Rhetoric in Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Authored by: C. Jan Swearingen

The Handbook of Communication History

Print publication date:  December  2012
Online publication date:  January  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415892599
eBook ISBN: 9780203149119
Adobe ISBN: 9781136514319


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Recent studies in the history of rhetoric and rhetorical historiography have amplified a variety of definitions of rhetoric, historiography, the history of rhetoric, and the rhetoric of history (Gaillet and Horner 2010; Walzer and Beard 2009; Swearingen and Schiappa 2009; Zarefsky 1998). What is a history of rhetoric in China, or in the ancient Near East, or in the Hebrew scriptures, within these and other cultures that present no direct parallels to Western Greco-Roman concepts or practices of rhetoric? George Kennedy’s Comparative Rhetoric (1998) was among the first studies that explored these problems. Without completely abandoning the practice of looking for counterparts to classical rhetorical genres and terms, Kennedy surveyed the “rhetorics” of non-Western languages and cultures as well as the ancient world’s non-Greek or Roman traditions, including Egypt and the Biblical cultures of the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament. Additional studies have continued to advance the study of ancient non-Greco-Roman rhetorics (Baca and Villanueva 2010; Swearingen and Mao 2000; Lipson and Binkley 2004, 2008). We continue to expand our study of the internal self-understandings that other cultures have concerning uses of language that the West has defined as rhetoric. Imposing the categories of Greco-Roman rhetoric upon debates recounted in Chinese philosophical dialogues, Zulu ceremonial rhetoric, or the epic histories of diverse cultural traditions can distort our understanding of how those cultures understood themselves, their history, literature, and language. Recent scholarship increasingly combines Western models with the terms and understandings employed within the culture being studied, often in dialogue with scholars native to that culture. Combining an emic with an etic (Pike 1997) approach to indigenous rhetorics has proved valuable, improved our perspectives and encouraged us to read in both directions (Swearingen 2002). No longer does the assumption prevail that an outsider, etic, approach is objective, and an insider, emic, approach more subjective. There is increasing agreement that outsiders and insiders to a culture are equally capable of producing valuable accounts of their cultural practices, particularly in consultation with each other (Harris 1976).

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