The Public Work of Rhetoric: Citizen-Scholars and Civic Engagement

The Public Work of Rhetoric: Citizen-Scholars and Civic Engagement

The Public Work of Rhetoric: Citizen-Scholars and Civic Engagement

The Public Work of Rhetoric: Citizen-Scholars and Civic Engagement

Synopsis

The Public Work of Rhetoric presents the art of rhetorical techné as a contemporary praxis for civic engagement and social change, which is necessarily inclusive of people inside and outside the academy. In this provocative call to action, editors John M. Ackerman and David J. Coogan, along with seventeen other accomplished contributors, offer case studies and criticism on the rhetorical practices of citizen-scholars pursuing democratic ideals in diverse civic communities--with partnerships across a range of media, institutions, exigencies, and discourses. Challenging conventional research methodologies and the traditional insularity of higher education, these essays argue that civic engagement as a rhetorical act requires critical attention to our notoriously veiled identity in public life, to our uneasy affiliation with democracy as a public virtue, and to the transcendent powers of discourse and ideology. This can be accomplished, the contributors argue, by building on the compatible traditions of materialist rhetoric and community literacy, two vestiges of rhetoric's dual citizenship in the fields of communication and English. This approach expresses a collective desire in rhetoric for more politically responsive scholarship, more visible impact in public life, and more access to the critical spaces between universities and their communities.

Excerpt

This volume on the public work of rhetoric addresses a topic that transcends disciplinary interests. Its essays address the question of how we may bring the study of rhetoric into relationship with the lived practices of our students and ourselves as community members. Through lively and intelligent discussion, it challenges the orthodoxies that stereotype rhetoric and composition offerings as service courses necessary to meet the needs of students to write clear academic arguments. Of course they do that, but these essays point to local communites as places where we as citizen-scholars also encounter and address myriad issues that make life as a citizen and neighbor both challenging and re warding. For these authors, rhetoric’s public work is the constitution of public life as we know it in a democracy.

The content of this collection is timely in light of the mounting concern and sense of urgency that occurred within the U.S. academic community during the George W. Bush administration. Concern arose from the apparent success of a politics of fear; a growing disparity of wealth that resembles that of 1929; attention to cultural issues over those that impact the economic and social well-being of most citizens; prosecution of a war against terror that seems endless and unwinnable because its enemy is a technique; a political agenda geared to protect a base grounded in religious faith; a Supreme Court that is perilously close to an unbreakable conservative majority that may be in place for a decade or more and appears committed to the Bush doctrine of the unitary executive, which invests the president with the right to wage undeclared wars, establish military tribunals, authorize extraordinary renditions, withhold evidence from the accused, conduct domestic surveillance, expand the use of presidential “signing statements” by which the president indicates how he will interpret the law he signs under his authority to interpret the law in question “in a manner consistent with his constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch”; and a growing division of the nation into blue and red states reflected in extremism of elected representatives whose commitments to political orthodoxy have precluded compromises of bipartisanship in favor of ideological victory that often results in gridlock.

The ignition switch for urgency was the evident dire consequences rapidly approaching if these concerns remain untended: climate change that appears . . .

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