The Blogora: The Rhetoric Society of America


James Berlin, History and Historiography

Submitted by syntaxfactory on April 23, 2013 - 7:56am

More and more people are reminding me that James Berlin was a better theorist than a historian -- which is doubtless true, given what limited access he had to archival materials and the fact that, beyond Kitzhaber and some largely hagiographical disciplinary histories in communication, even the vocabulary for writing the history of 20th century rhetoric was still unformulated.

But even if the historical claims are weak, some of the theoretical claims still strike me as valuable, most notably the discussion of rhetorics (and doubly of rhetorical pedagogy) as "cognitivist, expressivist, and social-epistemic rhetoric."

It's on my mind because last week, Nathan Johnson visited UMD, and we took an opportunity to dine with David Gore and Elizabeth Nelson in the Communication program at UMD. In the last few years, Gore and I have argued about something that actually came to the fore the first time Jim Aune visited Duluth: that in my book, the study of rhetoric is the study of language (and by that I am wide enough to mean "semiotic systems of all sorts), while for Aune and Gore, it was the study of people.

In terms of pedagogy, then, Gore strikes me as assuming a position closest to what, in composition studies, would have been called expressivist -- rhetorical practice for the discovery and expression and fulfillment of the self. (I've always been more social-epistemic with a healthy dose of power.)

This raises the question, though, of whether it is fair to use Berlin's vocab to describe my communication colleagues, or whether there is a similar schema in Communication to break down comm scholarly and pedagogical orientations...

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