Plenary Paper Abstracts

Following the tradition of the Public Address Conference, major papers will be presented in plenary session.  After an extended opportunity to present their original research, respondents will provide their responses, and then the schedule offers time for audience interaction.

The main papers to be presented are as follows:

Tom Goodnight
“Networking Authority and Possibility: Kaleidescapes of Contemporary Public Address”
The war on women, attacks on voting rights, denigration of labor, ugly xenophobia, bigoted posturing, moral hazard and income inequality regrettably grace blogposts and headlines these days. It is as if the excesses of the 19th century industrial age have splashed messages remixed onto the 21st century information economy.  Public discourses now wind down a war, crawl through a recession, and manufacture endless faux debates. Auto-poetic communications matrices simulate populist rancor cross-hatched against smart progressive reprise.  Meanwhile, big data, brain science, and media software yoke publics to ever more mobile platforms of interaction, surveillance and control. Just as the advents of print, movable type, and mass media changed the mix of public address and political economy, so too our own communications revolution alters the diverse assemblies, balances and circulation of contemporary address.  This essay pushes the possibilities of rhetorical history to examine the authorizing trajectories of network imaginaries that light up circuits of public discourse. How are such eventfulkaleidescapes to be interpreted, understood and appreciated or defused, dismantled, and interred?

Leroy Dorsey
“Myth, Memory, and the Invocation of Presidential Authority”
What is at stake rhetorically when presidents invoke the memory of their predecessors? How should we grasp the significance and the problems with this form of public address? I argue that presidents shape their authority by invoking other presidents.  Specifically, sitting presidents mythologize a past president’s memory to help them frame and empower their agendas. I plan to examine Theodore Roosevelt’s 1905 speech where he invoked Abraham Lincoln as a mythic memory to address race at the turn of the 20th century. Also, I tentatively plan to examine Barack Obama’s 2011 speech where he summoned Theodore Roosevelt’s mythic memory as a remedy for America’s sputtering economy. Ultimately, I seek to illuminate how chief executives enhance their authority by shaping a mythic, public memory about their predecessors.

Angela Ray
“Imaginary Travels: Mapping the World in the Nineteenth-Century U.S. Lyceum”
From the 1820s, when lyceum promoter Josiah Holbrook encouraged mutual-improvement societies to produce local surveys and maps, U.S. lyceums participated in generating knowledge about the world, both physical and cultural. Some nineteenth-century lyceum participants collected local rocks and minerals to compare with natural materials found elsewhere, and others debated questions of state boundaries or U.S. foreign policy. Before and after the Civil War, lyceums sponsored lectures about geology, international travel, or the history and peoples of countries across the globe. Most prior scholarship on the U.S. lyceum has emphasized its nation-building qualities: that is, its promotion, through verbal expression and through regular, ritualistic practice, of a perception of Americanness that yet bore the hallmarks of the rising middle class of white Protestant New England. This paper, by contrast, investigates the ways that lyceum practices integrated or juxtaposed the national and the global, creating and repeating authorizing discourses that situated self and nation within an international context. It focuses on three rhetorical artifacts across three decades: from the 1840s, Holbrook’s pamphlets promoting the geographic education of children; from the 1850s, the lecture “The Philosophy of Travel,” delivered by journalist and world traveler Bayard Taylor on his lyceum lecture tours; and from 1867, the lecture “History of Maps,” delivered by schoolteacher and former Confederate cartographer Jedediah Hotchkiss at his local lyceum in Staunton, Virginia. Tracing the ways that these texts configured local, regional, national, and global belonging, this paper discloses instructional processes that proffered to nineteenth-century Americans a method of rhetorical reading, a perspective through which they could envision the world and their own place in shaping its history.

Karma Chavez
“AIDS Knows No Borders”: Activist Rhetoric Against the US Ban on HIV+ Immigration
The US formally banned the migration of HIV positive people to the country in 1990. Given the urgency of the need for knowledge and research collaboration across international borders, and the US’s leading role in HIV/AIDS research at the time, the ban would prove a tremendous and potentially fatal roadblock to knowledge production and generation. This crisis intensified during two of the International AIDS Conferences in 1990 and 1991, both to be held in the US, and both protested heavily by an organized cadre of international AIDS activists. Their protests led to a 22-year boycott of the US by the International AIDS Conference, which was only broken in 2012 after the US lifted its ban on HIV positive migration in 2010. In this paper, I examine the key rhetorical strategies AIDS activists used to challenge US immigration law during the 1990 and 1991 protests. Their strategies offer insight into the function of rhetoric in building broad-based coalitions, as well as into the unique characteristics of AIDS activist rhetoric during a time when for most, AIDS was a death sentence.

Robert Asen
“Mapping the Limits of Expert Authority in Local Deliberations over Education Policy”
Public education in the U.S. has long been considered a means of conveying both a specific subject matter but also a training in the practices of democracy. More recently, calls for education reform have supplanted the democratic imperative of U.S. public education with a market-based plan for success that draws on standards and high-stakes testing. This new accountability regime presents challenges for local school-board members, who retain the responsibility for curricular, financial, and personnel decisions affecting the day-to-day activities of a school, even as state and federal authorities have introduced stricter mandates. In this presentation, I discuss how board members negotiated four challenges in their deliberations about education policy: ideology, inequality, trust, and expertise. I explain these challenges in relation to three Wisconsin school districts: Beloit, Elmbrook, and West Bend.

Lisa M. Corrigan
“Mourning King: Memory, Black Rage, and the Shaping of Black Power”
This essay looks at the ways in which Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination was used as a generative rhetorical resource of black rage to help shape the direction of the Black Power movement beyond 1968. Using the speeches and autobiographies of Black Power leaders, I argue that King’s assassination provided context and clarity for the Black Power movement, justifying a more militant and assertive identity for black activists working in opposition to an increasingly hostile federal government. King’s own militancy on Vietnam near the end of his life, shaped in large part by the Black Power movement, allowed Black Power leaders to mobilize King’s memory in the service of the North American Third World Left.

Leah Ceccarelli
“Pioneers, Prophets and Evildoers: Mapping the Authority of Science in George W. Bush’s Public Address”
Censured by over 15,000 U.S. scientists for disregarding, manipulating, and misrepresenting scientific knowledge when making and communicating policy decisions, President George W. Bush was accused of leading an unprecedented “Republican war on science” during his administration. A look at how the ethos of science was developed in Bush’s public speeches while in office reveals that the 43rd President of the United States presented a complicated view of the authority of science. Sometimes he celebrated scientists as prophets of a better age who embody America’s pioneering spirit to lead the world in advances. At other times, he characterized scientists as plagued with uncertainty while engaged in debate and supposition over complex matters. At yet other times, he identified scientists as amoral or even immoral agents who must be constrained from taking America down a dark and dangerous path.  Mapping the authority of science as presented in George W. Bush’s presidential speeches, assessing those portrayals, and contrasting them with how other recent presidents have depicted science in their public address, this paper examines the contours of the fraught relationship between Bush and the scientific community as well as between that community and the larger American public.

Christian Lundberg
“Agreeing to Perpetually Disagree—Stasis, Enjoyment and Democratic Authority”
Ideally, democratic discourse garners a degree of authority in public life by forging public sentiment around moments of negotiated strategic consensus based on a complex interplay of institutional, political, and identity based interests. In this formulation, democracy works because it creates the possibility, as Dewey puts it, of creating formations of the collective will based on the sometimes raucous give and take of democratic discourse—though not everyone can be happy with all the specifics of an outcome negotiated in this way, there is at least (ideally) a form of democratic satisfaction in the idea that a compromise position serves some of the interests of the majority of stakeholders in a democratic conversation. But what if the basic incentives that motivate this form of collective will formation change, so that democratic interlocutors do not find satisfaction in compromise, but instead find pleasure in staging or performing a public politics of disagreement? What if, in an even more dire outcome for democratic life, the basic incentives that make democracy a vehicle for compromise reverse, and democratic interlocutors begin to take pleasure, or rather, find an enjoyment in staging disagreement that is more profoundly attractive than actually negotiating solutions to pressing problems? Thus, this paper takes up the theme of “mapping authority” by inquiring into the affective conditions of contemporary public address. I would like to explore the implications of a shift in democratic discourse that has altered the ways contemporary public culture experiences the affective relationship between democratic authority and argumentative stasis. Specifically, I would like to diagnose the rhetorical processes at play in American democratic discourse that have  increasingly organized public life around an affective configuration that is less invested in the pragmatic possibilities of well-wrought democratic consensus than enjoying the fact of public disagreement. Here I would like to frame a change in the public understanding of stasis that has moved it from a starting point for consensus based problem solving to an end point be inhabited and displayed and ultimately deployed as a tactic for base-oriented politics. Borrowing from contemporary work in rhetoric and psychoanalysis—specifically focusing on the concept of “enjoyment” — and focusing on select contemporary discourses regarding “political partisanship,” I would like to map the relationship between this new affective configuration for democratic stasis and its implications for American politics and public address.

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