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CALL.31.03.2017: The Rhetoric of (dis)unity: Community and division in Greco-Roman prose and poetry




LUGAR/LOCATION/LUOGO: Athens University Museum(Athens, Greece)

ORGANIZADOR/ORGANIZER/ORGANIZZATORE: Andreas Michalopoulos (Athens); Flaminia Beneventano della Corte (Siena); Andreas Serafim (Cyprus); Alessandro Vatri (Oxford).


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This conference aims to shed new light on the capacity of rhetoric, as used in Greek and Roman prose (mainly oratory and historiography) and poetry (mainly in tragedy and comedy), to promote either bonding and affiliation or distancing and division between the speaker and the audience. From the ancient Greco-Roman courts and assemblies to today’s political discourse, rhetoric is inherently divisive. It focuses on appealing to core groups and defining oneself against others.

In his sturdy book, A Rhetoric of Motives, Kenneth Burke argues that a fundamental purpose of rhetoric is identification: a speaker gives signs to the audience, mainly through language, indicating that his “properties” are the same or similar to those of the audience, thereby affirming a community with the audience and forging proximity. This is what Burke calls “consubstantiality” – the sharing of substance between two individuals – a process that ends in persuasion. Rhetoric also has the capacity to generate division or prolong hostility, persuading the audience by setting up people, matters or ideas as antithetical to the listeners. Rhetoric, in other words, creates a community: a conscious, psychological attachment to a group and the belief that this group has shared interests that are, in turn, at odds with those of other groups that may be constructed or implied by the speaker. Psychological and social studies indicate that the activation of group attitudes and identities and inter-group relations – in-group solidarity and out-group hostility – have a huge effect on the behaviours and attitudes in target audiences (e.g. Miller et al. 1981; Conover 1984; Lau 1989; Huddy 2003).

The techniques of unity and division in respect to rhetoric have been widely studied in classical scholarship, but only in a fragmentary way: there is no single, systematic and comprehensive study of these techniques. This gives scope for further research since there are several open questions: what forms does the rhetoric of identification take in Greek and Roman prose and poetry? What do these forms tell us about the speaker’s purpose, and how does he exploit them to the best rhetorical effect? What sources do we have about the reaction of the audience? How much difference does the nature of the speeches – forensic, deliberative and epideictic – make in the exploitation of rhetorics of community and division?

We welcome abstracts (300 words maximum, excluding references) addressing the rhetorical strategies used to generate affiliation or disaffiliation in Greek and Roman prose and poetry. Topics may include, but are not limited to considerations of:

  1. language;

  2. emotions;

  3. performance;

  4. memory;

  5. humour theory;

  6. gender-based approaches;

  7. religion;narrative, argumentation, ēthopoiia and other techniques that reinforce affiliation/ disaffiliation to groups.

We also encourage scholars to think about how the rhetoric of unity and disunity connects to paratextual and non-textual ways of signifying either concept: (how) are unity and disunity represented in or even created through the visual arts, architecture and epigraphy? Is it possible to identify an “anthropological common core” of a “cultural rhetoric” of unity and disunity?

Deadline for submitting abstracts to 31 March 2017.

Each paper presentation will be 20 minutes long, followed by 10 minutes of discussion. The keynote address will be 45 minutes long, followed by 15 minutes of discussion.

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