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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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6 Situating Binge Watching as a Context for Criticism (Daniel C. Brouwer)


Daniel C. Brouwer

Rhetorical criticism in the form of public address has long affirmed the significance of in situ dynamics—that critics should attend to how public address is “situated in …[an] original, natural, or existing place or position.”1 Herbert Wichelns’ germinal distinction between literature and oratory depended crucially upon the situatedness of public address, crafted in relation to particular audiences and contexts.2 In this spirit, in 1923 the Cornell teachers of public speaking included studies of live audiences in their list of 129 research topics that rhetorical scholars might engage.3 In a history of public address, other stopping points in affirmation of in situ dynamics could include, from a psychoanalytic perspective, Joshua Gunn and others’ work to re-appreciate the materiality and affect of human speech,4 and the contemporary calls for rhetorical ethnography, rhetorical field methods, or critical participatory rhetoric (the nomenclature varies among scholars). Indeed, recent and lively efforts to send us into the field might be understood as both responsiveness to a valence in traditional public address to affirm the eventness of speech and responsiveness to critical reconfigurations or dissolutions of context, with the corollary effect of undermining the figure of the critic as simply a brain on a stick. We are flesh packets, after all.

Attending to place or position might sound like a singular task, but rhetorical critics have affirmed and disputed the plurality and complexity of context. As an illustration of disputation about proper contexts of analysis...

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