Rhetoric Culture Theory

Christian Meyer, Felix Girke and Michał Mokrzan

in Anthropology

ISBN: 9780199766567
Published online November 2016 | | DOI:
Rhetoric Culture Theory

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  • Anthropology
  • Human Evolution
  • Medical Anthropology
  • Physical Anthropology
  • Social and Cultural Anthropology


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A world in which the truth was certain, the past known, the future transparent, and identity unambiguous might be the aspirational ideal of the human sciences, and surely serves as a political model at times, but it occludes the realities of human cognition, culture, and communication. One attempt to understand the actual realm of human experience extends from the rhetorical theory of Greek and Roman Antiquity through philosophical anthropology and a revival of rhetoric in the 20th century, and most recently to rhetoric culture theory (RCT). RCT was first developed in Germany and soon advanced further, primarily in the United Kingdom and United States. Through juxtaposition of concepts from rhetoric and cultural anthropology, RCT articulates a concept of culture that views practice as epistemologically prior to both intention and structure. This focus is achieved specifically by the integration of three common dichotomies of cultural theory. First, RCT explores the productive tension between the willful individual and constraining society, especially as these are connected in an ongoing and ever-emergent process of mutual re-creation through language and culture. Second, RCT reconsiders the tension between structural determinism and situational openness, especially as indeterminacy is managed through interventions in time and often remains unresolved to maintain ongoing processes of social continuity and change. Finally, RCT draws together the fantastic or evocative as well as the material dimensions of culture, and does so by developing the concept of rhetorical energy, while also being interested in stylistic variation and aesthetic appeal through the concept of figuration. Through these precepts, RCT is able to provide detailed accounts of the specific rules and improvisations defining situated cultural practices, and yet also explores how those same practices are grounded in profound gaps in meaning due to the inchoateness, fallibility, and precariousness of the human condition. To stay close to how practice makes provisional use of recurrent forms, RCT also advocates a reflexive methodological stance that positions observer and observed and their respective concepts on the same epistemological level. Thus, as initially conceptualized by Ivo Strecker and Stephen Tyler, RCT can serve as a productive response to postmodern uncertainties in regard to theoretical, epistemological, and methodological questions in anthropology and cultural theory. It reaffirms both pragmatic and artistic modalities of cultural practice, and offers ways of becoming attuned to how communities live on the edge of both wonder and catastrophe.

Article.  12207 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology ; Human Evolution ; Medical Anthropology ; Physical Anthropology ; Social and Cultural Anthropology

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