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Introduction: Challenging Rhetorical Traditions

Ruth Amossy
Cet article est une traduction de :
Introduction : La rhétorique en-dehors des sentiers battus [fr]

Texte intégral

1. Rhetoric off the beaten track

1This special issue of the journal Argumentation et Analyse du Discours (2024/32), entitled « Challenging Rhetorical Traditions » is unusual in two ways. First, by its subject matter. It presents a series of works that, although rooted in an ancient tradition, have attempted to re-elaborate its principles, sometimes from within the discipline, sometimes by crossing rhetoric (or rhetorical argumentation) with adjacent disciplines. What emerges are innovative and sometimes iconoclastic conceptions of a field of study traditionally devoted to exploring how human beings can exert mutual influence, manage dissent, help antagonistic groups live together - or acquire practical knowledge leading to the mastery of communication. This is why we have entitled the French version of this issue “Rhetoric off the beaten track,” and the English version “Challenging rhetorical traditions.”

2The second distinguishing feature of this issue is its format: it consists entirely of interviews with well-known researchers, in dialogue with one of their peers. The genre of the interview allows some liberties with the norms of the scientific article; it enables the interviewee to develop, within an informal exchange, a synthetic reflection on the work accomplished over the years in a changing context. This format is not new. Various journals have adopted it in the past, publishing systematically, or episodically, scientific interviews with specialists in different fields, including Discourse Analysis, Rhetoric, and Theory of Argumentation. The special feature of this issue is that it is made up exclusively of interviews. While these are intended to bring out the singularity of each approach, their juxtaposition is nevertheless a key factor. The diversity of questions raised by the authors, their overlaps, and gaps, show how the disciplinary fields concerned have been reconfigured by theoretical innovations that are quite different from each other.

3Undoubtedly, the researchers interviewed are not the only ones to have blazed new trails. Each selection is necessarily somewhat arbitrary. Nevertheless, a clear principle governed our choice. We did not wish to turn to the great specialists in rhetoric and argumentation who had nurtured, developed, and enriched their discipline in its original field of inquiry. In the 20th and 21st centuries, many scholars in various countries have contributed to the revival of the disciplines of rhetoric and argumentation, re-founding them and building a coherent field of study endowed with its principles, rules, and procedures. The project of this special issue is rather to give precedence to explorations that are radical, or at least daring enough, to make a conspicuous break with the norm. The objective is to see how, and in the name of what, basic principles have been called into question, and in what terms the crossing of certain disciplinary boundaries have been justified. In short, we have selected a few of the most significant approaches that have attempted to radically reorient research and to build the practice of the rhetorician and argumentation specialist on new foundations.

4But first, we must recognize that the fields of specialization in what we call rhetoric or rhetorical argumentation differ and that we must consider the soil in which each initiative has grown to understand the meaning and scope of its transgression. This is all the more necessary since the fields in which the selected specialists work are plural, even if the title of this special issue unifies under one single label approaches that diverge and sometimes even ignore each other.

5Broadly speaking, on the one hand, there is rhetoric, which has its roots in Greek and Roman antiquity, and which has been extended and renewed in contemporary works that are now widely disseminated. In the great Aristotelian tradition, this rhetorical argumentation moves away from a restricted vision limited to a “rhetoric of figures” (to elocutio) and proposes an art of persuasion relying not only on reason but also on ethos (self-presentation) and pathos (emotions). Emmanuelle Danblon and Marc Angenot, for example, both inspired by the New Rhetoric of Chaïm Perelman, draw on this inheritance. The feminist theorization of Sonja Foss and her collaborators, which developed in North America where rhetoric has long been taught in communications departments, also starts, and departs, from this tradition.

6But there is also another understanding of rhetoric in Western society as a field that aims at developing communicative capacities and is understood as a learning technique for mastering the art of speech, including but not limited to persuasion. It promotes a practice based on the understanding and production of discourse and on the ability to integrate it effectively into a social interaction or action. This is the background to Stuart Silber’s study of rhetorical literacies, a field that is undergoing spectacular renewal in the age of new technologies.

7The work of Michael Gilbert and Christopher Tindale, for its part, takes as its point of departure informal logic, a theory of argumentation that expressly distinguishes itself from rhetoric by focusing on types of argument, on identification and description of fallacies, and, in general, on the paths of rational thought as it unfolds in everyday life in natural language. There is no need to remind the reader that in the North American academy, argumentation was cut off from rhetoric by a bias that was also reflected in institutional divisions (informal logic, unlike rhetoric, which was initially divided between departments of communication and English, is mainly taught in philosophy departments).

8Beyond these disciplinary divisions and differences in approach, however, these studies all raise some fundamental questions. They deal with the human capacity to develop, communicate, and share reasoning and ways of seeing and interpreting the world. How do people approach an issue that is or may be controversial, how do they construct a point of view, verify its validity, and seek to secure the support of others? These questions are crucial to what Perelman called “human affairs.” They put at stake the possibilities of their proper management under the aegis of Reason. On them depend the chances of living together in our democratic, multicultural societies where different and often antagonistic opinions coexist. The various trends of rhetoric and/or argumentation focus on one or another dimension of this issue. Some focus on the nature and validity of arguments, others on the paths, literacies, and technical infrastructure of rational persuasion, while others explore the communicative techniques that regulate human relations. But all are rooted in the fundamental questioning outlined above. We will attempt to trace the contours of this questioning by focusing on two fundamental notions: persuasion and Reason, before examining the radical change that digital technology introduces into the traditional conception of rhetoric.

2. Beyond persuasion

  • 1

9Does argumentative rhetoric necessarily seek to persuade? That’s what Aristotle said, for whom rhetoric consisted of the ability to detect all the means that might persuade. Chaïm Perelman in his New Rhetoric (1958) also defined it as the set of discursive means that can be used to elicit the adherence of minds to a thesis proposed for their assent. The American Rhetoric website includes this definition by the great rhetorician Kenneth Burke: “The basic function of rhetoric [is] the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce actions in other human agents.1 Or this one, by Douglas Ehninger: “[Rhetoric is] that discipline which studies all of the ways in which men may influence each other’s thinking and behavior through the strategic use of symbols.” Other definitions selected by the site place less emphasis on persuasion, extending the boundaries of the field to diverse types of communication in which persuasion is not the sole, or main, aim of language activity. Nonetheless, the attempt by interactants to exert a mutual influence on one another, or by the speaker to provoke adherence to his or her way of thinking, are most often considered the levers of rhetoric.

10The works presented in this issue break with this secular tradition. They propose an approach that goes beyond simply broadening the definition of rhetorical argumentation, as many researchers are now doing at a time when rhetoric has often come to be confused with communication in the broadest sense. By rethinking the relationship between rhetoric and persuasion, they thoroughly revisit the aims and methods of the discipline, thus opening up new horizons.

11American feminist Sonja Foss, whose first challenges to the tradition of rhetoric date back to the 1990s, takes a critical view of the very notion of persuasion, denouncing it as an attempt to coerce the other person into adopting the speaker’s point of view. “Persuasion is often,” she says in her interview with Helene Shugart, “a desire for control and domination – the act of changing someone establishes our power over that person.” By seeking to change people’s views, we ipso facto discredit their perspectives, and paternalistically engage them in transforming them. According to Foss, this approach runs counter to feminist commitment, which rejects any idea of domination.

12This is why she and her colleagues have established, alongside the rhetoric of persuasion, a rhetoric of invitation. This rhetoric is neither confrontational, nor an attempt to influence the audience’s way of thinking, but “an invitation to understanding.” Each side presents its point of view, and listens to the other’s, trying to see things through his/her eyes. It’s a “non-critical, non-adversarial” interaction that values the other’s point of view and aims to facilitate understanding. Foss emphasizes that this option is not intended, as some of her detractors would have it, to replace persuasion altogether: persuasion continues to play a role in circumstances where it seems to be needed. Rather, the new framework provides keys to situations where persuasion is doomed to failure. It proposes an alternative path and opens new possibilities for human exchanges. In the years when this approach was being developed, Foss’s somewhat iconoclastic conception allowed for the inclusion of types of feminine eloquence that were not then covered by tradition. Far from limiting itself to public discourses generally reserved for men, rhetoric could broaden its corpus by encompassing diverse, and often informal, types of interaction, such as a conversation between a mother and child, for example. The study of rhetoric could not but be profoundly modified by the redefinition of its persuasive objectives and the extension of the types and genres of discourse now encompassed by the discipline.

13Michael Gilbert’s “coalescent rhetoric,” also founded in the 1990s (the book of the same name dates back to 1995), is also about radically transgressing traditional boundaries and redefining the stakes of rhetoric in favor of openness to the other. This model is not based on an attempt to make one thesis triumph by proving its superiority, but rather on an approach in which the partners in the discussion attempt to open up to each other’s views within a process that aims for “coalescence,” namely, the joining or merging of different positions. From this perspective, according to Gilbert, to know the other’s thesis and the (good or bad) reasons on which it is based is not enough. It is necessary to identify the “position” from which this thesis derives, which implies understanding the worldview, values, and emotions that underlie the point of view in which the thesis is grounded; it is necessary to show empathy. Exploring the position on which the partner’s thesis is based can lead to agreement based on the information gleaned, and an in-depth understanding of what the addressee is looking for. The speaker does not endeavor to win out over the other person, but to discern his or her objectives within the context of his or her worldview and emotional dispositions. S/he can thus seek negotiated solutions in which everyone can find common ground.

14Unlike feminist Sonia Foss, who sees persuasion as a form of coercion, Emmanuelle Danblon, following in the footsteps of Chaïm Perelman, sees it as the foundation of pluralist democratic societies. She attaches great value to the tradition of examining the means of persuading an audience to adhere to a thesis through the virtues of logos, ethos, and pathos. But in her recent work, she proposes a different approach to meet the needs of our times, to try to resolve the aporias of dialogues of the deaf and overcome manipulative discourse of all kinds. Paradoxically, the innovation here consists of returning to the rhetorical exercises borrowed from Antiquity (and originally from the Sophists), the progymnasmata. These exercises, in which we play at adopting another’s point of view and indulge in the pleasures of storytelling and myth, are not meant to persuade. But they do provide a “better understanding of the mechanisms of persuasion.” In the eyes of Danblon and her research team, they have not only an important function but also a civic virtue. Firstly, participants gain a clearer view of their own positions: exploring the reasoning of others helps to shed light on our own point of view. At the same time, the exercises develop “the ability to listen, empathy, a sense of nuance and critical thinking.” They encourage openness to others. The result is a flexibility that counters dogmatism and conformism. The rhetorical exercises can therefore act as a bulwark against dogmatism and radicalization, preventing polarization and promoting the model of cooperation over the model of struggle. In this context, the rhetorical exercises do indeed fulfill the original vocation of preparatory exercises assigned to them by the Ancients; they are situated upstream of the argumentative debates that take place in the public arena. But Danblon and her team take them up from a fresh perspective, one that goes beyond the objective of technical training. By rethinking the uses of a part of rhetoric that has fallen into disuse, this approach places it at the service of problem-solving in a society where misunderstandings, deep disagreements, and the risk of dichotomization are on the increase.

15Christopher W. Tindale’s latest work, which focuses on interactions between groups from two radically different cultures, is also a reflection of the need for openness to the other rather than for persuasion. In the anthropological framework of intercultural communication, persuading the other to adhere to one’s thesis is by definition an impossible mission. Argumentation cannot take place in a space where individuals do not share a certain number of beliefs and values, and where they have no common cognitive environment. Focusing on situations where the parties involved belong to cultures that are totally foreign to each other, Tindale examines a radical case of those deep disagreements whose insoluble nature Fogelin emphasized in an article that threw the realm of informal logic into turmoil (1985). But where Fogelin concluded that such cases were simply not amenable to reasoned agreement, Tindale seeks a way out of the impasse. Venturing into the terrain of cultures outside the Western tradition, he attempts to elaborate a rhetoric of “encounter,” in which respect and recognition of the other take precedence. He sees this as a prerequisite for success, not in winning people over, but in closing “gaps of misunderstanding.” In his view, “a mutual cognitive environment is able, over time, to emerge and allow for argumentation.” In cases of cognitive breaks, the researcher does not abandon argumentative rhetoric, which remains his/her horizon. But within this anthropological reflection, s/he subordinates the possibility of shared reasoning to a prior practice labeled “rhetoric of encounter.” In the long term, this should help to restore the possibility of dialogue and debate with others, which has been thwarted by cultural differences. The question arises as to the extent to which this approach to intercultural communication can have an impact on the many cases of cognitive breaks that are emerging in the dissensions today tearing our pluralistic states apart.

16In another framework, the research of Marc Angenot - who, in Dialogues de sourds (The Dialogue of the Deaf), argues that the two sides in a polemical confrontation never reach agreement - also explores the problem of relations with those who “not only don’t have the same reasoning but even give the impression that they don’t belong to the same mental or intellectual world as I do.” In his view, modes of reasoning depend on arguments that cannot be cut off from the ideology on which they feed. They must therefore be approached within a framework in which rhetoric intersects with the History of ideas. Angenot does not deal with isolated discourses, subjecting them to discursive and argumentative analysis: he works on large corpora (for example, everything that was said and written about Jews or women in 1889) from a geographical and/or temporal distance. The choice of large corpora derives from the fact that, in his view, the logic of a line of reasoning, the meaning of a text, cannot be extracted out of context: “Discourses make sense in their relation to states of society characterized by structured and possibly competing ways of thinking and saying the world.” It entails that rhetorical analysis cannot be dissociated from the History of ideas, because the arguments and modes of reasoning used in discourse are rooted in specific socio-cultural and historical spaces that determine their logic. Crossing these two disciplines allows us to grasp the meaning of the reasoning deployed by members of different and possibly antagonistic groups or social fractions, and to see in cases of dissensus why divergent logics do not allow agreement to be reached.

17Angenot thus posits that a study of social discourse taking into account the premises and modes of rationality of social and political groups enables us to better understand why attempts to persuade the other stumble on repeated failure. Persuasion is captured here in a very particular way. The analyst reveals both what underpins the consensus of a given group or era within the same social discourse, and what underpins the dialogues of the deaf where cognitive breaks prevent any agreement. Ultimately, and by radicalizing Angenot’s positions somewhat, Discourse Analysis and the History of ideas lead us to revisit the rhetorical notion of persuasion, subordinating its modalities and possibilities to the prevailing ideology. The analyst of discourse and historian of ideas is not supposed to find remedies to the failures of argumentations, as do Foss, Danblon, or Tindale; s/he rather analyzes the reasons why dialogues of the deaf prevail and persist in a given state of society.

18Within the framework of his discipline, cognitive pragmatics, Steve Oswald doesn’t just study misunderstandings or build a theory of understanding. He articulates it on the rhetorical notion of persuasion, which he nonetheless modifies in-depth, endowing it with a psychological perspective and experimental methods. The scholar who calls himself more of an “argumentativist” than a linguist sets out to explore the mechanisms of adherence in its relation to understanding. He takes up afresh the notion of perlocution coined by Austin and, according to him, much neglected by pragmatists. Austin saw it as an act of language that has an “effect” on the feelings, thoughts, or actions of the audience - a category in which persuasion falls. In his wake, Oswald most often substitutes the phrases “persuasive effect” or “rhetorical effect” for “persuasion.” While admitting that these are vague expressions, he defines them as an “effect that is triggered by an utterance in a communicative situation and that affects what happens downstream in the exchange, particularly in argumentative contexts.” When it comes to analyzing these persuasive effects, pragmatics’ contribution to rhetoric consists largely in its in-depth study of valuable resources of meaning such as implicature, presupposition, insinuation, metaphor, and many others, whose use in context varies according to the purpose pursued by the speaker.

19But there’s more. The researcher is not content to describe verbal procedures designed to influence the audience. His ambition is to measure their degree of success and real impact. In so doing, he enters a field that rhetoric does not venture into: he ambitions to measure the effects of persuasion. It’s not enough when analyzing argumentative strategies aimed at shaking an audience, to guess at their effectiveness. According to Oswald, we need to use experimental methods to see what their concrete results are in terms of actual reception. By combining rhetoric with cognitive pragmatics and an experimental tradition, Oswald thus redefines the discipline’s methods and challenges.

3. Revisiting the concept and the role of Reason (logos)

20The re-elaboration of the notion of persuasion and its modalities is closely linked to the notion of Reason and its centrality in the argumentative process. Rhetorical argumentation places it at the heart of exchanges in which human beings attempt to reach agreement. It sees it as the nerve of deliberation, and the foundation of the legal and political domains. This assumes that Reason is the best-distributed thing in the world, that it is One, universal, and that its procedures are shared by all human beings. Yet the frameworks constructed by the researchers interviewed in this special issue challenge the very conception of Reason on which their discipline was founded, be it informal logic or Aristotelian-inspired rhetoric. By deviating from what used to be considered the right path, they force us to rethink the nature of reasoning and reassess its place and importance in rhetorical communication.

21Angenot and Tindale go a very long way in positing the existence of different logics that prevent one person from grasping another’s reasoning, let alone appropriating it. The first observes the incompatible ways of reasoning that emerge within the same culture or nation, at the same period; the second looks at the different logics that drive members of groups belonging to cultures with no points of contact with each other. It’s impossible to get people to agree with my reasoning if their logic is based on premises and principles other than my own. This doesn’t mean, however, that those who don’t reason like me are illogical or unreasonable. They simply follow a different logic governed by different rules. Both Angenot and Tindale believe that the analyst must unravel this logic to illuminate and understand it without making value judgments. Such a position offsets the supremacy of a logos perceived as universally shared and assigns rhetoric other objectives than those to which it was traditionally devoted. It calls for penetrating the mysteries of a different way of thinking, an alternative way of deciphering the world linked to its cultural, socio-historical, and ideological context. This approach to Reason profoundly undermines the framework of classical rhetoric based on logos in its verbal and rational dimensions and calls for it to be elaborated on new foundations.

22Emmanuelle Danblon also focuses, albeit in a different way, on the notion of rationality based on the imperatives of logos. She offers an in-depth reflection on the question, linking it to rhetorical exercises aimed at developing know-how and practice, rather than bookish knowledge. By positing that rationality is not limited to theoretical knowledge, but also encompasses technical skills and dispositions, she proposes “a broadening and a softening of the notion of rationality.” This approach should give the citizen the possibility to be trained with a set of resources such as emotional intelligence, intuition, adaptability, etc., all of which are necessary because of the nature of the task at hand. These resources are needed to deal with the complexity of “human affairs,” which Cartesian Reason fails to solve. Danblon takes up the notion of the “reasonable” in its opposition to the “rational,” as Perelman had formulated it; but she extends it beyond what the New Rhetoric encompassed. Indeed, for her, “the rhetorical subject is an embodied subject, staged in concrete situations that bring out affects, personal and collective issues and imaginary worlds.” Considering the complex, situated nature of the rhetorical subject, the representative of the Brussels School defends a “realist” model, according to which the subject accepts the truth only if it does not offend his or her sense of plausibility. According to Danblon, “debates fail, not because of an intellectual deficiency in access to the truth, but because of a psychological difficulty in admitting to a reality that hurts us.” From this perspective, the progymnasmata approach is an innovative way of rethinking access to the truth, by capturing rationality in concrete situations where it is caught up in emotions and imaginaries that help to define the contours of the plausible for participants.

  • 2 Informal Logic 42-3, 2022.

23Another way of grasping and assessing the status of a so-called universal Reason emerges from Sonja Foss’s work. Her invitational rhetoric rejects the omnipotence of rational argument, which aims to lead to a proven conclusion to win over the audience. To dethrone persuasion in favor of openness to the other centered on listening breaks with the tradition that sees rational argumentation as the only valid path to conflict resolution and the possibility of living together despite differences. This position is set out even more radically by Michael Gilbert and his multimodal rhetoric, which redefines the notion of argument by positing that logos is only one of its facets among others. Although, like Tindale, he comes from informal logic, Gilbert develops the idea that there are four different modes of argument, only one of which pertains to Reason. While this stand challenges informal logic, it also upsets the rhetorical tradition, even if Gilbert feels closer to it than to his original discipline. Indeed, in his multimodal system, the “modes” listed, in addition to logos, are not just the emotion (pathos) that rhetoric refers to; they can be “visceral” (an eye-roll, for example) or “kisceral” (from ki, energy) - that is, a mode of communication that comes under the intuitive, the religious, the spiritual, or the mystical. The latter, which completely bypasses rational processes, is, according to Tindale, the boldest and most difficult to grasp2. The scandal caused by such positions stems essentially from the fact that they completely overturn the very notion of argument by recognizing different forms of reasoning at odds with the Western conception of logic and reason.

24As for Steve Oswald’s pragmatic approach, it accords no privileged status to reasoning. Questioned on the notion of Reason following his interview in Argumentation et Analyse du Discours, Oswald refers to the instrumental type of communicative rationality to be found in Grice’s work. It consists of the fact that interactants respect conversational maxims to satisfy a goal that is mutual understanding: it is instrumental communicative rationality. From a rhetorical perspective, we would then have to extend the aim inherent in this rationality to the management of reactions that each wants to provoke in the other, whether in terms of adherence to a point of view, the construction of a self-image, or emotional responses. In this context, Oswald’s experimental pragmatics explores the rhetorical effects of ethos, pathos, and logos. From this vantage, we can consider that not only does logos not occupy a central place, but also that the meaning of Reason is downplayed. The term is taken primarily in its sense of speech: of discourse in all its verbal dimensions, implemented to produce various effects on the addressee. This is the result of a pragmatic approach that, unlike rhetorical analysis, does not intend to reconstruct abstractly or contextually the argumentative schemes likely to make the addressee adhere to a thesis, but rather to explore the functioning of the perlocutionary in the field. The intersection with cognitive pragmatics transforms in depth the objectives and procedures of classical rhetoric.

4. Rhetoric and literacy in the digital age

25Beyond these departures from rhetoric in its shared aspects of persuasion and reasoning, this special issue presents a breakthrough of a different kind. It is based on a rhetorical tradition also inherited from Antiquity: the art of speech. Oratory requires training, which the rhetorician possesses and provides. We must learn to master the codes and procedures that enable us to express ourselves well. The speaker must find the right arguments (inventio), but also know how to arrange them (dispositio), put them into words by casting them in the right style (elocutio), and use all the resources of the voice and body in oral presentation (actio, which includes elements such as intonation and body language). Classical rhetoric places great emphasis on production: oral production, which has its imperatives (rhythm, tone, etc.), but also written production in the broadest sense of the term. This aspect of rhetoric, which had long been part of school teaching before falling into disuse, has been developed in various countries, mainly in the United States, as part of “literacy” training. The study of literacies encompasses the ability to produce oral discourse and texts, and the ability to understand the discourse and texts with which we are confronted and to integrate this understanding into our social discourse and actions. According to the well-known OECD definition (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2000), “literacy is the ability to understand and use written information in everyday life, at home, at work and in the community, to achieve personal goals and to extend one’s knowledge and capabilities.”

26This is where advances in new technologies have turned the teaching of literacy in rhetoric studies on its head. With this in mind, we thought it necessary to include an interview with one of today’s leading specialists in digital literacy, Stuart Selber, interviewed by Jim Ridolfo, who has himself made a significant contribution to the field. These two American researchers present a vision of rhetoric associated with the mastery of digital technologies within a learning process that enables the understanding, use, and production of speeches, videos, websites, etc. on a variety of digital media. Students are offered training in the digital aspects of communication and its constant technological developments. Persuasion is by no means excluded, but it is not an exclusive objective; it can give way to or be allied with functional and descriptive aims.

27Stuart Selber has an interesting way of theorizing the place of rhetoric in new digital practices. He considers that “even technically oriented projects have a rhetorical dimension, an understanding of which is crucial to authoring twenty-first-century digital texts.” From this perspective, analysis cannot be dissociated from production. This analytical activity also examines how persuasion works in contexts where we don’t tend to spot it. So, for example, “software interfaces are rhetorical in that they persuade through both content and structure, defining, conditioning, and shaping how people think about the task at hand.” Rhetorical analysis is also concerned with coding, or with what discourse accomplishes in its modes of circulation. Selber thus posits a “rhetorical literacy” alongside “functional” and “critical” literacy, revealing how it operates and functions in this new context. At the same time, he shows how certain notions borrowed from classical rhetoric need to be revisited, and new rhetorical notions developed, in the digital context. A new vision of rhetoric, its limits, and functions, emerges from this innovative work, which is in tune with the upheavals of contemporary communication.

5. Concluding remarks

28In conclusion, we can see that the conception and uses of rhetoric are rethought differently in each of the research paths presented in the interviews. For some, rhetoric remains essentially an analytical tool, enabling us to apprehend ways of seeing and thinking in their cultural and/or ideological context (Angenot) or to measure the effects of persuasion as expressed on the ground (Oswald). Whether in Discourse Analysis or empirical research, attention to discursive data is paramount: argumentative discourse is explored to reveal its workings and effects, without any normative aim. For others, rhetoric as they redefine it is called upon to fulfill a social function beyond its powers of persuasion. It must, for example, remedy the lack of understanding that blocks dialogue by opening new possibilities for relating to the other. The notion of openness to the other recurs with several researchers - Foss, Gilbert, Tindale; the idea of grasping the logic of the other in a cultural and ideological context without normative judgment also appears with these researchers, as it does with Danblon, who sees it as a means of training citizens capable of investing the other’s logic and thus less prone to polarization and dogmatism. For still others, rhetoric participates in the teaching of the literacies that enable effective communication through new technologies. It becomes a lever of production in the most diverse and undoubtedly unexpected (from a traditional perspective) communicative domains. It infuses digital production with a reflexive dimension essential to its success. In light of all these upheavals, which do not undermine the discipline as such, but point it in radically new directions, it seems that rhetoric still has a bright future ahead of it.

  • 3 The quotations in this introduction are borrowed from the interviews of our special issue. A rich b (...)

29The order in which the interviews are presented is partly random. We have, however, chosen to begin with works developed within rhetoric and theories of argumentation. The first texts present relatively ancient works that can be described as pioneering and whose subversive character remains intact: Sonja Foss’s invitational feminist rhetoric and Michael Gilbert’s multimodal and coalescent rhetoric. They are followed by Emmanuelle Danblon’s rhetorical exercises, and Christopher Tindale’s rhetoric of encounter, which both revisit the notions of rationality and persuasion within their disciplinary frameworks in innovative attempts. These four articles are followed by two others that place a discipline other than rhetoric at the forefront: Marc Angenot’s History of Ideas and Discourse Analysis, and Steve Oswald’s pragmatics. They cross them with rhetoric in a way that revitalizes the latter by modifying its objects, methods, and stakes. At the end of the special issue, we’ve put Jim Ridolfo’s interview with Stuart Selber, in which these two specialists in digital rhetoric show how rhetoric has not only been enriched but also profoundly transformed in its practices by the development of contemporary digital technologies3.

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2 Informal Logic 42-3, 2022.

3 The quotations in this introduction are borrowed from the interviews of our special issue. A rich bibliography is provided at the end of each interview.

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Ruth Amossy, « Introduction: Challenging Rhetorical Traditions »Argumentation et Analyse du Discours [En ligne], 32 | 2024, mis en ligne le 15 avril 2024, consulté le 24 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Ruth Amossy

Tel Aviv University, ADARR (Israel)

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