Colin Powell’s Speech to the UN: A Discourse Analytic Study of Reconstituted Ethos
Abstract: Using Colin Powell’s 2003 pre-war speech to the UN as a case study, this essay illustrates ways in which discourse analytic methods can serve investigations of constitutive rhetoric. Prior to the speech, Powell’s reluctance to go to war and his skepticism of the need for military action in Iraq was well known. His conversion to the administration’s position was key to the persuasiveness of the speech. Thus, within the speech he needed to reconstitute his ethos from doubter to advocate. The analysis focuses on how specific linguistic qualities such as modality, positioning, narrative, and evaluation assist Powell in doing so. These discourse analytic tools reveal ways in which discrete linguistic moves contribute to the constitutive work of ethos formation and re-formation.