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Rhetoric and Social Protest

Charles J. Stewart

Subject Linguistics
Communication Studies » Rhetorical Studies

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


Research in rhetoric and social protest strives to discover how organized, uninstitutional forces use symbols and symbolic actions to promote or resist change in societal norms and values. Its focus ranges from interpersonal to mass communication, from the colonial period to the present, from moderate to radical elements, and from formal discourses to the rhetoric of the streets. Until the latter half of the twentieth century, research in the rhetoric of social protest lay dormant in the field of communication, while rhetorical scholars pursued traditional studies of great men speaking well in times of crisis (→  Rhetorical Studies ). However, studies of protest rhetoric developed rapidly in the late 1960s with the rise of the civil rights movement in the US, threats of confrontational “black power” advocates, and widespread protests opposing the war in Vietnam (→  Civil Rights Movement and the Media ). Rhetorical scholars could no longer ignore threatening protestors, who were in their streets, on their campuses, and in their classrooms. Researchers, at first, viewed conflict and confrontation with its attendant strident rhetoric as problems to be avoided or resolved through reasoning and locating common ground (→  Conflict Resolution ; Social Conflict and Communication ). Problems (controversies rather than conflicts) were perceived as communication breakdowns or failures to ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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