Rhetoric, Discourse and the Hermeneutics of Public Speech

Martin, James. 2022. Rhetoric, Discourse and the Hermeneutics of Public Speech. Politics, 42(2), pp. 170-184. ISSN 0263-3957 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

What insights and advantages do rhetorical approaches offer over other methods of exploring social and political discourse? This article aims to clarify the contribution of rhetorical analysis by reflecting on the distinctive, hermeneutic dimensions of public speech. Public speaking is, accordingly, viewed as a practice of assembling interpretations to offer argumentative stances for speakers and their audiences. Central here is the temporal dimension to making an interpretation. Analysing rhetoric involves, minimally, grasping discourse, on the one hand, as concretely situated in response to proximate dilemmas and, on the other hand, as a medium to move beyond the situation towards a future. Following John Caputo’s hermeneutic reading of Derrida, I argue that, examined rhetorically, public speech enacts a discursive ‘negotiation’ of past and future, intertwining conditional – and hence partially calculable – positions with an ‘unconditional promise’ to prepare for what comes. Although compatible with other approaches, rhetorical analysis is uniquely attuned to this intrinsically ethical and political quality of discursive action.

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Special Issue: Rhetorical approaches in political studies


discourse, hermeneutics, temporality, Caputo, Derrida

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19 May 2020Accepted
6 July 2020Published Online
May 2022Published

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Date Deposited:

02 Jun 2020 12:01

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28 Apr 2022 03:55

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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