Monday, December 3, 2007

Teddy Bear Discipline

Over the past week there's been a little controversy in Sudan about a British woman who teaches in the country, and who allowed her class to name the class teddy bear Muhammad. This is illegal in Sudan because it is an insult to the prophet. She was recently sentenced to 15 days in jail, provoking protests in the country about the leniency of her sentence which could have been as high as six months and forty lashings. The woman was just pardoned by the president and sent back to England, apparently in an effort to avoid any more negative international reaction towards the Sudanese government.

What I think is especially interesting about this situation has less to do with the international politics involved in the pardon, and more to do with statements made by the defense lawyer for the British teacher. Asked to comment on the possible public reaction to the pardon, the lawyer said he doesn't expect any more protests because: "If the government doesn't want people to go into the streets, they won't go into the streets. That's how it works here." This seems to offer a way of thinking about the relationship between publicity and politics in this area of the world in a way that's much different from the American media's typical portrayal. If you remember the Dutch cartoon outcry, that was all about public violence and people taking to the streets to show a sort of indigenous animosity to Western infidelity to religious symbols. At least in Sudan, however, I think this quote shows a certain cynicism towards the efficacy of public protest. It perhaps goes so far as to suggest that protest in Sudan has become either a sort of strictly governmentally regulated popular catharsis, or perhaps even a governmentally manufactured mode of political dialogue with the people. In this latter case, protest against the government would serve as a legitimating device and disciplinary technique for that government, since the government itself seems to have an important influence on the production of public displays of political sentiment. Rather than assuming a necessary link between this kind of protest and some kind of democratic display or a "voice of the people," it seems like we should think about a more complicated relationship between protest and governmental legitimacy, and especially the predictable way this legitimacy is negotiated on an international stage in the media.

If I remember right, there are some good articles about public political practice in the issue of Public Culture on "Cultures of Democracy" (vol. 19, no. 1), for people who want to think about this more. In the mean time, however, are there any thoughts on the discrepancy between one local Sudanese voice and international media representations of the voice of the people? How should we understand (or speculate on) the function of political protest in Sudan, here?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Liberalism as Secular Comedy

Tomorrow: Public Lecture
Liberalism as Secular Comedy
John McGowan

Thursday, October 4

5:15pm Hardin Hall

Rebecca Crown Center 633 Clark Street

John McGowan is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His scholarly interests include democratic theory and its relationship to postmodernism, the intellectual and the university in our time, and theories and practices of representation. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including Democracy's Children: Intellectuals and the Rise of Cultural Politics, and Hannah Arendt: An Introduction, and he is a co-editor of The Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. McGowan is a founding and active member of UNC's Program in Cultural Studies. The lecture is sponsored by the Center for Global Culture and Communication, the Program in Rhetoric and Public Culture/Department of Communication Studies, the Department of English, and the WCAS Liberalism Reading Group.

For more information, please contact Matt deTar.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The State of the Cluster

To get discussions started this year, I thought we might reflect on the meaning of our new "cluster status" and the meaning of an interdisciplinary program in "Rhetoric and Public Culture."

For example, many scholarly articles deal with the things "rhetoric" can bring to other disciplines and modes of understanding. Among them would be a sharpened toolkit for the analysis of power and action (especially as it appears in texts), an expanded appreciation for argument and civic debate, a study of the inherently unstable and contingent meanings produced in language, and a problematic stance toward objective language in all fields.

On the other hand, "public culture" remains undertheorized. The department website offers one summary that breaks the scholarly "value-added" of the term into three categories: the analysis of publics, of public identity as performed and understood in shared performances and style, and of public agency (especially as it operates in global and marginalized practice).

Any more ideas on what "public culture" might mean for our department? Is this a necessary supplement to "rhetoric" for our cluster, or could we continue in the same manner without the newer title? Finally, what would be the advantage of "public culture" for our cluster program--what could the study of "public culture" bring to fields outside of communication and cultural studies?

Submit, Submit!

Cheesy "Top 10" lists aside, the deadline for RSA abstracts and panel submissions is Saturday, 9/15. Remember also that most regional communication associations have upcoming deadlines, and the Promise of Reason (New Rhetoric) conference proposals are due 9/21.

Welcome back for Fall Term.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Middle Eastern Media Colloquium

Middle Eastern Media(Muslim Media Project, part I)
Friday, May 18, 2007
9:00 AM – 6:00 PM, followed by reception
Location: McCormick Tribune Center Forum
Free and open to the public

This symposium charts and examines a variety of media emerging from the Muslim Middle East and North Africa. We will gather some of the most exciting scholars in the field today, scholars who work from a variety of disciplinary contexts, including anthropology, history, media studies and Middle East studies. Invited speakers will examine Middle Eastern media as they are produced and disseminated within national and regional circuits, and as they become implicated in global ones. We are interested in how many of these media stand in a corrective or adversarial relationship with the avowedly global media (CNN, Hollywood movies). Questions of form (internet, blogs, cartoons, text messaging, etc.) are of as much interest to us as content. Given the vexed relationship of the Muslim world to local and global media, there is a heightened consciousness about the politics of representation in the region. Invited speakers bring their experience in the region to bear on this timely and poorly understood field of inquiry.


9:00 am Coffee
9:15- 9:30 Welcoming remarks.Barbara O’Keefe, Dean, School of Communication
Brian Edwards, Northwestern (English and CLS; conference co-convener)
9:30 – 10:15 Ramez Maluf, Lebanese American University (media studies) and Beirut Institute for Media Arts, “Religion and the Rise of Arab Broadcasting: Islam and Islamic Programming in the Age of Satellite Television in the Arab World”
10:30 – 11:15 Kevin Dwyer, American University of Cairo (anthropology), “Egyptian Political Cartoons: Journalism, Art and Humor in the Public Sphere”
11:30 – 12:15 Roxanne Varzi, University of California, Irvine (anthropology), “Mothers, Martyrdom, Memorials and Media in the Iran-Iraq War”
Lunch break
2:00 – 2:45 Faisal Devji, New School University (history), “Dying on Principle"
3– 3:45 Elizabeth Thompson, University of Virginia (history), “Scarlett O'Hara in Damascus: Cinema and Arab Politics of Late Colonialism”
4 – 4:45 Brian Larkin, Barnard College (anthropology), “Ahmed Deedat and the Form of Islamic Evangelism in Nigeria”
5– 6 Roundtable on Muslim Media. Participants include: Hamid Naficy, Northwestern (radio, TV, film); Yesim Burul Seven, Istanbul Bilgi University, Turkey (media and communications); and symposium speakers
6– 7 Reception with live musicSymposium organized by Brian Edwards (English and Comp Lit Studies) and Dilip Gaonkar (Comm Studies), Northwestern

Bios of speakers

Faisal Devji is associate professor of history at New School University. He received his Ph.D. in intellectual history from Univ of Chicago, and was the head of graduate studies at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London. He is the author of Landscape of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity (2005). Devji is interested in the political thought of modern Islam as well as the transformation of liberal categories and democratic practice in South Asia. His broad concerns are with ethics and violence in a globalized world.

Kevin Dwyer is professor of anthropology at the American University of Cairo, where he has taught since 2001. From 1991-2001, he directed the Institut de Recherches Appliquées in Tunis, working on development projects. Earlier, he headed the Middle East Research Dept at Amnesty International in London. His books include Moroccan Dialogues: Anthropology in Question (1982), Arab Voices: The Human Rights Debate in the Middle East (1991), and Beyond Casablanca: M. A. Tazi, Moroccan Cinema, and Third World Filmmaking (2004).

Brian Larkin is associate professor of anthropology at Barnard College, Columbia University. He writes on the materiality of media technologies and the relationship between media, urbanization and globalization. He is co-editor of Media Worlds: Anthropology on New Terrain (2002). His book Signal and Noise: Media Infrastructure and Urban Culture in Nigeria is forthcoming from Duke in January.

Ramez Maluf is professor of media studies at Lebanese American University in Beirut and director of the Beirut Institute for Media Arts, a forum for collaboration between the academic and professional media communities. A journalist for nearly 20 years, Maluf was editor-in-chief of the Daily Star, Lebanon’s English language daily, from 1984-86, and from 1987-92 of the Athens-based Middle East Times, a weekly covering the region.

Hamid Naficy is John Evans Professor of Communication at Northwestern. His books include The Making of Exile Cultures: Iranian Television in L.A. (1993) and An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking (2001). He has edited Iran Media Index; Home, Exile, Homeland; and Otherness and the Media. He has produced numerous educational films and experimental videos. His history of Iranian cinema is in press.

Yesim Burul Seven is an adjunct professor of Media and Communications at Istanbul Bilgi University, Turkey. In 2006-07, she is a visiting scholar at Northwestern’s Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies. At Northwestern, she teaches courses on Turkish cinema and media.

Elizabeth Thompson is associate professor of History at the University of Virginia. She is the author of Colonial Citizens: Republican Rights, Paternal Privilege, and Gender in French Syria and Lebanon (2000). Her current research focuses on citizenship in the late colonial Middle East, including social movements, cinema, and state building. She is a 2005 Carnegie Scholar.

Roxanne Varzi is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of Warring Souls: Youth, Media, and Martyrdom in Post-Revolution Iran (Duke UP, 2006). She is currently working on a documentary entitled Making and Marketing Martyrs on cultural production and the Iran-Iraq war.

Sponsored by Center for Global Culture and Communication, Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies, and the Globalizing American Studies Project For more information, contact Amber Day ( )

[Posted 5/19 for archival purposes]

Visual Rhetoric

Interesting site for those interested in visual rhetoric:

Thursday, May 3, 2007


(From Patrick)
The second meeting of the Rhetoric and Public Culture Reading Group will be Friday, May 4, from 10:00 to 11:45. We will be reading Seyla Benhabib, "Toward a Deliberative Model of Democratic Legitimacy" from the Democracy and Difference volume. We will also be reading chapter 5 of the Claims of Culture, "Deliberative Democracy and Multicultural Dilemmas." Photocopies of both readings will be available tomorrow in 1815 by the photocopier.

(From Brandon)
Also, if any are interested, the first meeting for the teaching certificate program is tomorrow, Friday 5/4, at noon. I am planning to participate and would love to have friends in the program.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Desert Sunrise

Are you all going to see the 2pm or 7pm performance, or neither?

The Center for Global Culture and Communication, with a grant from the Ford Foundation Difficult Dialogues project presents:

Desert Sunrise: A new play by Misha Shulman Inspired by Ta’ayush - Israeli-Palestinian partnership for peace, Live Music by Yoel Ben-Simhon, Dance by Dalia Carella

Sunday April 15th
2:00 pm and 7:00 pm
The Marjorie Ward Marshall Dance Center
10 Arts Circle Drive
Admission FREE
Contact Amber Day at to reserve your seat.

Desert Sunrise portrays an encounter in the South Hebron Hills between anIsraeli soldier, a Palestinian shepherd and a young tormented Palestinianwoman. Over the course of one memorable night the process of mutual understandingbegins, halts, gets rejected, but is ultimately embraced by the painedcharacters. Using humor, music, poetry and dance the play unfolds toward itstragic yet hopeful ending.

Come see what the NY Times called “elegant and affecting”and compared to Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’.“Unforgettable….Shulman presents his message with intelligence, eloquence and beauty.”

The Difficult Dialogues project at Northwestern is designed to confront a culture of indifference that defers civic engagement for individual self-advancement. Each of the several components of the project, by themselves and in concert with one another, encourage a more robust civility grounded in thoughtful public discussion of contemporary problems defined by cultural misunderstanding and conflict. Each feature of the program strives to help students recognize difference in others and in themselves, understand collective memory, and communicate effectively about and across ethnic, religious, and other commitments. The program is grounded in first-year seminars and public issues forums. Additional features include the theme of negotiating difference and memory, interdisciplinary faculty and curricula, seminars being embedded in the residence halls, attention to skills in public debate and conflict resolution, audience development for the forums to encourage diverse participation, pedagogy workshops for seminar faculty, and summer research opportunities for the students.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

We're official!

Our chapter has been officially added to the list of RSA student chapters. You can see the others by going to and clicking on the "Membership" tab.

A few next steps:

1. Let's start a discussion here about possible readings for a discussion group. After finishing J.G.A. Pocock's Machiavellian Moment, some were interested in reading more Paul Ricœur Rule of Metaphor. For a shorter read, I might also suggest ["Explanation and Understanding" in From Text to Action, trans. Kathleen Blamey and John Thompson (Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press, 1991).] If somebody has selections from Rule of Metaphor, Time and Narrative, or other works (or even non-Ricœur readings), let's put them out on the table. Patrick can take those suggestions and finalize plans, perhaps in collaboration with Dilip and/or Keith.

2. I'd like to hold at least one Cumnock colloquium in May for graduate students (and possibly faculty) to present papers-in-progress developed or further edited outside of seminars. This is a friendly setting to work on presentation skills and discuss ideas that may not be fully articulated (or even coherent). Several of us are going to the Alta Conference this summer, and could present a first draft of those presentations here. Others might be going to the RSA Institute or the NCA Summer Conference. In any case, let's tentatively say 7pm on Monday, May 21. If that's not a good time for some of you who want to come, we'll reconsider.

3. I'd also encourage everyone to attend the Derby party at the Webster's home if you received an invitation. Last time the attendance from the Rhetoric and Public Culture "clan" was quite low and noted by the other party-goers. We don't want to be perceived as the South Campus isolates!

Monday, February 5, 2007

NCA Submissions

Hi all,

I thought I'd put out a call and see if anyone had begun working on NCA submissions. There are quite a few questions implied by this--where, how, who, not to mention what--but I think we should at the very least use this to discuss the larger point about the department's role in coordinating work for NCA (or what we could call "the littlest big conference in the academy."), if there should be one at all.

I know that many of you have at least thought about your submissions; you may have already submitted, but it seems worth bringing up.



Sunday, January 14, 2007

Starting A Chapter

The first order of business should be naming the chapter. I make a motion for the "Thomas B. Farrell Student Chapter of RSA (Northwestern University)."

Thomas Farrell, professor of communication studies at Northwestern University, died June 12 2006 at age 59 in Evanston. In 1976, Farrell became assistant professor of communication studies at Northwestern, eventually becoming a full professor in 1984. Notable is Farrell’s 1993 publication of Norms of Rhetorical Culture, chosen for the National Communication Association Winans-Wichelns award for book of the year in 1994.

Selected Publications:

"Habermas on Argumentation Theory: Some Emerging Topics." Journal of the American Forensic Association 16 (1979): 77-82.

"Knowledge, Consensus, and Rhetorical Theory." Quarterly Journal of Speech 62 (1976): 1-14.

"Media Rhetoric as Social Drama: The Winter Olympics of 1984." Critical Studies in Mass Communication 6 (1989): 158-182.

Norms of Rhetorical Culture. New Haven: Yale UP, 1993.

"On the Disappearance of the Rhetorical Aura." Western Journal of Communication 57 (1993): 147-158.

"Political Conventions as Legitimation Ritual." Communication Monographs 45 (1978): 293-305.

"Practicing the Arts of Rhetoric: Tradition and Invention." Philosophy and Rhetoric 24 (1991): 183-212.

"Social Knowledge II." Quarterly Journal of Speech 64 (1978): 329-334.

"Validity and Rationality: The Rhetorical Constituents of Argumentative Form." Journal of the American Forensic Association 13 (1977): 142-149.

(with G. Thomas Goodnight)
"Accidental Rhetoric: The Root Metaphors of Three Mile Island." Communication Monographs 48 (1981): 271-300.

(with Tamar Katriel)
"Scrapbooks as Cultural Texts: An American Art of Memory." Text and Performance Quarterly 11 (1991): 1-17.

(with Thomas S. Frentz)
"Communication and Meaning: A Language-Action Synthesis." Philosophy and Rhetoric 12 (1979): 215-255.