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More than a pretty dress: rhetoric of style & identity construction of stateswomen fashion icons

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This research examines four stateswomen fashion icons—Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Diana, Princess of Wales, Michelle Obama, and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge—and the way these stateswomen used clothing and personal style to create a public identity. Dress is a powerful tool

This research examines four stateswomen fashion icons—Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Diana, Princess of Wales, Michelle Obama, and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge—and the way these stateswomen used clothing and personal style to create a public identity. Dress is a powerful tool of personal expression and identity creation and when we look at stateswoman style, we see the ways that dress gives them agency to negotiate the “official” identity that’s being placed on them. Personal style is the way we use personal adornments (clothing, jewelry, cosmetics, etc.) to form messages about who we are, who we dream we could be, and what our personal values are. It is a system of communication with rhetorical influence on others that, in return, offers a way to embrace, challenge, or subvert societal expectations and cultural norms. The choice to embrace, challenge, or subvert to the expectations is fluid, and the women continuously move back and forth between these states. I argue for the ways the selected women in this analysis make choices and negotiate such expectations on the national stage through their clothing choices.

While personal style does not construct our identities on its own, our dress is often the first indicator of our identity and personality. Dress, therefore, becomes one way to express our identity, even in situations where we are otherwise silenced. Stateswomen are “not body as advertisement”—as celebrities are—but “body as a source of agency.” For every woman, stateswomen included, clothing is a rhetorical statement that they make every day. These women exemplify the way choices can be made powerfully—because they are “like us” more than fashion icons. These stateswomen icons show the public evolving negotiations between personal and public style and identity. They demonstrate the ways that clothing choices can be empowering ways to construct identity and use clothing as an identity statement. This is instrumental in helping average women of the public learn how they can use clothing as a rhetorical statement that creates agency and identity.

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2018

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Medieval rhetoric and civic identity

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Rhetoric has traditionally enjoyed a close connection with ideals of citizenship. Yet, the rhetorical traditions of the medieval period have generally been described as divorced from civic life, concerned instead with theories of composition in specific genres (such as letters

Rhetoric has traditionally enjoyed a close connection with ideals of citizenship. Yet, the rhetorical traditions of the medieval period have generally been described as divorced from civic life, concerned instead with theories of composition in specific genres (such as letters and sermons) and with poetics. This view is the product of historiographical approaches that equate rhetoric either theories and practices of speech and writing intended for state-sponsored civic forums, or alternatively with rules governing future speech or literary production. Consequently, the prevailing view of the medieval period in rhetorical studies is a simplified one that has not evolved with changing practices of analysis in the field of rhetorical studies. This dissertation contends that by employing alternative modes of historiography, historians of rhetoric gain a more accurate conception of medieval rhetoric’s civic roles, revealing the discipline’s role in shaping the individual and their relationship to civic and political institutions.

Organized around an introduction, a broad discussion of later medieval rhetoric and political thought (950-1390), four case studies, and a conclusion, this dissertation begins by identifying historiographical trends that have associated medieval rhetoric with technical treatises, minimizing connections to civic life. Challenging these assessments through a close reading of texts of rhetorical theory, political philosophy, and technical treatises, it contends that medieval rhetoric influenced activities such as grammatical education, didactic art, and political theory to inform practices of citizenship. Focusing specifically on representations of labor, this dissertation show that these venues idealized the political participation of manual laborers within an otherwise discursive theory of civic life that drew from both Aristotelian and Ciceronian sources.

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2017