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Animal Rhetorics

Workshop Leaders:Alex C. Parrish, James Madison University Emily Plec, Western Oregon University

Workshop Leaders:

Alex C. Parrish, James Madison University
Emily Plec, Western Oregon University

The animal turn is changing the way humanists envision their traditional domains of study. Recent efforts to expand the context of rhetorical theory to include nonhuman animals have raised several issues that call traditional disciplinary assumptions into question. How do we define what is and what is not language? If some animal communication demonstrates syntax and symbol use, what makes human persuasion unique or special? What is the originary essence of rhetoric? Is it a logic? An energy? An ideology? An affect? In this workshop we will explore the justifications for, as well as the benefits and dangers of, studying rhetorical theory and practice in a cross-species context.

Participants may already be exploring the ways in which animal rhetorics benefit from the work done by scholars in critical animal studies, disability studies, biosemiotics, and material rhetorics (to name a few). It is important to acknowledge these debts, while addressing important questions the animal body raises for the study of persuasion. Derrida suggests that if we are to engage in the “question of the animal,” we must not think of animals as a monolithic other, but as a collection of living beings that includes Homo sapiens as one of many species in its ranks. Thus it will be important to think beyond the western religio-philosophical traditions that encourage anthropocentrism, hierarchy, and a denial of animal cognition and intentionality, in order to treat the multiplicity of views on human and nonhuman animal communication.

The Thursday afternoon session will include an overview of the field of animal rhetorics, along with a discussion of reception and possible directions for future research and teaching. For the full day session on Friday, participants will divide into groups based on their interests either to (1) advance a particular scholarly project, or (2) develop a course syllabus and curriculum. Participants will both present brief descriptions of their projects and provide feedback I small groups (please indicate in our application which group would be your preference). On Saturday morning, the workshop will reconvene and discuss what we learned, what new challenges and opportunities arose, and conclude with an eye toward discussing future projects and collaborations.

Questions should be directed to Alex C. Parrish,

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