File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1997/bhaskar.9708, message 3

Date: Fri, 01 Aug 1997 06:19:53 -0400
Subject: BHA: Rhetoric of Science

This may interest some of you.

Date:    Wed, 30 Jul 1997 19:08:38 -0400
From:    "N. Lerman, H-SCI-MED-TECH" <>
Subject: REVIEW: Rhetoric of Science

H-NET book reviews may be reproduced for scholarly purposes as long as the
copyright information is maintained (see note following review). --NL

Published by  (April, 1997)

Alan G. Gross and William M. Keith, editors. _Rhetorical
Hermeneutics: Invention and Interpretation in the Age of Science_.
Albany:  State University of New York Press, 1997.  Notes and
indexes. $19.95 (paper), ISBN 0-7914-3110-X.

Review for H-Rhetor by J.D.H. Amador, Ph.D. <>,
Santa Rosa Junior College

_Rhetorical Hermeneutics_ is a fascinating collection of essays
assessing the theoretical foundations, critical strengths and
weaknesses, achievements of and challenges facing the movement known
as the "rhetoric of science."  The volume is presented as a
debate-in-print, an on-going conversation among participants who are
asked to address key theoretical issues at work in their rhetorical
interpretations of scientific texts and practices.

"Rhetoric of science" is a movement within rhetorical studies
aspiring to a disciplinary equivalent of "history of science" and
"philosophy of science."  Its contributors are conversant with
issues in the fields of speech communication, literary theory and
hermeneutics, and science studies.  Its origins are recent, its
contours and practices taking shape over only the last twenty-five
years or so.  Indeed, its beginnings can be traced to two
interdisciplinary conferences sponsored by the Speech Communication
Association in 1970 which resulted in an appeal for the constitution
of "a theory of rhetoric suitable to twentieth-century concepts and
needs" (p. 3).  As the editors of this current volume suggest, this
conference anticipated a number of important issues now facing
rhetorical theory, particularly regarding its scope and
philosophical foundations.

What has happened in the intervening years is a transformation of
rhetoric from a technique of composition to a universal hermeneutic.
In other words, rhetoric, by taking seriously its Aristotelian
definition as "the faculty of observing in any given case the
available means of persuasion," has come to understand the function
of language, indeed knowledge itself, as governed by concerns of
interpretation and selection evidence and warrants, adaptation to
norms of inquiry and audience, presumptions regarding the nature and
function not only of presentation of ideas, but indeed of the

What this extension has effectively done is to question objectivist
epistemological foundations of inquiry.  Appeal to logical
positivism, Cartesian epistemology of subject-object split,
effacement of the role of observer, are now seen as rhetorical
discursive practices that function within systems of power and
pursue inquiry within accepted values and under a particular
construct of Truth.  This critique does not lead to a radical
relativism, but instead exposes the underlying, understated and
often overlooked norms and values governing the field of inquiry.
It makes us aware of the function of analogy and metaphor, metonymy,
synecdoche, the importance of an assumed world-view, the 'usefulness'
of both the inquiry itself and its results to others, in all
strategies and productivities of knowledge.  The 'rhetoric of
science' works within such a view to make us aware of these
strategies not just within the human or social sciences, but even
within the soft (biology) and hard (physics) sciences.

The question which this volume squarely faces is whether this
'globalization' of rhetoric is both justifiable and useful in its
resulting critical practices, taking as its test case the 'extreme'
position of the 'rhetoric of science.'

Gaonkar, in his introductory essay (a revision and elaboration of
"The Idea of Rhetoric in the Rhetoric of Science" first published by
the _Southern Communication Journal_ in Summer, 1993) fires the
first volley, a broadside condemnation of rhetoric as a
hermeneutical enterprise.  This essay is thick, difficult at times
to understand, and is complex enough to warrant the large and
diverse number of responses it generates.  If it can be summarized,
which I fear to do, the argument seems to make at least the
following points:  1) The traditional formation of rhetoric as a
productive discipline meant to help in the generation of
performances makes it problematic as an interpretive hermeneutic. 2)
As a consequence of its productive basis, its terminology and theory
are "thin," i.e., its central terms (topic, enthymeme, persuasion,
genre) are far too vague, and can be used with far too few
restraints, enabling it to 'go global.'  3) This 'globalization'
occasions a disciplinary anxiety, since, as a hermeneutic, this new
rhetorical understanding is essentially parasitic, dependent upon
other discourse domains for its operation.  4) Its origins as a
productive art directed toward specific civic fora bring with it an
outmoded and inappropriate ideology of human agency incapable of
confronting other forces at work in the generation of discourse,
such as economics, subconscious, politics, material forms
communication distribution, etc... (cf., pp. 6-7).

He offers as examples of the kinds of difficulties encountered by
this 'ill-conceived' rhetorical hermeneutics the works of John
Campbell, Alan Gross and Lawrence Prelli:  Campbell is accused of
focusing far too much upon the model of 'Darwin as hero' (ideology
of human agency), Gross is accused of not identifying the
particularly rhetorical aspects of his critical analysis of
_Narratio Prima_ (terminological and theoretical 'thinness'), and
Prelli is accused of causing the text to disappear beneath
rhetorical taxonomy (and, actually, of being 'laborious').  He
concludes by asserting that "_globalization severely undermines
rhetoric's self-representation as a situated practical art_
[emphasis his]," a warning he has voiced in a number of other works
("Object and method in rhetorical criticism:  From Wichelns to Leff
and McGee," _Western Journal of Speech Communication_, 54 (1990), p.
290-316, and "Rhetoric and its double," in: H. Simons, ed., _The
Rhetorical Turn_ (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1990).

To speak frankly, it would behoove the reader to skip this first,
dense essay:  Not only does the response by Michael Leff do a good
job of summarizing its significant points, but the introductory
essay by Gross and Keith sets the stage and describes the
proceedings nicely.  It is also the case that in the final essay of
this volume where he responds to his critics, Gaonkar does an
excellent job of clarifying the major points he wishes to make,
points easily lost in his initial attempt to do too much with the
introductory essay.

What next ensues is a brilliant series of responses, both
'dissensions' and 'extensions.' Leff's essay "The Idea of Rhetoric:
A Humanist's Response to Gaonkar," suggests that the distinction
between production and interpretation which Gaonkar claims exists in
the practices of the ancients simply does not bare up under
scrutiny.  Campbell, in "Strategic Reading:  Rhetoric, Intention,
and Interpretation," is gracious to a fault, submitting that he
indeed is guilty of embracing far too fully an 'ideology of human
agency,' but suggests that his recent works (of which Gaonkar is
fully aware and to which he makes reference) are more balanced in
their view of intertextuality and the impact of earlier discourses
upon Darwin's work.  Furthermore, he simply thinks it important that
we continue to recognize the significant impact and influence which
individuals can have upon history.  Gross, in "What If We're Not
Producing Knowledge? Critical Reflections on the Rhetorical
Criticism of Science," counters that he is indeed indebted to
classical rhetoric and its insights, and that classical rhetoric is
not nearly as limiting as Gaonkar suggests.

Carolyn Miller, "Classical Rhetoric without Nostalgia:  A Response
to Gaonkar," takes Gaonkar to task for not being clear with his own
terms:  just what does he mean when he suggests that the classical
rhetorical vocabulary cannot be 'translated' effectively from a
vocabulary arising from practical and productive interests into a
vocabulary for critical analytical interpretation?  'Translation' is
indeed possible, and what's more, justifiable.

To the editors' credit, a number of works follow which, while not
perhaps explicitly responding to these criticisms, nevertheless
derive value from some of Gaonkar's ideas and want to extend them
further.  James Jasinski, "Instrumentalism, Contextualism and
Interpretation in Rhetorical Criticism,"  accepts Gaonkar's critique
of the interpretive closure of 'ideology of human agency' and argues
for the necessity of a 'thicker' theoretical and analytical
vocabulary which considers a greater complex of contextual features
('performative traditions') of discourse practices.  William Keith,
in "Engineering Rhetoric," offers an analogy to 'reverse
engineering' which, as a pragmatic discipline interested in
reconstructing the means by which an object was designed, may have
important implications for the critical practices of rhetoric. David
Kaufer, interestingly, also views rhetoric as a design art, similar
to architecture, and in "From _Tekhne_ to Technique:  Rhetoric As a
Design Art" offers a model which seeks to redress the failings of
rhetorical-critical practices as Gaonkar sees them.  Finally, Steve
Fuller suggests that, according to Gaonkar, the "Rhetoric of
Science" as is currently practiced either becomes too rhetorical and
therefore less accessible to science, or more provocative and
critical but then less 'unique' as rhetoric.  In the face of this,
perhaps the rhetoric of science should conceive of itself less as a
theoretical means of interpretation and more as an agent of change
in the way science is practiced.

The book's final section is introduced with "An Elliptical
Postscript" by Thomas Farrell which tries to note the value of the
contributions made by all parties, but also notes some of the
limitations which have been uncovered through this discussion, and
which need to be overcome.  Finally, Gaonkar himself addresses his
critiques, and as a result, I believe I can adventure what it all
comes down to by extracting a quotation.  For Gaonkar:

   "First, a certain ideology of human agency is operative in
   rhetorical studies; and, that ideology underwrites the
   intentionalist reading strategy in rhetorical criticism.  Second,
   Campbell's early essays show in a paradigmatic fashion how the
   intentionalist reading strategy can lead to the deferral of the
   text.  Third, the privileging of the text is a taken-for-granted
   background assumption shared by many contemporary rhetorical
   critics ... [T]o insist on individual consciousness and its
   contents as the originary site of public discourse (including the
   discourse of science), when that discourse is produced and
   populated with significations within a matrix of
   technologies--literary, social and material--that elude the reach
   and imprint of the subject, is surely to cripple the critical
   enterprise before it gets off the ground."

It is only when one gets through to the end of the book that I
suggest one then turn to the criticisms of Dierdre McCloskey ("Big
Rhetoric, Little Rhetoric:  Gaonkar on the Rhetoric of Science") and
Charles Willard ("Rhetoric's Lot").  The former is a scathing,
withering, and utterly accurate critique of Gaonkar's introductory
article in which, as McCloskey points out:  Gaonkar through
definitional caveat excludes a plethora of works as not 'truly'
rhetorical (therein also begging the question), and then condemns
rhetoric of science as having few participants; his condemnation of
the movement is comprised primarily of generalized, opinionated
assertion with no evidence offered in support; he faults one critic
(Prelli) for doing exactly what he explicitly desires (thick
_rhetorical_ readings); he rejects globalization on the basis of "if
something means everything, it means nothing," a thoroughly
fallacious argument; he accuses rhetoric's 'thinness' of not being
falsifiable, not only an ideological appeal implying the superiority
of science, but a standard of evaluation which the philosophy of
science itself has rejected; he himself participates in the
'intentionalist' fallacy of the 'ideology of human agency' when he
critiques the critics he condemns; and many others.  Willard's
critique focuses upon the broad condemnation of the "politics of
recognition" which Gaonkar accuses the rhetoric of science of
perpetuating in its attempt to legitimate its 'globalized.'  The
two of these essays, in my view, effectively undermine Gaonkar's
introductory essay, leaving the reader with the appropriate
question:  Why bother with Gaonkar at all, and why read any further?

If for no other reason, the answer is simply:  because the total
reading experience is breathtaking.  Gaonkar's supporters offer some
interesting and important correctives to rhetorical analytical
practices, correctives which should be addressed and adopted,
particularly with respect to the impact of extra-textual factors
governing the context of the production of any discourse.  But even
more, the fascinating aspect about this volume is that, because all
of the contributors appear to be aware of the essays of their
counterparts in this volume, the discussion becomes dynamic,
invigorating, challenging, as each contributor impacts upon the work
of the others around her/him.  This is no (typical) slap-dash
hodge-podge of essays loosely centered around a general concept and
whose relationship to one another must spelled out by the editor's
introductory overview.  Rather, we walk into a forum and are witness
to a lively debate where the participants respond to each other,
posture at one another, are forced to clarify their positions, hone
their critiques, offer constructive models.  The result is exciting,
because what we find happening is the transformation of a critical
praxis brought about through a sometimes wrenching assessment of its
own failures and blind spots, but also through an inspiring
celebration of the profound insights, impacts and challenges it has
contributed through its efforts.  This, alone, guarantees the
current and future strength and promise of "rhetoric of science."

This volume should be of particular interest to members of H-Nexa
and H-Rhetor lists, practitioners of the general movement of the
'rhetoric of inquiry,' as well as historians and philosophers of
science.  But I would suggest that such an obvious identification of
audience is not enough:  The fascinating experience brought about by
the public discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of a new and
promising discipline, the honesty of the debate and transformation
of the participants through it, is something that will be of benefit
to anyone who is wondering what the current and future promise of
interdisciplinarity, the humanities, and higher education is and
will look like.

     Copyright (c) 1997 by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work may
     be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit is
     given to the author and the list. For other permission, please


End of H-SCI-MED-TECH Digest - 29 Jul 1997 to 30 Jul 1997

Marshall Feldman, Associate Professor		      
Graduate Curriculum in Community Planning and Area Development	401/874-5953
The University of Rhode Island					401/874-5511 (FAX)
94 West Alumni Avenue, Suite 1; Kingston, RI 02881-0806

     --- from list ---


Driftline Main Page


Display software: ArchTracker © Malgosia Askanas, 2000-2005