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Rhetoric, Nationalism, and Post-Nationalism

Leader: Vanessa Beasley, Vanderbilt University

  Rhetoric, Nationalism, and Post-Nationalism

Vanessa Beasley (Vanderbilt University)

Scholarship on constitutive discourses of nationalism has flourished over the last 25 years. The idea of nationalism, especially when understood as the site for the transformation of geographically-based "communities of fate" into "communities of character" (Bauer, 1907), took a decidedly rhetorical turn with Anderson's Imagined Communities (1991).  If national subjects are encouraged to imagine themselves and their common bonds in particular ways, public discourse obviously plays a key role in these processes; thus scholars of rhetoric, following a conceptual lineage based in the work of McGee (1975) and Charland (1987), have used case-specific analyses to help us understand the complex nature and limits of rhetorics of nationalism.

At the same time this body of literature has been growing, however, the relevance of nationalism itself has come into question.  Scholars in both the social sciences and humanities have asked if the 21st century will bring the "end of nationalism," a time when various processes and discourses of globalization-including but not limited to those associated with neoliberal economics-may eclipse nation as a foundation for political identification and subjectivity. 

Whether we categorize the contemporary moment as "post-nationalistic" or even "supra-nationalistic," this shift may have important implications for rhetorical studies, especially for scholars interested in the history and criticism of nationalistic discourse.  What questions, then, might we ask about rhetoric in a post-nationalistic age?  Indeed, how and/or why is this distinction important for scholars of rhetoric?  If nationalism is indeed history, then how might historians and critics of public address orient their approach to it?  Does the alleged shift to post-nationalism mean that we might need to approach contemporary texts differently as critics-with different assumptions about circulation or perhaps even agency?  Likewise, how might rhetoric, contingent and situated, operate within the cacophony of ideas, images, and discourses assumed to characterize a globalized system?   What functions, if any, does nationalistic rhetoric serve within globalization?  And at whose benefit?  At what cost?

This workshop will be a collaborative environment in which participants discuss these and other related, emergent questions about the relationship between rhetoric, nationalism, and post-nationalism.  It is assumed that participants will come to the workshop with some knowledge of existing scholarship on these topics.  Nevertheless, a common reading list will be distributed after registration closes, with readings from both inside and outside of the communication disciplines.   In addition, each participant will be asked to circulate a detailed summary of her/his own research project and/or scholarly interest in this area so that all participants will have familiarity with each other's interests. 

Inquiries should be sent to Vanessa Beasley:


Anderson, B. (1991).  Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of 
            nationalism.  London:  Verso.

Bauer, O. (2000).  The question of nationalities and social democracy.  
            (J. O'Donell, Trans.)  Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota. (Original             work published in 1907).

Charland, M. (1987).  Constitutive rhetorics:  The case of the peuple Quebecois.  
            Quarterly Journal of Speech, 73, 133-150.

McGee, M. (1975).  In search of "the people":  A rhetorical alternative.  Quarterly 
 Journal of Speech, 61, 235-149. 

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