RSA Presentation Proposals

In Rhetorical analysis on September 18, 2009 at 8:54 pm

I submitted the following proposals to present at the Rhetoric Society of America (RSA) conference in Minneapolis in May 2010. The first proposal was submitted as part of a panel on the intersection of religion, politics, and economics in Pope Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate. The second proposal was submitted as an individual proposal.


Title: Charity in Truth: A Righteous Rhetorical Vision of Economics and Technology


In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict’s call for a new economic order puts forth a rhetorical vision that emphasizes humanness, morality and social justice. Often, such rhetorical visions can be categorized in one of three competing explanations of reality: pragmatic (valuing expediency, utility, and efficiency), social (valuing trust, caring, and relationships) or righteous (differentiating between right and wrong, moral and immoral, just and unjust).

In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict denounces the pragmatic vision and instead puts forth a rhetorical vision that at times appears social—focusing on love, charity, and “human social relationships of friendship, solidarity and reciprocity.” However, such social references mainly function to establish charity as an important element in human relations as well as to position financial markets and technology as human realities with moral consequences, leading to a righteous rhetorical vision that asserts a higher calling for economics.

As the encyclical progresses, charity is transformed into a sanctioning agent used to demarcate moral economic policies and technological means from the immoral or unjust, turning Benedicts argument to his righteous rhetorical themes. These themes vilify unconstrained markets and purely technological progress as insufficient at best and destructive at worst.

The righteous themes not only become warrants in Pope Benedict’s argument for a new economic order, but also coalesce to construct a symbolic reality that explains today’s global recession and economic crisis.

This proposal was based on an early blog post that I revised and tightened.


Title: Politicizing Abstract Values Through Apologia: The Identical, Yet Contrastive Rhetoric of Representative Joe Wilson and the Dixie Chicks


On September 9, South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson interrupted President Obama by shouting “You lie!” during the President’s speech to a joint session of Congress. Those two words set off a firestorm, as media pundits called Wilson’s outburst uncivil and House Democrats rebuked Wilson’s comment as a “breach of decorum” that “degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of the House.”

After initially issuing an apologetic statement, Wilson transitioned from regret to defiance through public statements, an online video, web text and traditional media interviews in which he claimed he was “under attack by the liberals” and that he would “not be muzzled.”

Despite the politically divisive tone and situation, Wilson’s apologetic rhetoric actually shares a number of similarities with that of the ideologically opposed Dixie Chicks. Both spoke out against a sitting President and were denounced for their comments, including the timing and location in which they were made. Both initially issued an apology before taking a defiant stance. Both ultimately relied on a strategy of transcendence, claiming they were courageously speaking out against a wrong and, therefore, refused to be silenced by their enemy’s attacks.

The more important—perhaps, ironic—similarity between the Dixie Chicks’ apologia and Wilson’s apologia is that they both based their transcendence on the values of “freedom of speech” and “dissent.” In that sense, Wilson employed the same rhetorical strategy and argument that conservatives denounced the Dixie Chicks for using. Conversely, the same values that many liberals applauded the Dixie Chicks for upholding were argued by someone across the aisle.

This situation provides an opportunity to examine how nearly identical rhetorical stances can result in opposition and division when the claims not only overlap but compete to concretize—and politicize—abstract values as rhetors attempt to legitimize their own actions.

This proposal was based on early blog post that I tightened while adding the final point regarding concretization.

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