Making American: Constitutive Rhetoric in the Cold War



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Constitutive rhetoric theory posits that community identity is rhetorically created. There are various approaches to constitutive rhetoric, though most rhetoricians have chosen to focus on the works of Maurice Charland and Michael McGee, whose approaches focus on audience so much that often the rhetor has no agency. This project blends their ideas with those of James Boyd White to create works of criticism that highlight an increased amount of agency for the rhetor. As examples, I have chosen four case studies from the year 1954: the Brown v. Board decision, the Army-McCarthy hearing (specifically McCarthy's heated exchange with Joe Welch), the addition of "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance, and the first article in the first dated issue of Playboy. Each chapter is designed to provide an example of what a constitutive analysis in the style of White would look like.

The project begins with a description of the theories and analyses, including constitutive rhetoric, postmodernism, and textual analysis. The Brown v. Board analysis begins with a brief history of the case, moves to a rhetorical analysis, and then connects the analysis to ideas of constitutive rhetoric. The McCarthy sections examines the "Have you no sense of decency?" exchange between Welch and McCarthy. It begins with a brief explanation of McCarthy's reputation, and then utilizes an understanding of conspiracy rhetoric in the rhetorical analysis in order to explain McCarthy's constitutive efforts. The Pledge of Allegiance analysis provides a brief a summary of the Congressional arguments made to add the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance, then provides a textual analysis of the Pledge (with the addition), emphasizing the power of those words, especially given the epideictic nature of the Pledge. The Playboy research focuses on the first 1954 article, which directly addresses the question of American identity. The article is contextualized with Hugh Hefner's self-proclaimed Philosophy of Playboy. Finally, all of these case studies are tied together again with further explanations of constitutive rhetoric, showing that White's understanding of constitutive rhetoric can be used to bolster Charland and McGee's in order to give agency to the rhetor.