No place for old men: Kategoria in contemporary academia

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“No place for old men: Kategoria in contemporary academia”

As the genre of accusation typically draws on taken for granted collective moral norms and as such offers insight into the of the rhetorical culture in which it is presented. In addition to illuminating a particular instance of perceived breach of collective norms, kategoria thus also offers a perspective on rhetorical dynamics in a wider setting.

This paper considers the summer 2019 controversy in the US based field of rhetoric concerning a circulated text announced as a future editorial in one of the discipline’s established journals. The text emerged as a response to a conflict in the NCA regarding the appointment of so-called Distinguished Scholars in that organization. A central theme to the controversy was how merit and diversity are related. This was linked to issue of power and structural discrimination. The author of the text intended as an editorial soon was met with intense criticism from colleagues via social media, including Twitter and Facebook. There was a call to boycott the journal and a book series from the same university press. There was a call for the author to withdraw from his post as editor of the journal. Editorial board members and others associated with the key statements in the controversy withdrew from their positions. This was received with much acclaim on social media. The criticism of the author of the editorial was presented in strong terms, and the author shamed in various ways. The editorial was withdrawn, a special issue devoted to the topic proposed (from which the invited guest editor withdrew), and within a few days, the author apologized on the email listserv CRTNET.

This paper considers this instance of academic kategoria with two purposes in mind: One is to outline the basis for the charges against the author of the editorial, namely the apparently conflicting understandings of the relation between scholarship, politics and power at play in the controversy. The analysis of this normative basis informs a discussion of the rhetorical purposes and functions of kategoria for the multiple accusers. The second purpose of the paper takes the high social media circulation of the kategoria and ensuing responses into account to consider what the controversy reveals about the conditions for critical thought and pluralism in a humanistic academic field anno 2019, including possibilities for dissent.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date25 Sep 2019
Publication statusPublished - 25 Sep 2019
EventRhetoric Society of America - Portland, United States
Duration: 21 May 202024 May 2020
Conference number: 19


ConferenceRhetoric Society of America
CountryUnited States

ID: 236376113