Crisis of Rhetoric: Events and Resources

The Crisis of Rhetoric will host six workshops and one closing event in the Houses of Parliament to deliver on these objectives. The discussion will continue between the workshops and be facilitated by publicly accessible documents on the website.

Workshop 1: The State of Political Speech

13 September 2017

Queen Mary, University of London

This first workshop concerns the perspective of practitioners. We will invite current and former politicians and speechwriters, civil servants and journalists to form a user group and to explain how they think about and experience political speech and argument, what they think makes a great (or awful) speech, the training they have had to become speechmakers and speechwriters, and the criteria they apply when assessing rhetoric. We will discuss how they perceive the crisis of rhetoric and what their remedy would be. This workshop will inform the content of the subsequent events. Speakers will be invited to reflect a range of institutions, ages, parties and backgrounds.

Workshop 2: Concepts

December 2017

University of Birmingham

The aim of this workshop is to strengthen our understanding of each other’s disciplinary approach while also reflecting on workshop 1 and the current crisis of political speech. Questions that will guide presentations and discussion are: What can the present learn from classical theories and practices of Rhetoric? What is the relationship between linguistic and rhetorical analysis? How has political theory conceived of debate, deliberation and argumentation and what is the place of rhetoric in these?

Speakers: Alan Finlayson (Co-I); Deborah Cameron (Rupert Murdoch Professor in Language and Communication, Oxford University); Joe Bennett (Lecturer in Applied Linguistics, Univ. of Birmingham).

Workshop 3: Ethos and Identification

March 2018

University of Glasgow

A fundamental theme of rhetorical theory, ancient and modern, is ethos. Contemporary  rhetoric sometimes conceives of this as establishing 'identification' between speaker and audience or as an ‘invitation’ issued by speakers for audiences to assume a particular identity. The crisis of rhetoric includes the inability on the part of politicians to establish such an ethos or a refusal of audiences to accept an invitation. Key questions include: How do different disciplines conceptualise ethos? How do political orators across historical periods create and maintain a credible public persona to promote themselves and their political agendas? How is rhetoric used today to create identities and shared values with audiences?

Speakers: Henriette van der Blom (PI); Karl-J. Hölkeskamp (Professor of Ancient History, University of Cologne, Germany); John Gaffney (Professor of Politics & Co-Director, Aston Centre for Europe Research Director, Politics and International Relations); Sophia Hatzisavvidou (Lecturer in Politics, University of Bath).

Workshop 4: Reasons and Reasoning

July 2018

University of Birmingham

Rhetoric involves forms of reasoning suited to the fraught, confusing and uncertain contexts of public life. A challenge is to ensure that such reasoning is not too unreasonable or unresponsive to facts. This workshop will look at theories of reason associated with rhetoric and their relationship to appeals rooted in emotion and figurative expression. Key questions will include: How can we understand the relationship between emotional and logical arguments in contemporary speech? Do politicians rely on certain kinds of logical and factual argument? Are arguments from emotion and values becoming more prominent? How can ‘good’ reasons be better promoted to the public?

Speakers: Rita Copeland (Professor of the Humanities and Professor of Classical Studies, English, and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania, US); Christian Kock (Professor of Rhetoric, University of Copenhagen); Nick Turnbull (Lecturer in Politics, University of Manchester).

Workshop 5: Media Rhetoric

September 2018

University of East Anglia

Today rhetoric is mediated. It is reformulated to fit the formats in and through which it is relayed to mass audiences, including online platforms, which are changing the culture of political debate. Key questions for this workshop include: How do audiences react to and engage with televised election or referendum debates? How do media formats - such as BBC Question Time - shape and reshape debate styles? How do new political groups use online media to disrupt and challenge conventional political argument?

Speakers: Emily Harmer (Lecturer in Media, in the Department of Communication and Media, University of Liverpool), Jens E. Kjeldsen (Professor of Rhetoric and Visual Communication at the Department of Information Science and Media Studies, University of Bergen (Norway)), and Alan Finlayson (Professor of Political and Social Theory at the University of East Anglia).

Workshop 6: Changing the State of Political Speech

3 April 2019

University College London

In this final workshop, we will invite back the practitioners who came to the first workshop. This time, the lead speakers will be academics who will present their thoughts and findings and receive feedback from the practitioners (informing impact outputs).

Launch event: The Crisis of Rhetoric: Renewing Political Speech and Speechwriting

15 October 2019

Houses of Parliament, London

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