After Rhetoric: The Study of Discourse beyond Language and Culture

After Rhetoric: The Study of Discourse beyond Language and Culture

After Rhetoric: The Study of Discourse beyond Language and Culture

After Rhetoric: The Study of Discourse beyond Language and Culture


Aware that categorical thinking imposes restrictions on the ways we communicate, Stephen R. Yarbrough proposes discourse studies as an alternative to rhetoric and philosophy, both of which are structuralistic systems of inquiry.

Discourse studies, Yarbrough argues, does not support the idea that languages, cultures, or conceptual schemes in general adequately describe linguistic competence. He asserts that a belief in languages and cultures "feeds a false dichotomy: either we share the same codes and conventions, achieving community but risking exclusivism, or we proliferate differences, achieving choice and freedom but risking fragmentation and incoherence". Discourse studies, he demonstrates, works around this dichotomy.

Drawing on philosopher Donald Davidson, Yarbrough establishes the idea that community can be a consequence of communication but is not a prerequisite for it. By disassociating our thinking from conceptual schemes, we can avoid the problems that come with believing in an abstract structure that predates any utterance. He references Davidson's idea of "passing theories", in which communication is based on mutual anticipations of an utterance's effects, not on a shared language or conceptual scheme.

Yarbrough also draws on Mikhail Bakhtin's dialogism to define how utterances operate in life and to show how utterances are involved with power and how power relates to understanding. The study builds from there with Yarbrough's discussion of Michel Meyer's problematology, which treats the questions implied by a statement as the meaning of the statement. Given Meyer's argument, the differences in languages, disciplines, cultures, or other such schemes become "our prior,tacit agreements about what cannot be asked".

Yarbrough introduces readers to a credible theoretical framework for focusing on discourse rather than on conceptual schemes that surround it and to the potential advantages o


The most specific I can be about when this book began as a project is to recall a cool evening in upstate New York during the spring of 1991. That night I read in The American Scholar a heated exchange of views between Diane Ravitch and Molefi Kete Asante on the issue of multiculturalism. in an earlier issue of the same journal, Ravitchhad drawn a distinction between what she called "pluralistic multiculturalism" and "particularistic multiculturalism." According to her, "The pluralists seek a richer common culture; the particularists insist that no common culture is possible or desirable" (Ravitch 340). Particularists, she charged, were "filiopietists" (a term not in the O.E.D. and clearly a polite substitute for "racists," if not "racist separatists"). Particularism, she said, is "invidious," for it implies that "racial and ethnic minorities are not and should not try to be a part of American culture," that "American culture belongs only to those who are white and European," that "those who are neither white nor European are alienated from American culture by virtue of their race or ethnicity," that "the only culture they do belong to or can ever belong to is the culture of their ancestors, even if their families have lived in this country for generations" (341).

Asante, in response, implied that it is Ravitch who is the racist, comparing her positions to those "taken against the Freedmen's Bureau's establishment of black schools in the South in the 1860s" and to "what Martin Bernal calls in Black Athena the 'neo-Aryan' model of history" (Asante and Ravitch 267). Ravitch, he said, is one of the "keepers of the status quo" who "want to maintain a 'white framework' for multiculturalism" (271). Ravitch's distinction between pluralism and particularism is a false one; the true distinction is between the pluralism "within a Eurocentric framework" that Ravitch advocates and the "pluralism without hierarchy" that he advocates. the fact is, according to Asante, "there is no common American culture" to which minority cultures should conform as Ravitch and other "defenders of the status quo" contend (270). Rather, "To believe in mul . . .

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