Rethinking Rhetorical Education in Times of Demagoguery

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Historical efforts to thwart demagoguery through rhetorical pedagogy have inadvertently abetted further demagoguery. Highlighting three American episodes of pedagogic backfire, this essay interrogates how teachers of rhetoric have fueled resentments, upheld logics of exclusion, or presumed an exceptional immunity to demagogic cooptation. Theorizing demagoguery and democracy as reciprocal forces that operate through the same rhetorical and institutional structures, this essay advises an attitudinal reorientation toward teaching rhetoric that emphasizes spontaneity and vigilance in the face of demagoguery’s continual infiltration of discursive practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)297-314
Number of pages18
JournalRhetoric Society Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 27 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language


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