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Comparative Rhetoric: Enacting the Art of Recontextualization

Leaders: LuMing Mao, Miami University; Arabella Lyon, University at Buffalo, SUNY

LuMing Mao, Miami University
Arabella Lyon, University at Buffalo, SUNY

What is comparative rhetoric? Why should we engage in it right now? More important, what are the politics of representation and the ethics of methodology in conducting comparative rhetorical studies? That is, how can we represent the other so that the other does not lose its own otherness or such representation does not turn out to be “useful” only to the euroamerican west? How can we examine our own location and the power dynamics within representation as we speak for and about the other? What specific rhetorical texts do we study, and why? Are the concepts and practices chosen for study more importantly present to us here and now than to the actors there and then? If any comparative undertaking is never neutral but always transformative and ideological, what kind of knowledge is being created in the process, and on whose behalf? What methodology can we develop and deploy to ensure that our accounts can move deftly between the native’s point of view and a critical vantage point outside the native tradition, enacting what may be called “the art of recontextualization”?

Comparative rhetoric has made important advances in the last few decades as interests in learning about nondominant ways of seeing, doing, and being continue to grow, and as more and more studies of rhetoric are orienting toward global, transnational perspectives. Challenging a euroamerica-centric paradigm that has anchored knowledge production and consumption for centuries, comparative rhetoric studies non-euroamerican rhetorical practices on their own terms and in their own contexts. These studies are not only enriching our knowledge of these other rhetorical practices but also challenging our deep-held assumptions about disciplinary identity and methodological beliefs. Because of its emphasis on promoting reflective encounters, comparative rhetoric has enabled us to interrogate how our own cultural make-up influences what we study and to gain a better understanding of how networks of power asymmetry and histories of cross-border and cross-cultural engagements shape and define rhetorical practices at all levels.

Workshop participants will be reading and responding to works on these and other related questions and topics both from the perspective of history, theory, and practice and from cognate disciplines including comparative literature, comparative philosophy, and history of science. Guiding daily discussion will be our own reading and research questions, which will help determine the shape and direction of this workshop. In addition, workshop participants are encouraged to submit, a week before the start of the workshop, a brief, five-to-seven page writing that addresses or is broadly related to the theme of this workshop. The writing could be a précis of, or an excerpt from, an unpublished essay, a dissertation chapter, or some other related writing. We will be working with each other’s writings during the course of this workshop in hopes of advancing, through the lens of comparative rhetoric, our own work as well as the study of rhetoric in general.

Questions should be directed to LuMing Mao

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