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The Conceit of Context

Resituating Domains in Rhetorical Studies

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Edited By Charles E. Morris III and Kendall R. Phillips

This edited volume features essays derived from presentations delivered at the 15th Biennial Public Address Conference held at Syracuse University in October 2016, as well as additional material. The Conceit of Context explores the often invoked—indeed a central term in the history of rhetorical studies—but less often engaged concept of context. In this volume, we center the notion of context as the site of engagement, critique, and imagination, seeking to deepen the critical and political promise of context in the study of public discourse.

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3 Context and the Spatial/Temporal Collapse (Lisa A. Flores)

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Lisa A. Flores

In her essay, Carole Blair reminds us that the conceit of context is complex, if not contradictory. Directing us to questions of “appropriate setting,” of seemingly ever-porous and expanding boundaries, and the possibility that we might never “stop writing context and return to the focal object,” Blair implores rhetorical scholars to think context at the in-betweens of infinite and contained, scripted and open, calling for a redefined sense of context, one that is as decidedly invested in questions of space as it is in questions of time. As she makes clear, without attention to spatiality, we lose attention to “interrelations, the very conditions that make possible temporality and change.” And in the turn to interrelations, we perhaps uncover those unfinished stories and never traversed pathways. In what follows, I reflect on the conceit of context by pausing on this piece of Blair’s argument: “we need to rethink context not only as temporal but as spatial” (14).

There is much of significance in this argument. As Blair makes clear, “contexts, those elements of space-time that we seek out to help us understand, explain, or intervene in a rhetorical moment, are decidedly material” (12). I want to consider these provocations by turning to what I might name as my focal object: the figure of the deportable Mexican—that laborer whose presence within the United States is both desired and abhorred—and the temporal/spatial contexts that configure Mexican immigrants and perpetuate Mexican deportability. I...

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