Tag Archives: global rhetorics

Rhetoric Before and Beyond the Greeks Eds. Carol S. Lipson and Roberta A. Binkley


With the call in Octolog II to look for rhetoric in cultural locations unpreviously examined, Rhetoric Before and Beyond the Greeks attempts to explore rhetoric before and beyond the limited scope of Athenian rhetoric in ways that do not reify Athenian rhetoric as the apex of the ancient rhetorical tradition.  As the editors note in their introduction, in order to survive over long periods of time, cultures existing before the Greeks had to use communication for significant social functions and to persuade and convince.  This collection aims to recover understanding of rhetorical use of language by early cultures—Mesopatamia, Egypt, China, ancient Israel, and other parts of Greece.  Scholars are particularly interested in recovering rhetorical genres and conventions used in particular moments in time and investigating how they might have grown and changed over time.  This work is controversial for a number of reasons.  One, ancient artifacts to study are often scarce and fragmented and the contexts in which they were produced are difficult to fully understand.  Two, the Aristotelian body of definitions, values, and practices has a strong hold on modern conceptions of rhetoric; some argue that studying rhetorical genres and conventions of other cultures threatens traditional classical notions of rhetoric.  Three, methodological concerns are raised as to how to study “alternative rhetorics” and whether or not to apply traditional Athenian concepts of rhetoric to other cultures such as George Kennedy does in Comparative Rhetoric or study other cultures use of rhetoric on their own terms and through their own analytical frameworks—an approach Xing Lu calls a hermeneutic method, which “allows the ancient Chinese texts[, for instance,] to speak for themselves without imposing assumptions or terminological equations on them” (15).  This approach also has the benefit, as Swearingen notes, of helping us “see the blind spots of our own terminology and [helping] us envision other possibilities” (19).  

 

“The Birth of Rhetoric”  William W. Hallo

 

In “The Birth of Rhetoric,” Hallo argues that rhetoric was actually birthed in Mesopatamia through the genre of cuneiform literature.  Hallo looks to the Epic of Gilgamesh to prove that Mesopatamian myths have rhetorical value and effect.  He notes, for instance, that the rhetorical devices employed in this epic include:  self-introduction of the “speaker,” invitation to the audience, hymnic apostrophe to the protagonist, partial repetition of the proemium to achieve a frame effect and closure, and mechanical addition of an extraneous addendum to arrive at a preferred length” (33). 

 

 

“The Rhetoric of Origins and the Other:  Reading the Ancient Figure of Enheduanna”  Roberta Binkley

 

In this important essay that attempts to disrupt the notion that ancient women had no agency and no voice, Binkley recovers the early literacy practices of the ancient figure of Enheduanna’s song writing and situates them within the long sacred tradition described by Swearingen as “Song to Speech.”  Enheduanna was a priestess, princess, poet and “consummate rhetorician” writing in 2300 B.C., yet recognition of her as an early rhetorician has been largely ignored because she is a geographically and gendered Other writing to an Other (sacred) audience.  Consequently, her “work, her documented existence, and her ethos problematizes rhetorical assumptions of origins and the Other in rhetorical historiography and in Assyriology” (47).  Binkley explains that Enheduanna was a composer of hymns intended to be sung, which contain strong elements of pathos, ethos, and logos.  Especially interesting, Binkley argues, is the articulation of Enheduanna’s invention process, which entails calling upon the goddess Inanna to assist in her creative process.  This creative process challenges Western notions of the intellect, which divorces the body from the mind, as well as notions that divorce rhetoric from the sacred.   Binkley concludes this article by stating that the acknowledgment of Enheduanna as an early rhetorician opens up future possibilities for enhancing our understanding of rhetorical consciousness, especially of the rhetorical Other, and reconfiguring the origins of rhetoric itself.

 

Carol Lipson  “Ancient Egyptian Rhetoric:  It All Comes Down to Maat

 

            In attempt to uncover an ancient Egyptian rhetorical system, Carol Lipson reveals the ways in which Egyptian rhetoric was founded to some extent on the cultural concept of Maat—also the name of a goddess often depicted in Egyptian mortuary mythology.  According to Lipson, Matt both a.) reflects “the culture’s understanding of interconnected order of the cosmic, divine, natural, and human worlds” as well as its understanding of the need to preserve that order; and b.) defines ways to conduct oneself blamelessly toward others  (81).  Maat is rhetorical then in the educational sense; by dictating behaviors appropriate for certain situations, Maat reflects and communicates certain cultural values as well as guidelines for action.  By rhetorically analyzing Egyptian conventional and ritual practices of writing letters, Lipson demonstrates how letters that perform Maat are actually epideictic in nature—letters reaffirm the social/political order of society and emphasize the roles and responsibilities of community members at various levels of society.  In these letters, Lipson explains, the communicator performs several acts simultaneously: “doing Maat, enacting ritual practices of Maat, carrying out Maat responsibilities, and showing devotion to Maat principles (90).  Communicators are also teaching Maat by articulating how to enact Maat in specific situations depending on one’s status in society.  Besides these immediate administrative functions, Lipson also explains that the rhetorical strategies employed in these letters also function for more divine purposes—to put “themselves up for and understanding by and assessment before the goddess Maat,” which Lipson correlates to what Bahktin calls any higher authority beyond the immediate audience, a “superaddressee” (93). 

            Lipson ends her article by disclaiming that the conventions she has uncovered in Egyptian autobiographies and letters are not static practices and also that a precise understanding of what it means to do Maat can never be known.  She calls for a transhistorical research to confirm Egyptian ways of reflecting and reinforcing their cultural system and ritually enacting its cultural values through the performance of Maat.  This article also illustrates that Rhetoric doesn’t always make an argument.   Rhetoric of accommodation is particular to Egypt.  Therefore, rhetoric was at work in helping people understand themselves and society. 

 

Rhetoric here was directed toward divine audience; hence numerous questions about audience arise:  How do they conceive this audience?  It is imagined.  Are we always writing to an imagine audience?  If so, then is it a worthy endeavor to write to an audience?  How can we truly know who we our audience is?

 

“The Use of Eloquence:  The Confucian Perspective”  George Q. Xu

 

In this essay, Xu demonstrates a general mistrust of eloquence, defined as the “skillful, artistic verbal expression for rhetorical effect,” reflected in Confucian texts (116).  As he explains, “While keenly aware of the usefulness of persuasion in political operations, they disdained ‘indulgence in argumentation with no useful purpose and flowery eloquence with no practical results’ and they even blamed the deterioration of government effectiveness on sophistry that served no practical function” (116).  Even as Confucianists employed eloquence to devalue eloquences, their devaluation of eloquence, Xu argues, has had a profound, long lasting effect on Chinese communication practices.  As Xu explains, Confucianism was the dominant controlling ideology in everyday life and the study of Confucianism was a means to climb the social ladder (which is why the study of Chinese rhetoric must focus on Confucian texts) (125).  Therefore, the devaluation of eloquence in Confucian texts is still embedded in the Chinese collective consciousness. 

 

“Confucian Silence and Remonstration:  A Basis for Deliberation?”  Arabella Lyon

 

Arabella Lyon begins this article with a rationale for why the recovery of Confucian rhetoric is so important.  As she explains, “for more than 2,500 years, his works—fragmented, edited, even written by his disciples—have been used to make a cacophony of claims about the nature of humanity, government, education, and the East” (131).   Through the lens of deliberative rhetoric, Lyon studies the relationship of Confucian rhetoric and current democratic and civil rights movements in Asia. More specifically, by exploring remonstration and silence in The Analects, Lyon  Lyon acknowledges the risk of looking through a Western lens to study Confucian rhetoric, but she does so in order to “place Confucian rhetoric within a defined rhetorical tradition and to place Confucious in twenty-first-century rhetoric” (132). 

 

Lyon begins by defining rhetoric as a metalinguistic awareness of language to be manipulated in the service of identity, communication, persuasion, or artifice (132).  She explains that “as Westerners after Plato conceived” rhetoric, the Chinese do not share western assumptions about “language, communication, and the individual” (132).  For instance, in ancient China there was a “great skepticism about persuasion as an ethical undertaking and even about language as revealing knowledge, action, or character” (132).  Such a difference raises the questions:  “how do you define rhetoric in a culture wituout a homologous word?  If you simply import rhetoric as a concept, what are the implications of bringing western concepts to Chinese culture?…In bringing the concepts of rhetoric and rhetorical theory to Confucian texts, are we colonizing China, or are we disrespecting rhetorical theory, a cultural perspective of the West?” (133).  What are we missing by forcing rhetorical theory upon Confucius? (133)

 

As she explains:

            …[T]he need to understand alternative strategies for language use, forces a conceptual form—the concepts available in the dicipline of rhetoric—upon a different conceptual system, one that values relationship over individual, conservation over experiment, and spirituality and self-cultivation over material accomplishment.  It creates a private/public distinction within a culture that has little.  China’s philosophical concern with process, cycle, and movement over Being, creation, and performance is more congenial with rhetoric, but our prior understandings of what is rhetoric may focus us on the wrong aspects of Chinese culture and filter out what is significant.  One may obscure what is uniquely there by foregrounding western assumptions and so distort and colonize.  It is the dilemma and tragedy of translation (133)

 

Translation, she explains, has led to controversies such as what Chinese concept most closely approximates rhetoric.  Some argue that bian (argue, debate) does, while others argue that shuo (explain, make clear) and shui (persuade) do.  Lyon asks, what about quan (urge) , jian (remonstrate), ming (naming, dialectics), yue (speaking), ci (speech), and yan (say, language).  Lyon argues for letting go of need to specify disciplined concept of rhetoric to more deeply understanding rhetorical complexity of language.  Lyon chooses to look at Confucian rhetoric through the lens of deliberation, which she extends Lani Guinier’s explanation of deliberation to define delibertion as “the process of (articulating and) framing issues to be resolved, proposing alternative solutions, examining the reasons for and against the proposed solutions, (advocating specific solutions, recognizing and responding to the concerns of others,) and settling on alternative (action)” (qtd. on 134).  Lyon studies two modes of deliberation—silence and remonstration—in The Analects to show how the process of deliberation assists Chinese citizens in becoming more human.

 

Worldly acts, not articulated ideas and plans, build human character according to The Analects.  Thus, the “lived character of the rhetor is more important than his speech” (137).  Therefore, The Analects identifys specific use of silence for specific rhetorical situations (138).  Remonstration is a process of persuasion that does not end in changing the audience but in audience deliberation (140).  Because the goal of remonstration is deliberation, the objective is to represent well rather than to say and sway (140).  The goal of this form of rhetoric is human connection and respect and honor of interlocuters.  As such, in this form of democracy, which is not focused on the individual or equality, the government has responsibility to learn from commoners, honor their will, and to demonstrate virtue in order to win over the mass population and sustain order (142).

 

 “’Nothing Can Be Accomplished If the Speech Does Not Sound Agreeable’:  Rhetoric and the Invention of Classical Chinese Discourse”   Yameng Lu

 

In this article, Yameng Lu begins by suggesting that rather than fret over how to studying Chinese rhetoric on its own terms, we think of rhetoric as “the effective use of symbolic resources in discursive and sociocultural practices [which] is applicable cross-culturally” in order to hone in on the abundance of Chinese textual evidence of rhetorical thinking (147).  Lu explores the genre of nan (rebuttal) to show how the deconstruction of one’s opponent’s rhetoric so as to discredit his ideology is a common rhetorical strategy found therein.  Nan, according to Lu, is just one example of the sophisticated understanding of language in Chinese rhetoric as well as the kind of depth, scope, and complexity that classical Chinese rhetoric had managed to achieve” (150).  In arguing how sophisticated and complex ancient Chinese rhetorical thinking was, Lu also draws on David Hall and Roger Ames, who in arguing that rhetoric rather than logic was main form of communication in ancient China, cite the four following observations as evidence of their claim:  a.) pathos and ethos used more than logos in Chinese texts; analogical reasoning employed; c.) no thinking/acting dichotomy in Chinese texts:  “an idea is a proposal for feeling and action”; d.) “Chinese modes of expression function imagistically and metaphorically” (150).  Thus rather than think of Confucius and others as philosophers and thinkers, we can think of them as outstanding orators who shared certain assumptions about rhetorical thinking (152).  Lu also makes clear that we need to think of Chinese rheteoric not just as produced in response to Chinese cultural crises, but as discursive practices that create social and cultural meaning that “shape the perceptions, desires, feelings, and hence behaviors of individual or institutional actors” (153).  This way of thinking meets Foucault’s challenge to not analyze the formation of discourses and the geneaology of knowledge “’in terms of types of consciousness, modes of perception and forms of ideology, but in terms of tactics and strategies of power’” (qtd. on 153).  This way of thinking also locates Chinese rhetoric as a productive art.  And finally, this way of thinking acknowledges that “the discursive practicioners of this period, regardless of their ideological affiliations, must have shared a body of terministic and conceptual resources, subscribed to the same set of basic problematics, assumptions, and norms, and functioned within the same rhetorical framework” (155) and that rhetoric and the normative discursive order would be the supplier of this shared body of resources (156).  Overall, Lu claims classical Chinese rhetoric was a “discipline/practice in its own right and what the orginators of traditional Chinese discourse were busy doing can…be described as rhetorical criticism”; and despite their differences among discourse communities,  the “various ‘schools’ or discourse communities actually shared much in their rhetorical thinking and their modes of rhetorical practice” (161).  He argues mainly for “redefining classical Chinese rhetoric as an ‘architectonic productive art,’ one that contributed vitally to the cultural and ideological production of the time by rendering possible meaningful interactions among divergent thoughts and ideologies” (161).

 

 

“The Art of Rhetoric at Rhodes:  An Eastern Rival to the Athenian Representation of Classical Rhetoric”             Richard Enos

 

In this article, Enos demonstrates that what we usually think of as Greek rhetoric is actually Athenian rhetoric created in response to the particular internal, civic needs of that emerging democracy.  In Rhodes, however, the first true “Greco-Roman” rhetoric that was produced was externally oriented—produced in other words to faciliate communication with other peoples (184).  Enos points out that “the thought that Aristotle’s Rhetoric may have been accounting of rhetoric that was not meant as a universal explanation but rather as a study of rhetorica indigenous to Athens is so out of harmony with our assumptions that it is not given serious consideration” (186).  We need to create knowledge of other manifestations of Greek rhetoric, Enos argues, and study them in ways that do not deem them as inferior or derivative of Athenian rhetoric (186).  Enos explains that Rhodes was artistic center of Greece.  In Rhodes, rhetoric was not just employed for civic functions for sustaining democracy (forensic and deliberative); rhetoric also had artistic and epideictic functions that facilitated cultural diversity (189).  Overall, Enos makes five important observations of rhetoric of Rhodes:  a.) Rhodes offered a rival and enduring veriosn of Greek rhetoric; b.) it stressed epideictic function that served to create cross-cultural ties; c.) it’s moderate style made it ideal for study and practice of declamation; d.)  it was inherently inclusive and made popular in Rome; e.) its rhetorical riches are yet to be discovered (194).  I would add that it illustrates that rhetoric is just not about persuasion…

 

“Story-List-Sanction:  A Cross-Cultural Strategy of Ancient Persuasion” James Watts

 

In this article, Watts demonstrates that the genre of rhetoric that entails presenting story, generating a list, and articulating a sanction is not specific to one culture but exists across cultures and time.  Because this genre at work in ancient Eastern texts can still be found today in Western settings, Watts argues that “some ancient rhetorical forms have survived alongside the arguments of theorists who rejected them, thereby institutionalizing that conflict in the social structures that shape contemporary public discourse” (210). 

 

“Song to Speech:  The Origins of Early Epitaphia in Ancient Near Eastern Women’s Lamentations”  Jan Swearingen

 

In this article, Swearingen takes both an etic and emic approach to study the women’s songs and lamentations in the ancient Near East.  In other words, Swearingen both employs a Greco-Roman rhetorical framework to study these songs and lamentations(etic) and attempts to explore these songs and lamentations on their own terms (emic).  Swearingens’s research demonstrates that “first rhetorical epitaphia in Athens bear traces of earlier song traditions, some of them composed by women, as it was traditional for women to perform the lamentations at burials” according to Ochs and Alexiou (215).  Alongside Homeric sagas and plays as well as Hebrew scriptures, Swearingen demonstrates that the women’s songs and lamentations are revealing that women in the ancient East had some agency.  These women’s roles have been largely ignored, however, because we only have fragments of their voices and, as Kinneavy has noted, because they, as performers of rituals, were often depicted as having only evoked superstitions rather than “promoting persuasive appeals to volitional beliefs and affirmation” (216).  This distinction has been used, by the way, to draw a line between “religious and secular discourse, primitive and advanced cultures, religious and rhetorical discourse” (216).  Swearingen argues that “we need to recover…the self-conscious reflections of women singers of songs, and composers of ceremonial verse whose practices, and whose beliefs about their practices, shaped the common language of the culture before the emergence of city-states and male prose rhetoric” (218).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Manifesto Revisited

Manifesto:  Why Study and Write Social Histories of Rhetoric?

 

            Social histories of rhetoric(s) study the use of rhetorical practices by communities and members of communities who haven’t been typically represented mainstream rhetorical history.  Working under this assumption, it is extremely important in my eyes to expand the rhetorical canon to account for a broader spectrum of ancient and contemporary cultural rhetorics, especially those practiced by underrepresented populations in unique, non-discursive forms that operate differently than traditional conceptions of discursive rhetorics. In order to make room for such practices, we need to “dig up” and study texts, artifacts, and discourse venues that represent ancient rhetorics practiced by various members of specific cultures on their own terms (Gaines).  We thus cannot assume that rhetoric in all ancient cultures is confined to discursive language use as traditionally conceived in classical Western rhetoric. Not only are a wide array of cultural rhetorics enacted through non-verbal mediums, such as songs, gestures, physical movements, attire, and spaces, cultural rhetorics employed in global settings often do not operate “logically” according to the Western, Greco-Roman, Enlightenment mindset. 

            In order to uncover social histories of non-discursive rhetorical practices, we must first expand the scope of rhetoric beyond its traditionally conceived discursive framework. As James Fredal convincingly argues, rhetoric should encompass the “manipulation of signs in any symbolic system, through any medium, capable of communicating meaning and value” (“Seeing” 183).  Expanding the conception of rhetoric beyond ancient Western conceptions to nearly all forms of symbolic communication has the potential to decenter the Greco-Roman tradition in the rhetorical canon.  This decentering is necessary because reasoned persuasion in the Aristotelian rhetorical sense leaves little room for oral or written texts that have their own unique rhetorical framework as well as the non-discursive symbols that behave rhetorically in many ancient (and contemporary) cultures. Thus, if social historians of ancient rhetoric truly want to investigate rhetorical practices beyond the Western canon on their own terms, social historians must not only be open to unique rhetorical frameworks but also create space within the scope of rhetoric to include non-discursive modes of communication that do not operate according to western logic and traditional western forms of communication. A move toward the non-discursive in rhetorical criticism would help us better understand the full spectrum of rhetorical transactions made by various people in various cultures at various points in their histories—a recommendation made by rhetorical scholars at the well-known Wingspread Conference back in 1970 (Ochs 2).   This movement toward non-discursivity is especially important because we must begin to embrace cultural rhetorics from perspectives that do not reify Greco-Roman classical rhetoric as the apex in the development of ancient rhetorical systems (Lipson and Binkley 2).  Excavating global, non-discursive rhetorics also exposes and challenges the tendency of canonized Western rhetoric to normalize as rhetoric the rhetorical system of one particular western culture” (Lipson and Binkley 2).  

            I am currently rethinking my argument for embracing transcultural and transhistorical research on both discursive and non-discursive rhetorical practices.  Formerly, I have strongly advocated for comparative work because of its potential to bridge the polarized thinking concerning western/non-western and literate/non-literate societies that still pervades our field, despite recent efforts to complicate this way of thinking.  I have long recognized that as Robert Oliver makes clear in his original call for scholars to study “non-western” rhetorics that received harsh criticism back in 1961, “There is not just one rhetoric—instead, there are many rhetorics…and many different modes of thinking, many different standards of value, many different ways in which influence must be exerted if it is to be effective” (qtd. in Lu 113). I understand, as Lois Agnew points out, that the last generation of historians took a major step in recognizing that such rhetorical differences exist amongst various cultures and various members within those cultures, and that there is a significant “value in conceptions of language that are different from those we have inherited through the western rhetorical tradition” (Interview). I consider this scholarship vital; we need to be aware of these differences in order not to hold prejudices against other cultures and develop an appreciation for cultural rhetorics different from our own. Yet, I previously argued that by solely focusing on rhetorical differences, we often miss the opportunity to locate similarities in the ways and reasons why certain members of certain cultures communicate rhetorically—similarities that can bridge the hierarchical thinking patterns that cloud our rhetorical gaze.  I have argued that our goal should not be to develop a “General Theory” of rhetoric applicable to all cultures, as Kennedy attempts to do in Comparative Rhetoric. Rather, as Xing Lu has argued, our goal should be to “bridge gaps of misunderstandings for the betterment, enrichment, and illumination of human conditions” (“Studies and Development” 115).  By identifying common values and beliefs, ways of communicating those beliefs and values, and reasons for communicating those beliefs and values across differences, social historians of rhetoric can facilitate transcultural and transhistorical understanding of how and why people in ancient cultures communicate rhetorically.

            I am currently rethinking this position because I am in the midst of what I call a paradigm shift in my own thinking.  As of late I have been very persuaded by the work of Vizenor, Powell, Beam and others who call our attention to the imperialist tendencies of our scholarly practices.  As Powell rights about the Academy’s role in the continuous frontier tale of “America” in her essay “Blood and Scholarship,”

The ‘rules’ of scholarly discourse—the legitimizing discourse of the discipline             of rhetoric and composition—require us to write ourselves into this frontier             story.  Scholars are to set forth on the fringes of ‘the unknown’ in order to                 stake out and define a piece of ‘unoccupied’ scholarly territory that, through             our skill at explicating and analyzing, will become our own scholarly             homestead, our area of concentration.  We are trained to identify our object of study in terms of its boundaries, its difference from other objects of study, and then to do everything within our power to bring that object into the realm of other ‘known’ objects.  In effect, we ‘civilize’ unruly topics.  And it is our distance from those topics, the fact of our displacement from the materiality of these areas of study, that lends legitimacy to our efforts (3-4).           

I think comparative analysis is part of the Academy’s imperialist practices.  I am currently then in the process of examining my desire and my inclination to compare.  Does comparative analysis have to be a means to transcultural understanding? How can we “bridge gaps of misunderstandings for the betterment, enrichment, and illumination of human conditions” without identifying common values and beliefs, ways of communicating those beliefs and values, and reasons for communicating those beliefs and values across differences?  I think social histories of cultural rhetorics have the potential to achieve these goals without employing comparative analysis….

            I am also growing fond of social history as a means to study contemporary cultural rhetorical practices because of its potential to affect real social change.  As I wrote in the first draft of my manifesto, by uncovering the rhetorical practices currently employed to marginalize communities, such as women marked as “Third World,” social historians of rhetorical practices can identify and challenge existing rhetorics that both explicitly and implicitly oppress and discriminate. Simultaneously, we can identify and support contemporary rhetorical practices employed by marginal communities to resist those oppressive and discriminatory rhetorics.  Through such investigations, we will deepen our understanding of how rhetoric operates beyond our own borders and contributes to the unequal labor and cultural dynamics at work in our increasingly globalized world.  We also will also deepen our understanding and learn from cultural rhetorical practices employed effectively to resist, challenge, and subvert oppressive powers.  Rather than just deepen our understanding, however, we can use our new “understandings” to help activate change on the ground if we devote some of our scholarly energy to work outside the academy.  I am currently working on a project, for instance, that analyzes the promotional materials of ProLiteracy, which through rhetorical analysis I have discovered to be so extremely problematic that they actually undermine the very women their Women in Literacy Initiative aims to “empower.”  This work has the potential to disrupt malevolent promotional practices but only if I both share my findings with the organization and offer solutions to counteract their current promotional strategies.  We need, or should I say, I need to focus my work on scholarship that has the potential to both create transcultural understanding and enact real change.

            Anyway, as idealistic as it sounds, social historians focusing on rhetorical practices in the global world can use our scholarship to not only create a more diverse and equitable discipline, we can also play an important role in creating a safer and more equitable globalized world. As our field takes the global turn, we have this responsibility; social history projects might be a useful vehicle for enacting this responsibility.

 

Works Cited:

Fredal, James.  “Seeing Ancient Rhetoric, Easily at a Glance.”  Rhetoric Society Quarterly.  Vol. 36 (2006), pp. 181-189.

 

Gaines, Robert N. “De-Canonizing Ancient Rhetoric.” The Viability of the Rhetorical             Tradition.  Eds. Richard Graff, Arthur E. Walzer, and Janet M. Atwill.  New York:  State University of New York Press, 2005. 61-73. 

 

Lipson, Carol and Roberta A. Binkley.  Eds.  Rhetoric Before and Beyond the Greeks.              Albany:  State University of New York Press, 2004.

 

Lu, Xing.  “Studies and Development of Comparative Rhetorics in the U.S.A.:  Chinese and Western rhetoric in Focus.”  China Media Research.  2 (2), 2006, pp. 112-116.

 

Ochs, Donovan J.  Consolatory Rhetoric:  Grief, Symbol, and Ritual in the Greco-Roman             Era.  Columbia, South Carolina:  University of South Carolina Press, 1993.     

 

Powell, Malea.  “Blood and Scholarship: One Mixed-Blood’s Dilemma.” Race, Rhetoric,             and Composition. Ed. Keith Gilyard. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann-Boynton/Cook, 1999.

 

Stearns, Peter N.  “Why Study History?” American Historical Association.  1998.  August 30 2007.  <http://www.historians.org/pubs/Free/WhyStudyHistory.htm&gt;

 


By symbol, I refer to Clifford Geertz’s definition:  “any object, event, quality, or relation which serves as a vehicle for a conception” (“Religion” 5).

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Manifesto for Social Histories of Rhetoric

Manifesto: Why Study and Write Social Histories of Rhetoric?”

If we define social histories as the histories of everyday lives which haven’t been typically represented in mainstream histories, then I am assuming social histories of rhetoric(s) pertains to the use of rhetorical practices by communities and members of communities who haven’t been typically represented in mainstream rhetorical history. Working under this assumption, it is extremely important in my eyes to complicate and expand the ancient rhetorical canon beyond the traditional Greco-Roman discursive framework to include rhetorical practices employed by various members of the many diverse ancient communities from around the world, many of which exist and operate outside traditional conceptions of discursive rhetorics. We need, in other words, to open the canon of ancient rhetoric to body of texts, artifacts, and discourse venues that more accurately represents ancient rhetorics practiced by various members of specific cultures (Gaines). In order to open the canon, we must not assume that rhetoric in all ancient cultures is confined to discursive language use as traditionally conceived in classical Western rhetoric. Not only do members of ancient cultures enact rhetoric through non-verbal mediums, such as songs, gestures, physical movements, attire, and spaces, rhetoric employed in global settings often does not operate logically according to the Western Greco-Roman mindset.

In order to uncover social histories of non-discursive rhetorical practices, we must first expand the scope of rhetoric beyond its traditionally conceived discursive framework. As James Fredal convincingly argues, rhetoric should encompass the “manipulation of signs in any symbolic system, through any medium, capable of communicating meaning and value” (“Seeing” 183). Expanding the conception of rhetoric beyond ancient Western conception to nearly all forms of symbolic communication threatens to dismantle the traditional Greco-Roman framework as the foundation of the rhetorical canon. Yet, reasoned persuasion in the Aristotelian rhetorical sense leaves little room for oral or written texts that have their own unique rhetorical framework as well as the non-discursive symbols that behave rhetorically in many ancient (and contemporary) cultures. Thus, if social historians of ancient rhetoric truly want to investigate rhetorical practices beyond the Western canon on their own terms, social historians must not only be open to unique rhetorical frameworks but also create space within the scope of rhetoric to include non-discursive modes of communication that do not operate according to western logic and traditional western forms of communication. A move toward the non-discursive in rhetorical criticism would help us better understand the full spectrum of rhetorical transactions made by various people in various cultures at various points in their histories—a recommendation made by rhetorical scholars at the well-known Wingspread Conference back in 1970 (Ochs 2). This movement toward non-discursivity is especially important because we must begin to embrace cultural rhetorics from perspectives that do not reify Greco-Roman classical rhetoric as the apex in the development of ancient rhetorical systems (Lipson and Binkley 2). Excavating global, non-discursive rhetorics also exposes and challenges the tendency of canonized Western rhetoric to normalize as rhetoric the rhetorical system of one particular western culture” (Lipson and Binkley 2).

I also strongly advocate for embracing transcultural and transhistorical research on both discursive and non-discursive rhetorical practices because of its potential to bridge the polarized thinking concerning western/non-western and literate/non-literate societies that still pervades our field, despite recent efforts to complicate this way of thinking. As Robert Oliver makes clear in his original call for scholars to study “non-western” rhetorics that received harsh criticism back in 1961, “There is not just one rhetoric—instead, there are many rhetorics…and many different modes of thinking, many different standards of value, many different ways in which influence must be exerted if it is to be effective” (qtd. in Lu 113). Lois Agnew points out that the last generation of historians took a major step in recognizing that such rhetorical differences exist amongst various cultures and various members within those cultures, and that there is a significant “value in conceptions of language that are different from those we have inherited through the western rhetorical tradition” (Interview). This scholarship is vital; we need to be aware of these differences in order not to hold prejudices against other cultures and develop an appreciation for cultural rhetorics different from our own. Yet by solely focusing on rhetorical differences, we often miss the opportunity to locate similarities in the ways and reasons why certain members of certain cultures communicate rhetorically—similarities that can bridge the hierarchical thinking patterns that cloud our rhetorical gaze. Our goal should not be to develop a “General Theory” of rhetoric applicable to all cultures, as Kennedy attempts to do in Comparative Rhetoric. Rather, as Xing Lu has argued, our goal should be to “bridge gaps of misunderstandings for the betterment, enrichment, and illumination of human conditions” (“Studies and Development” 115). By identifying common values and beliefs, ways of communicating those beliefs and values, and reasons for communicating those beliefs and values across differences, social historians of rhetoric can facilitate transcultural and transhistorical understanding of how and why people in ancient cultures communicate rhetorically.

Our concern should not just focus on ancient rhetorical practices, however. We must also turn our rhetorical gaze to rhetorical practices enacted by various underepresented members of modern cultures for a wide range of purposes. As our field takes the global turn, we especially have the responsibility to deepen our understanding of how rhetoric operates beyond our own borders and contributes to the unequal labor and cultural dynamics at work in our increasingly globalized world. Because women and their families are especially susceptible to the unequal labor and cultural dynamics, we have the opportunity to put our scholarship into direct actions that improve the lives of women and their families. This is not to say I am advocating for rhetorical scholars in western settings to create a hero narrative for themselves and our discipline by “rescuing” those in need. However, rhetoricians aimed at uncovering the rhetorical practices of people who have been marginalized in historical and contemporary rhetorical studies can use our scholarship to affect real change. Peter Stearns claims history has the potential to explain and understand change in human behavior (“Why Study History” 2). I would argue that history, especially rhetorical history, also has the potential to create social change. By uncovering the rhetorical practices historically employed to marginalize communities such as women marked as “Third World,” social historians of rhetorical practices can identify and challenge contemporary rhetorics that are both explicitly and implicitly oppressive and discriminatory. Simultaneously, we can identify and support contemporary rhetorical practices employed by marginal communities to resist those oppressive and discriminatory rhetorics. In all of these ways, social historians focusing on rhetorical practices in the global world, can use our scholarship to not only create a more diverse and equitable discipline, we can also play an important role in creating a safer and more equitable globalized world.

Works Cited:

Agnew, Lois. “Response to Haskins.” Personal Email. June 2007.

Fredal, James. “Seeing Ancient Rhetoric, Easily at a Glance.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly. Vol. 36 (2006), pp. 181-189.

Gaines, Robert N. “De-Canonizing Ancient Rhetoric.” The Viability of the Rhetorical Tradition. Eds. Richard Graff, Arthur E. Walzer, and Janet M. Atwill. New York: State University of New York Press, 2005. 61-73.

Lipson, Carol and Roberta A. Binkley. Eds. Rhetoric Before and Beyond the Greeks. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004.

Lu, Xing. “Studies and Development of Comparative Rhetorics in the U.S.A.: Chinese and Western rhetoric in Focus.” China Media Research. 2 (2), 2006, pp. 112-116.

Ochs, Donovan J. Consolatory Rhetoric: Grief, Symbol, and Ritual in the Greco-Roman Era. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.

Stearns, Peter N. “Why Study History?” American Historical Association. 1998. August 30 2007.

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