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Cultural Studies Program

Courses :: CULS C701 Topic: Rhetoric and Public Culture

This course responds to the recent emergence of new, radically discursive models of power and political agency grounded in the work of so-called “post-structuralist” theorists, particularly Jacques
Lacan, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. Setting out from the premise that relations of power are implicit in the structure of signification itself, these models differ as to the precise meaning and implications of this premise for political agency and cultural critique. In this course, we will take a close comparative look at the four most influential of these new models. Specifically, we will examine Jürgen Habermas’s attempt to derive rhetorical norms from the structure of communicative action in order to ground political legitimacy; Judith Butler’s rhetorical theory of the performativity of power; Ernesto Laclau’s thesis that the struggle for hegemony is rooted in the rhetorical dynamics of signification; and Giorgio Agamben’s recent efforts to elucidate a newly resurgent form of sovereign power rhetorically grounded in permanent war. While all these authors conceive of power and discourse as mutually
implicated, their shared premises generate diverging descriptions of politics and competing, often incompatible prescriptions. A comparative study of these theories will disclose differences of decisive importance for critically productive analysis of contemporary public culture, particularly in relation to gender, race, globalization, and democracy.