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“Culture and Rhetoric”

Rhetoric and Non-Western Culture


By: Robert T. Oliver
Robert T. Oliver
 Research Professor Emeritus of International Speech at Pennsylvania
State University
 Article from Communication and Culture in Ancient India and China
published by Syracuse University Press in 1971
 He is the author of several different texts relating to rhetoric and
communication including:
 Rhetoric and the Social Matrix: Reflections from the Asian Classics

 A History of the Korean People in Modern Times: 1800 to the Present

 Culture and communication; the problem of penetrating national and cultural


boundaries
Summary
1. The manner in which Asians communicate is different
2. Communication is vital to Asian society
3. Rhetoric is based on culture
4. There are difficulties that come with analyzing another culture
5. One must get over the initial “culture shock”
6. One must overcome schiznogenetic tendencies
7. Plato, Aristotle, and the 3fold task are basic to Western Rhetoric
8. Eastern Rhetoric is based on unity and harmony
9. The best way to analyze Eastern rhetoric is to make it meaningful to
Western minds without dividing it’s holistic nature
10. Oliver has attempted this analysis in his book and concluded that there
are nine major focal points in Eastern rhetoric
11. By understanding these points we can better understand our own ideas of
rhetoric and communication
Ways Asian communication is different:

No election campaigns
No political parties
No pulpits in temples of worship
No “lectures” in education
No debating societies
Even today Asia has not reached the same skill of speech and
debate that we have here in the Western world
Communication remains vital to their society

 The manner of their communication is different


 Asian rhetoric and communication has not been thoroughly studied
by western rhetoricians
 Robert T. Oliver decided it deserved more attention and focused on
the following questions throughout his book:
 How important is communication to their society?
 How is communication conduced?
 Who are the speakers?
 To what groups do they find desirable to speak?
 How do the address one another? Why?
 What do they talk about?
Rhetoric is based on culture

 “The East is not the West…”


 The standards of rhetoric in the West from Aristotle are not
universals. “They are expressions of Western culture, applicable
within the context of Western cultural values.”
 Therefore, we must try to understand their set of meanings of what
rhetoric and communication is based on their cultural values
 Studying other cultures can be difficult because we must try to look
at things from their perspective
What is Culture Shock?
Like a fish out of water

 http://edweb.sdsu.edu/people/CGuanipa/cultshok.htm
 What is culture shock?
 What are the symptoms?
 What are the stages?
 How do you fight it?

Have you ever experienced culture shock?


What is “schizmogenetic”?
 One difference creates another
 When foreigners confront one another across
cultural barriers, the strange behavior that each
notices causes him to alter his own behavior.

Have you ever felt this? Does this exist? How


could this cause a barrier when studying
another culture?
Foundation of Western Rhetoric
 Plato:
 You must know the truth about the subject that
you speak, be able to isolate it in definition, and
divide it into kinds

 You should discover the type of speech


appropriate to each nature and order and arrange
your discourse accordingly
 Aristotle: Your effectiveness as a speaker is limited
by two factors outside of your control:

 Truth and justice are realities

 Human nature: man is basically rational but tends


to be governed by emotions
Threefold task basic to Western Rhetoric

 Speaker must try to accomplish:

 What he himself most desires

 What the facts of the matter prescribe

 What the audience wishes or at least will accept


Eastern Rhetoric
 The writings based on Asian Rhetoric would only fill
a slim anthology. Why?
 Where Aristotle wrote separately about ethics,
politics, rhetoric, etc., these ideas were considered
so important in the East that they could not be
separated into different fields.
 Concepts of unity and harmony are so important to
the Asian ideas of religion and philosophy that all of
these fields coexist together within their classic
literature, traditions, customs, and religions
 “Hence, rhetoric penetrates all Eastern
thinking and writing. The problem is not to
find the rhetoric of the East but to find ways
of identifying and depicting it in a fashion that
will make it meaningful to Western minds
without thereby denying its essentially holistic
character”
Nine Focal Points in Asian Rhetoric
1. The primary focus is to promote harmony
2. Originality is discounted
3. Social harmony is more important than specific wellbeing of
participants
4. Venting is essential
5. There is a dual responsibility between the speaker and the listener
6. Judgment should be given based on authority and analogy
7. Individuals judged in terms of what they say rather than do
8. Silence has great value
9. Opinion formation is the responsibility of the elderly or authority
Group Work
 Break up into nine groups and each take a
focal point from p. 360 in Covino & Jolliffe
 Analyze the focal point and try to explain it
 Relate the point with that of Western
Rhetoric. Is the rule similar to one of ours or
totally different?
Summary
1. The manner in which Asians communicate is different
2. Communication is vital to Asian Society
3. Oliver believes that rhetoric is developed based on a society’s culture
4. There are difficulties that come with analyzing another culture
5. One must get over the initial “culture shock”
6. One must overcome schiznogenetic tendencies
7. Plato, Aristotle, and the 3fold task are basic to Western Rhetoric
8. Eastern Rhetoric is based on unity and harmony
9. The best way to analyze Eastern rhetoric is to make it meaningful to
Western minds without dividing it’s holistic nature
10. Oliver has attempted this analysis in his book and concluded that there
are nine major focal points in Eastern rhetoric
11. By understanding these points we can better understand our own ideas of
rhetoric and communication
Conclusion
 These are ways that the East is significantly different from the West.
These ways are different because they are a reflection of a different
culture with different goals, values, and ideas of what rhetoric is and
how it should be studied.

 Comparing the two rhetorics is difficult because the cultures are so


different.

 Oliver concludes that by understanding this comparison we can


identify the usefulness which their rhetoric may have to us in
Western Society.