Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Reading :: The New Rhetoric

The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation
By Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca


Perhaps you read this book, or excerpts of it, in grad school. I didn't, but I've seen it cited enough that I thought I should. So I picked it up a few years ago, and started and abandoned it at least twice before I was able to bear down and get through it.

Not that it's a bad book. It's just the equivalent of Goffman's Frame Analysis. Here's what I said about Goffman in that review:
Here, even more than in Goffman's other books, it becomes clear that Goffman is a cross between Aristotle and Art Linkletter. Like Aristotle, he likes to exhaustively taxonomize the subject he's describing—in this case, frames. And like Art Linkletter, he is an inveterate gossip, pulling examples of frames and frame ruptures from everywhere he can (odd newspaper stories, magazines, television shows, books on cons and magic, and repeatedly from Dear Abby columns) in addition to published research. 
Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca run a similar playbook, although their examples come from philosophers and sermons rather than Dear Abby columns. Their goal in this postwar book was to describe non-formal argumentation, specifically examining audiences and shared values, and they reached back to the forgotten Greco-Roman rhetorical tradition to do so. This was fairly radical stuff in 1948, but in 2018 the arguments in The New Rhetoric have become so foundational to contemporary rhetorical theory that they hardly seem radical. As a result, reading the book now is a tedious exercise, at least for me.

The book is divided into three sections:

  1. The framework of argumentation
  2. The starting point of argument
  3. Techniques of argumentation
In this review, we'll spend most of our time on the Introduction. Here, the authors draw a line in the sand with their first two sentences:
The publication of a treatise devoted to argumentation and this subject's connection with the ancient tradition of Greek rhetoric and dialectic constitutes a break with a concept of reason and reasoning due to Descartes which has set its mark on Western philosophy for the last three centuries.
Although it would scarcely occur to anyone to deny that the power of deliberation and argumentation is a distinctive sign of a reasonable being, the study of the methods of proof used to secure adherence has been completely neglected by logicians and epistemologists for the last three centuries. (p.1, their emphasis)
Descartes, they say, "made the self-evident the mark of reason, and considered rational only those demonstrations which ... extended ... the self-evidence of the axioms to the derived theorems" (p.1). Thus deliberation and argumentation were neglected. (They echo Aristotle, who says that rhetoric comes into play when the truth cannot be known.)

What resulted was an understanding of rational science as incompatible with probable opinions—it is "a system of necessary propositions" in which "agreement is inevitable," and thus in rational science, "disagreement is a sign of error" (p.2). Thus "logicians and modern philosophers have become totally disinterested in our subject" (pp.4-5), and the authors instead draw on studies of persuading, convincing, and deliberation from Greek, Latin, and Renaissance authors (p.5). They focus on the proofs that Aristotle termed "dialectical," but since "dialectic" had taken on a different meaning due to Hegel, they lump the original meaning's focus on the probable into "rhetoric." "It is in terms of an audience that an argument develops," they emphasize (p.5). And that is the focus of this book.

Furthermore, the authors primarily examine printed texts, preserving the idea of audience but neglecting "mnemonics and the study of delivery or oratorical effect" (p.6).

They also restrict themselves to incidents in which language is used (excluding silent examples, rewards, and punishments) and specifically used to communicate (excluding blessings and curses) (p.8). They acknowledge the persuasive effects of nonlinguistic elements, but these go beyond their study (pp.8-9). (Note that contemporary rhetorical studies have gone past these boundaries, using and extending the authors' principles.) Within these linguistic bounds, the authors characterize different argument structures (p.9).

In Part I, The Framework of Argumentation, the authors discuss the conditions under which rhetoric applies. "All argumentation aims at gaining the adherence of minds, and, by this very fact, assumes the existence of an intellectual contact" (p.14, their emphasis). And "For argumentation to exist, an effective community of minds must be realized at a given moment" (p.14). That community includes the audience, defined as "the ensemble of those whom the speaker wishes to influence by his argumentation" (p.19, their emphasis). "The audience, as visualized by one undertaking to argue, is always a more or less systematized construction" (p.19). Rhetoric as an academic exercise has been addressed to conventional, stereotyped audiences, and "it is this limited view of audience ... which is responsible for the degeneration of rhetoric" (p.20).

The knowledge of the audience, they say, "cannot be conceived independently of the knowledge of how to influence it" (p.23). At the same time, the speaker must also adapt to the audience (p.23).

The authors draw a distinction between persuasion and argumentation:
We are going to apply the term persuasive to argumentation that only claims validity for a particular audience, and convincing to argumentation that presumes to gain the adherence of any rational being. (p.28)
Audiences can include universal audiences, single interlocutors, and the subject himself (p.30). Some quirks:

  • The universal audience is "often merely the unwarranted generalization of an individual intuition" (p.33). 
  • When engaging with the single hearer, discourse degenerates into dialogue (p.35). 
With this base, the authors get into Part 2, The Starting Point of Argumentation. And here is where the book begins to strongly resemble Frame Analysis: The authors describe a principle, then provide various examples. I won't go through this section in detail—this section is meant to function as a reference.

Let's rejoin the authors for the conclusion:
Instead of basing our philosophy on definitive, unquestionable truths, our starting point is that men and groups of men adhere to opinions of all sorts with a variable intensity, which we can know only by putting it to the test. These beliefs are not always self-evident, and they rarely deal with clear and distinct ideas. The more generally accepted beliefs remain implicit and unformulated for a long time, for more often than not it is only on the occasion of a disagreement as to the consequences resulting from them that the problem of their formulation or more precise definition arises. (p.511)
Should you pick up this book? Yes—eventually. It is a bit of a slog, and a reader with a background in contemporary rhetoric will find parts to be self-evident. But it's still rewarding for contemporary readers and an invaluable foundation for the study of rhetoric. 

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Reading :: Creating the Technopolis

Creating the Technopolis: Linking Technology Commercialization and Economic Development
Edited by Raymond W. Smilor, George Kozmetsky, and David V. Gibson


This 1988 collection developed from a 1987 international conference held at the University of Texas at Austin. I picked it up primarily to understand how the Austin entrepreneurial ecosystem developed and how IC2 figured into it.

In the Preface, the term technopolis "reflects a balance between the public and private sectors. The modern technopolis is one that interactively links technology commercialization with the public and private sectors to spur economic development and promote technology diversification" (p.xiii). The Introduction puts it a little differently: "Sometimes referred to as a technology center or a high-tech corridor or triangle, the technopolis appears to be an emerging worldwide phenomenon" (p.xvii). Technopoleis include Route 128, Silicon Valley, the Research Triangle in North Carolina, and the Austin-San Antonio corridor. Authors in this collection discuss each of these technopoleis, but also technopoleis in Japan, China, England, and southern Europe as well as US locations such as upstate New York and Phoenix.

For me, the most important chapter was Ch.10, "The Austin/San Antonio Corridor: The Dynamics of a Developing Technopolis." Here, Smilor, Kozmetsky and Gibson discuss the development of this corridor, using the "technopolis wheel" (p.146) to discuss the different factors involved in sustaining it. This wheel includes anchors such as University, Large Corporations, Emerging Companies, Federal Government, State Government, Local Government, and Support Groups. Among other information that was valuable (at least to me) were a bar graph of high tech manufacturing companies in Austin, 1945-1985 (p.155) and a timeline of companies being founded or relocated to Austin, 1955-1985 (p.157). The authors also recapitulate the MCC story, which I'll cover in depth in another book review.

Should you pick up this book? To be honest, it is most useful for (a) historical perspective about perspectives on high-tech regional development in the late 1980s and (b) heuristics for understanding current high-tech regional development. If you're interested in one of those two, yes, grab a copy. Otherwise I don't think it's a crucial collection.

Reading :: The New Spirit of Capitalism

The New Spirit of Capitalism
By Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello


In his influential 1905 book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber argued that capitalism works because of an ethos—labor must be performed as a calling, pursued with virtue and proficiency rather than for enjoyment and enrichment. It is this selfless performance of capitalism that makes it work as a system. And Weber laments:
The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so. For when asceticism was carried out of monastic cells into everyday life, and began to dominate worldly morality, it did its part in building the tremendous cosmos of the modern economic order. This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which to-day determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force. Perhaps it will so determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt. In Baxter's view the care for external goods should only lie on the "saint like a light cloak which can be thrown aside at any moment." But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage. (p.181)
Writing at the other end of the century, in 1999 (the original, French publication date), Boltanski and Chiapello agree with Weber's basic thesis but argue that capitalism continues to reinvent itself. They argue that the "spirit of capitalism" is the "ideology that justifies engagement in capitalism" (p.8) and that this ideology has periodically had to change in order to address and incorporate critiques (p.19). In fact, the authors identify three "spirits" of capitalism at different periods—familial, bureaucratic, and globalized—each of which were in tune with their time periods (p.19). The third spirit, which is what we are living through today (or at least were in 1999), must restore meaning to the accumulation process, combined with social justice (p.19).

More broadly, they say, critiques function as a motor for capitalism, which must align with other values to survive. Capitalism relies on its enemies' critiques to identify moral supports, which it then incorporates (p.27). (For a quick example, think in terms of social entrepreneurship.) In rhetorical terms, capitalism concedes critiques and adjusts its argument to address them. Paradoxically, this means that capitalism is the most fragile when it is triumphant (p.27)—when it doesn't have a critique to incorporate.

To substantiate this analysis, the authors turn to a corpus of management books read in France in the 1990s. (They limit their claims to the French management context, but acknowledge that these claims may be more broadly applied as well.) These management texts emphasize ideas that may be familiar to readers of this blog: networked organizational structure, distributed leadership, projectification, self-direction, trust (Part I, Ch.I). These lead to workers managing themselves and pursuing personal development, autonomy, freedom, and fulfillment (p.90)—the ethical critiques of bureaucratic capitalism being incorporated into globalist capitalism.

One might object here that the corpus is biased toward growth areas: familial and bureaucratic capitalism have their places and do specific jobs well, but since their principles are more established, we won't see a lot of new management books focused on them. In contrast, new information and communication technologies enable new organizational approaches to emergent objects, and thus we see a glut of new management books addressing them. The authors do not address this objection head-on, but they do acknowledge in the next chapter that successive organizational and technical innovations and managerial modes gradually transformed mechanisms, and that the corpus reflects an attempt to unify these mechanisms into a coherent vision (p. 103). The term "network" is frequently used in the corpus to impose coherence on these highly disparate elements (p.103). They charge that the notion of network absolves us from positing or addressing the idea of justice: in a networked world, low-status people are simply excluded (p.106). The authors do discuss network analysis and Latourean and Deleuzian sociotechnical networks—unfortunately conflating these (p.150; see also p.356).

In a network world, the authors say, our focus is no longer on saving money as in Weberian (familial) capitalism, but rather on saving time: it must be spent on the best connections and reinvested immediately (p.152).

In Part II, the authors examine the history of labor in the second half of the 20th century in France, specifically the negotiations between trade unions and employers. In this telling, the trade unions in 1968 saw compromise as an exit lane from capitalism (p.182), but management addressed critiques by accommodating demands for social justice (p.183), providing profit-sharing in lieu of control/power (p.184), improving working conditions to quell rebellion (p.185), and replacing autonomy with security (p.190).

There is much more to the book, but let's skip to the conclusion, which presents these axioms:

  1. "Capitalism needs a spirit in order to engage the people required for production and the functioning of business." (p.485)
  2. "To be capable of mobilizing people, the spirit of capitalism must include a moral dimension." (p.486)
  3. "If it is to survive, capitalism needs simultaneously to stimulate and to curb instability." (p.487)
  4. "The spirit of capitalism cannot be reduced to an ideology in the sense of an illusion with no impacts on the world." (p.488)
  5. "Capitalism has a constant tendency to transform itself." (p.489)
  6. "The principal operator of creation and transformation of the spirit of capitalism is critique (voice)." (p.489)
  7. "In certain conditions, critique can itself be one of the factors of a change in capitalism (and not merely in its spirit)." (p.490)
  8. "Critique derives its energy from sources of indignation." (p.491)
It would be a little facile to say that capitalism succeeds because it listens to critique and addresses it. Boltanski and Chiapello, I think, rather argue that capitalism identifies damaging critiques and incorporates changes to defang those critiques so that it can retain and legitimize its essential focus on the accumulation process. It is more nimble, more flexible, and more supple in argumentation than its competitors. 

Overall, I think the book is a solid piece of work, although the authors have staked a lot on their reading of the management corpus, and I agree that they may not be able to generalize their conclusions beyond France. I am also not thrilled with how they have conflated different uses of "network," which I think muddies the analysis. Like other books in this vein, this one also endorses a grand narrative in which changes can be traced to a single actor (capitalism) rather than multiple factors in tension (ex: information and communication technologies, changes in transportation, the broadening of infrastructure, etc.). Nevertheless, it provides a much-needed rethinking of Weber's original thesis and provides a smart critique of the management literature. I wish I had read it before writing All Edge, although I think I would have—er—incorporated the critique rather than fundamentally changing my argument. If you're interested in capitalism, the so-called new economy, or Weber, take a look.