Rhetorical Histories of Comparison

An Archeology of the Comparative Act

Authored by: Lance Cummings

The Routledge Handbook of Comparative World Rhetorics

Print publication date:  July  2020
Online publication date:  June  2020

Print ISBN: 9780367409029
eBook ISBN: 9780367809768
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter examines the role of comparison in invention and inquiry, particularly in the classical theorization of topoi and the more recent modes of discourse. In classical rhetoric, comparison is not simply a topic, but a mode of inquiry that shapes the canon of invention in particular agonistic and dualistic ways. But comparison is not a stable term or methodology, but a mode of inquiry that is shaped by social and historical contexts and their surrounding epistemologies. The shift to faculty epistemologies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries rearticulates comparison as a way to organize difference and articulate universality, eventually becoming a “mode of discourse” at the turn of the nineteenth century. These sedimentations, or habits of thought, still influence how comparison is taught and received. Understanding the archeology of the comparative act will help both scholars and instructors better rearticulate the comparative relationships on which we build new knowledge.

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