Mere Rhetoric

Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren, we have Jacob in the booth and we’re here together because of the support of the Humanities Media Project at the University of Texas at Austin. And the reason we’ve gathered together in the beautiful recording studio in the basement of Mezes Hall is to talk about the work of George Campbell.

 

Campbell, like his contemporary Hugh Blair, was a rhetorician-preacher and he believed that he could teach preachers to preach better through modernizing classical rhetoric. Campbell started out in law as a young buck and gradually gravitated towards a clergical vocation. From there, he became the teacherly sort of minister, becoming a scriptorian, translating the gospels of the New Testament and tinkering around with what would be one of his crowning works: the Philosophy of Rhetoric.  According to C. Downey, this guide was not just for rhetoricians and not just for preachers, also the book really reached the best-sellers list in the 19th centurey. The book had 39 editions by the 20th century (9-10). It was a bedrock for many of the rhetoric textbooks that dominated in the 19th century. But before it was one of the defining texts of Enlightenment rhetoric, it was a work-in-progress read before Campbell’s friends in the Aberdeen Philosophical Society, a bunch of like-minded brainy sorts who liked to spend time philosophizing together.

 

Sidebar: I don’t know why people think writing groups and faculty writing retreats are new-fangled productivity machines. These Enlightenment blokes were always clumping up together to read and think and write together. I’m as much of a loner as any other scholar in the humanities, but I figure if it works for Campbell and Blair and their lot, it’s worth giving it a shot, right?

 

Like all of his Scottish Enlightenment buddies, Campbell was engaged in the project of making the study of human activities more empircally demonstrable. Making the humanities more scientific, if you want. Campbell went back to classical sources of rhetorical thought and read them across the budding psychological sciences. Instead of “servile imitation” of the classic authors (vi), he promoted a modern interpretation that recognizes that things have changed since the classical treastises were written. That being said, he’s not going to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

 

And, brother, did this guy like threes. That must be the Aristotlian influence creeping in. It might be worthwhile for you to imagine a chart with three columns when you think about Campbell’s ideas, as we go through the podcast you can start to fill in these columns in all of Campbell’s triparts.

 

One of the key Campbell trios are that the best langauge is “current, national and reputable.” Lets take a moment and dice out these three. Current is a modern gloss on what Campbell calls “present”--which doesn’t just refer to the time, but also to a metaphorical sense of place. Present is the opposite of past and also the opposite of absent. For a rhetor to use old-timey language is to alienate from the audeince. Similarly, Campbell, good Scotsman of the Enlightenment that he was, is a booster of national language, but this goes beyond the Eton accent--national langauge means there is no universal grammar. Again, we don’t need to stick to the same language rules of Cicero’s Latin when we’re writing and speaking in English.ure use must be (1) English (2) in the English idiom and (3) “employed to express the precise meaning which custom hath affixed to them” (170). If this all sounds cheerfully revolutionary, don’t worry, his idea of reputable will burst your bubble. Like the other “common sense” philosophers, Campbell assumed that one class--his class--were the proprietors of proper langauge. So while he wasn’t a chronological or Latinate snob, he wasn’t advocating a rich brogue riddled with slang over the pulpit. When your group gets to set common sense, everything else is nonsense (cf “Enlightenment Rhetoric” Encyclopedia of Rhetoric 233).Most important question: “is it reputable, nationals and present use, which, for brevity’s sake I shall hereafter simply demoninate good use” (154).  Over all, he argued that English is richer than even Latin (383) and language ought to “prove bars again licentiousness, without being checks to liberty” (380). PSo there’s your first trio: national, current, reputable langauge.

 

Campbell focuses on the audience as the heart of rhetoric, specifically, the psychological states of the audience. People care if the topic is important, close to their time or place, related to those concerned or interested in the consequences (91-94). This leads to our next set of threes: imagination, reason and passion. Members of the audience have all three of these parts and the rhetor must address them all three (77-86). Say you have these three main ideas, which come from Cicero, from Augustine, from everyone: rhetoric appeals to imagination, memory and passion. It delights, instructs and moves. With Campell, these three modes of rhetoric line up to genres, too. Imagination is related to epic; Passion related to tragitiy and comedy and memory fits in with satire and, through it, persuasion.Additionally important are Campbell’s listed aims related to these three: enlighten the understanding, please the imagination, move the passions or to influence the will” (11), in apparent order of importance (15)

 

Emotion was especially interested to Campbell. He Emphasizes the passions of the audience (82). Through diminishing or counter-suggesting a different emotion, the rhetorc can calm an emotion (97), especially implicitly rather than explicitly (98).The rhetor can leave “the effect upon their minds […] to nature” (96). If people are riled up about Catholics, as happened in Campbell’s Scotland, you can respond in a peaceful, calm way, as he did in a pamphlet called An Address to the People of Scotland, upon the Alarms that have been Raised in Regard to Popery urging people to calm the eff down.

 

The final three part from Campbell that I want to talk about is a little more complex. It starts with two seeming opposites: probability and plausibility. Probability and plausibility are “daughters of the same father, Experience” Probability is begot of Reason and Plausibility by Fancy (89-90). So you can think about this in terms of literature and art. This last week I chain-watched a sci-fi fantasy coming-of-age series about four nerds in the eighties. Even though my reason balks at the idea of monsters in the walls and nefarious psychic experiments, my imagination, my fancy, accepts that if there were monsters in the walls and nefarious psychic experiments, this show describes exactly how nerds in the eighties would respond to it.  My experience with the world tells me something about monsters in the walls and something else about pre-teen nerds in the 80s. Or in Campbell’s explanation, probability “results from evidence and begets belief”(86) while plausibility “ariseth chiefly from the consistency of the narration” being “natural and feasible” (87). Campbell is skeptical, as you might expect a Scottish Enlightenment preacher to be, of drawing on the artist for evidence.Testimony of the poet goes for nothing” he writes “His object […] is not truth, but likelihood” (89)

 

So there are our three threes: language should be current, national and reputable; reasoning draws on imagination, memory and passion; experience leads to both probablility and plausibility. I have to admit, while researching this podcast, I came to a newfound appreciation of Campbell. His wikipedia page, for example, is severely lacking. I should probably do something about that now, huh? If you have a topic you think gets shorted, why not drop me a line at mererhetoricpodcast@gmail.com? Oh, or speaking of technology if you like the podcast, you can get on ITunes or whereever you get your podcasts and leave us a good review. Letting us know what you like lets us bring you even more. It’s like probable as well as plausible.

 

Direct download: 16-07-22_-_Mere_Rhetoric_-_George_Campbell.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

abermas and public sphere theory

Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, a podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movemnts who have shaped rhetorical history. special thanks to the rhetoric society of america student chatper at the university of texas at Austin.  I’m Mary Hedengren and today I’m joined by Laura Thain.

 

Have you spent much time thinking about coffee? If you’re a grad student, the answer is probably yes, but really do you spend much time thinking about what coffee did, especially coffee shops, especially in Europe? Coffee houses were an integral part of the Ottoman Empire in the late 15th century and they spread quickly throughout all of Europe. By the 17th century, coffeehouses, not taverns, were the places to gather in your neighborhood. And if you think about how caffeine-fueled coffeehouses differed from the sloppy drunkenness of taverns, it’s little surprise that coffeehouses quickly gained a reputation as being a place of open political and intellectual discussion. 15th century Ottomans and 20th century Seattleites alike saw the coffeeshop as a place to open up dangerous conversation. The Spanish king Charles II even tried to restrict coffee houses on the grounds that there were places where “the disaffected met and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers” (qtd Times 23 Feb 2008). Gathering around a cup of Joe seemed to set everyone to riotous conversation, to the public discussion that led to revolutions in America and France in the 18th century, and because of this the coffeehouse became the place of obsession for 20th century philosopher Jurgen Habermas.

Habermas noted an 18th century seachange in the relationship between people and sovereign. Earlier, people supported (or didn’t) their sovereign as a symbol for them: France is the king and the king is France, therefore it’s to the benefit of France for the king of France to be as rich and grand as possible, regardless of how this impacts the everyday peasant on the street. But in the 18th century, a rise in coffeehouses and the conversations they engender accompanied an increase in newspapers reading clubs, journals, salons and other groups of public political conversation. This Habermas calls the öffentlichkeit, or the public sphere. The public sphere was a dialogue, a conversation of opinions. “Is the king France? Should the king be France? Let’s hear the pros and cons, then!” Habermas drew a direct line between the increase of coffeehouses and their conversations and the toppling of the French monarchy.

This public sphere isn’t a given and not every coffeehouse, town hall meeting etc. is going automatically be a public sphere. In fact, Habermas identified some of the identifying characteristics and requirements for a public sphere.

1-    First, the public sphere requires a temporary disregard of public status, according to Habermas. He believed in “a kind of social intercourse that, far from presupposing the equality of status, disregarded status altogether” () . It doesn’t work if only the princes of France get their say and the merchants don’t. Everyone needs a place at the coffee table.

 

In many ways, our conception of a “public sphere” as ordinary citizens in the US is so pervasive that we have trouble imagining a world without one.  But what Habermas points out is that before the birth of a public sphere in the eighteenth century, there was little linking the private sphere (the discourse of ordinary subjects of the sovereign) to the bureaucratic sphere (the discourse of the sovereign to his subjects).  Imagine if laws and edicts were all that existed to communicate between king and subject. Habermas argues that the public sphere emerged as a unique space for what were once private murmurings to have real and legitimate impact upon bureaucratic procedure under certain rhetorical constraints.  This was no pitchforks-and-barn-burning kind of conversation, but rather, the emergence of a new rhetorical practice that rapidly came to be dominated by a nascent middle class of people: the bourgeois.  

 

2-    Talking about private and bureaucratic coming together is tricky, though.  “Private” doesn’t mean what we might think today.  In the public sphere, there needed to be some sort of common issue, a public issue of common concern. Before the emergence of a public sphere, according to Habermas, the kinds of things we think about as very public were private conversations among citizens, if they were articulated at all.  For instance, the question of whether France needs a king is a question that everyone in France is concerned about. The question of whether wine dealers in the northwest of Paris should ration a particularly good vintage is not. The question of whether Pierre ought to marry Margarite is definitely not. Often these common concerns were rarely discussed—they were given. The civic or religious authorities told the people that France needs a king and that’s that. Until the people begin sitting around in coffeehouses started asking the questions about things that they all had an interest in.

 

The idea that the coffee house became a new space for people who previously had no visible platform to communicate with existing power structures is really important because it signals the emergence of not just a new place to talk but a new center of institutional authority.  Habermas argues that the public sphere is an important and new site of power in the 18th century.  This might sound familiar to you if you’ve heard talk about “public discourse” in the things you read and discuss in your own life.  Public discourse and a space to have that discourse in is really important, but it’s important to understand how that space happened to read how we might read what the public sphere means as a concept today.

 

3-    Habermas argues that the public sphere is a public good, but in order to do so he claims that once-private-now-public issues had to be open for anyone to discuss. As Habermas said “The issues discussed became ‘general’ not merely in their significance, but also in their accessibility: everyone had to be able to participate” In coffee houses and salons, there were no rules about who was allowed to open their mouths.  

The coffeehouse seems to fulfill these expectations, which is probably why Habermas was so keen on the example. But the coffeehouse wasn’t perfect and these imperfections highlight some of the problems of the public sphere in general.

For instance, there were rules about who could get in the coffeehouse. While Germany made some exceptions for silent baristas, in France and Germany, women were personae non gratae in these vibrant spaces of public debate. It’s all very well to say coffeehouses were inclusive, except where they weren’t.

And for that reason, Habermas’s dreamy ideal of the public sphere is seen by some as just a dream, a bourgeois dream that pretends to be inclusive but actually excludes voices of women and other minorities. The scholar who is mostly closely associated with a criticism of Habermas’s public sphere is American scholar Nancy Fraser.

Nancy Fraser’s Rethinking the Public Sphere makes her three points about the public sphere to challenge Habermas’. While Habermas emphasizes disregard of public status, common issues and the freedom to open your mouth and speak, Fraser refutes these same points.

  1. When Habermas says that everyone is equal in the coffeehouse, Fraser contends that this is actually a “bracketing [of] inequalities of status” and far from removing these differences of status, “such bracketing usually works to the advantage of dominant groups in society and to the disadvantage of subordinates.” Instead of saying—inauthentically—that there is equality in the public sphere, Fraser recommends instead that we “unbracket inequalities in the sense of explicitly thematizing them.” Instead of saying that a prince and a merchant are the same in the coffeehouse, some of the conversation should be about the fact that they aren’t and why.
  2. Fraser also challenges the idea that there are common issues in the public sphere. She says that there “no naturally given … boundaries” between public issues (or “common concern”) and private ones. So remember the example about how the question of whether France needs a king being a public one while Pierre marrying Margarite is a private one? Well, what if the names were instead Louie XV and Marie of Poland? Is that a public issue or a private one? Fraser points out that many issues that were once personal issues like domestic abuse, have become public issues. As she says, "Eventually, after sustained discursive contestation we succeeded in making it a common concern".
  3. Finally, Fraser points out that not everyone is welcome to the table. Women were excluded everywhere—in clubs and associations—philanthropic, civic professional and cultural—was anything by accessible to everyone. On the contrary, it was the arena, the training ground and eventually the powerbase of a stratum of bourgeois men who were coming to see themselves as a ‘universal class’” The deception that such spheres were truly public justified the male, middle classes in making decisions that were for ‘all of France’ when, in actuality, hegemonic dominance had excluded many participants.

Instead, Frase suggests that theses marginalized groups form their own public spheres, which she called Counterpublics. These counterpublics are “parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counterdiscourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs"

 

Another site of vibrant research in public sphere theory is in the field of spatial rhetorics.  While Habermas arguably saw the public sphere as an ideological shift that just happened to be housed in Europe’s coffee house and salon culture, scholars like Henri LeFebvre, Edward Soja, David Fleming, and UT Austin’s own Casey Boyle are increasingly interested in talking about, to quote Dr. Boyle, “how spaces affect our shared practices and sense of identity.”  To these scholars, the coffee shop as a physical, embodied space is as important to the structural transformation of the public sphere as the folks who inhabited it.

            So the next time you visit your favorite cafe and order yourself a hot beverage, think about what kind of public you’re a part of. What, if anything, do you have in common with the people around you? What are some power differentials between you? What “common concerns” do you have? And what do you think about the king of France?

 

 

 

 

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Habermas_and_Public_Sphere_Theory.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:47pm CDT

Habermas and public sphere theory

Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, a podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movemnts who have shaped rhetorical history. special thanks to the rhetoric society of america student chatper at the university of texas at Austin.  I’m Mary Hedengren and today I’m joined by Laura Thain.

 

Have you spent much time thinking about coffee? If you’re a grad student, the answer is probably yes, but really do you spend much time thinking about what coffee did, especially coffee shops, especially in Europe? Coffee houses were an integral part of the Ottoman Empire in the late 15th century and they spread quickly throughout all of Europe. By the 17th century, coffeehouses, not taverns, were the places to gather in your neighborhood. And if you think about how caffeine-fueled coffeehouses differed from the sloppy drunkenness of taverns, it’s little surprise that coffeehouses quickly gained a reputation as being a place of open political and intellectual discussion. 15th century Ottomans and 20th century Seattleites alike saw the coffeeshop as a place to open up dangerous conversation. The Spanish king Charles II even tried to restrict coffee houses on the grounds that there were places where “the disaffected met and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers” (qtd Times 23 Feb 2008). Gathering around a cup of Joe seemed to set everyone to riotous conversation, to the public discussion that led to revolutions in America and France in the 18th century, and because of this the coffeehouse became the place of obsession for 20th century philosopher Jurgen Habermas.

Habermas noted an 18th century seachange in the relationship between people and sovereign. Earlier, people supported (or didn’t) their sovereign as a symbol for them: France is the king and the king is France, therefore it’s to the benefit of France for the king of France to be as rich and grand as possible, regardless of how this impacts the everyday peasant on the street. But in the 18th century, a rise in coffeehouses and the conversations they engender accompanied an increase in newspapers reading clubs, journals, salons and other groups of public political conversation. This Habermas calls the öffentlichkeit, or the public sphere. The public sphere was a dialogue, a conversation of opinions. “Is the king France? Should the king be France? Let’s hear the pros and cons, then!” Habermas drew a direct line between the increase of coffeehouses and their conversations and the toppling of the French monarchy.

This public sphere isn’t a given and not every coffeehouse, town hall meeting etc. is going automatically be a public sphere. In fact, Habermas identified some of the identifying characteristics and requirements for a public sphere.

1-    First, the public sphere requires a temporary disregard of public status, according to Habermas. He believed in “a kind of social intercourse that, far from presupposing the equality of status, disregarded status altogether” () . It doesn’t work if only the princes of France get their say and the merchants don’t. Everyone needs a place at the coffee table.

 

In many ways, our conception of a “public sphere” as ordinary citizens in the US is so pervasive that we have trouble imagining a world without one.  But what Habermas points out is that before the birth of a public sphere in the eighteenth century, there was little linking the private sphere (the discourse of ordinary subjects of the sovereign) to the bureaucratic sphere (the discourse of the sovereign to his subjects).  Imagine if laws and edicts were all that existed to communicate between king and subject. Habermas argues that the public sphere emerged as a unique space for what were once private murmurings to have real and legitimate impact upon bureaucratic procedure under certain rhetorical constraints.  This was no pitchforks-and-barn-burning kind of conversation, but rather, the emergence of a new rhetorical practice that rapidly came to be dominated by a nascent middle class of people: the bourgeois.  

 

2-    Talking about private and bureaucratic coming together is tricky, though.  “Private” doesn’t mean what we might think today.  In the public sphere, there needed to be some sort of common issue, a public issue of common concern. Before the emergence of a public sphere, according to Habermas, the kinds of things we think about as very public were private conversations among citizens, if they were articulated at all.  For instance, the question of whether France needs a king is a question that everyone in France is concerned about. The question of whether wine dealers in the northwest of Paris should ration a particularly good vintage is not. The question of whether Pierre ought to marry Margarite is definitely not. Often these common concerns were rarely discussed—they were given. The civic or religious authorities told the people that France needs a king and that’s that. Until the people begin sitting around in coffeehouses started asking the questions about things that they all had an interest in.

 

The idea that the coffee house became a new space for people who previously had no visible platform to communicate with existing power structures is really important because it signals the emergence of not just a new place to talk but a new center of institutional authority.  Habermas argues that the public sphere is an important and new site of power in the 18th century.  This might sound familiar to you if you’ve heard talk about “public discourse” in the things you read and discuss in your own life.  Public discourse and a space to have that discourse in is really important, but it’s important to understand how that space happened to read how we might read what the public sphere means as a concept today.

 

3-    Habermas argues that the public sphere is a public good, but in order to do so he claims that once-private-now-public issues had to be open for anyone to discuss. As Habermas said “The issues discussed became ‘general’ not merely in their significance, but also in their accessibility: everyone had to be able to participate” In coffee houses and salons, there were no rules about who was allowed to open their mouths.  

The coffeehouse seems to fulfill these expectations, which is probably why Habermas was so keen on the example. But the coffeehouse wasn’t perfect and these imperfections highlight some of the problems of the public sphere in general.

For instance, there were rules about who could get in the coffeehouse. While Germany made some exceptions for silent baristas, in France and Germany, women were personae non gratae in these vibrant spaces of public debate. It’s all very well to say coffeehouses were inclusive, except where they weren’t.

And for that reason, Habermas’s dreamy ideal of the public sphere is seen by some as just a dream, a bourgeois dream that pretends to be inclusive but actually excludes voices of women and other minorities. The scholar who is mostly closely associated with a criticism of Habermas’s public sphere is American scholar Nancy Fraser.

Nancy Fraser’s Rethinking the Public Sphere makes her three points about the public sphere to challenge Habermas’. While Habermas emphasizes disregard of public status, common issues and the freedom to open your mouth and speak, Fraser refutes these same points.

  1. When Habermas says that everyone is equal in the coffeehouse, Fraser contends that this is actually a “bracketing [of] inequalities of status” and far from removing these differences of status, “such bracketing usually works to the advantage of dominant groups in society and to the disadvantage of subordinates.” Instead of saying—inauthentically—that there is equality in the public sphere, Fraser recommends instead that we “unbracket inequalities in the sense of explicitly thematizing them.” Instead of saying that a prince and a merchant are the same in the coffeehouse, some of the conversation should be about the fact that they aren’t and why.
  2. Fraser also challenges the idea that there are common issues in the public sphere. She says that there “no naturally given … boundaries” between public issues (or “common concern”) and private ones. So remember the example about how the question of whether France needs a king being a public one while Pierre marrying Margarite is a private one? Well, what if the names were instead Louie XV and Marie of Poland? Is that a public issue or a private one? Fraser points out that many issues that were once personal issues like domestic abuse, have become public issues. As she says, "Eventually, after sustained discursive contestation we succeeded in making it a common concern".
  3. Finally, Fraser points out that not everyone is welcome to the table. Women were excluded everywhere—in clubs and associations—philanthropic, civic professional and cultural—was anything by accessible to everyone. On the contrary, it was the arena, the training ground and eventually the powerbase of a stratum of bourgeois men who were coming to see themselves as a ‘universal class’” The deception that such spheres were truly public justified the male, middle classes in making decisions that were for ‘all of France’ when, in actuality, hegemonic dominance had excluded many participants.

Instead, Frase suggests that theses marginalized groups form their own public spheres, which she called Counterpublics. These counterpublics are “parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counterdiscourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs"

 

Another site of vibrant research in public sphere theory is in the field of spatial rhetorics.  While Habermas arguably saw the public sphere as an ideological shift that just happened to be housed in Europe’s coffee house and salon culture, scholars like Henri LeFebvre, Edward Soja, David Fleming, and UT Austin’s own Casey Boyle are increasingly interested in talking about, to quote Dr. Boyle, “how spaces affect our shared practices and sense of identity.”  To these scholars, the coffee shop as a physical, embodied space is as important to the structural transformation of the public sphere as the folks who inhabited it.

            So the next time you visit your favorite cafe and order yourself a hot beverage, think about what kind of public you’re a part of. What, if anything, do you have in common with the people around you? What are some power differentials between you? What “common concerns” do you have? And what do you think about the king of France?

 

 

 

 

Direct download: habermas_and_public_sphere_theory.docx
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

Welcome to MR, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. Thanks to the Humanities Media Project at the University of Texas of Austin for the support for this podcast. Also, thanks to Jacob in the booth who makes these podcasts sound so great.

 

Okay, when we say rhetorical history, we know that rhetoric is a big of a swiper discipline, right? I mean, we’ve had philosophers featured on the podcast, educational psychologists, those sorts, and today we get to talk about an applied linguistics, Ken Hyland. But before we get into the skinny on Ken, it might be worthwhile to first talk about what applied linguistics is.

 

Applied linguistics is a little bit like rhetoric in that it’s a rather interdisciplinary field itself. Simply put, it’s a practical and applied approach to linguistics, which means that it covers everything from computer programming theory to translation. The leading journal in applied linguistics is called, creatively enough, Applied Linguistics. Its editor in chief is Ken Hyland.

 

And that brings me to get to talk about Ken. By the way, I get to be on a first-name basis with him, even though I’ve never met him, because I wrote my dissertation on disciplinarity and that happens to be Ken’s area. I’ve read a lot of books and articles by Ken Hyland. There’s no wikipedia article on Ken, for some bizarre reason, but I’ve read enough “about the author” blurbs to tell you that Ken is a brainy British bloke who taught English to speakers of other languages all over the world, seeking deeper and deeper into applied linguistics along the way. Now he has a list of publications as long as my arm and teaches and works in Hong Kong where he still keeps publishing and writing  about, among other things, academic discourse, graduate students, and how non-Anglophone natives write and publish academic writing.

 

If I were to recommend two books from Ken Hyland, I would recommend Disciplinary Discourses and its spiritual sequel, Disciplinary Identities, but there are four pages of books on Amazon for you to puruse. Have I mentioned how prolific Ken is?

 

In Disciplinary Discourses he interrogates how academic writing exposes the hierarchies beneath it. Academic writing genres "represent careful negotiations with, and considerations of, their colleagues" (1). Writing "helps to create those disciplines by influencing how members relate to one another, and by determining who will be regarded as members, who will gain success and what will count as knowledge" (5). Writing, in other words, isn’t just a step that allows disciplines to share research--it is very the constitutive force of disciplines.

 

Hyland puts it eloquently:  "the persuasiveness of academic discourse... does not depend on the demonstration of absolute fact, empirical evidence or impeccable logic, it is the result of effective rhetorical practices, accepted by community members" (8).

 

But not everyone in that community is esteemed equally. That community includes people on the edges "competing groups and discourses, marginalized ideas, contested theories, peripheral contributors and occasional members" (9). A graduate student won’t--and in some ways, can’t--write the same kind of article or book that a long-established luminary in the field will. Because of this, people have to position themselves within the project they’re attending, including the hedges, qualifications and even citations that they use. Disciplinary genres are only abstract until they determine whether you put food on the table. As Hyland says, "disciplines seek to ensure that accounts of new knowledge conform to the broad generic practices they have established, while writers are often willing to employ these practices because of a desire to get published and achieve recognition" (170). You might not like writing a lit review, but if need to do it to get published and get a job, you’ll learn to comply.


Disciplinary Identity follows up the work  Discources started in ascribing genres to sociological conditions. Disciplinary Identity introduces two key terms that describe how practitioners relate to their disciplinary communities: proximity and positioning. Proximity refers to how align yourself as a member of a discipline. This proximity includes “identification /with/ and /by/ others" (29) For instance, if you’re a continental philosophy theory-head, you might show that allegiance by citing a lot of Derrida and Levinas and submitting to the right journals to support that work. But you also might have other people like reviewers, editors and colleagues describe your work as continental in bent. We aren’t the only ones who get to label us. The other key term is positioning--positioning relates to how we place our own work as part of the variation within the discipline, or, in Ken Hyland’s words, ”appropriating the discoursal categories of our communities as our own" (35). So we might be part of the continental philosophy club, but our unique contribution is to apply those philosophies to, say, invocation of international law in 20th century literature,  or some other variation that stamps our own contribution. Proximity is where we belong and positioning is where we take our place.

It’s not surprising, then, that identity should be such a key part of how academic writing proceeds. Identity, generally, is "crafted and managed across time and across situations" and "our identities are the product of our lives in different communities" (15), and so in disciplinary writing our disciplinary identities are mediated by the departments we join, the journals we aspire to publish in, the collections we edit. For Ken Hyland, our identities are neither entirely stable and inflexible nor are they entirely socially determined, but mediated through the groups we aspire to join and what those groups decided to hold dear before we even showed up to the party. This tension leads to constant change where " Differences of opinion are normal and natural, but often hidden by a veneer of agreement and a common symbolic discourse which constructs a boundary to outsiders" (12).

 

Think about the most recent time you tried to join a new disciplinary group. Maybe this was in a graduate course where you had to learn the conventions of a new scholarly genre or maybe you were repurposing one kind of research to a new journal that you’ve never attempted to publish in. You were probably hyper aware of the mistakes you were making, while for those who were well-established in the discipline didn’t know how to explain the mistakes that you’re making. This happens to everyone in a new field. My rock star advisor Davida-freakin-Charney, told me that when she went from writing about scientific and professional writing to writing about the psalms, she had to re-learn how to write for the religious studies field. Disciplines are weird.


They also change a lot. Hyland points out that  today’s  discipline doesn’t look yesterday’s and won’t look like tomorrow’s. So if Davida were writing about psalms when she started her career, it wouldn’t even necessarily look like the work she does now. That’s because, as Hyland puts it, “ Boundaries of scholarship shift and dissolve [...] New disciplines spring up at the intersections of existing ones and achieve international recognition [...] while other decline and disappear" (23).


Disciplines change, but "identity and discipline can be understood only by reference to each other. Each is emergent, mutable and interdependent" (43). So your identity in your discipline might shift under you.

 

So what are you to do if you’re in a discipline that isn’t fully formed or is extremely cross-disciplinary? What do you do if you’re in, say, applied linguistics?  I guess it follows that your academic identity is going to keep shifting around, then, as your discipline slips around. Or you might find yourself sliding from one sub discipline to another, all while building a clear research agenda. You might, like Ken Hyland, focus on academic writing, but apply that to English language learners, metadiscourse, pedagogy and assessment.

 

And then we end where we began, with my deep admiration of Ken Hyland and his work. If there’s someone you admire, or a scholar or work that is part of your dissertation, you really ought to tell me all about it. Drop me a line at mererhetoricpodcast@gmail.com and tell me who you feel on a first-name basis with.






Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Ken_Hyland.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

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