The Politics of Activism: On Rhetoric and Power

By Andie Alexander

“So are you a political activist now?”

I’m not the kind of person who often posts on Facebook about politics. After all, I’m still a grad student hoping to get a job one day, and there’s no telling what sorts of ideas people could formulate about me based solely on my Facebook posts. With that always in the back of my mind, I tend to keep my posts mostly about the academic study of religion (well, that, and pictures of my dogs, obviously, because they’re adorable). However, over the past few weeks, I have been sharing significantly more news articles and reports on my Facebook page. In the wake of this exponential increase in the number of political articles and photos from the Denver Women’s March (see above) on my page, folks were somewhat surprised with my seemingly sudden interest in politics. So much so that some have even called me a political activist.

When others heard these comments about my newfound activism, some agreed in a positive way, while others maintained that I was not a political activist and that I was just sharing information. However, what struck me about these comments was not whether I really am/am not a political activist — to me that misses the point. Rather, I am more interested in this label or designation of “political activist.” For the more I thought about it, I realized that this identifier rarely has a positive connotation. Continue reading “The Politics of Activism: On Rhetoric and Power”

On Science


“From this point of view, science…is rhetoric, a series of efforts to donna harawaypersuade relevant social actors that one’s manufactured knowledge is a route to a desired form of very objective power.”

Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective” in Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives (2013)

 

Is it Terrorism or Not?

Picture 35I find that a very interesting tweet. (Click it to go to the author‘s Twitter account.) For ever since the inauguration of the War on Terror people on the left have critiqued this notion of terrorism, seeing it as an empty rhetorical term that does significant political work by heightening anxiety among a population (like increasing the terror level warning, as we used to see periodically in the US); for it creates the impression that there’s some acts of violence that are somehow worse than others, more nefarious, their perpetrators are not being good sports and playing by the rules of war (but, really, who does?).

In fact, rather ironically, use of the very word terrorism to name just some violence could constitute but one instance of what we commonly take terrorism to be, for choices of what to call terrorism could be read as having the effect of intimidating a population in service of the interests that motivate (and benefit from) that very choice. Continue reading “Is it Terrorism or Not?”

The Memory That Forgets: The Women in Military Service for America Memorial

Women in Military

At the small liberal arts university where I work, we offer a travel course entitled “The Rhetoric of War.” The course examines the way that rhetorics (both verbal and graphic) depict war, patriotism, and the nation-state in the American context. Midway through the semester, the class takes a whirlwind trip to Washington D.C. in order to directly engage the ways in which war is memorialized.

My friend and colleague, Dr. Amy Milakovic, is one of the faculty who teaches that course; she has a forthcoming paper about the experience, with particular focus paid to the Women In Military Service For America (WIMSFA) Memorial. As Dr. Milakovic argues, the attempt to honor military women at WIMSFA happens through a narrative that works only to the degree that it actually diminishes women. WIMFSA achieves this by reinforcing traditional gendered stereotypes at the same time that its physical appearance emphasizes invisibility and insignificance, two terrible ironies achieved in a place that claims to highlight and celebrate women in the military. Continue reading “The Memory That Forgets: The Women in Military Service for America Memorial”

Rhetorical Unity

Rassemblement_Charlie_Hebdo_5_–_RambouilletThe many rallies in Paris and elsewhere yesterday provide an intriguing example of the malleability of unity as a symbol. The crowd in Paris, according to reports, was both enormous and diverse, including a range of foreign dignitaries and political leaders. In addition to various European leaders from Russia, Germany, and Britain alongside the President of France, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas both participated. The Guardian described the Paris march,

This was a nationwide outpouring of grief, solidarity and defiance. Parisiens of all ages, religions and nationalities turned out en masse not only to show their respect for the victims but their support for the values of the Republic: “liberté, égalité, fraternité” – freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Continue reading “Rhetorical Unity”

Victory in Defeat

Picture 15Tennis fans may know that Venus Williams lost in the U.S. Open yesterday. What I found interesting during a weekend report from her post-match interview, was a turn of phrase that I’ve heard many times in sports — in fact, in an interview from the same day, when he advanced but only after a surprisingly close match, Roger Federer said pretty much the same thing in his post-match interview. Continue reading “Victory in Defeat”