Speech! Speech!

Dramatising Rhetorical Citizenship

Sandie Okoro (of the World Bank) speaking at the University of Birmingham Annual Meeting 2019

Robust public debate and the freedom to make arguments and counterarguments are essential to democracy. Today, however, political dispute is ever more sectarian and angry, fears of misinformation are (justifiably) widespread and political discussion confined within groups of the like-minded talking to each other online. Against this background the project ‘Speech! Speech! Dramatising Rhetorical Citizenship’ develops and redeploys findings from AHRC-funded research into the ‘Crisis of Rhetoric’. It centres on the concept of ‘rhetorical citizenship’, which names our common rights to hear and see political actors present their arguments directly to us, judge them for ourselves and, crucially, to take part in public debate and discussion with skills that match those of professional political actors.

The project will cultivate skills in writing and delivering powerful speeches, as well as critical thinking about what makes for good and bad political rhetoric, enhancing shared rhetorical citizenship. It will further and deepen the dissemination of academic research to new communities, as part of developing and delivering training for members of the public in these rhetorical arts, by encouraging critically-minded celebration of the potential contribution of political speech and rhetorical citizenship to our democratic lives.

The project will achieve this primarily through a partnership between the academic project team and Dash Arts, an award-winning and internationally engaged theatre company specialising in creating unique live and digital events. Together we will develop theatrical practices and a body of original experimental performance work through which participants and audiences can develop their critical understanding and practical experience of political rhetoric and argument. Through workshops and public performances developed in partnership with local arts, community and political organisations in six English cities, we will train people in the arts of speechwriting and speechmaking and develop models for such training that outlast the life of the project. Our research will eventually lead to The Public House, Dash Arts’ state-of-the-nation theatre production, inspired by the speeches and writing of our national participants and performed by some of our original participants alongside professional actors and musicians, and created by writer Jude Christian and director, Josephine Burton.

In addition, through partnership with the European Speechwriter Network (a professional association for speechwriters working in a range of public and private governmental, financial and charitable organisations) the project team and Dash Arts will engage practitioners in direct dialogue that will contribute to their practice, and to their writing of political speeches which engage and involve citizens.

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