By Sharon McKenzie Stevens
Explores the connection among social events and rhetorical concept and perform.
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Additional info for Active Voices: Composing a Rhetoric for Social Movements
Conceptually and methodologically, Burke focused on form as the grey eminence behind the throne of symbols. The widespread adoption of his view fostered rhetorical criticism of the street scene as an instantiation of power. Burke’s theory of form (1941, 1950, 1953), although suggestive for accounts of symbolic action, was less sensitive to ongoing processes whose fluidity of fits, starts, and unanticipated turns defied clear classification. More formally, the discipline of rhetoric in the United States changed radically in the last half of the 1960s.
Mechanisms of female identity are illustrative of this tendency. To discredit women’s calls for equality in the military, they are sexualized. Giving them a sexual identity—the “weaker sex”—provides the means to discount their fitness for military combat roles. As the “weaker sex,” they cannot be relied upon to meet demands of the battlefield, which places their lives and the lives of those in their units at risk. Mechanisms of erotification (Lynndie England), sexualization (Tailhook sex scandal), feminization ( Jessica Lynch), and so forth eradicate ideological differences instantiated in a movement’s vernacular rhetoric by interpreting it through power’s definition of difference (Hauser and Sanprie 2007).
This emphasis on personal agency and in manifesting cultural change is further developed in Part III, in which contributors all write from the position that local and culture-oriented rhetorical action are indispensable components of broader systemic and historic change. These writers underscore the importance of interpersonal and transformative action, potentially including the transformation of classroom learning. First, David Coogan discusses how students involved in a service learning project develop a new understanding of how prisoners are located within a disempowering system, yet these students also learn that local activism and interpersonal action have the potential to create more just social relations.