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June 25, 2012 / compassioninpolitics

Defining Rhetoric for the Academic Study and/or the Purposes of Debate

[quote]Agreed I’m not sure how any of those sources actually critique the discourse associated with economic theory.[/quote]

From my reading and perspective they take on the worldview, assumptions, and the rhetoric–and often point to a link between the worldview in rhetoric and its implications.

To be clear though, I could see how in a given debate…your argument might in fact pan out.

[quote]reminder: rhetoric and discourse are two entirely different things [/quote]

I don’t see them as all that different.

Rhetoric is everything–or at least everything human made or where human choice is involved in its design OR placement (there might be an argument about it being a concious choice or an accident–but I’m sure theres still an arg to be had that accidents are a cue for some other choice). Discourse is either everything or a subset of everything. So everything that is rhetoric is discourse IMHO.

Rhetoric is commonly thought of as a study or words….but its also a study of symbols. Symbolic communication is everything human made or where human choice is involved in its placement. Even national parks where we may not place trees in a particular area–but still don’t interfere with its growth could be rhetoric of our national values or worldview.

And even though Wikipedia doesn’t see the world as I do–it defines them synonymously (link)

Why does my definition of rhetoric make sense? I don’t think the world necessarily agrees with me–and but given that communication is functionally symbolic–excluding symbols which aren’t words from the realm of rhetoric doesn’t quite make sense–especially given that those choices can be fertile ground for uncovering choices, worldviews, assumptions, etc…

This definition from SDSU gets closer, even if it isn’t fully inclusive of my argument–
“Rhetoric refers to the study and uses of written, spoken and visual language.”

This Lloyd Bitzer quote might get it better–and it encapsulates discourse:

Lloyd Bitzer:
“…rhetoric is a mode of altering reality, not by the direct application of energy to objects, but by the creation of discourse which changes reality through the mediation of thought and action.”

Michael E. Eidenmuller:
“Rhetoric is a rational study and artful practice of human symbol use (especially if not exclusively with words) when and where those symbols target identifiable communities of interest to create, enhance, undermine, or otherwise influence human belief, attitude, emotion, judgment, behavior.” ([i]Voice of America[/i] Interview, 2011, and modified for print)

Charles Bazerman:
“The study of how people use language and other symbols to realize human goals and carry out human activities…ultimately a practical study offering people great control over their symbolic activity.”

Note: my definition is probably a modern scholars interpretation versus Aristotle’s interpretation which probably focused on words.

Also, you could probably grab from other definitions that it has to communicate something–which gets back to my human choice/intent versus accident distinction above.

Given that I don’t think there is a big reason to exclude symbolic communication which isn’t words–if they both communicate some idea or value.




First, let me clarify….I’m going beyond the classic definition….which does tend to be more language based. That, I think perhaps changed to more symbols based as we learned more about the nature of communication & symbols (and the field expanded…presumably as most fields of study do).

I see the distinction you are trying to articulate….but I’m not clear on why that means certain literature isn’t useful or how the affects debaters as they approach this question.

However, it seems that it leads to a kind of linguistic determinism of sorts–or at least one thats more profound than those embodied by a rhetorical study. (although that may be how the world works in some cases….for instance the example that follows)

Either that or thats to some extent almost always the case–even in the world of rhetoric. When hate mongers change their language from bigotry to bigotry with nicer words due to institutional changes–unless the change is genuine or authentic–ie unless their intent or heart has changed you haven’t solved the problem.

Sure its a step in the right direction, because people won’t have to feel the brunt of hatred. And perhaps eventually & over time you might cause them to change (in the same way that often helping others causes us to want to help people more).

I think both rhetorical & discursive scholars can take the beliefs-attitudes-and values all into account (whether they do or not may be another question–generally they deal with external manifestations of those area and don’t worry about the distinctions about the 3) . Rhetorical scholars also look at
Rather, ‘discourse’ has become something of an umbrella term inclusive of all sorts of ontological and epistemological assumptions that support a given worldview.

For instance, when Goodnight analyzed Ronald Reagans “Starwars speech” as I recall he did both.

Why would certain language change the context and why would other language not change the context????? (this seems to be the problem rather than our differences over language)

Is there anything online which makes this distinction?

And I think that even if Foucault makes this distinction…people do often do both….and use them interchangably in language. But I could be entirely wrong.

This could be a place where those from a philosophy versus communication (or communication studies or rhetoric) part ways in some sense in terms of their method (although perhaps unintentionally)

And I’ve seen communication studies scholars deployed in debates…..the one that comes to mind is McGee (and his notion of ideographs), although this won’t resonate with any debaters probably.

And there are Foucault scholars who study rhetoric (so vice versa–rhetoricians who study Foucault).

Also, the substance seems to be the same. It just seems to be that method of looking at the problem or the way of slicing the problem seems to be a bit different. I don’t know why debaters can’t use one for the other. Its like articulating the distinction between a nurse and a doctor for solving your scrape. They both will put a bandage on it + neosporin. Sure they are at different level–but they are functionally going to do the same thing. Or for instance, two schools of thought on a different medical proceedure–which end up with X result. There are differences in method a bit–but you generally still have the same result.

It may be that scholars are at various places along a continuum…..


One Comment

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  1. compassioninpolitics / Jun 25 2012 4:59 am

    This has a little bit more development of the arguments (its the 5th post I believe):

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