Eloquence in a new key : toward a theory of presentational communication
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Previously, scholars have argued that the introduction of televised politics ushered in an age of political decision-making motivated by emotion instead of facts. One of the central questions motivating this dissertation is: if candidates are now elected based on feeling over fact, should this be cause for concern? In general, when it comes to political decision-making, the underlying assumption has been that we should check our emotions at the door. Dating back to Aristotle, the rational paradigm has been a pervasive influence in Western thought, and most political communication theorists suggest that the best solution is to return to a bygone era of rational discourse. There are three reasons to be troubled by such suggestions. First, it is not entirely clear that such an era of rational discourse ever actually existed. Second, even if we accept that previous generations experienced politics more rationally and less emotionally, it may not be possible to go back. Finally, it may be that emotional decision-making, political seduction, and affective campaigning are not as irrational as previous research suggests. Drawing from the philosophy of Susanne K. Langer, this project forwards the notion that presentational symbols function differently from, but just as rationally as, propositional logic. Because of her unique distinction between representational symbolism and presentational symbolism, Langer offers a basis for a novel theory of rhetoric that dissolves the dichotomy between reason and emotion. Based on her theory, this dissertation questions the dual assumptions that rational discourse is our best means of political decision-making and that the emotional campaign is something to fear. Through analysis of Obama’s 2008 campaign, this dissertation calls for eloquence in a new key. By identifying points of intersection between research in philosophy, sociology and communication, this project demonstrates that just as discursive rhetoric can be valid or invalid, argued well or argued poorly, there are better and worse forms of presentational rhetoric. After recognizing that not all presentational communication is manipulative or irrational, the next step is developing a better method of evaluating presentational symbols, and this is a first step toward that goal.