Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Afrocentric Rhetorical Theory, Part 2

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Afrrocentric Rhetorical Theory Part 2



What it is to be a human, our theory of what human beings are. Organisms, spiritual, animals, computers, etc.


The theory of knowledge – data, problem solving, practical, spiritual, genetic, instinct, intuition.


Metatheory is culturalized epistemology.


Mary John Smith:

The term metatheory refers to the beliefs about the nature of theory. Thus, metatheoretical assumptions address the types of theoretical explanations that are appropriate to human communication. Consistent with the hierarchically interrelated nature of paradigms, a researcher’s ontological and epistemological views will largely determine the sorts of theoretical explanations he or she deems suitable.


Every culture has its own unique perspective on rhetoric, the warrior in the struggle for human liberation is powerless without the armor of cultural consciousness.

Afrocentricity is a direct counter narrative to the most obvious and hegemonic grand narrative presupposing that all that is not of Europe is not of worth. “Classical” rhetoric is reserved for Greek and Roman rhetorical theories.

Chinese, Native American and African are examples.

Afrocentricity is one step in the demythologization of “classical” rhetoric.

It is a lot more than just classical speech acts.


Assumptions underlying it:

1. Consciousness determines being

2. Ontology is communal

3. Epistemology validates reality by combining historical knowledge with intuitions

Afrocentric worldview:

1. Interconnectedness of all things – circularity, rejects the bi-polar of Marcuse: something is because of what it is not.

2. Collective identity. Reject the I-other distinction, because responsible to the same community, pairs that travel together.

3. Consequential morality. Speakers are judged by how they moved the audience, responsible for the impact of the communication, not so much the intent.

4. Oneness of body, mind, spirit. Western medicine is a contrast. Rhetoric can effect all three.

5. Spirituality. Spiritual focus to rhetoric, whether in a church spiritual, a civil rights speech, a ceremony for t=ancestors, or prayer for future generations.

6. Time. Timing and rhythm is important. Context is important. History is important.

Magara Principle:

Comes from the Bantu tradition. Magara is a system of operations where spirit force and material force are united in the production of life and meaning. It can be life strengthening or life weakening.

It helps us understand persuasion from an African perspective that is completely in tune with modern European understanding of persuasive processes. We do not “change” opinions, we “move” them through persuasion and its depiction of spirit and reality.

Ntu is the universal life force that represents itself in patterns and rhythms. It is fundamental to living. Let us illustrate in civil rights rhetoric.

1. Nomo operates within the context of ntu to engender magara within and across rhetorical communities. The generative power of speeches from the civil rights movement had a rhythm that catches people’s attention and strengthens their acceptance of full participation.

2. Nommodic rhetorical behaviors are evident in strategies and behaviors of particular communicators and other participants in rhetorical communities. Civil rights leaders actively used words to change the world. “Language is the last weapon left to the powerless.” Zora Neale Hurston.

3. Magara effects are observable in a rhetorical community’s responsiveness to rhetorical strategies and behaviors over time. People are strengthened or weakened towards ideas over time. Begin to accept full African American participation.

4. Rhetoric, as proscribed by ntu, is the evidence of rhythmic patterns urging shared meanings within and across rhetorical communities. “I have a dream.”


1. Rhythm as a frame of mentality. Language and the flow of speech. Pauses, modulation of pitch, rate, loudness and other paralinguistic attributes reflect the important of rhythm. Much more of a focus in African American rhetoric.

2. Stylin’ out as a quality of oration. Mannerisms are used to influence the audience: gestures, posture, bodily movement, facial expressiveness, and other extra verbal behaviors. They communicate visual messages.

3. Soundin’ as verbal artifact. Vocal mannerisms that focus similarly to stylin’ out. The way you say certain words. Johnnie Cochran.

4. Lyrical approach to language. Used poetic language, insert poetic elements, rhyming is an example. Up with hope, down the dope.

5. Preference for improvisational delivery. Roll with the crowd. No totally set text. Take advantage of the situation as it evolves. Like jazz.

6. Call and response participation. Give the audience space to participate, to express themselves. Speaker gives a call, and the audience responds. Much more likely to be influenced by something they participate in.

7. Reliance on mythoforms. There are standard stories we use to understand our lives and our reality, as well as the past and the future. They should be shared and accepted forms.

8. Use of indirection. Circuitous approach to an issue. In a European style we state a claim and then follow it with logic and reasoning that demands acceptance of that claim. In African tradition, you view a thing from various angles before landing at a point to be made. This is the “stalking” of an issue. Malcolm X.

9. Repetition for intensification. Repeat essential ideas until saturation is reached. I have a dream. I am somebody. The clarity of a point is enhanced each time.


Worldview vs. view of the world. Many European thinkers seem to embrace a worldview that would be consistent, such as Carl Jung. Chief Fela Sowande. As well, European theorists like Mikhail Bakhtin, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida have produced important work on the relationship of language to thinking, knowledge, power, discipline and the reproduction of systems of domination. Ivan Illich has spoken about the power of formal language to restrict modes of thought to ways preferred by those in power.

While theorizing about African rhetorical approaches should not be privileged to Europeans using European tools, thus we should not necessarily privilege Africans analyzing rhetoric using African tools. Sowande suggests that we need a global worldview that embraces and empowers all, and that integration of an Afrocentric approach will be essential to this, just as European approaches must not be universally rejected. Work by McPhail and Greeson on these issues has been largely invisible in the conflict of Afro vs. Euro.

The power of the Afrocentric perspective might be that it is integrative and inclusive as opposed to hegemonic. McPhail argues that we need to seek “dialogic coherence” as a capacity to integrate diverse conceptions of reality, culture and identity.


1. Objectivist ontology. Reality consists of objects or entities with fixed properties and relations, which re amenable to observation and description. NOT: We impose on what we observe what we know. Anthropologists impose their social order on those observed, we see what we know. Snow.

2. Essentialism. All entities have essential properties which make the thing what it is, and without which it would not be the thing that it is. Other properties are purely accidental. NOT: This creates a bi-polar structure, male or female, white or black. Things may lack essential characteristics of a category and still be within that category. Our identification of essential categories is in many ways arbitrary. Bamboozled Wayans character.

3. Objectivist categorization. All the entities that share a given property form a necessary category. The set of essential properties constitute the conditions that define the category. NOT: Same. Our needs determine which categories we deem essential.

4. Objectivist knowledge. Knowledge consists in correctly conceptualizing, categorizing and articulating the identified objects and relations that constitute the real world. NOT: Knowledge is different for all. What are the standards for “correctly” categorizing? Again, we impose our own ideas on what we observe.

5. Language isomorphism. Language is an adequate instrument for the formulation and communication of knowledge. Properly used, language is isomorphic in expression with the world that exists external to language (it shares the same characteristics). Language reflects reality. NOT: Loosely true, but only in intention. Many important things have no acceptable language equivalent. Many important things cannot be expressed in words.

Touchstones to understanding different perspectives:

Who are you?

* Eurocentric: I think, therefore I am.

* Afrocentric: I am relating and related to, therefore I am.

What do you want?

* Eurocentric: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

* Afrocentric: Do what is right so that others may also do.

What does rhetoric do?

* Eurocentric: It represents thoughts and ideas

* Afrocentric: It generates and creates reality


Criticisms of afrocentric rhetorical theory:

* Anti-white

* Hostile takeover

* Debased through its use – KFC, etc.

* All good things come from Africa

* Ignores cultural hybridization

* Does not discover issues of class

* Retrograde views of women and homosexuals

* Mystical essence of blackness

* Essentialist criticism. Singular perspective



1. Historically grounded and conditional

2. Culturally particular, contextual

3. Demarginalizes African descendants and recenters them as agents in human interaction


1. Does not deal with the element of economics as a liberation metatheory

2. It is not a full theory: understand, predict and control

3. Can be misunderstood as being essentialist and hegemonic due to over enthusiastic proponents.

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