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Reframing the problem of difference: Lillian Smith and hierarchical politics of difference

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ABSTRACT For many years, difference scholars, such as Cornel West, Iris Marion Young, and Janet Atwill have been reminding humanities scholars that if social equity is ever to be realized, difference needs to be reconfigured and reframed. As Janet Atwill

ABSTRACT For many years, difference scholars, such as Cornel West, Iris Marion Young, and Janet Atwill have been reminding humanities scholars that if social equity is ever to be realized, difference needs to be reconfigured and reframed. As Janet Atwill puts it, "difference can no longer be the anomaly, the enemy, or the problem to be solved. Difference is the condition" (212). While these scholars insightfully recognize that difference needs to be accepted, welcomed and loved rather than merely tolerated, they have not sufficiently addressed the perceptual change that must occur worldwide if difference as an intrinsic underlying condition of human existence is to be embraced. This project provides a point of departure for carrying out such a dramatic epistemic change by arguing that hierarchical thinking, not difference, is the real agent underwriting societal violence and discord. Hierarchical thinking delineates a more appropriate critical space than does difference for social justice inquiry, invention, and intervention. This project also rhetorically theorizes the realm of intersubjectivity and provides two novel contributions to contemporary rhetorical theory: 1) privilege as a rhetorical construct and 2) the untapped inventional potential of the postmodern understanding of intersubjectivity. To illustrate the embodied and performative aspects of hierarchical thinking, this work draws upon the writings of Lillian Smith, a white southerner (1897-1966) whose descriptive analyses of the Jim Crow South allude to large systems of privilege of which Jim Crow is merely representational. Illustrating the invidious nexus of privilege, Smith's writings describe the ways in which individuals embody and perform practices of exclusion and hate to perpetuate larger systems of privilege. Smith shows how privilege operates much as gender and power--fluidly and variously and dependent upon context. Viewing privilege as a rhetorical construct, operating dynamically, always in flux and at play, provides rhetoricians with a theoretically important move that un-yokes privilege from specific identities (e.g., white privilege). When viewed through this more dynamic and precise lens, we can readily perceive how privilege functions as a colonizing, ubiquitously learned, and variegated rhetorical practice of subordination and domination that, as a frame of analysis, offers a more fluid and accurate perspective than identity categories provide for discussions of oppression, social justice, and democratic engagement.

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2012

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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