Aune – Marxism and Rhetorical Theory

Aune, James Arnt. “Cultures of Discourse: Marxism and Rhetorical Theory.” Rhetoric and Marxism. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, Inc, 1994. 539-551. Print. Polemic Series .

James Arnt Aune began his essay from the position that rhetorical theory could benefit by filiing in the gaps between it and Marxism and questioned what Marxist rhetoric would look like in times past and at the time he wrote his text. He claimed that if in fact Marxism had been silent about rhetoric, which he asserted, then rhetoric had been just about as silent about Marxism.

One major difference between rhetoric and Marxism Aune noted was that the while he claimed the term “ideology” had attained quasi-conanical status in rhetorical criticism, Marx’s central focus was on class struggle; this focus Aune posited had been “thoroughly ignored” by rhetorical scholars.

His major critique is that rhetorical criticism was not as productive as it could or should be because scholars hadn’t “seriously” examined the root of how capitalism has affected the theory and practice of rhetoric: “The ambiguous position of academics within the class structure of advanced capitalism makes ideological criticism appealing but scarcely more useful politically than when the Frankfurt school invented it in the 1930s” (540).

To this end, Aune focused on the repression of rhetoric in Marxist theory and the reading of the history of theories of public argument in Marxist terms in order to present the beginnings of a theory of Marxist rhetoric. To do this he identified limitations of both Marxist traditions that specifically address communication, and rhetorical studies’ emphasis on ideology.

On page 549, he concluded and summarized the main themes of his overall argument in the context of some of his theses toward a Marxist rhetorical theory:

  1. “By foregrounding the role of labor in constructing our human world, a Marxist approach to communication may help revitalize the criticism of public discourse.”
  2. “By foregrounding class struggle rather than public consensus, a Marxist rhetorical theory may be better able to explain broad historical shifts in rhetorical practice and pedagogy than do existing alternatives.”
  3. “Traditional rhetoric, in privileging common sense as a starting point for the construction of enthymemes, may provide a needed corrective to Marxism’s tendency to view the common sense of a culture merely as a rationalization of that culture’s relations of domination.”
  4. “Uniting Marxism’s traditional concern for economic democracy with traditional (if at times ambiguous) concern for political democracy may provide a narrative structure for a new politics, one that views revolution as a struggle against racial, sexual, and economic oppression and against the specialized languages of expertise, which have characterized “liberal” reform in this century. Marxism needs to correct rhetoric’s avoidance of the category of labor in the construction of the social world, while rhetoric needs to correct Marxism’s one-sided focus on labor at the expense of other forms of domination.” (549)

Aune’s main argument is “…that a revitalized conception of traditional rhetoric, one informed by Marxist theory and practice, may be of some use in advancing, in not the Revolution, at least the humane practice of public argument” (549).

“What Marxism has taught us, in admittedly flawed ways, is that human beings have the potential to build a heroic society. What students of rhetoric and communication can give Marxism is a more human way of bridging the critique of ideology with political action. The ultimate point is that audiences, when presented with the contradictions inherent in their social systems, have a choice about the ideological narratives to which they will subscribe or which they will create. That these narratives will not be limited to the banal yet frightening ones of the White House or the Kremlin depends on our ability to extend our imaginative range. As Marx (1975) himself wrote, “Every emancipation is a restoration of the human world and of human relationships to man himself” (p. 240).” (550)

Edbauer – Unframing models of public distribution: From rhetorical situation to rhetorical ecologies

Edbauer, Jenny. “Unframing Models of Public Distribution: From Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 35.4 (2005): 5-24. Print.

In this article, Jenny Edbauer further expanded the theory of rhetorical situation by urging readers to rethink notions of public and location that had been thought of as static and fixed. She situated her own assertion that rhetorical scholars and pedagogues might benefit from using the framework of a rhetorical ecology as opposed to the traditional rhetorical situation among Lloyd Bitzer’s theory of rhetorical situation and its critiques. According to Edbauer, Bitzer and the critiques all work to “create a body of scholarship that stretches our own notions of “rhetorical publicness into a contextual framework that permanently troubles sender-receiver models.” Additionally, she drew upon scholarship on public communication to demonstrate the limits of oversimplified communication and rhetorical situation models that examine either sender- receiver-text, or rhetor, audience, context as discreet, objective elements.

Edbauer also drew on Louise Wetherbee Phelps to argue that rhetorics should not be read as elemental conglomerations, but as always in a state of flux. For Edbauer, there is no fixed location, but exigence is an amalgamation of processes and encounters. Contrary to Bitzer and some of his critics, like Richard Vatz, exigence is not located in any element of the model (8). Edbauer asserted that “indeed, that we dub exigence is more like a shorthand way of describing a series of events. The rhetorical situation is part of what we might call, borrowing from Phelps, an ongoing social flux” (9). Instead of using the terministic screen of conglomerate elements, Edbauer advocated for using a framework of affective ecologies that recontextualizes rhetorics in their temporal, historical, and lived fluxes: “While one framework does not undermine the other, I argue that this ecological model allows us to more fully theorize rhetoric as a public (s) creation.”

Edbauer explicated how this ecological shift can unframe or expand the way in which we understand rhetorical production. She highlighted how the Latin root of “situation”, situs, implies a “bordered, fixed location” (9) and the incompatibility with embodied and networked nature of rhetoric: “the social does not reside in fixed sites, but rather in a networked space of flows and connections” (9). Edbauer discussed Margaret Sylverson’s emergent ecological process of writing as an example of a rhetorical ecology framework applied to composition that doesn’t just focus on the “writer” “audience” or “text” at a time. For Edbauer, this also has real implications for the classroom:

“Bringing this logic into the realm of our own rhetorical pedagogy, we are reminded that rhetorically-grounded education can mean something more than learning how to decode elements, analyze texts, and thinking about public circulations of rhetoric. It can also engage processes and encounters. Not “learning by doing,” but “thinking by doing.” Or, better yet, thinking/doing—with a razor thin slash mark barely keeping the two terms from bleeding into each other” (22-23).

Perelman and Olbrechts-Tytecha – The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation

Perelman, C., and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1969. Print.

In this classic text on argumentation originally written in French by Perelman and Olbrechts-Tytecha, the authors presented a “new rhetoric” that reintroduced argumentation into rhetoric and reason. The two asserted their theory of argumentation by establishing its link to Greek rhetoric and dialectic in order to break with Cartesian concepts of reason and reasoning which they claimed had defined Western philosophy for the previous three centuries. The exigence behind their argument is that traditional logic and reasoning alone cannot help resolve all disputes (and they never have); to this end all available means need to be explored. Under Cartesian logic, claims that are not self-evident could/ would be considered false, but Perelman and Olbrechts-Tytecha argued against this reasoning and for the exploration of the plausible:

“…the post-Cartesian concept of reason obliges us to make certain irrational elements intervene every time the object of knowledge is not self-evident. Whether these elements consist of obstacles to be surmounted-such as imagination, passion, or suggestion-or of suprarational sources of certitude such as the heart, grace, “Einfuehlung,” or Bergsonian intuition, this conception introduces a dichotomy, a differentiation between human faculties, which is completely artificial and contrary to the real processes of our thought.” (3)

The consideration of these irrational elements, nor argumentation are “new” to rhetoric; however, Perelman and Olbrechs-Tytecha posited that these elements had been neglected to the detriment of rhetorical theory and criticism. They wrote: “The effect of restricting logic to the examination of the proofs termed ‘analytical’ byAristotle, together with the reduction of dialectical proofs-when anyone felt they were worth analyzing-to analytical proofs, was to remove from the study of reasoning all reference to argumentation” (509). Their text is an attempt to reduce and further reduction of proofs to formal logic.

In this treatise on argumentation, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tytecha put forth numerous technichal elements of argumentation which they said only scratched the surface. A major takeaway is that argumentation is audience-centered, not form-centered and as such:

  • has the goal of persuading a “universal audience” which is a construct of the author’s mind (the audience can legitimately be treated as universal because “for legitimate reasons, we need not take into consideration those which are not part of it” (31).)
  • is more influenced by ethos (18)
  • dictates that the presumption and “burden of proof” are dictted by the audience, not the question or rhetor (105-106)
  • relies on the “community of minds” or what Burke would call identification (14)
  • uses strategies associated with sophistry, like dissociation (the constant constantly detaching from or adding “appearances” to notions in order to appeal to their audiences) (412)

Perelman and Olbrechts-Tytecha acknowledged that their theory of argumentation and with these proofs that fall outside of formal logic sound sophistic, and would typically be dismissed as a “misleading form of reasoning” (512); however, they argued that “absolutist epistemology” has not served us as well as desired.

“Only the existence of an argumentation that is neither compelling nor arbitrary can give meaning to human freedom, a state in which a reasonable choice can be exercised. If freedom was no more than necessary adherence to a previously given natural order, it would exclude all possibility of choice; and if the exercise of freedom were not based on reasons, every choice would be irrational and would be reduced to an arbitrary decision operating in an intellectual void.” (514)

“The theory of argumentation will help to develop what a logic of value judgments has tried in vain to provide, namely the justification of the possibility of a human community in the sphere of action when this justification cannot be based on a reality or objective truth. And its starting point, in making this contribution, is an analysis of those forms of reasoning which, though they are indispensable in practice, have from the time of Descartes been neglected by logicians and theoreticians of knowledge.” (514)

Vatz – The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation

Vatz, Richard E. “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation.” Contemporary Rhetorical Theory: A Reader. Eds. Sally Caudill, Michelle Condit, and John Louis Lucaites. New York: Guilford Press, 1998. 226-231. Print.

In this follow -up and critique of Lloyd Bitzer’s theory of rhetorical situation, it is clear that Richard Vatz also wants to see rhetoric recognized and valued as a discipline, but for different reasons and through different means. For example, Vatz concluded that “It is only when the meaning is seen as the result of a creative act and not a discovery, that rhetoric will be  perceived as the supreme discipline it deserves to be ” (161). Vatz argued that the notion that a single rhetorical situation can be found in a given event is a myth. He continued to go against Bitzer’s (1974) theory of rhetorical situation which relied on the understanding that the situation or event itself contained meaning and called the rhetorical discourse into existence.

Vatz main critique of Bitzer’s theory is that it reflected a Platonic worldview that not only assumed a “clear” meaning and exigence, but also a “clear” and “positive” modification that should be taken in a rhetorical situation. Vatz used Burke and sociologist Herbert Blumer to demonstrate the subjectivity in all rhetorical situations. Contending that the  world  was not  a  plot  of  discrete  events, he wrote, “the world is a scene of inexhaustible events which all compete to impinge on what Kenneth Burke calls  our ‘sliver of reality'” (156). In any given situation, according to Vatz, a rhetor must take two steps to communicate: 1) choose what facts or events are relevant and 2) translate the chosen material to make it meaningful (157). That being so, Vatz argued that “[n]o theory of the relationship between situations and rhetoric can neglect to take account of the initial  linguistic depiction of the situation” (157).

Vatz further distinguished his theory from Bitzer’s and explicated what the implications for rhetoric are:

“I would not say “rhetoric is situational,” but situations are rhetorical;  not “…exigence strongly invites utterance,” but utterance strongly invites exigence; not “the situation controls the rhetorical response…”  but the rhetoric controls the  situational response; not “…rhetorical discourse…does obtain its character-as-rhetorical from the situation which  generates it,” but situations obtain their character from the rhetoric which surrounds them or creates them.” (159)

Vatz contended that this distinction in the treatment of meaning and rhetoric would determine whether rhetoric was perceived as “parasitic” in relation to disciplines, such as philosophy and the sciences which make and/ or discover meaning, or thrived at the top of the disciplinary hierarchy as the creator of meaning.

Bitzer – The Rhetorical Situation

Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Contemporary Rhetorical Theory: A Reader. Eds. Sally Caudill, Michelle Condit, and John Louis Lucaites. New York: Guilford Press, 1998. 217-225. Print.

In this foundational text, Lloyd Bitzer made the case that rhetorical stuation had not been adequately attended to by theorists, including Aristotle. Bitzer asserted that prior theorists have focused on the method of the orator to address the rhetorical situation, or ignored it completely. He then unfolded his theory of situation. He stated that this essay, originally given as a lecture at Cornell University in November 1966, should be understood as an attempt to 1) revive the notion of rhetorical situation, 2) provide an adequate conception of it, and 3) establish it “as a controlling and fundamental concern of rhetorical theory” (3). Bitzer concluded by drawing comparisons between the role of science in an imperfect world and the need for rhetoric in an imperfect world. He provided the exigence for his own theorization and argument regarding rhetorical situation and argued for the importance  and relevance of rhetoric as a discipline beyond the understanding that it is merely the art of persuasion, which he asserted was necessary to warrant justification as a practical discipline:

…rhetoric as a discipline is justified philosophically insofar as it provides principles, concepts, and procedures by which we effect valuable changes in reality. Thus rhetoric is distinguished from the mere craft of persuasion which, although it is a legitimate object of scientific investigation, lacks philosophical warrant as a practical discipline. (14)

Bitzer distingushes rhetorical situation from context:

Let us regard rhetorical situation as a natural context of persons, events, objects, relations, and an exigence which strongly invites utterance; this invited utterance participates naturally in the situation, is in many instances necessary to the completion of situational activity, and by means of its participa-tion with situation obtains its meaning and its rhetorical character. (5)

Bitzer contended that rhetorical situation should be given priority because of the strong role of plays in a wide range of rhetorical discourse:

So controlling is situation that we should consider it the very’ ground of rhetorical activity’, whether that activity is primitive and productive of a simple utterance or artistic and productive of the Gettysburg Address. (5)

Prior to the creation and presentation of discourse, Bitzer said there are three constituents of rhetorical situation: exigence (an imperfection marked by urgency, an obstacle, something waiting to be done); audience (persons capable of being influenced – even one’s self); and constraints.

Bitzer also outlined six features of rhetorical situations:

  1. Are called into existence by a situation/ invitation (9)
  2. Invite a response that fits the situation (10)
  3. Dictate the purpose, theme, matter, and style of the response.
  4. Are derived from “real” situations and exigencies, not “sophistic” ones (11)
  5. Exhibit structures which are simple or complex, and more or less organized (11)
  6. Come into existence, then either “mature or decay or mature and persist — conceivably some persist indefinitely” (12)

Corkery – Rhetoric of Race: Critical Pedagogy Without Resistance

Corkery, Caleb. “Rhetoric of Race: Critical Pedagogy without Resistance.” Teaching English in the Two Year College 36.3 (2009): 244-57. Print.

In this article, Caleb Corkery explicates how he uses rhetorical theory and critical pedagogy in his composition classroom. Corkery uses rhetoric as a non-threatening lens and shows his students how racial arguments have been asserted and defended throughout U.S. history. The goal is to demonstrate that racial identities are in fact constructed. Through this approach, Corkery asserts that he helps to position his students along side the author and text which allows the necessary emotional distance to “properly” engage with the text. Corkery suggests that targeting white students and/ or white identity, or “subordinate students” is a set up for failure – a mutually beneficial inquiry should be the goal.

Using rhetoric provides the text to interrogate and ensures a focus on language:

Composition instructors are in a unique position to connect the inspiration for critical pedagogies to individual awareness. Applying rhetorical skills to the arguments that have historically divided races in this country forces white students to reconcile, on their own, the evolving construction of white supremacy with the “unraced” status of whites today. A critical approach that centers on rhetorical theory is also more appropriate for a writing course, as might argue Soles, Harris, and O’Dair, who warn that critical pedagogies in composition courses neglect their duty to language study (in Beech 182).