Ethics and Discourse in Historical Perspective: Practice & Theory

full name / name of organization: 
EMMA (Etudes Montpelliéraines du Monde Anglophone)

International Interdisciplinary Conference
15-16 April 2011
« Ethics and Discourse in Historical Perspective: Practice & Theory »

Organized by EMMA in collaboration with CRISES and DIPRALANG (Montpellier III, France)
With the support of the French Society of English Stylistics
and the French University Institute

The Platonic critique, while denouncing certain aspects of the persuasive approach of discourse (the rhetorical and sophistic practices), introduces the possibility of a truth-oriented philosophical rhetoric (especially in Gorgias and Phedre). Following upon these critical considerations, the philosophical and rhetorical traditions have then taken two distinct directions as regards the technical use of language. One approach is focused on the danger inherent to any technical working-out of discourse, as it can degenerate into an instrument of manipulation and deceit. The other takes into consideration the moral gain that rhetoric can generate. Isocates for instance, Pato's contemporary, claimed that to speak correctly led to correct living. At the classical age, it would seem that some philosophers saw linguistic mastery as an ethical necessity. Bacon, Pascal, Hobbes and Locke indeed promoted a certain form of « language therapy » to expose various uses and misuses of words.

In the the 20th century, these questions – though dealt with in a different manner – came once again to the forefront with the development of neopragmatism in the US, (critical) discourse analysis in France and Europe (Amossy, Fairclough, Wodak, van Leeuwen, van Tdijk, Meyer, etc.), and, following Perelman's work, with the re-emergence of rhetoric. Can the revival of rhetoric thus be perceived as an ethical necessity? While Plato denounced the gap that sophistic rhetoric introduced between speech and reality, contemporary approaches to discourse aim at highlighting this gap, revealing the manipulative linguistic effects, be they conscious (spinning strategies, political use of stereotypes motivated by self-interest) or unconscious (expression of norms and stereotypes, stigmatisation practices, classifying discourse, etc.). Some of these approaches indeed seek to deconstruct pre-established classifications and renegotiate the assigned social positions for a potential reinvention of self and others. Can one therefore speak of a certain ethical progress having been made in contemporary discourse analysis?

The conference will be an occasion to confront French and foreign methodologies on topics centred on the links between ethical questioning and public discourse in a historical perspective. The proposals can be related to three major periods (ancient rhetoric, classical age, or the contemporary era) and can either take the shape of a practical analysis of discourse belonging to all genres—literary, political, media-related—or deal with theoretical aspects discussing the debates that ethical questioning has given rise to at all ages.

Among many others, one could choose to answer the following questions:
- Is ethical questioning stable throughout the different historical periods? Has its nature changed?
- If, in the age of Antiquity, rhetorical technique was a way to win over the other at all costs, what exactly was the status of the other and what can be said about the image of the orator?
- Has ethical questioning disappeared from public discursive practice?
- In what way can contemporary discourse analysis—itself a product of the discourse analysis of the 70s—be said to favour ethical questioning? Has it remained true to Plato's programme?
- What is the ethical reach of certain discourse (political, journalistic, literary, etc.)? Does rhetoric allow for an ethical counter-interpellation? What kind of rhetorical construction/production of otherness could engender a reinvention of self and other?

Guest speakers:
Frans van Eemeren (Amsterdam)
Norman Fairclough (Lancaster)
Roselyn Koren (Tel Aviv)
Marie-Pierre Noël (Montpellier III)
Ruth Wodak (Lancaster)

Advisory board:
Thomas Bénatouïl (Nancy II), Pierre Chiron (Paris Est), Diane Davis (Austin), Gilles Declercq (Paris III), Françoise Douay-Soublin (Université de Provence), Jean-Jacques Lecercle (Paris Ouest-Nanterre), Carlos Lévy (Paris IV-Sorbonne), Martin Reisigl (Vienna), Ruth Wodak (Lancaster).

Languages of the conference: English and French
Selected articles will be considered for publication (in English)

Proposals of around 300 words to be sent by September 1st 2010 to (antiquity) (modern age) (contemporary period)

Notification of acceptance : October 15, 2010