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Seminar 7: The “Rhetorical Presidency” in the Post-Cold War Era

Seminar Leaders:       

John Murphy, University of Illinois
Mary Stuckey, Georgia State University

As a theoretical construct, the “rhetorical presidency” is bound to a specific historical moment. Its progenitors locate it in the early twentieth century at a confluence of electoral processes, mass media technologies, and a particular cultural understanding of presidential leadership. Implicitly, however, it is also tied to other elements of its historical moment and depends on aspects of a political culture mired in the cold war including assumptions regarding the normative value of public consensus, the homogeneity of political leadership, the rationality of deliberation, and the probability that negotiating parties can make agreements, absent bad faith and worse deliberative practices. It also posits a unified nation-state and traditional communicative media.

This seminar begins with the need to reconsider our understanding of the rhetorical presidency in a post-cold war world and the altered context it provides for the exercise of presidential leadership. Internationally, the number of influential actors has proliferated while the nation-state has declined. Domestically, a polarized electorate, a weakened political party system, continued economic instability, and the expansion of media platforms have forged important changes in the mechanisms available for presidential governance. The seminar will address both substantive and methodological questions, discussing how the context and practice of presidential rhetorical leadership has changed and what critical tools are best suited to develop our understanding of those changes. We will be particularly interested in examining the need to rethink presidential rhetoric and the rhetorical presidency given current international, political, institutional, technological, and epistemological contexts.

The seminar will begin with discussion of the state of our understanding of the rhetorical presidency and move to consideration of campaigns, governance and policy leadership, the president as an institutional actor, the effects of media technologies, and the critical methods best suited to apprehending presidential rhetoric in these contexts. Within that broad set of aims, the seminar will focus on the specific interests of participants. In that spirit, we will allot time for the discussion of pedagogy and the creation and collection of syllabi, as well for the creation and refining of paper and panel proposals suitable for conference submission.

Tentative readings will draw from Karyln Kohrs Campbell, Jeffrey Tulis, Jeffrey Drury, Darrell Enck-Wanzer, Keith Erickson, Cara Finnegan, Martin Medhurst, Shawn Parry-Giles, Trevor Parry-Giles, Kristina horn Sheer, Karrin Vasby Anderson, Michael Steudman, Mary Stuckey, and David Zarefsky.

Question should be directed to John Murphy, johnmurphy3@gmail.com


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