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Posts Tagged ‘political rhetoric’

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I’ve written on this blog before about the ways in which I think political discourse in the US serves democracy poorly. A recent article by David Gewirtz at ZDNet on the subject of the moral status of DDoS attacks has prompted me to write about this topic again.

Gewirtz writes in response to the arguments of Molly Sauter, of MIT’s Center for Civic Media. Sauter summarizes her project like this:

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We all know we’re not supposed to engage in fallacious argumentation.  We might disagree about what fallacies there are or how they work, but we all agree that there are certain moves in argumentation–at least in some contexts–that are just downright, well…dishonest. How do we keep students and others in our charge from wandering down that path? Most of the time the method is to teach and to reinforce practices of good argumentation, while at the same time teaching them how to recognize and nullify, with critique, the fallacious arguments of others. So far the story is not all that different from any other well-known model of moral education. Teach and promote the good, identify and punish the bad.  And that works most of the time in the hermetically sealed environment of the classroom.  Then our students go out into the world and encounter argumentation like this:

Or this… (more…)

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Occupy, out of focus

Let’s be honest about this, coverage of the Occupy movement has neither been fair nor balanced in most cases.  What coverage there has been has usually centered on 1) how much of a mess these sites are making, 2) on how the absence of explicit demands makes them “incoherent”, and 3) on how the major political parties may or may not try to turn the frustrations of the protesters to their advantage in the coming national election cycle.  Much of the coverage that I’ve seen has focused on the second of these items, on how the protests seem to be just a sort of collective “acting out”.  “With no clear message”, so goes the refrain, “how can the Occupy protesters hope to achieve their aims (whatever they are)?” (more…)

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Call for Papers

Rhetoric in Society 4

“Contemporary Rhetorical Citizenship:

Purposes, Practices, and Perspectives”

Department of Media, Cognition, and Communication

Section of Rhetoric

University of Copenhagen

January 15-18, 2013

This is the first bulletin of the fourth biennial Rhetoric in Society Conference to be held January 15-18, 2013 at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

With this bulletin, we want to invite you to do two things: mark your calendars and start thinking about how you might contribute to the conference with your scholarship.

Below, we introduce the theme of the conference and provide basic information about the various presentation formats.

Within a few weeks, we will contact you again with more information about the conference program, key-note speakers, and how to submit an abstract.

In the planning of the conference we wish to promote discussion among conference attendees. One way is to set time aside for discussion in all meetings, another is to allow for regular breaks, and a third way is to arrange social gatherings suitable to networking and amicable conversation. We hope you will come and be part of the discussion!

Theme

The theme for this fourth conference on Rhetoric in Society is “Contemporary Rhetorical Citizenship: Purposes, Practices, and Perspectives”.

With the concept of rhetorical citizenship we want to draw critical attention to the ways in which being a citizen in a modern democratic state is in many respects a discursive phenomenon. Citizenship is not just a condition such as holding a passport, it is not just behavior such as voting; citizenship also has a communicative aspect: Some perform citizenship when they watch a political debate on TV or discuss a program about homeless people with their colleagues over lunch – or when, one day, they don’t duck behind the fence but engage their cranky neighbor in conversation about her views on city street lighting. Others enact citizenship when they engage in political debates on Facebook or Twitter or join their friends in coming up with the most poignant wording for a protest sign the day before a street demonstration. And for others still, “rhetorical citizenship” is a distant ideal far from the realities of their everyday life; because the legal citizenship, literacy, and media access that such a conception of citizenship often presupposes aren’t within their reach, their experience with rhetorical citizenship is one of exclusion.

Rhetoric, with its double character as academic discipline and practice, stands in a unique position to engage the linguistic and discursive aspects of collective civic engagement. Drawing on and in collaboration with neighboring fields of inquiry such as political science, discourse studies, linguistics, media studies, informal logic, practical philosophy and social anthropology, scholars of rhetoric are able to study actual communicative behavior as it circulates in various fora and spheres – from face to face encounters to mediated discourse. With our diverse theoretical and methodological backgrounds we hold many keys to pressing concerns such as the alleged polarization and coarsening of the ‘tone’ in public debate, the turning away from political engagement toward smaller spheres of interest, and the general difficulty in making politics work constructively in many parts of the world, not least the EU.

We invite attendees – scholars, teachers, students, and citizens across a range of disciplinary traditions – to extend our knowledge of the social roles of rhetoric through theoretical and critical study, and to consider our roles as public intellectuals: how are we to name, describe, criticize, analyze, and, indeed, undertake or teach rhetorical action on matters of communal concern whether locally, nationally, or internationally?

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International Colloquium “Argumentation in Political Deliberation”
ArgLab – IFL
Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas da Universidade Nova de Lisboa

2 September 2011

Political deliberation, understood as a public debate aimed at forming political opinions and deciding what course of action to take, has traditionally been seen as a prime venue for public reasoning and argument. Aristotle considered political deliberation – next to forensic dispute and public oratory – as one of the three main genres of rhetoric. Today, different modes of political deliberation – from formal institutional procedures in parliaments, to public hearings, to citizens’ conferences, to televised debates, to informal online discussions among “ordinary citizens” – are at the centre of interest in argumentation theory, deliberative theory of democracy, and communication and media studies alike.

The goal of this colloquium is to bring together scholars from these interrelated disciplines to examine the role, shape and quality of argumentation in political deliberation. A theoretical and empirical focus of the presentations and discussions will be on the practices of argumentation. The questions addressed include: How can we best theorize, analyze and evaluate argumentation in the context of political deliberation? What is the impact of the contextual conditions in different deliberative activities on the shape and quality of public argument? What are the typical forms of deliberative argument and counterargument? To what extent is the “virtual public sphere” transforming the way we engage in public argument? Does it allow for inclusive participation and genuine argumentative debate between advocates of various political views? By addressing these questions, the colloquium hopes to provide a focused account of the multifaceted argumentative practices in political deliberation.

The colloquium is part of a project Argumentation, Communication and Context sponsored by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT: PTDC/FIL–FIL/10117/2009) and carried out at ArgLab, Universidade Nova de Lisboa.

For more information, visit the colloquium web page.

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It is common knowledge that political extremism is on the rise in the U.S..  I was listening to a radio broadcast in this series this morning, and the question came up of whether or not talk radio and television personalities who play to political extremes are morally responsible for the acts that some of their unbalanced listeners or viewers might do.  A case in point was the murder of George Tiller, a doctor in Kansas who Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly had several times condemned by name on the air for performing abortions. Tiller’s murderer apparently had been a fan of O’Reilly’s show.

Whether or not one thinks O’Reilly is implicated in Tiller’s death, it does seem to raise the question of whether and to what degree persons in his line of work bear responsibility for the attitudes that they model, and the overall quality of public discourse in the U.S..

My sense of things is that  people like Michael Moore and Bill O’Reilly probably don’t cause people to pick up guns unless those people are already deranged.  They do, however, signal that it is acceptable to be intolerant and abusive of people who disagree with one’s view of the world. It also encourages the polarization that is such a serious difficulty at this moment in American politics.  For these reasons it’s hard for me not to think that people who model intolerant or abusive political attitudes bear at least some responsibility for the political climate we have here.

The defense that what these folks do is all entertainment rings false to me.  I wouldn’t excuse a bully for haranguing a person in a public place on those grounds, and I don’t think the Glenn Becks of the world can get off the hook so easily either.  Even if all they wish to do is entertain, the fact is that their particular brand of entertainment has some very damaging consequences to which they ought to own up.

But if they bear responsibility, then this suggests that rhetorical activity is subject to moral constraints–perhaps not constraints on what a speech can contain in terms of ideas, but constraints on the manner in which the speech is given.  Perhaps another way to think of this is that there are moral limits to what one may do in adapting one’s speech to a particular audience.  Perhaps the notion of “pandering” captures those limits, but I’m not sure it’s the right moral category (rhetoricians, help me out).  What the talk radio people seem to me to do is something more akin, by degrees, to inciting riot. In an economic and political climate like the U.S. has right now, that seems to me to be decidedly immoral, and practically unwise.

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