Assistant Professor, Department of English
Carnegie Mellon University
Martyrdom (bearing witness) is so essentially rhetorical, it even gets its name from the law courts.
Kenneth Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives
In the passage above, Kenneth Burke points to the intimately intertwined connection between rhetoric and law, suggesting that discourse may be even defined as rhetorical merely by its origin in association with the courtroom. As a corollary, legal scholar James Boyd White has argued that law is subordinated to rhetoric as a branch of the rhetorical art, the lawyer representing “the modern rhetorician in its purest form.” Lawyers are among the most familiar figures of public argumentation and they particularly exemplify public advocacy involving particular cases as distinguished from the policy speech more frequently seen in legislative and executive discourse. Such casuistic, or case-based, reasoning has long been a characteristic quality rhetoric by virtue of its relationship to embodied, situated knowledge and concrete audiences. Although definitions of rhetoric vary widely, Aristotle defined rhetoric as the faculty of discovering the available means of persuasion ”in any particular case.” Thus, the study of adjudicatory discourse is useful both as as a resource for exploring a variety of conceptual issues involving rhetoric as well as for better understanding law. In this way, the study of legal rhetoric offers a valuable opportunity to study the ways in which people seek to persuade each other of the applicability of general rules to particular cases in a wide variety of everyday circumstances.
My research primarily focuses on legal rhetoric and argumentation, particularly the relationship of legal discourse to cultural identity in transnational and global contexts. More broadly, I’m interested in the history and theory of rhetoric, the role of narrative, memory, and proof in discourse about the past, and the comparative study of conflict resolution. You can read more about my research interests on the Research Interests and Publications and Talks pages. You can also visit my faculty page at Carnegie Mellon University here, and the Rhetoric and Law and Argument pages both outline courses I’m teaching this fall, and the Rhetoric and the Nation page outlines a course I’m scheduled to teach during the Spring 2014 semester.