Communication and Culture | Seminar in Rhetoric and Public Culture
C705 | 1194 | John Lucaites


The tension between "reason" and "emotion" constitutes one of the
central sites for consideration of the advantages and disadvantages of
democratic living.  From Plato forward there has been a continuing
debate regarding the degree to which a properly functioning democratic
politics needs to nurture and/or discipline the possibilities for and
enactment of the public expression of emotion and emotionality.  From
one perspective emotions are primitive subjective states of feeling
that exist over and against reason (as a "higher faculty") and are
thus a danger to democratic, public, rational-decision making.  From
this perspective emotions are a properly private consideration and
should be relegated to private life and the domestic sphere.  Public
emotions must thus be carefully controlled and repressed.  From
another perspective, emotions are not one thing; they include feelings
(bodily affect), cognitions, and symbolic representations, and they
develop into complex negotiated responses to events and social
relationships.  Rather than to denote a narrow sense of private
affect, they are inherently social phenomena -  intersubjective moods
created by (a) the performance of appropriate gestures in a social
space and by (b ) representations that activate prior structures of
response.  As such, emotions provide resources for participation and
problem solving within a group, producing cohesion, persuasion, and
good judgment that would not otherwise occur.  From this perspective,
democratic citizenship cannot be exercised (i.e., as an embodied way
of reacting to the world) unless it is effectively emotional since
both deliberation and social or political action require the full
range of emotional identification with others.  The result then is
that the quality of life in a community and the quality of
deliberation in a democratic polity depend on the range,
sophistication, and use of emotional display.

This seminar will operate against the backdrop of this centuries long
debate with a primary focus on the forms and functions of political
emotions and public emotionality in U.S. public culture.  Our chief
goal will be to contribute to a rhetorical history of public emotions
with an eye to participating in contemporary critical and theoretical
discussions about the relationship between rhetoric and democracy,
citizenship, civil society, and the like.  Readings will draw from a
wide range of disciplines, including rhetoric, media studies,
anthropology, social and political theory, law, gender studies, social
and cultural history, philosophy, and literary criticism, and will
include classical, modern, and contemporary writings.    Throughout we
will have sustained attention on historically particular and
rhetorically material instances of the enactment and performance of
political emotions in U.S. public culture.

Members of the seminar will take turns facilitating weekly discussions
and will prepare a semester long seminar paper that addresses the
primary goal of the course.  We will devote substantial time in the
seminar to discussing individual seminar projects as they unfold and
develop throughout the semester.