Toward a Deweyan theory of rhetoric and affect




Pehoski, Justin Morrius

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Rhetorical scholars are drawing on the philosophy of John Dewey to construct a pragmatist theory of rhetoric. That scholarship has primarily used Dewey’s philosophy of communication, democracy, and aesthetics to develop a distinctively Deweyan rhetorical theory. However, while these scholars have made some explicit and implicit connections between rhetoric and emotion, I argue these are not to the extent warranted by the importance Dewey gave to emotion-affect in all human affairs, especially communication and democratic life. Furthermore, in the field of rhetoric at large, there has been increasing interest in affect, partly as a return to rhetoric’s historic interest in emotion, feeling, and pathos; and partly in response to an overall “affective turn” in the humanities and social sciences. I argue that Deweyan pragmatist rhetorical theory, enhanced by the theory of affect developed in my thesis, can engage productively with current affect theory in two ways. First, I use my enhanced Deweyan theory to clarify conceptual difficulties in current affect theory and to resolve a problematic dualism in one of the leading theories about affect and emotion, which has greatly influenced rhetorical studies. This dualism causes ruptures in what I argue, drawing on Dewey, are the basic continuities between the body, emotion, thought, language, social interaction, and community building that comprise rhetoric. Second, the engagement between pragmatist and affect theories in my thesis also yields better articulations of a Deweyan theory of rhetoric. In particular, there is in Dewey’s philosophy an implicit notion of affective rhetorical ecologies. This concept has also been developing in the field of rhetoric at large, and putting the two lines of scholarship together extends both. Extending a pragmatic, affective, ecological view of rhetoric has the potential to help scholars better theorize and citizens better practice rhetoric(s) that meet the demands of an increasingly complex world challenged by globalism and pluralism, as well as large-scale technological and environmental change.


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