Active Voices: Composing a Rhetoric for Social Movements by Sharon McKenzie Stevens

By Sharon McKenzie Stevens

Explores the connection among social events and rhetorical concept and perform.

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It regards society, whether democratic or authoritarian, as engaged in the ongoing activity of its own self-production. This view depicts society as a continuous struggle over resources, including symbolic resources, between those in and those out of power. The work of Giddens (1979), Etzioni (1968), J. Scott (1990), and Touraine (1981), among others, rejects the position that social actors are social dopes unaware of the operations of institutions that produce and reproduce society. 1 These portrayals of the contest between society’s “ins” and “outs” find their most evident manifestation in social movements that seek control of society’s resources.

Finally, Mary Ann Cain witnesses how a learning community based on an alternative black culture uses performative rhetoric to invite new participants into relationships that challenge hegemonic education practices, practices that are based on transience and the erasure of bodily presence within space. In a way that resonates with the premises of the progressive education movement, all these chapters indicate how the relationships we develop while learning inform the way we more broadly participate in society, the way we understand our own agency, and the way we envision possibilities for historical development.

Burke’s theory of form (1941, 1950, 1953), although suggestive for accounts of symbolic action, was less sensitive to ongoing processes whose fluidity of fits, starts, and unanticipated turns defied clear classification. More formally, the discipline of rhetoric in the United States changed radically in the last half of the 1960s. Edwin Black’s Rhetorical Criticism: A Study in Method (1965) tolled the death knell for neo-Aristotelianism, which had been the dominant methodology for critics of public address.

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