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SPRING 2010, 40:2, pages 172-192

Political Rhetoric in a World Risk Society 

Abstract: We live in a world of risks that lurk everywhere, in the food and water we consume, in the viruses and bacteria we encounter, and in the global political scene that seems more and more volatile. This article pursues two lines of inquiry: first, I use the concept of risk, and specifically the work of Ulrich Beck, to show how the relationship between science, politics, and rhetoric is being transformed from earlier, politically progressive, twentieth-century conceptions of the role of science in public culture. Second, I try to explain how the concept of risk has altered political culture and requires a different form of prudence for political rhetoric. These two lines of inquiry work to demonstrate how uncertainty and contingency are now the products of techno-scientific rationality. This way of thinking about contingency changes how we understand the practices of political rhetoric and the constitution of public culture.

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