Rhetoric, Discourse and Knowledge

by Maria Załęska (Volume editor) Urszula Okulska (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 290 Pages


The authors of this volume explore rhetorical and discursive strategies used to negotiate and establish legitimate knowledge and its disciplinary boundaries, to make scientific knowledge interesting outside academic settings as well, and to manage (c)overt knowledge in different social and political contexts. The volume focuses on the cultural concept of knowledge society, examining diverse linguistic means of knowledge transmission from the perspective of the complex interplay between knowledge and persuasion. The contributors discuss both sociological and philosophical issues, as well as textual processes in different genres that aim to communicate knowledge.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Rhetorical and discursive perspectives on knowledge and knowing (Maria Załęska / Urszula Okulska)
  • I. Disciplinarized knowledge
  • Rhetorical approaches towards knowledge (Maria Załęska)
  • Rhetoric of (and in) the early modern encyclopedia (Joanna Partyka)
  • II. Knowledge quality in late modern society
  • Science and ethics in the knowledge society: A rhetorical perspective (Urszula Okulska)
  • Sociology of excellence(s) in the knowledge society (Izabela Wagner)
  • III. Rhetoric in academic settings
  • The rhetoric of research reports in the humanities: Paradoxes of exigence (Katarzyna Molek-Kozakowska)
  • Rhetorical strategies in the discourse of calls for papers (Alina Ganea)
  • IV. Argumentation on the way to rhetorical transmission of knowledge
  • Argumentation as an intellectual tool in the knowledge society (Christian Plantin)
  • Rhetoric of science: Fixed and changing modes of scientific discourse (Maria Freddi)
  • V. Rhetoric at the crossroads of science and politics
  • Knowledge and Power through Discourse and how to gain insights into rhetorical strategies through linguistic analysis – despite Foucault (Paul Danler)
  • Metaphors of SCIENCE in political discourses across the Iron Curtain: A case study of Harold Wilson’s and Edward Gierek’s speeches (Grzegorz Kowalski)
  • Inception: How the unsaid may become public knowledge (Christian Kock)
  • Contributors

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This monograph, Rhetoric, Discourse and Knowledge, edited by Maria Załęska and Urszula Okulska, as well as its sister volume, Rhetoric, Knowledge and the Public Sphere edited by Agnieszka Kampka and Katarzyna Molek-Kozakowska, 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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Maria Załęska & Urszula Okulska

University of Warsaw

Rhetorical and discursive perspectives on knowledge and knowing

Abstract: The chapter offers a conceptual map that shows interrelations of the three key notions: knowledge, discourse, and rhetoric. The overview of the definitions and of the theoretical frameworks illustrates the complexity, variety, and even incommensurability of the available approaches. Their synthesis allows for contextualizing the research presented in the chapters of this volume.

1. Introduction

Sapere aude. Do dare to know. The inscription from the Delphi oracle is but one of various reminders that evoke the challenge, the temptation and the promise of knowledge. Knowledge informs the daily activity of any person. Shared common knowledge permits to coordinate interlocutors’ activities, while specialized knowledge constitutes the basis of single professions and academic disciplines.

The rhetorical point of view points out the relation between language, interactants and reality:

When taken together, writer, reality, audience and language identify an epistemic field – the basic conditions that determine what knowledge will be knowable, what not knowable, and how the knowledge will be communicated. This epistemic field is the point of departure for numerous studies. (Berlin 1982: 767)

A part of these “numerous studies” are chapters in this volume that problematize different aspects of the relation between knowledge – in particular specialized, academic knowledge – and ways of its communicating through resources of rhetoric and discourse.

The triad of concepts listed in the book’s title – rhetoric, discourse and knowledge – constitutes the common thread within all the chapters, ensuring the volume coherence. It is attained through careful scrutiny of the domains’ inherent networks, whose diverse empirical-theoretical ties make them complementary and mutually enriching fields of socio-cognitive and socio-linguistic practice. ← 9 | 10 →

2. Knowledge and society

Paradoxically, the more we know about knowledge, the more we acknowledge our ignorance, and we know that we should know more. The experience of epistemic activity is common to all human beings. Anyone observes, categorizes, looks for cause/effect relations, creates models and types. Changing raw data (such as one’s experience or information obtained) into knowledge requires awareness, reflection and understanding. Since knowledge is also a cohesive device of a community, they conceptualize different kinds of shared knowledge to coordinate their interactions (see below).

There are different types of knowledge and ways of knowing. The affirmation I know reveals the knowledge at the object level, including different types of shared knowledge. At the first metalevel – I know that I know – one manifests awareness of one’s own knowledge and/or one’s own epistemic practices. Passing from the individual experience to a broader, abstract and theoretical knowledgeability within epistemology – I know about knowing and knowledge – means passing to the second metalevel, i.e., theoretical reflection, such as that presented in this volume. It regards epistemic activities in general, embracing the process of knowing and its product – knowledge.

What can be said about human history is that it may be conceived of in evolutionary terms, as a passage from rural society, through industrial society, to postindustrial forms, called, respectively, information society, knowledge society and network society (Castells 2000). Such a model shows a transition from the materiality of agriculture or industry to the more immaterial aspects of human interactions. In the literature of the subject, Lane (1966) is credited to have coined the term ‘knowledgeable society’ (for the analysis of this notion, see also Molek-Kozakowska 2010). The concept of ‘knowledge society,’ in turn, was introduced by Drucker (1969). It was further developed in the context of post-industrial society by Bell (1973) and in the context of postmodernism by Lyotard (1983; for a discussion of differences between the two approaches, see Fuller 2001: 178–179; see also Fuller 2015). Stehr (2001: 20) claims that “[…] present-day society may be described as a knowledge society because of the penetration of all its spheres by scientific and technical knowledge.” The author discusses also how the knowledge society gives rise to the ‘knowledge economy.’ The concept may be interpreted in a twofold way, i.e., as the constatation of the fact that products are more and more knowledge-laden or as the assumption that knowledge constitutes an economic product like all the others (see also Stehr 1994).

However, the very concept of the ‘knowledge society’ is contested:

The term ‘knowledge society’ remains useful as a convenient label that attracts attention to complex interrelations between the two notions: knowledge and society. While in other forms of society – roughly, ‘non-knowledge societies’ – knowledge ‘only’ underlies activities like agriculture or industry, within the knowledge society, it is conceived of as its main asset and in scientific analyses, as the main filter of research. Such a vision of knowledge is enhanced by unprecedented communicative possibilities, offered by the cultural revolution of the internet and the multimedia that favor the dissemination of knowledge in the public sphere (see Goodwin ed. 2012; Kampka and Molek-Kozakowska 2016). The relation between knowledge and society, especially under the term ‘knowledge society,’ is an object of different claims and corresponding lines of argumentation, accompanied by varied emotions, from enthusiasm to severe criticisms.

The enthusiasts generally exalt the promises of reason (Masuda 1981). The positively connoted concept of knowledge society continues the Enlightenment idea that it is not faith but knowledge that is the fundament of ideological life of society. Knowledge, as it is argued, is a new source of neutrality and the basis for a desired meritocracy. As such, it is promoted as an essential component of actually implemented policies. In particular, the 2000 Lisbon strategy set for the European Union the goal of becoming a society of knowledge, thanks to which it was supposed to transform into one of the most advanced areas of the world (see European Commission 2000 and 2007). Believing in the transformative powers of the appropriate policy, the partisans of the knowledge society expect that the rationalized circulation of knowledge will help to shape a more equitable society.

The positive connotation of the term ‘knowledge’ and the promotional newspeak of the knowledge society partisans (Fuller 2001) do not prevent numerous scholars from taking a more critical stance and problematizing ideologies underlying the knowledge society (e.g., Delanty 2001 and 2003; Fuller 2003) and the knowledge economy (e.g., Rastier 2014). The confrontation of the ideals with the reality gives rise to different criticisms: from contestation of single aspects to the questioning of the very idea of the ‘knowledge society’ itself. A critical examination of the knowledge society unveils its underlying assumptions, the ‘perverse effects’ ← 11 | 12 → (Boudon 1993) and the side aspects of the actual processes (e.g., a counterpart of the knowledge society seems to be the ‘ignorance society,’ see Jabłoński, Szymczak and Zemło eds. 2015), which strongly impact the future possibilities of development. The critics offer sometimes apocalyptic and sometimes disenchanted views on the gains and costs to be paid within the society proclaimed to be based essentially on immaterial assets of knowledge (Postman 1992). The discussions involve different configurations of the content or context of knowledge (e.g., Foucault 1969 and 1972 problematizes the neutrality of knowledge, showing its hidden interrelations with politics; see also Danler this volume). They address also the conceptualization of knowledge as a public good or as a commodity, which can be traded as intellectual capital, i.e., knowledge embodied in an individual, or as social capital, i.e., knowledge embedded in a network of associations (Fuller 2001: 180; see also Coleman 1990 and Wagner this volume). Such conceptualizations presuppose contrasting views on knowledge, treated as a value on its own, pursued for its own sake, regardless of cost or consequences, or only as functional to the political, economic or managerial values of pragmaticism.

In the volume, ‘knowledge’ is addressed in a number of ways. First, the authors examine the epistemological and axiological issues involved in ways in which knowledge is spoken about. These ways of speaking create together a vision of knowledge among the practitioners, as well as a public image of science between non-specialists.

From the epistemological perspective, the authors declare, first of all, how they define the disciplines of knowledge involved in the volume – i.e., Rhetoric, Discourse Analysis and the Science of Science.2 Secondly, they establish how the disciplines of communication – namely, Rhetoric and Discourse Analysis – conceive of their relation to knowledge issues (see especially Załęska). These systematic and synthetic overviews are completed by a short historical glimpse by Partyka on how rhetoric was conceived of in a particular period of history. Danler, in his contribution, presents Foucault’s vision of knowledge as a manifestation of power, couched within and inseparable from discourse.

This epistemologically oriented view of knowledge would be incomplete without ethical and axiological considerations. In her chapter, Okulska outlines two competing visions of knowledge, especially the scientific one, informed by divergent ethical values. The difference in the ethical foundations of what is taken as ← 12 | 13 → (scientific) knowledge accounts for the corresponding practices in its acquisition, elaboration and transmission. A peculiar aspect of axiological considerations is inspected also by Wagner, who analyzes the value of good – in its intensified form of excellence – within the communicative practices of scholars who evaluate each other, and attributes the label ‘excellent’ to some insiders.

The public image of science as a particularly appreciated kind of knowledge is addressed in the contribution by Kowalski, who analyzes cognitive metaphors of ‘science’ used by politicians. An uncommon stance on knowledge presentation in public settings is, in turn, taken by Freddi who, among others, shows public accounts of scientific knowledge through theatrical means.

The majority of chapters address knowledge from the perspective of concrete texts, mainly written by scholars of different disciplines. The ongoing knowledge management within the text is demonstrated through the analysis of linguistic, pragmatic and/or rhetorical mechanisms that advance knowledge within knowledge-making texts.

3. Discourse

The numerous definitions of ‘discourse’ and the detailed accounts of this notion have a rich literature (see, e.g., Johnstone 2008). Roughly, two different types of understanding ‘discourse’ can be distinguished.

One, ideated mainly by French-writing scholars, such as Pêcheux (1969, 1975, 1988; see also Maldidier 1990), Lyotard (1983) or Foucault (1966, 1969, 1972, 1976), is ‘discourse’ in a non-linguistic (or non primarily linguistic) sense, concentrated rather on ideology, politics, mentality formation and power (see also Jabłoński 2006). This branch of discourse studies explores the ‘tacit knowledge,’ which is so deeply internalized by people under cultural, historical and political constraints that they are practically unaware of it. Yet, these constraints influence the actual surface realizations of spoken and written texts, shaping the understanding of socially relevant knowledge. The relation between discourse, power and knowledge is developed especially under the Foucaultian concept of ‘knowledge-power’ (for more in-depth analyses of such an account of discourse, see esp. Danler and Okulska this volume; cf. also Wagner’s insight into the discourse-mediated concept of ‘excellence’).

Another understanding privileges ‘discourse’ in a more linguistic sense, i.e., as text and talk in relation to their context of production. Such an approach is developed especially within Discourse Analysis and its subfield, Genre Analysis, both strongly related to one of the trends of New Rhetoric (see Załęska this volume). Van Dijk (2012: 587) notes a curious discrepancy: ‘knowledge’ and ‘discourse’ are ← 13 | 14 → essential notions in the humanities and the social sciences, yet it is “[…] surprising why so little detailed research has been done on the equally fundamental relationship between these two notions.”

Van Dijk’s (2012) overview of knowledge and discourse relations concentrates on pure Discourse Analysis, without including rhetorical perspective. Therefore, reporting his brief outline helps to understand the differences between an exclusively discursive approach and a more interdisciplinary approach, in which the discursive perspective overlaps with the rhetorical one, fruitfully applied to interdisciplinary research (see, e.g., Okulska and Cap eds. 2010; Cap and Okulska eds. 2013; for a theoretical discussion, see Załęska 2015).

The author adopts a socio-cognitive approach, in which “knowledge is a part of the context” (van Dijk 2012: 529). More precisely, knowledge is a part of the [‘interactants’ knowledge of] context, therefore “each level of discourse structure depends on the knowledge of the participants” (van Dijk 2012: 529). He outlines two types of models that account for knowledge management in discourse: mental models (or semantic situation models) and context models (or pragmatic models).

The mental models of the events referred to in discourse (e.g., Johnson-Laird 1983; see van Dijk and Kintsch 1983) play a central role in both understanding and production of discourse:

Biographical notes

Maria Załęska (Volume editor) Urszula Okulska (Volume editor)

Maria Załęska (University of Warsaw) specializes in research on knowledge transmission, drawing from the fields of rhetoric, linguistics and genre analysis. Urszula Okulska (University of Warsaw) specializes in studies of intercultural dialogue from the perspective of discourse analysis and text linguistics.


Title: Rhetoric, Discourse and Knowledge