Contemporary Rhetorical Theory
Rhetoric and the Problem of Judgment in
Whether we think of it as a discursive practice (rhetorica utens) or as a meta-discursive techne or theoria (rhetorica docens), "rhetoric" has survived the past 2,500 years 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 -- social, political, public, communal, etc. -- at a particular historical moment. "Judgment" or krisis is a problematic term which 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, "contemporary rhetorical theory" is always already an unstable category, subject to and predicated upon the changing conditions and configurations of judgment in collective life at any given moment. At the present moment, contemporary rhetorical theory has reinvented "rhetoric" as a specific program of inquiry within a discourse of social theory concerned (by some accounts an "art of design") to identify the problems of and resources for collective judgment in late -- and post-modern societies. By "late" or "post" modernity I mean to make general reference to 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 lead to what Lyotard calls the "incredulity to metanarratives." The goal of this seminar is to identify, analyze, evaluate, and contribute to the range of ways in which contemporary rhetorical theorists are currently negotiating the tensions between modernity and its "other"-- however one chooses to characterize it, and that characterization is actively open to dispute -- in the context of the problematic of collective judgment as it relates to knowledge, understanding, and action. We will move to our task by framing that problematic within a dialectic of hermeneutics and critical theory, and then examining some of the more prominent ways in which rhetoric is being constituted as a praxis designed to mediate the contemporary demands of collective decision-making and action.