Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Once the world around you is ‘made strange’ and the taken for granted symbolism is exposed, it is possible to develop a new vision, or frame of reference to view societal practices. Once one starts communicating this new vision one might be move into the delivery of rhetoric.

“…Aristotle…defined rhetoric as ‘the faculty [power] of discovering in the particular case what are the available means of persuasion’… A rhetorical perspective focuses on purposeful and consequential efforts to influence society’s attitudes and ways of behaving, through communication, which includes public debate, protests, news stories, advertising, and other modes of symbolic action (Campbell & Huxman, 2003)”(Cox, 2006, p.53).

This form of rhetoric is critical, questioning the common sense or evident structures, symbols and relationships between social phenomena. It is the actors efforts at taking symbolic power from the current power holders and transferring with the use of effective persuasion.

In the study of critical rhetoric, Cox claims that the source of a new critical rhetoric is an antagonism. In the recognition of the limits of an idea, ideology or worldview an opposing idea can begin to develop and flourish. Alternative voices and viewpoints begin to grow in the cracks where the old beliefs or ideas fall short of explaining social or natural phenomena. Cox recognizes four historical antagonisms that have led to current critical rhetoric in the area of environment and society (p.40):

• Preservation and conservation of nature versus exploitation of it

• Human health versus business and manufacturing activity

• Environmental justice versus a vision of nature as a place apart from the places where people live, work, learn and play

• Protection of the global commons and communities versus economic globalization

Studying the effectiveness of the modes of persuasion (protests, advocacy campaigns, online debates etc) is an entire field of study on it’s own. The approaches that environmentalists have used since the 1970s have garnered a great deal of debate. In particular, the use of radical tactics has generated both criticism and complements. The approach is important though, as much as the messenger. This is where Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic capital as credit is most helpful. The person with a great deal of symbolic capital is much more likely to gain audience and acceptance of his or her ideas. It is also important to recognize here that it is not enough to question the norms, a new theory that can replace the old one is of utmost importance.

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