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RSA - Supersessions in Minneapolis

 Supersessions in Minneapolis 

The Minneapolis convention features nine "supersessions" that will run concurrently on the afternoon of Saturday, May 30, just before Laurent Pernot's plenary address on epideictic rhetoric.  Here is a brief description of each of them:  

PUBLIC MEMORY: INVESTIGATING THE RHETORIC AND POLITICS OF REGRET.  This session is devoted to the scholarship of Jeffrey Olick, a leading international authority on the sociology of collective memory and will emphasize how Olick's work parallels rhetorical scholarship.  The participants will read short papers on specific issues. Olick will respond, and then a general discussion will ensue. 

THE NEW RHETORIC READS LAWRENCE V. TEXAS.  This program follows work presented at the recent "Promise of Reason" conference held at the University of Oregon on the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Perelman and Olbrecht-Tyteca's New Rhetoric.  The participants use the conceptual apparatus of the New Rhetoric, supplemented by Franz Mootz's recent book, Rhetorical Knowledge in Legal Practice and Critical Legal Theory, in order to interpret the Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas-the controversial case in which the Court struck down the sodomy law in Texas. 

THE CHALLENGES OF TEACHING RHETORICAL CRITICISM:  While many rhetoricians see criticism as the discipline's raison d'etre, there are limited professional opportunities to discuss questions of critical pedagogy, such as:  What are some of the best practices for teaching rhetorical criticism? What are some strategies for organizing a course in rhetorical criticism?  What are reasonable objectives for a lower level course in criticism? Upper level?  How might rhetoricians teach skills of critical inquiry in courses not specifically identified as "rhet. crit"?  This program begins a conversation on these and other questions.  The presenters are all experienced teachers of rhetorical criticism and will speak for about ten minutes each, leaving ample opportunity for audience participation. 

THE MODERN RHETORIC PROJECT:  This program responds to the problem of a lack of a shared, common articulation of rhetorical studies that spans the divide between communication and composition. It continues a dialogue begun at an intensive two-day colloquium in Minneapolis last October, and its purpose is to bring rhetorical studies into productive conversation with social theorists, philosophers, and literary critics who find modernity a useful lens for critical work.  The panelists will strive to articulate what is meant by "modern" rhetorical theory, pedagogy and practice. 

A BABEL OF SIGNS AND SYMBOLS: RHETORIC, DELIBERATION, AND DEMOCRATIC INQUIRY.  Yale political scientist Bryan Garsten (author of Saving Persuasion: A Defense of Rhetoric and Judgment) joins with Robert Asen, Jeremy Engels, and Jay Childers in a series of presentations about the role of rhetoric in democratic deliberation.  While the scholarship on deliberation has more often centered on communicative rationality rather than on persuasion or identification, these panelist argue that rhetoric is central to democratic deliberation.  And they offer suggestions for how rhetorical scholars might contribute to the conversation about democratic deliberation-by, for instance, reinvigorating connections with political theory, by getting out into the field, by interrogating our ethical assumptions, and by being realistic about our goals. 

RHETORICAL THEORY-A CALLING TO QUESTIONS?  What are the contemporary questions that support, energize, and limit the potential of rhetorical theory?  Furthermore, how are we called to our questions?  What potential abides in the interrogative voice?  While this session offers a moment to identify particular (or universal) questions that warrant theoretical reflection today, the panelists are equally concerned with the question of theoretical question-making itself-the ways in which events are endowed with questionability and how the questions that support critical-rhetorical inquiry are provoked, invented, articulated, and (not) answered.  The session will feature short presentations from leading scholars and an extended discussion. 

AMERICAN PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN RHETORIC:  This session is designed to open inquiry into the influences of American pragmatism on American conceptions of rhetoric as they developed from the late 19th century to the present.  Four panelists will present papers dealing with such figures as Jane Addams, Charles S. Pierce, John Dewey, Fred Newton Scott, and William James with attention to the rhetorical implications of their thought up to and including Barrack Obama.  After a short response paper, a discussion will follow. 

IS CIVIC VIRTUE A RHETORICALLY FABRICATED DELUSION?  This session might best be viewed as an adaptation and extension of Richard Lanham's famous "Q" question: Does teaching a student skill in rhetoric conduce the student to virtue?  As Lanham notes, the humanistic rhetoricians tended to beg the question by simply asserting that the good orator is necessarily a good person, and we need to find a better answer by reopening this question about the relationship between rhetoric and virtue. The kind of "virtue" involved here is obviously "civic virtue," and this panel expands Lanham's question by raising issues about the status of civic virtue.  Is the conception of civic virtue itself a way of begging the question about the relationship between verbal skills and political ethics?  Is it possible to articulate a defensible position connecting rhetorical advantage with the good of the polity?  If it ever was possible to articulate such a position, is it still defensible within the circumstances of contemporary American politics? 

TEACHING RHETORIC IN THE SECONDARY SCHOOLS: A SPECIAL RSA PROJECT: In keeping with one of the RSA Board's priorities, David Joliffe (U of Arkansas) and Ralph Cintron (Illinois-Chicago) are organizing a workshop for secondary teachers designed to encourage and assist them in teaching rhetoric. The workshop will be conducted during the convention, and this session will wrap-up the project.  Those interested will have the opportunity to hear about what both the participants and leaders have learned from it and to join the conversation about ways to extend the reach of rhetorical studies into secondary education. 

During your idle moments this winter, you might find it interesting to decide which of these sessions you want to attend.  You should also remember that, if you have had a presentation accepted, you must register by February 15 to keep your place on the program. Details are post on our website,

Best wishes for the New Year, and I look forward to seeing you in Minneapolis. 

Michael Leff

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