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Theory around rhetoric looks at the creation and negotiation of meaning behind the language people use, the thoughts they think,
and the actions
I will not be spending much time referencing dead white scholars in this project but there are a couple of main rhetoricians that help explain the relationship between discourse, power, and the community. Rhetorician, Kenneth Burke, describes humans as symbol-using, symbol-making, and symbol-misusing animals. He argues that humans engage with meaning, language, and knowledge through different color filters, also described as terministic screens. Burke states, “Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality.” Even when humans think they are viewing reality in a truthful and factual way, they are actually viewing everything through a filter—a selected reality—based off of the language they hear and the experiences they go through.
Discourse is not a reflection of the world, but, rather, it is the words we speak and the actions we take that create the knowledge that we accept as truth. Michel Foucault states, “in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized, and redistributed by a certain number of procedures whose role is to ward off its powers and dangers, to gain mastery over its chance events, to evade its ponderous, formidable materiality.” Not only does discourse describe what is desired by those within it, it is also the object of desire, “the power to be seized.” In every society, there is a dominant discourse, which creates a standard of what is normal and perceived as the main body of truth or “common sense.” In America, white-centered language and actions make up the dominant discourse. It favors the versions of social reality that uphold the existing structure of power, and in America, these structures of power still have whiteness at their core. Burke states, “an ‘ideology’ is like a spirit taking up its abode in a body: it makes the body hop around in certain ways; and that same body would have hopped around in different ways had a different ideology happened to inhabit it.” If a discourse can limit someone’s ability to act outside of the reality it creates, this produces a powerful ability to control someone’s actions and sense of identity. America’s dominant discourse is highly racialized and patriarchal, centering white male culture, perspectives, and power. This is seen throughout history in the media consumed, the ideal beauty standards, the topics covered in school, and so many more things that are often not consciously noticed.