Rhetoric, Knowledge and the Public Sphere

by Agnieszka Kampka (Volume editor) Katarzyna Molek-Kozakowska (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 246 Pages


Public deliberation depends on how skillful communicators are in establishing their version of what is known to be publicly acceptable. This volume provides rhetorical analyses of institutional websites, political speeches, scientific presentations, journalistic accounts or visual entertainment. It shows the significance of rhetorical construction of knowledge in the public sphere. It addresses the issues of citizenship and social participation, media agendas, surveillance and verbal or visual manipulation. It offers rhetorical critiques of current trends in specialist communication and of devices used when contested interests or ideologies are presented.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Agnieszka Kampka, Katarzyna Molek-Kozakowska - Rhetoric and the public sphere: Making a case for a knowledge society
  • Part One: Visualization as a strategy in knowledge representation
  • Cezar M. Ornatowski - Knowledge and surveillance society
  • Christine Isager - A poor show of knowing: the horror and comedy of unsuccessful writers on film
  • Marcus Gottschling - Lend me your eyes: Creating immediate understanding through Prezi
  • Part Two: Rhetorical and argumentative resources in the public sphere
  • Martijn Wackers, Jaap de Jong and Bas Andeweg - Structure strategies for a memorable speech: the use of rhetorical retention techniques by scholars and politicians
  • Louise Schou Therkildsen - Becoming a citizen: Knowledge and identity in European textbooks for citizenship tests
  • David Isaksen - From calutrons to Congress: The democratic challenge of specialized knowledge
  • Part Three: National varieties of rhetorical action
  • Gabriela Scripnic - Emotion-invoking strategies in the presentation of Roşia Montană Project in the Romanian public sphere
  • Hilde van Belle - Polemics and paradoxes in the media: The case of the Dutch TV-show Pauw
  • Ludmilla A’Beckett - Stigmatizing female oppositionists in Russia: Stances toward comparisons with Joan of Arc
  • Part Four: Rhetoric, pedagogy and production of knowledge for democratic citizenship
  • Maureen Daly Goggin - Preparing students for the emergent knowledge society: Rethinking learning and pedagogy in rhetoric
  • Ove Bergersen - Kindergartens and the civic art of rhetoric: Citizens, character and knowledge
  • Anne E. Porter - ‘Responsibilizing’ the youth: The rhetoric of civic participation in the World Bank’s 2009 climate change essay competition
  • Contributors
  • List of figures
  • Index

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This monograph, Rhetoric, Knowledge and the Public Sphere edited by Agnieszka Kampka and Katarzyna Molek-Kozakowska, as well as its sister volume, Rhetoric, Discourse and Knowledge edited by Maria Załęska and Urszula Okulska, has been prepared under the auspices and with the financial support of the Rhetoric Society of Poland.

The publication of these monographs gives us an opportunity to thank the invited contributors for sharing their inspiring findings and insightful arguments, the reviewers for their efforts and engagement and our collaborators who offered their advice on shaping the manuscripts. Last, but not least, we are grateful to the Peter Lang team for enabling this project.

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Agnieszka Kampka

Warsaw University of Life Sciences-SGGW

Katarzyna Molek-Kozakowska

Opole University

Rhetoric and the public sphere: Making a case for a knowledge society

1. Introduction

The phrase “the knowledge society” often functions as a metaphor that attempts to grasp either the current socio-economic situation or the society’s future orientation. On the one hand, a knowledge society can be defined as a set of conditions in which knowledge – understood as our abilities to access, process, analyze, store and manage information – becomes the main element of the social capital. Many institutions and individuals now seem devoted to fostering that kind of knowledge-intensive social arrangement. However, the so-called knowledge societies are also marked for many new and unresolved problems, divisions and obstacles, which need to be confronted to enable their future development.

Optimists say that new technologies and scientific solutions will give us new means of communicating high quality knowledge more democratically, as epitomized for example by wikinomics. (Tapscott, Don/ Williams, Anthony D.: Wikinomics. How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Portfolio: London 2006) Pessimists, on the other hand, point to such issues as climate change, depletion of resources, and great migrations in order to claim that neither technology nor science has helped us to solve any of those crises. In fact, there are a few possible scenarios of dealing with each of the above issues, and none of them is based on unquestioned facts, calculations and diagnoses. In such situations, policy-makers have to argue for their cases and persuade people to their causes. (Majone, Giandomenico: Evidence, Argument and Persuasion in the Policy Process. Yale University Press: Chelsea 1992) The political process now depends on how skillful communicators are in establishing their version of what is known to be publicly acceptable. Arguably, the role of rhetoric as a tool of persuasion in the public sphere has never been as important. As a result, rhetorical analysis has gained a new momentum: both in terms of studying argument-building mechanisms and ← 9 | 10 → in terms of demystifying argument-presentation devices. The studies collected in this volume testify to this increase in the significance of rhetorical construction of knowledge in the contemporary public sphere.

The notion of rhetoric espoused here is not of some historical scholarly tradition with no relevance today. Neither is rhetoric seen as an auxiliary, primarily style-oriented sub-discipline of language or literary studies. We see it as a current and valid field of inquiry in its own right, where scholarship concentrates on how the means, conventions and forms of knowledge transmission actually impinge on the nature of knowledge produced in the process. We assume that rhetoric is explored whenever some intentionally persuasive message is explored.

In yet another sense of rhetoric, this volume has been inspired by some reflections as to whether the label “knowledge societies” is equivalent to “knowledgeable societies,” particularly as one realizes that the dominating vision of a knowledge society is associated more with specialization and expertise than with emancipation and equity. This situation brings us to an understanding of rhetoric as a pedagogical orientation as well.

In the knowledge society it is often assumed that the so-called hard sciences are to reveal objective facts about the natural and social worlds and thus facilitate the civilizational advancement. In this context, natural sciences, medicine, engineering, even economics and social sciences have been praised for having contributed to the society’s knowledge pool, whereas the humanities have been increasingly treated as mere arts. The former are considered to be a-rhetorical, the latter as all-rhetorical. Our position is, however, that without developing rhetorical scholarship with a pedagogical edge, knowledge societies (in which there is much knowledge) will not become knowledgeable societies (in which citizens know much). (cf. Molek-Kozakowska, Katarzyna: “A Knowledge Society or a Knowledgeable Society? The Role of the Humanities in the Fostering of Knowledge through Critical Literacy.” Polish Journal of Philosophy 2010, pp. 33–46)

2. The public sphere and its mediated multimodal affordances

The public sphere is the physical or virtual space where meaning can be articulated and negotiated in the process of deliberation. (Koller, Veronika/ Wodak, Ruth: “Introduction: Shifting Boundaries and Emergent Public Spheres.” In: Koller, Veronika/ Wodak, Ruth (eds.): Handbook of Communication in the Public Sphere. De Gruyter Mouton: Berlin et al. 2010, pp. 1–17) Indeed, the public sphere tends to be seen as a complex constellation of multimodal discursive encounters that are at least partly rhetorical in nature, as they are channeled towards persuading partners in deliberation. (cf. Habermas, Jürgen: The Structural Transformations of ← 10 | 11 → the Public Sphere. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 1989; Habermas, Jürgen: The Theory of Communicative Action. Vol. 1: Reason and the Rationalization of Society. Heinemann: London 1984; Elster, Jon (ed.): Deliberative Democracy. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 1998; Dryzek, John: Deliberative Democracy and Beyond: Liberals, Critics, Contestations. Oxford University Press: Oxford 2002; Chambers, Simone: “Rhetoric and the Public Sphere: Has Deliberative Democracy Abandoned Mass Democracy?” Political Theory, Vol. 37 (3) 2009, pp. 323–350)

Public deliberation involves various rhetorical activities in which citizens are invited to participate by either actively voicing opinions or passively following and considering arguments. Although there are many obstacles to open deliberation, including access, education or engagement, ideally, deliberation should be instantiated to identify and resolve differences of opinions, stances or political solutions. According to Fairclough and Fairclough, for example, “arguments are based on different but often reasonable values and value hierarchies (normative priorities), which often turn out to be hard or impossible to reconcile, and political deliberation has to find ways of dealing with these differences.” (Fairclough, Isabela/ Fairclough, Norman: Political Discourse Analysis. Routledge: London 2012, p. 21) The claim in this collection also is that the nature of the public sphere is fundamentally rhetorical and that knowledge shaped as a result of that process is a product of strategic choices in communication.

And yet Habermasian concept of deliberation, which focuses on predominantly rational debates in ideal communicative situations, seems to have underestimated the plurality of current forms of democratic participation in the public sphere. According to Fraser (Fraser, Nancy: “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy.” Social Text 25/26 1990, pp. 56–80) sharing a common culture and a value system is no longer a prerequisite for a public sphere to thrive. (cf. Fraser 1990, p. 57) Public deliberation is no longer about the rational rules of how opinions and arguments are expressed, but rather about the very process of their making and articulating in a competitive, mediatized “marketplace of ideas,” in which some arguments find resonance and later get implemented as regulations.

The participation in the public sphere is also a multimodal endeavor. Various signifiers and meaning-making codes tend to be drawn to articulate one’s position: from street protests to internet virals and hacking attacks, from elaborate and costly campaigns to mere boycotts. The mediated public sphere is designed for multiple audiences that are highly networked and increasingly media-savvy. However, saturated with global media content, or easily digitalized and transmitted formats, public spheres tend to be overloaded with short messages, perishable ← 11 | 12 → communications and superficial relationships that may create an illusion of dialogue. (Dahlgren, Peter: Media and Political Engagement. Citizens, Communication and Democracy, Cambridge University Press: New York 2009) New media genres and technologies (below-the-line comments, homepages, social media, online presentations, videos) have enabled new voices to be heard, but also to be marginalized and disempowered. (cf. A’Beckett, van Belle, this volume) The rise of the visual culture has had its reflection on the public sphere with the new forms of activity reaching new segments of the populace, but also commercializing some of the domains of public life. The multimodal affordances of the public sphere allow for new forms of expression for active citizen groups, but have potential for engendering apathy, cynicism and “narcotizing dysfunction” for the public at large. (McKee, Alan: The Public Sphere: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 2005) It seems that the public sphere has never been so complex and diverse, and as difficult to grasp in its entirety as it is today.

It is worth stressing that both language and imagery can be used and re-used for impact, influence and argument. Hardly any press conference, scientific lecture, political debate, official announcement, even if primarily verbal, is devoid of significant visual props and illustrations. Images (including communicators’ appearances) may be persuasive by building ethos and logos, particularly when arguments presented as simulations, maps and figures are made to seem self-evident. (cf. Gottschling, Ornatowski, this volume) However, in the visual culture, images are also increasingly used for pathos: from generating sympathy and concern to dramatizing the issue and ridiculing the political opponent. (cf. Scripnic, Porter, van Belle, Isager, this volume) The multimodal is not restricted to individual pictures, icons and images, however. Multimodality does act as a mental shortcut, a visualization of the social, or a catalyst for public activity, but, in its broader understanding, also as a framing device mandated by the mediated public sphere. It seems that Web 2.0, with its netoric, has embraced the multimodal as the fundamental mode of proof, the prerequisite for deliberative rhetorical situation and for the dynamics of meaning-making interaction:

The point is that the contemporary public sphere allows multiple voices, opinions and interests to be articulated, but with less and less regard to indexing their social importance, moral value or aptness. Ideally, in large societies independent and free media institutions could filter and organize these messages for the public opinion to deliberate upon. But it would be a truism to note that nowadays many mediated representations, arguments and debates are subjected to media agendas, not public agendas. In most cases, the mediator’s rhetoric can additionally modify the claims, redefine premises and reshape knowledge provided by representatives of non-elite interest groups (cf. van Belle, A’Beckett, this volume). Thus because neither the elites nor corporate media are likely to provide their full assistance in public deliberation, citizens have to seek their own rhetorical tools for filtering information, building knowledge and participating in public debates (cf. Isaksen, Bergersen, Goggin, this volume).

If, as claimed by some scholars, being a citizen is no longer a given, then one is to perform one’s citizenship discursively and communicatively. (cf. Kock, Christian/ Villadsen, Lisa (eds.): Rhetorical Citizenship and Public Deliberation. Pennsylvania State University Press: University Park, PA 2012) To be identified as a citizen, as a member of a larger polity or community, one needs to align their expression, knowledge and practice with others. (cf. Hauser, Gerard A.: Vernacular Voices. The Rhetoric of Publics and Public Spheres, The University of South Carolina Press: Columbia 2008) By acquiring the knowledge and practice of articulating this citizenship, one is in the process of becoming a citizen (cf. Therkildsen, Porter, this volume). As a result, this volume sees the public sphere as an arena of multimodal articulations that ought to be studied “from below,” as theoretical accounts of contemporary public communication rarely do justice to its practical and expressive complexity.

3. Public sphere and rhetoric


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 246 pp., 25 b/w fig.

Biographical notes

Agnieszka Kampka (Volume editor) Katarzyna Molek-Kozakowska (Volume editor)

Agnieszka Kampka is Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences (SGGW). Katarzyna Molek-Kozakowska is Assistant Professor at the Institute of English, Opole University, Poland.


Title: Rhetoric, Knowledge and the Public Sphere