Doug Coulson
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

Rhetoric is notoriously difficult to define, but Aristotle famously claimed that rhetoric is the faculty of discovering the available means of persuasion ”in any particular case” and rhetoric has frequently been closely associated with a case-specific, practical, and situated perspective. For this reason, 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 all forms of normative discourse. Indeed, trial transcripts are arguably the best records of formal debate that still exist in our society and provide a wealth of data for the study of rhetoric and argumentation. In this way, the study of legal rhetoric offers a valuable opportunity to study the ways in which people seek to persuade one another, particularly regarding the relationship of general rules or principles to particular cases.   

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 and Publications and Talks pages. You can also visit my faculty page at Carnegie Mellon University here, and the Rhetoric and Law, Rhetoric and the Nation, and Argument pages outline courses I’ve taught recently to combined undergraduate and graduate student rosters.

Please feel free to contact me at or follow me on Twitter.

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