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This collection of essays engages with the current resurgence of interest in the relationship between American pragmatism and communication studies. The topics engaged in this collection of essays is necessarily diverse, with some of the figures discussed within often viewed as “minor” or ancillary to the main tradition of pragmatism. However, each essay attempts to show the value of reading these minor figures for philosophy and rhetorical studies. The diversity of the pragmatist tradition is evident in the ways in which unlikely figures like Hu Shi, Ambedkar, and Alice Dewey leverage some of the original commitments of pragmatism to do important intellectual, social, and political work within the circumstances that they find themselves. This collection of essays also serves as a reminder for how we might reimagine and reuse pragmatism for our own social and political projects and challenges.



Chapter 1. On the Uses and On-going Relevance of Pragmatism for Communication Studies

This chapter shows that philosophical pragmatism entails a commitment to communication and rhetorical practice. Therefore, the best way to advance the pragmatist project is to turn philosophical questions about truth, morality, logic, aesthetics, or language into rhetorical questions about the best methods or practices for citizenship, leadership, inquiry, deliberation, public argument, and community building. Furthermore, the best way to improve democratic culture (and to realize Dewey’s dream of the great community) is through attending to, promoting, and cultivating specific forms of rhetorical practice. The central claim of this essay is that by emphasizing the skills necessary for improving our circumstances and the practical application of knowledge for that task, pragmatism teaches us that rhetorical communication is the best available means of making our way as well as we can in a world marked by contingency, uncertainty, plurality, and social interaction.
Robert Danisch

Chapter 2. Richard McKeon in the Pragmatist Tradition

Richard McKeon (1900–1985) was a towering intellectual figure whose vast corpus of work is, outside a handful of essays, little read today. In the context of this volume, McKeon is noteworthy as someone who developed theories of both rhetoric and communication—explicitly so named—within a framework that his student Douglas Mitchell describes as “Pragmatism in a new key.” My overall aim in the essay is to draw together and extend the small but important body of commentary on McKeon’s “new key” of pragmatism and his theories of both rhetoric and communication. I will show how they constitute a problem-oriented, pragmatist rhetorical philosophy for a historically evolving, pluralistic world marked by traditional and emergent communication practices and media technologies. In so doing, I intend to draw readers’ attention to the fuller range of McKeon’s writings on rhetoric and communication and offer overarching characterizations that make them more available than they have been to this point.
Peter Simonson

Chapter 3. Hu Shi’s Search for the “Chinese Sophist” and “Spirit of Courageous Doubt”

Hu Shi, a twentieth-century scholar and reformer, perceived a foundation for China’s future in a more complicated rendition of China’s intellectual past. Hu understood China’s predicament in rhetorical terms, as an exigent situation that could not be effectively confronted without the right intellectual and cultural resources. Like other pragmatists, Hu saw democracy as a way life. He did not think that democratic thought was foreign to China. This essay is an examination of one arm of Hu’s plan for rhetorical pragmatic reform. First developed in his dissertation, “The Development of Logical Method in Ancient China,” this arm sought to develop a pragmatic “attitude toward ideas” and restore the characteristics of what he calls the “Chinese Sophist” and the original “spirit of courageous doubt.”
Rya Butterfield

Chapter 4. Echoes of Pragmatism in India: Bhimrao Ambedkar and Reconstructive Rhetoric

This study explores the pragmatist thought of the Indian politician and “untouchable” rights activity, Bhimrao Ambedkar. Ambedkar’s connection to the pragmatist tradition through John Dewey is discussed, as well as the various lines of influence that Dewey had upon his work once back in India. Beyond this general appraisal, this chapter exhaustively charts the echoes of Dewey’s words, phrases, and ideas in Ambedkar’s vital “Annihilation of Caste” text, showing that pragmatism influence his as both a source of ideas as well as a method of rhetorical practice. Ambedkar’s pragmatist appropriations lead to his grafting of Deweyan ideas of democracy onto his battle against Indian caste oppression, as well as general reconstructive rhetorical method.
Scott R. Stroud

Chapter 5. The Art of Adjustment: Ralph Ellison’s Pragmatist Critique of Irving Howe

In spite of his demonstrated commitment to pragmatism, Ralph Ellison has received relatively limited attention within pragmatist scholarship. This chapter calls for pragmatist scholars to give greater consideration to Ellison’s work. In the interest of demonstrating Ellison’s pragmatist contributions, the chapter examines Ellison’s controversial 1963 public exchange with Irving Howe. In examining this exchange, specifically Ellison’s essay “The World and the Jug,” I argue that Ellison advocates a Deweyan sense of adjustment. Ellison’s articulation of adjustment possesses enduring value as a resource for navigating the complexities that emerge within diverse, pluralistic societies.
Jansen B. Werner

Chapter 6. Living Pragmatism: Alice Dewey’s Open-Minded Approach to Experiential Education and Cross-Cultural Immersion

While John Dewey has long held a position of prominence in pragmatic philosophy, little attention has been attributed to the contributions of Alice Chipman Dewey, his wife, intellectual partner, and perpetual confidant. In recognition of Alice’s pivotal role in advancing pragmatism, this chapter explores her efforts as an administrator and educator at the University of Chicago Laboratory School as well as her experiences with John as a feminist in Asia. Alice’s work exemplifies pragmatism as it was meant to be: a practical, active philosophy that is shaped by experience and responsive to change. In this spirit, Alice Dewey deserves to be recognized for her key role in enriching John Dewey’s pragmatic beliefs, and for grounding his ideas about education and openness in experience and action.
Karen Shea, Krysten Manke

Chapter 7. The Accidental Pragmatist: Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Psychology as Pragmatic Popular Science

While much of the work of rhetorical pragmatists has involved explicating the value of foundational pragmatist thinkers such as John Dewey and William James to new generations of scholars in composition and communication studies, less work has been devoted to seeing how contemporary scholars outside of the humanities already use these thinkers in ways that may nevertheless be fruitful for the study of language and discourse. This essay argues that the moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt provides an example of this less-explored category, using pragmatist influences in combination with modern empirical methods to articulate a theory of communication that offers tools for enhanced understanding of the psychology underlying rhetorical discourse.
Jeremy Smyczek

Chapter 8. Jane Addams’ Rhetorical Ear: Teaching, Learning, and Listening in the Settlement House Model

Jane Addams offers a pedagogical model that fosters civic engagement through the practice of rhetorical listening. Listening is a natural extension of an invitational style of rhetoric that privileges cooperation and collaboration over overt persuasion and conversion; focuses on the concrete results of human interaction; and recognizes the power of individual experience in shaping public dialogue. Influenced by her feminist, pragmatist ethos, Addams sees listening as an embodied, active, and reciprocal process that relies on affectionate interpretation of her interlocutors. The pedagogical model of the Labor Museum reflects Addams’ emphasis on the communal nature of experience, and the role of listening in making productive use of it. Her use of narrative further demonstrates the ways in which listening forms the basis of a civic pedagogy, and contributes to rhetorical engagement.
Amy E. Dayton

Chapter 9. Emergent Publics, Public Emergencies: The Importance of John Dewey in Jane Bennett’s Nonhuman Politics of Vital Materialism

The overarching argument of this chapter is that Jane Bennett’s project of vital materialism can be construed as doing pragmatist work, specifically in her use of John Dewey to frame publics as inclusive of the nonhuman and her valuing of this frame as a way to better the politics of disasters. The parallel argument of this chapter is that Dewey’s attention to the roles of nonhumans in generating and affecting publics has been overlooked and, given recent philosophical trends in new materialism and posthumanism, might be rediscovered and uncovered to further the role or pragmatist theory in contemporary political discussions, particularly in the context of disasters involving human and nonhuman bodies. Thus, the author argues, Bennett as a political theorist is both an overlooked pragmatist while simultaneously helping recover an overlooked part of pragmatism.
Daniel P. Richards


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