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Prisoners of Conscience

Moral Vernaculars of Political Agency

Gerard A. Hauser

Publication Year: 2012

Prisoners of Conscience continues the work begun by Gerard A. Hauser in Vernacular Voices: The Rhetoric of Publics and Public Spheres, winner of the National Communication Association’s Hochmuth Nichols Award. In his new book, Hauser examines the discourse of political prisoners, specifically the discourse of prisoners of conscience, as a form of rhetoric in which the vernacular is the main source of available appeals and the foundation for political agency.
Hauser explores how modes of resistance employed by these prisoners constitute what he deems a “thick moral vernacular” rhetoric of human rights. Hauser’s work considers in part how these prisoners convert universal commitments to human dignity, agency, and voice into the moral vernacular of the society and culture to which their rhetoric is addressed.
Hauser grounds his study through a series of case studies, each centered on a different rhetorical mechanism brought to bear in the act of resistance. Through a transnational rhetorical analysis of resistance within political prisons, Hauser brings to bear his skills as a rhetorical theorist and critic to illuminate the rhetorical power of resistance as tied to core questions in contemporary humanistic scholarship and public concern.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press

Series: Studies in Rhetoric/Communication


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright Page

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p. 5-5

Dedication Page

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pp. 6-7

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Series Editor's Preface

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pp. ix-x

Gerard A. Hauser’s study in Prisoners of Conscience of what he terms the “thick moral vernacular of human rights” is a work of erudition, scrupulous theoretical reasoning, patient critical analysis, and profound moral seriousness. In his 1999 book Vernacular Voices: The Rhetoric of Publics and Public Spheres, also published in this series, Professor Hauser developed an account of “publics theory,” ...

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pp. xi-xvi

This study began on Chios, before I was born. John Michalakes was a gunrunner in the Greek resistance against Turkish occupation of the island. In 1822, the islanders living on Chios joined the Greek War of Independence agains Ottoman rule. They suffered massive casualties in the ensuing massacre. ...

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pp. xvii-xx

This project has been in the back of my mind since the waning days of the Cold War, when Polish and Czech dissidents were writing letters and essays concerned with a vision of civil society and Northern Ireland was being ravaged by the “Troubles.” It grew with the emancipation of South Africa from an apartheid state. ...

Part I. Theoretical Probes on a Moral Vernacular Rhetoric of Human Rights

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1. Reclaiming Voice

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pp. 3-19

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln invoked the president’s war powers to authorize suspending the writ of habeas corpus when disturbances to abet the South’s insurrection seemed to compromise the Union’s military action. Lincoln’s actions were both extravagantly blessed and hideously cursed. ...

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2. Human Rights and Human Rights Talk

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pp. 20-38

The world had hoped the end of the Cold War would usher in an era of peace and an end to human rights abuses. The Soviet empire had collapsed, the peoples of East and West Germany had pounded the Berlin Wall to rubble, the emerging Internet’s disregard for national borders had made information control significantly more difficult, ...

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3. Thick Moral Vernacular and Human Rights

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pp. 39-60

Beginning in 1942, the Nazis invented a new way to dehumanize Jews and gypsies. At Auschwitz and in the Lagers, registration numbers, which already were sewn on the prisoners’ clothing, were now tattooed onto their left forearms. Soon the tattoos were further coded to mark each prisoner’s identity with greater precision. ...

Part II. Case Studies in a Thick Moral Vernacular of Political Agency

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4. Parrhesia at Robben Island: Prison Reform from the Inside

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pp. 63-98

I n 1994, South Africa became an inclusive democracy. That there is a democracy in South Africa is a testimony to political vision and perseverance in the struggle that overthrew apartheid. With most opposition leaders imprisoned and its citizens of color subjected to the harsh social, economic, and political realities of the Afrikaner regime, ...

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5. Women of the Small Zone and a Rhetoric of Indirection

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pp. 99-121

On October 9, 1986, the Soviet Union released Ukrainian poet and dissident Irina Ratushinskaya from the Mordovian labor camp at Barashevo where she was serving a seven-year sentence for her conviction under Article 70 of the KGB criminal code for “Anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.” Her release was unexpected. ...

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6. Passive Aggression of Bodily Sufficiency: The H-Blocks Hunger Strike of 1981

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pp. 122-159

Pain resists language. It is a personal experience, something privately encountered, something the sufferer grasps with ease, something experienced as real, but something that cannot be shared. Grasping another’s pain takes effort; it has to be translated into language, which can only offer a pale representation. ...

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7. Display Rhetoric and the Fantasia of Demonstrative Displays: The Dissident Rhetoric of Prisoner 885/63

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pp. 160-184

The prison memoir poses tricky rhetorical problems. The author’s identity matters. Irina Ratushinskaya had a public identity as a poet, and her identity attracted sufficient public notice of her sentence and incarceration in Barashevo Prison camp that her treatment there could intrude on plans for the Reykjavik summit between Presidents Gorbachev of the USSR and Reagan of the United States. ...

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8. Quo Vadis America: National Conscience in Framing Prisoner Bodies at Abu Ghraib

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pp. 185-230

On January 10, 2008, the U.S. Army threw out the conviction of the only officer court-martialed in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, Col. Steven L. Jordan. Jordan, who had previously been acquitted of charges that he failed to supervise the eleven lower-ranked soldiers convicted for their roles in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, ...

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9. The Moral Vernacular of Political Agency

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pp. 231-242

The concepts of civilization and barbarism ride in tandem throughout Western history. Walter Benjamin observed, “There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism” (1969, 256). The rhetoric of political prisoners asserts in reply, “That is because what appears as civilization often is barbarism all the way down.” ...


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pp. 243-256


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pp. 257-276


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pp. 277-284

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About the Author

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p. 306-306

Gerard A. Hauser is a College Professor of Distinction in the Department of Communication at the University of Colorado Boulder. Editor of the journal Philosophy and Rhetoric, Hauser is the author of Introduction to Rhetorical Theory and Vernacular Voices: The Rhetoric of Publics and Public Spheres. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781611171884
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611170764

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Studies in Rhetoric/Communication