What does it mean to say rhetoric scholarship should be relevant to democratic practice? A prevailing answer to this question insists that rhetoric scholars are participants in the democratic contest for power just like all other citizens, no more and no less. Drawing on the work of Slavoj Žižek, the argument of this essay is that reducing scholarship to a mode of political agency not only produces an increasingly uninhabitable academic identity but also draws our attention away from producing results of rhetorical inquiry designed to be useful to citizens in democracy. Clinging to the idea that academic practice is a mode of political action produces a fantastic blindness to the antagonism between scholarly reflection and political agency that structures academic purpose. While empirical barriers to the production of rhetorical resources suitable for democratic appropriation undoubtedly exist, ignoring the self-frustrating character of academic desire is no less of an impediment to the production of democratically consequential rhetoric scholarship.


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