Cultural Studies | Special Topics in Cultural Studies: Rhetoric and Socio-Political Judgment
C701 | 7927 | Lucaites


Whether we think of it as a discursive practice (public address
broadly construed to include everything from oratory to
photojournalism to television to film to hyper-mediated web sites) or
as a meta-discursive theory or techne, "rhetoric" has survived from
classical times to the present in large measure as a result of its
capacity to reinvent itself from one epoch to the next as a means of
serving the changing demands of collective judgment – i.e., social
judgment, political judgment, public judgment, etc. –  at a particular
historical moment.  “Judgment” or krisis is a problematic term that
implicates and articulates the dynamic and culturally presumed
relationship(s) between knowledge, understanding, and action in a
world of contingencies and probabilities.  Viewed from this
perspective,  “rhetorical theory" is an always already unstable
domain, a discourse practice subject to and predicated upon the
changing conditions and configurations of judgment in collective life
at any given moment.  Such indeterminacy is a potential strength
rather than a weakness, however, for it positions rhetorical theory as
a potentially powerful heuristic for producing social and political
criticism designed to respond to and effect the problems and
possibilities of collective judgment at any given historical moment.

The goal of this seminar is to examine the ways in which “rhetoric” is
being (re)invented as a heuristic for social and political critique
apropos the problem of public or collective judgment in late- or
postmodern societies.  By "late" or "post" modernity I mean to make
general reference to the rapidly increasing (and often paradoxical)
conditions of intellectual, political, and cultural fragmentation
precipitated by hyper-specialization, pluralism, multi-culturalism,
globalization, and high-speed electronic/digital mediation, all of
which contribute to what Lyotard calls the "incredulity to
metanarratives" and which we might identify as the prevailing
discourses of  “progress,” “sovereignty,” “the nation-state,” “the
liberal-democratic consensus,” and so on. We will move to our task by
framing the problematic within a dialectic of hermeneutics and
critical theory, and then examining some of the more prominent ways in
which rhetoric-as-judgment is constituted therein as a praxis designed
to mediate the contemporary demands of collective decision-making and
action.  Key topics will include the relationship between rhetoric and
aesthetics (and epistemology); constitutive rhetorics and public
emotionality; and phronesis and prudence. Throughout, we will focus
attention on specific, problematic instances of social and political
judgment in contemporary public culture.

This course will be of interest to anyone concerned with exploring the
possibilities of  “rhetoric” as heuristic to the performance and
transformation of public culture across media.  It should be of
particular interest to those studying the relationship(s) between
discourse and social/political theory, and especially those concerned
to retheorize the relationship between “liberalism” and “democracy” in
contemporary Western public culture.

Readings will draw from a range of 20th and 21st century readings on
the relationship between rhetoric and judgment that draws prominently
from rhetorical studies as well as social and political theory broadly
considered.  The course is reading intensive.  Assignments will
include student journals, a theoretical review essay in which students
put rhetorical theorists in dialogue with those working in related
areas, and several in-class presentations.