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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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28 Contextualizing State Failure and Necropolitics (Timothy Barney)


Timothy Barney

Arguably, the discourse of failed states reached its fever pitch around mid-decade of the 2000s. In 2005, amidst the backdrop of tumultuous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the D.C. based non-profit think tank Fund for Peace collaborated with Foreign Policy magazine to present the first of its soon to be annual “Failed States Index,” a quantified measurement matrix of nation-state peril across the earth mixed with a platform of advocacy for global change.1 The Failed States Index, for foreign policy wonks over the years, became a kind of macabre U.S. News & World Report College Rankings for nation-states, with much anticipation each year about who would rise and fall in the standings.2 Ranging from so-called “very sustainable” states like Finland and other areas of Northern Europe to the “elevated warning” areas like Mexico to the more absolute horrors of the “very high alert” areas of Ivory Coast and Yemen, the FSI is a kind of death-tourist travelogue through the wreckage of the modern world, accompanied by a striking visual rhetoric of an almost parodic nature, with graphic design made up of bullet-shattered glass motifs, and even publishing an accompanying photo essay called “Postcards from Hell.”3 The FSI is as close to pure necropolitics and necropolicy, as Sara McKinnon would call it, as one can get, where under the guise of 21st-century humanitarianism, states, and thus their peoples, are marked as the walking dead. From social indicators like “human flight and brain drain” and...

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