Rhetoric and democracy : deliberative opportunities in current electoral processes

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In moving beyond the dichotomy between representative and participatory models of democracy, contemporary democratic theory has drawn out the crucial role of deliberation in the effective operation of democratic institutions. However, while various theorists show that deliberation is applied to democratic effect in an assortment of arrangements (such as interpersonal relationships, new social movements and international negotiations), there appears to be a hesitation in theorising the means to improve the deliberative functioning of currently existing representative institutions. This thesis argues that despite the many limitations of representative democracy, and of the mass media which act as its key deliberative forum, currently existing models of representative democracy still offer formal and practical opportunities for collective deliberation in rhetorical exchanges among citizens, particularly, but by no means exclusively, in the course of the election campaign. Consideration of recent democratic theory suggests that the quantity and quality of democratic deliberation in a range of particular situations may be assessed against a set of criteria: access, transparency, feedback and coordination. For citizens to make use of the deliberative opportunities raised by the election campaign requires, it is argued, the creation of a contemporary rhetoric. This thesis addresses that process by reviewing the roots of rhetorical practice and theory in tribal and bardic methods used to produce social cohesion, in the activities of the Sophists in Greek, and particularly Athenian, direct democracy and in the practical reason of Aristotle's seminal text. This thesis then proceeds to consider the rhetorical techniques, employed in two recent election campaigns, which overcame the preconceptions of academic and media commentators to produce "upset" results by successfully engaging, it is argued, the citizen-audience in a meta-narrative of rhetorical exchange. From consideration of these three case studies, an account of a rhetoric emerges as a technical and instrumental discipline. While a contemporary version of political rhetoric may be derived from campaign practices in the electoral context, that rhetoric is also capable of utilising the mass media for much broader deliberative purposes and the potential for marginal and critical political forces to apply these activities more widely is explored. Central to the development of new, deliberative accounts of rhetoric is a return to Aristotle to appreciate the ethical import of rhetoric. A contemporary approach to rhetoric, arising from an emerging account of citizenship as participatory, deliberative, global and "media-active" is considered.
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