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Whither “Social Movement” in Rhetorical Studies?

Workshop Leaders: Christina R. Foust, University of Denver; Charles E. Morris III, Syracuse University

Workshop Leaders:

Christina R. Foust, University of Denver
Charles E. Morris III, Syracuse University

For the first several decades of research initiated by Leland Griffin’s “The Rhetoric of Historical Movements” (1952), scholars enacted disciplinary anxieties regarding the place of rhetoric in the study of social movements. Such fretting proved productive in generating, applying, and contesting rhetorical theories of social movement. Work published from the 1970s through 1990s reveals the field’s polysemous understanding of “social movements,” with some critics analyzing persuasion from large, un-institutionalized collectivities engaged in social struggle; and others challenging sociological definitions of movements by focusing more on tactics affiliated with student protests, women’s rights, Black Power, and the gay liberation movement (among many others). In recent decades, diverse rhetoricians have found theoretical and critical homes in their work on counterpublic, outlaw discourse, vernacular discourse, protest, resistance, minor rhetorics, and activist performance. Curiously, however, “social movement” as a key term, perhaps as a concept per se, has been displaced if not erased from the field’s scholarship.

Drawing on a limited number of shared readings and participants’ position papers, this workshop explores this decline of “social movement” in rhetorical studies, and considers future directions in forging a more explicit relationship to that term, and the possible accounts of social change connoted by it. Participants should submit position papers, at least preliminary drafts (email to, by April 15, 2015). All position papers should articulate themselves to the term “social movement” in some way—ideally, they will develop a stance on the need to recover, replace, or abandon “social movement” for rhetoric. Position papers may make use of various case studies, historical or contemporary (like Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, or the use of social media); theories (like vernacular discourse or Badiou’s “event”); and definitions of “social movement rhetoric” (as articulated by Griffin, Simons, Stewart, Sillars, or McGee, for instance). Through the workshop, participants will more deeply engage a set of shared readings on the status of “social movement” in rhetoric, thus preparing to strengthen their works’ contribution by explicating its relationship to social change.


   *3-page position paper on the presence and future of “social movement” in rhetorical studies
   *Assigned Readings (TBA)

Questions should be directed to Christina R. Foust,

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