which the clothing brand is perceived. This same basic approach is applied to all visual expressive artifacts, from traditional visual art works to the design of web pages and comic books. VR is showing that visual objects are rhetorical objects and that, therefore, they can be used to influence and persuade people as effectively as rhetorical oratory, if not more so. Given its simple, yet effective method of analysis, VR is spreading to various disciplines as a technique, including psychology, anthropology, marketing, and graphic design, among many others, affirming how visual images tap into a system of symbolism that is interconnected with other forms of symbolism and representation.

Article

Animal Rhetorics  

Jeremy Gordon

Before reading the essay in its entirety, readers should note that this entry about animal rhetoric is arranged thematically. More than a chronologically arranged summary, the entry attempts to outline three themes that ground theories and practices of animal rhetoric. The three themes include (a) a synthesis of how animal rhetoric has been featured in the history and myth of rhetorical studies; (b) a synthesis of how animal rhetoric has been theorized as an embodied rhetorical style that foregrounds interconnective, interdependent, and intimate relationships between humans and more-than-humans; and (c) a narrative of how animal rhetoric is inherently rooted in attention to specific ecological contexts, spaces, and places. The three themes emphasize that scholarship featuring animal rhetoric is radically interdisciplinary and maintains an ethical impulse toward more just and vibrant multispecies relations. According to a number of animal rhetoric scholars, rhetoric has always been bestial (Theme 1, point “a”). The mythic roots of rhetoric can be seen and heard in the “classical” narrative of Korax, a raven who pollutes norms of decorum and challenges anthropocentric assumptions of “good” speech. More than mere myth, classical rhetorical practices and habits are furry, feathery, and tentacled. Octopuses and foxes play a part in teaching the cunning intelligence (metis) needed for performing rhetoric. In rhetorical histories, all manner of creaturely figures have been called on to model eloquence—making rhetoric always already a multispecies affair. Whether fabled caricatures of eloquence or Aristotelian models of intelligence, rhetorical scholars have detailed how an array of creatures jump from pages of rhetorical treatises and handbooks to interrupt anthropocentric assumptions about how meaning, identity, power, and place are constituted. Beyond presence in mythic and historical legacies of rhetoric, more-than-human animals have been situated as performing unique yet shared rhetorical styles to animate relations, arrange belonging, shape meaning, and create identity (Theme 2, point “b”). Those styles are corporeal, fleshy, and sensual. Ultimately, theories of animal style center bodily arts of rhetoric that energize, move, and delight. The senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, and more) of animal rhetoric expand the manners of rhetoric - or the ways that rhetoric can and might be performed. With feet and beaks, tooth and claw, more-than-human animal forms of rhetoric transgress assumed binaries between human and animal, nature and culture, feral and domestic, speech and noise. Animal styles of eloquence resignify presumptions of what it means to be a political, rhetorical animal. According a number of scholars, fostering intimate, caring relations between humans and animals happens in the process of learning and practicing various forms of internatural communication, such as play, howling, and walking. Finally, as animals walk, glide, slither, scurry, and slide across streets and sidewalks, they cross borders, shuffle categories, and call into question assumptions of anthropocentric perspectives of place (Theme 3, point “c”). The study and practice of animal rhetoric is contextual, intimately grounded, specific places and spaces. The styles and manners of creaturely communication are deeply emplaced and emerge in relation to biocultural surrounds. More than this, the senses and styles of animal rhetorics help constitute biocultural surrounds, raising questions about who takes part in constituting communities and shaping a public. Many of the scholars cited in this entry foreground being attentive to the emplaced contexts of animal rhetoric, as well as the politics of whose voices are deemed worthy of belonging and whose presence is marked as unwelcome, unloved, and beyond the borders of a multispecies place. Most importantly, then, attending to animal rhetoric foregrounds concerns for how to practice manners—the capacity and willingness to be responsive and affected by the calls, caws, claws, and cries that share everyday ecological, political, and economic life. Being responsive to animal rhetoric marks the practice of multispecies manners and invites possibilities for more just multispecies relations and peaceful earthly coexistence that contest settler-colonial logics, the death work of capitalism, and climate derangement.

Article

Argumentation and Rhetoric  

John Kephart III

The study of argumentation is inherently interdisciplinary. Broad in scope, argumentation theory generally refers to descriptive and normative attempts to understand the products and processes of disagreement and the attempts by participants in argumentative discourse to make their standpoint prevail. Rhetoric, informal logic, pragma-dialectics, and other approaches to argumentation theory describe specific theoretical approaches to the study of argument. While there is some difference of opinion as to whether the focus should be on the arguments themselves, the process of their exchange, the procedure for making and evaluating arguments, or some combination of the three, as well as over what constitutes normatively good arguments or even what counts as an argument in the first place, the range of theories that fall under “argumentation” are motivated to understand what happens when differences of opinion come into conflict with one another. Rhetorical approaches initially focused on the role of argument in contingent situations where a rhetor appeals to an audience to change a behavior or belief, adopt a policy, or reason to consensus in a disagreement. Later developments critiqued the idea that all argument assumes an attempt at reasonable resolution obscures the value in dissensus and ignores that some arguments are advanced for the purpose of demonstrating support for a cause or political faction, to undermine an opponent’s position, or to frame the terms of a debate for one’s own advantage. While this may not be ethical or “productive” argumentation, rhetorical scholars consider such tactics important to understanding the rhetorical strategies of a speaker wishing to persuade an audience. Development of rhetorical argumentation saw: criticisms of science and academic inquiry as rhetorical; the importance of controversy in generating dissensus in challenging the norms of public deliberation; approaches to nondiscursive arguments such as visual, sound, spatial, and embodied argument; and the ways that postmodern, critical, feminist, and race-conscious theories’ challenges to epistemology and ontology refigured considerations of arguer/rhetor, text, persuasion, and audience. Four areas of development for the field are: carrying elements of argument into nondiscursive forms such as aesthetics and affect, digital media (including the role of technological infrastructure on argument), argument designed to evade consensus and reasonability, and further developments in cross-cultural perspectives in argument.

Article

Rhetorical Contexts of Colonization and Decolonization  

Tiara R. Na'puti

Colonization and decolonization continue to be debated both in terms of their meaning and their efficacy in Communication Studies scholarship and across related fields of inquiry. Colonization is part of ongoing processes of subjugation that are linked to other forms of oppression including labor, occupation, and resource extraction. Inquiries about processes of colonization also involve examining corresponding efforts in decolonization processes. Decolonization entails an effort to critically reflect on colonialism and its impact upon colonized people and environments, it involves processes entangled with issues of sovereignty, self-determination, and territory, and so on. Indigenous Studies scholarship helps to foreground Indigeneity as a place from which broader inquiries on colonization and decolonization may be launched. The legitimacy of colonialism and its communicative dimensions has been a concern for scholars. Within the field of Communication, it notes particular contexts of colonization inquiry that overlap across topics and various areas of the discipline. Research on colonialism and its influence spans throughout rhetorical theory and critical/cultural studies to organizational communication and global communication. This scholarship has employed expansive methodologies from applied research to theoretical work and considered a wide range of issues from domestic, international, and transnational perspectives. The study of these powerful structures in rhetoric draws on interdisciplinary fields and raises challenges to intellectual traditions of the West, which have maintained the rhetoric canon. Rhetorical scholars call for the need to examine artifacts that exist at the “margins” and “outside” the imperial centers. They have theorized methods of rhetorical analysis that attend to the colonial and decolonial elements of discourse, power, and identity.

Article

Political Cartoons  

Zazil Reyes García

Political cartoons are rhetorical artifacts where journalism and popular culture intersect. Through the use of images and words, facts and fiction, political cartoons provide their readers with a point of view: a single frame loaded with vivid images and condensed meaning. Political cartoons perform several political and social functions; the main one is to provide political commentary on current events and social issues. Additionally, cartoonists often see their work as a weapon against the abuses of power. Thus, they seek to expose and ridicule the powerful. The result is not always funny, but it is often surprising. Political cartoons are valuable objects of study for many disciplines, such as art history, journalism, and sociology. Studying political cartoons can give us information about past and present political processes and social imagery; it can also serve to understand how visual elements are used to communicate; but most importantly, it provides insight into the cultural values, beliefs, and attitudes of the societies that produce them. Political cartoons are a form of communication with extraordinary rhetorical power. In order to construct meaning, and in hopes of persuading their audience, cartoonists use different rhetorical strategies, such as the use of metaphors and widely known cultural references. Like other rhetorical artifacts, political cartoons are not a straightforward form of communication. To understand one cartoon, people require multiple literacies, and often different people have different readings. Although the influence of political cartoons has diminished in some parts of the Western world, they continue to do political work around the world.

Article

Queer Melodrama  

Cora Butcher-Spellman

Queer melodrama utilizes and reimagines the conventions of melodrama to tell stories by, for, and/or about queer people. Melodrama has been studied by scholars of communication, especially scholars of media and rhetoric. Itis also a transdisciplinary area of study with scholars in film, literature, media studies, cultural studies, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies as well as disciplines associated with specific languages, cultures, geographies, and identities. The scholarship of queer melodrama coalesces around two primary areas of inquiry and research. First, queer melodrama scholarship engages substantially with the taxonomization and theorization of the genre. As a storytelling genre, melodrama appears in various types of media and rhetoric including film, television, literature, theater, and music. Scholars conceptualize the genre of queer melodrama in three main ways: generically in terms of characteristics, formulaically in terms of plot, and stylistically in terms of affect and aesthetic. Most definitions of melodrama focus on the portrayal of extreme emotions paired with a tragic climax—one ultimately resolved with a sudden, simple happy ending. Second, queer melodrama scholarship regularly grapples with the purposes, impacts, and weaknesses of the genre. Queer melodrama’s central purposes are storytelling, disruption, and critique. The genre has the potential to impact audiences by facilitating or encouraging emotional responses, awareness, empathy, hope, and imagination. While much queer melodrama scholarship focuses on defending the genre against dismissive, sexist criticism, scholars also critically examine the potentially negative and harmful political work of certain aspects or examples of queer melodrama. These scholarly critiques have established various problems with queer melodrama including exclusion, normativity, and assimilationism. Taken together, these areas of inquiry attest to the richness of queer melodrama for scholarly inquiry, audience consumption, and political work. Queer melodramas are vital sources for queer communication and rhetoric scholarship about media, affect, aesthetics, and genre.

Article

Psychoanalysis in Rhetorical Theory  

Christian Lundberg

The traditions of rhetoric and psychoanalysis share a common interest in speech as an object and grounds for analysis. The two traditions diverge in their approach to speech: rhetoric understands speech to be primarily concerned with the contextual effects of speech as statement; psychoanalysis with speech as symptom. Understanding the points of mutual overlap, reaffirmation, and critique between the two traditions requires an account of how both traditions mobilize the conception of meaning in interpreting and/or analyzing speech. In clarifying the investments bound up with critical work as interpretation and/or analysis in each of the traditions, it is possible to approach the productive points of tension and affinity between the two traditions anew: in doing so, it may also be easier to understand the roles of audience, affect, and form in detailing the conditions through which speech constitutes subjects and identities, and by which it exerts rhetorical effects.

Article

A Survey of Materialism in Thought and Communication  

Kathleen E. Feyh

Materialism emerged as the beginning of philosophical (as opposed to mystical or religious) thought in ancient India and Greece around the 6th century bce and has from the beginning been associated with the investigation of the world in its complexity beyond the relatively immediate appearance of phenomena to human sense and thought. The thinkers whose concepts inform contemporary materialist approaches to critical communication studies can be traced through historical developments of materialist thoughts in antiquity, the premodern and modern eras, and leading up to the present day. Familiar, emerging, and potential discussions of the nature and formation of consciousness in natural and social life inform the critical study of communication, particularly rhetoric. Particular attention is paid to the relation of materialism and varieties of Marxist and post-Marxist thought, and these are situated within debates in the field of critical communication studies, particularly rhetoric. Concepts originating from the early-20th-century USSR, associated with “creative” Soviet philosophy and activity theory, are less familiar (to this field) but are pertinent to the area of materialist thought. While this area of philosophy has not yet developed deeply or been promulgated widely in communication studies, it is suited to participate in the current conversation about materialism in communication, consciousness, and practice. Its chief contribution is a treatment of the ideal in materialism that resists both reduction and dualism. It also brings to the fore important questions about the place of human activity, including thought, in the material world.

Article

Materialist Rhetoric  

Bryan J. McCann

The term materialist rhetoric refers to scholarly approaches that seek to account for the relationship between rhetoric and the world that it inhabits. Rhetoricians have differed sharply on the character of this relationship and how it should inform rhetorical theory, criticism, and practice. To be a materialist is to insist that there exists a world outside of human agency that exerts force on human affairs. Marxism is the most influential philosophical tradition for materialist rhetoric, although rhetoricians vary in terms of their adherence to and interpretation of its principles. Karl Marx argued that the antagonistic class relations at the core of capitalism were the chief material determinant for social being. Historical materialism is the primary methodology of Marxist critique, and it rests on the premise that the character of class relations is not governed solely by human volition. Rather, these relations create the conditions of possibility for and shape the trajectory of social life. While Marxism has informed the liveliest debates regarding materialist rhetoric, not all materialist rhetoricians are Marxists. The earliest iterations of materialist rhetoric drew on Marxism for inspiration, but did not adopt an explicitly anticapitalist orientation. Rather, materialist rhetoric initially referred to calls for rhetoricians to better account for the material character of rhetoric itself. Later developments in materialist rhetoric emerged from debates regarding the nature of Marxism as a rhetorical method, the question of whether rhetoric is representational or constitutive, the character of rhetorical agency, and the existence of a knowable material world outside of rhetoric. Classical Marxists in rhetoric have argued that scholars should predicate their work on the presumption of an experiential reality outside of discourse that exerts force on human symbolic activity. They argue that grounding rhetorical critique in a nondiscursive materiality is necessary for ethical judgment and political practice. Others who reject classical Marxism embrace the claim that rhetoric is material—so much so, in fact, that it comprises every dimension of social being. Debates between these perspectives hinge largely on how different scholars theorize contemporary capitalism. Whereas classical Marxists retain faith in the revolutionary agency of the working class, their critics contend that rhetoric itself has become the central modality of labor in the modern economy and, therefore, the chief resource for resistance. Other materialist perspectives do not dwell on theoretical debates regarding Marxism, but instead attend to other dimensions of being beyond human symbol use. Whereas some scholars are interested in rhetoric’s relationship to the human body and physical spaces, others theorize rhetoric in ways that reach beyond the limits of human cognition.

Article

Rhetorical Construction of Bodies  

Davi Johnson Thornton

Communication studies identifies bodies as both objects of communication and producers (or sites) of communication. Communication about bodies—for example, gendered bodies, disabled bodies, obese bodies, and surgically modified bodies—influences bodies at the physical, material level by determining how they are treated in social interactions, in medical settings, and in public institutions. Communication about bodies also forges cultural consensus about what types of bodies fit in particular roles and settings. In addition to analyzing the stakes of communication about bodies, communication studies identifies bodies as communicating forces that cannot be accounted for by standards of reason, meaning, and decorum. Bodies are physical, material, affective beings that communicate because of, not in spite of, their messy, ineffable status. Moreover, communication is an embodied process that involves a range of material supports, including human bodies, technological bodies, and other nonhuman physical and biological bodies. Investigating bodies as communicating forces compels an understanding of communication that is not exclusively rational, meaning-oriented, and nonviolent.

Article

Ethics, Rhetoric, and Culture  

Ronald C. Arnett

Signification of human meaning dwells in ethics and culture, finding expression in and through rhetorical practices. Ethics and culture consist of goods and practices that gather the meaningful and the important together, yielding urgency for rhetorical employment of those practices. The union of ethics, culture, and rhetoric offers a coherent dwelling for the protection and promotion of the consequential. Ethics and culture house actions of meaningfulness that compel rhetorical expression, announcing a stance attentive to the vital, reminding self and informing other of a particular account of the consequential. Ethics and culture adjudicate a sense of ground that nourishes rhetorical understanding and engagement with the world. Rhetoric explicates practices of import that reflect the performative reality of ethics and culture, retelling self and other about the crucial. Rhetoric permits self and other to interrogate a ground of distinctive goods and practices that structure the noteworthy. Rhetoric facilitates discovery, testing, and knowledgeable implementation. It moves ethics and culture from points of abstraction to knowing public coordinates in a communicative social world that is impactful on self and others. The interplay of ethics, culture, and rhetoric in their triconstruction and enactment engenders human meaning. Rhetoric thrusts unique versions of ethics and culture into the public domain, and such action renders practical awareness of the existence of contrasting content of import. Acknowledging dissimilarity exposes and probes contrasting goods and practices. Rhetoric enhances public knowledge of differences undergirding juxtaposed ethical and cultural stances.

Article

Psychoanalytic Methods and Critical Cultural Studies  

Atilla Hallsby

Within communication studies, critical and cultural scholars will likely encounter psychoanalytic methods by way of rhetoric scholarship, which has made plentiful and recurring use of Freudian and Lacanian concepts. A survey of psychoanalytic methods “before” and “after” the linguistic turn is offered—juxtaposing key concepts with rhetorical scholarship that employs psychoanalytic terms of art. Psychoanalytic theory is foundationally the study of the unconscious. Before the linguistic turn, the Freudian theory of the unconscious informed Kenneth Burke’s theory of identification developed in A Rhetoric of Motives and numerous Jungian analyses of cinematic texts. In the linguistic turn’s aftermath, the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan contributed understandings of speech, identification, and rhetoric that transformed Freud’s original formulations and productively supplemented Burke’s. These contributions, captured in Lacan’s four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis, registers of the unconscious, and The “Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter,’” illustrate a variety of ways that critical and cultural scholars have enlisted psychoanalysis to describe instances of public address, social movements, political and legal discourse, and cinema/film. The unique feature of Lacan’s approach is that the unconscious is structured like a language, which means that the unconscious is received as a speech act. Moreover, contrary to the view that the subject uses the signifier, Lacan maintains that the signifier exercises an organizing role over the subject and its desire. Conceived within the history, theory, and practice of rhetoric, psychoanalytic theory offers conceptually rich insights tethered to the concepts of the unconscious, the signifier, and the drive (among others) that are enabling to the aims of critical and cultural studies.