From Rhetoric, the Polis, and the Global Village

C. Jan Swearingen & Dave Pruett Eds.

“Rhetoric, the Polis, and the Global Village:  Now and Then” by C. Jan Swearingen

Considering her time in South Africa, S. notes that central rhetorical concerns such as language policy, educational reform and diversity, linguistic and rhetorical pluralism and the retention of a national identity and coherence among rhetorics of globalization are all central concerns in the formation of a nation-state (in this case, one intimately familiar with the postcolonial condition).  Reflecting on the (then) current trend of antimulticultural rhetoric in the US, S. considers how rhetoric – “real and imagined” – revises histories, defends multiculturalism and also considers issues of diversity.  S. recognizes the problematic nature of contrastive rhetorical studies in orality and literacy; however, she also notes that work in that field is extremely valuable because it highlights the cultural transmission of knowledge and identity.  To finish up the piece, S. considers the current (in 1998) technological revolution occurring in global electronic communication to demonstrate how these sorts of “revolutions” have wonderful and terrible consequences.

“The Global Village, Multiculturalism, and the Functions of Sophistic Rhetoric” by Bruce McComiskey

This essay begins with a central question:  “If we agree that our present and future economic, political, and social conditions may generally be described as a ‘global village,’ then how do, will, and should the conditions of globalization affect our present and future theories and practices of rhetoric?”  Working through McLuhan, M. argues that the communicative revolution that produces the global village is paradoxical: despite McLuhan’s argument that thinking will become multifaceted and varied, the entire idea of a “global village” itself is marked by some sort of unity.  This model seems to be ‘sender-centric’ in that it conceives of successful communication as a one-way transmission of information (think the “window-pane” theory of language).  So what do we do?

M. offers a different understanding of the global village not as a structure or standard, but as a heuristic with which to consider the process of globalization – or the “discursive practice, a collection of universalizing rhetorical strategies to which individuals and communities may respond with tactics designed to negotiate globalizing rhetoric from local perspectives” (reliance on de Certeau here).  M. argues that universalizing, essentialist, and utopian global village discourses are the strategies whereas the actual contextual situations reveal tactics of resistance to these discourses.  To make these tactics work, you need to know when to deploy them (kairos).  Working through Gramscian notions of hegemony, M. comes to the following conclusion:  dominators establish universalizing strategies as a means to gain consensus among the dominated, and the dominated negotiate these strategies with timely localized tactics as a means to gain control over their own lived experience (79).  Next M. traces the evolution of multiculturalism in the U.S. to demonstrate how strategies can be altered and changed through repeated tactical operations of resistance.  Turning to pedagogy, M. notes that teaching students the ability to identify institutionalized strategies allows them to compose rhetorical tactics that seek to push strategies toward the process of incorporation – something of a Hegelian synthesis?


1. Where else do we see the model that McComiskey outlines for the uptake of multiculturalism (assimilation –> integration –> incorporation) from the readings across the semester so far?  I think I find the most valuable ideas here related to integration: the recognition of the value of local identity while still pushing the core values of the center as the hegemonic.

2.  McComiskey does a lot of work tracing the institutionalization of multiculturalism so that – he claims – we as teachers can situate students in a way that they can “tap” into the discursive knowledge they need in order to compose kairotically to affect change (incorporation).  What are some ways we as teachers can do this?  Does it mean tracing alternative histories?  Is this done through shared readings, independent research, or all facets of the classroom?  Any ideas on how to make this happen as I find it pretty encouraging/interesting!

3.  If we accept some of the ground that S. offers in the way of new technologies we accept the argument that new technological developments have also always been wrapped up the possibly the democratizing qualities of these developments.  I would certainly agree with this sentiment.  So, what does the ongoing technological communications and transportation revolution do for our understandings of how to live together – or, said differently – will these new communication technologies allow for deeper schisms in the multicultural landscape or something better?

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