- Rhetorical Citizenship and Public Participation Edited by Christian Kock and Lisa S. Villadsen
Emerging from a 2008 conference in Copenhagen on “Rhetorical Citizenship and Public Deliberation,” the book Rhetorical Citizenship and Public Participation “aims to develop an understanding of citizenship as a discursive phenomenon” (1). Christian Kock and Lisa S. Villadsen’s “Introduction: Citizenship as Rhetorical Practice” loosely ties the essays in the collection together using the concept of “rhetorical citizenship” (1), a term they connect to republican citizenship, a theoretical focus on deliberation, and rhetorical agency. “Rhetorical citizenship,” the editors explain, “is concerned with citizens’ output as well as their critical engagement with public deliberation” (5). Although viewing citizenship as rhetorical is not a new theoretical insight, the concept does offer a framing for a collection of essays that may [End Page 355] otherwise seem too divergent to speak to one another. The most striking characteristics of the collection are its international scope and interdisciplinarity, which present a broad picture of ongoing conversations of citizenship, civic engagement, deliberation, and democratic participation throughout the global academy.
The book is structured into three sections. The first of these is undeniably the most theoretically cohesive, providing historical grounding for contemporary theoretical debates and civic practices of deliberative democracy. Kasper Møller Hansen traces deliberative democracy back to the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, and John Dewey. Manfred Kraus connects the concept with the early sophists. And William Keith and Paula Cossart’s essay illustrates public drives toward deliberative practices in late nineteenth century France and early twentieth century United States. Together these essays provide an important reminder to current scholars of deliberative democracy that the concept cannot be fully understood without tracing its historical presence, both as it appeared theoretically and in practice.
With this historical grounding, the book moves on to section 2, which includes 12 case studies of public deliberation and civic engagement to explore the rhetorical practice of citizenship. In an attempt to provide some structure to these essays, the editors separated the section into three parts. The first of these includes essays that question “unconstructive” rhetorical approaches, such as being disrespectful, provocative, or evasive. Collectively, the essays illustrate that in some situations these rhetorical choices actually further or produce productive deliberation. Part 2 offers critiques of “elite” discourse to understand how citizenship (particularly its limits) is communicated by individuals in power. Part 3 examines the relationship between citizenship and place by exploring settings of citizenship engagement that range from the traditional (public hearings) to the less obvious (theater).
Undoubtedly, readers will find some of the case studies in this section more compelling and the connection to rhetorical citizenship more clear than others. Further guidance throughout the section from the editors about each essay’s contribution to the concept of rhetorical citizenship would have provided a more cohesive theoretical narrative and identified important conversations happening between the essays. For example, the concept of respect between participants of deliberation emerges in both Italo Testa’s essay (chapter 4), “The [End Page 356] Respect Fallacy: Limits of Respect in Public Debate” and Ildikó Kaposi’s “Virtual Deliberations: Talking Politics Online in Hungary” (chapter 7). In the former, the author argues that respect of the other person is not an essential precursor for productive deliberation but may be built during conversation, whereas the latter essay illustrates the role respect plays in online political discussion forums. Kaposi’s essay inadvertently serves as evidence for the theoretical claims of Testa’s piece, but readers are left to draw their own connection about this with so little editorial commentary provided. Despite sometimes lacking cohesiveness, the essays in section 2 demonstrate the multitude of ways scholars are asking questions about rhetoric, citizenship, and deliberation. The global nature of the essays also provides interesting comparisons of how citizenship is conceived and practiced in different locales across the globe.
Section 3 of the book contains essays that offer suggestions about how public deliberation might be improved. John Adams and Stephen West...