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Colloquium Archive

Jenny Edbauer Rice

Name: Jenny Edbauer Rice, University of Missouri

Presentation Title: “Exceptional Subjects: Public Rhetoric and the Topos of Democracy"

Date: November 5, 2009


Listen closely to current public debates about controversial issues. Whether it's the scuffle over healthcare reform or more local debates about whether your town needs another Wal-Mart, many public debates tend to invent their arguments through a common rhetorical appeal to quasi-democratic values. This appeal, which Rice dubs a "topos of democracy," frames crisis in terms of a struggle between the beleaguered many against the selfish or dishonorable interests of a few. Many of our public issues are posed in vernacular discourse as issues where the welfare of "the People" is threatened. However, public discourse invented across a democratic topos actually has a paradoxical effect in terms of encouraging public engagement. After outlining the features of this rhetorical appeal, Rice goes on to imagine an alternative deliberative practice that avoids the shortcomings of such quasi-democratic discourse.