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The Conceit of Context

Resituating Domains in Rhetorical Studies


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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4 Temporal Development and Spatial Emplacement in the Dispositional Whole: The (Con)text of Hillary Clinton’s “Basket of Deplorables” Speech (Leah Ceccarelli)


Leah Ceccarelli

In her excellent essay in this volume, Carole Blair argues that we should make two changes to how we think about context. First, what counts as context differs depending on your scholarly project, so it is incumbent upon the critic to be explicit about the research question being asked, and to recognize that “the value of context must be argued for” in each particular case. Second, “we need to rethink context not only as temporal, but as spatial.” I could not agree more. As a rhetorician who cares deeply about words, I was also inspired by Blair’s etymological reflections. As she points out, con is a prefix that means “with,” so con-text is that which accompanies a text; and text is derived from texere, to weave or compose. Given Blair’s own research projects, she abandons the term “text,” with its connotation of written material, for the broader term, “focal object.” But she does not go so far as to abandon the term “context,” and rightly so, since the word “confocalobject” sounds ridiculous! So “text” hangs around as the repressed but-not-entirely-forgotten other, hidden inside the word “context.”

In this volume on the “conceit of context,” I have decided to play the role of contrarian by arguing for a renewed focus on text—not the term, but the critical concept as used by close readers of public address. That is, I will argue that as a community of public address scholars, we should renew...

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