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Rhetoric and Ethnography

Elizabeth C. Britt

Subject Anthropology
Communication Studies » Rhetorical Studies

Key-Topics postmodernism

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


“Rhetoric” and “ethnography” are slippery concepts, each describing a practice or methodology as well as a class of textual objects. And while “rhetoric” describes an identifiable field of study more than does “ethnography,” which is most often associated with cultural anthropology, each is an inter- and cross-disciplinary enterprise whose character can vary depending on its disciplinary home. Both rhetoric and ethnography – in their multiple meanings – have been individually challenged by postmodernism (→  Postmodernism and Communication ), particularly by the loss of faith in grand, totalizing theories and the assumption that language plays a role in the construction of reality. But these challenges have also brought theorists and practitioners of rhetoric and ethnography together to explore how postmodern understandings of each concept can inform the other (→  Ethnography of Communication ). Postmodernism's crisis of representation prompted what has come to be known as the “rhetorical turn” in the humanities and social sciences. Some scholars in disciplines such as history, economics, and anthropology recognized that their knowledge-making practices were thoroughly rhetorical – emerging through argument and contestation and inevitably expressed from some point of view. In cultural anthropology, one outcome of the rhetorical turn has been a reflection on ethnography (literally, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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