Carole Blair

THE KEYNOTE ADDRESS WILL BE DELIVERED BY CAROLE BLAIR, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication and Fellow of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Professor Blair’s teaching and research address the general areas of rhetoric as a material practice, public memory, and rhetorical theory and criticism. Her acclaimed and widely taught and cited published work has shaped a generation of scholars in Rhetorical Studies and has centrally contributed to a number of the discipline’s vitally important interventions; in the language of one of her memorable and influential essays, Blair has been a transformational “critical disturber.” Among her numerous awards from the National Communication Association (NCA), Professor Blair is a Distinguished Scholar, a two-time recipient of the Golden Anniversary Monograph Award for article of the year, winner of the Woolbert Award for a publication of longstanding disciplinary influence, selected as a Carroll C. Arnold Distinguished Lecturer, and recipient of the Francine Merritt Award for Contributions to the Careers of Women in Communication. Professor Blair served as the 2015 NCA President.

Professor Blair has been studying U.S. national commemorative places and artworks since the early 1990s. Along with Bill Balthrop and Neil Michel, she is working currently on a (giant) project on the U.S. national cemeteries and monuments commemorating World War I in Europe. Their larger research program, encompassing twentieth-century commemoration, poses the issue of how the U.S. nation-state commemorates itself with these primary questions: Who or what is commemorated, during what periods, under what conditions, and with what civic, cultural, and political consequences?

Conceits of Context: Diffident Reflections

There may be no conceptual problem so ill-defined and underexplored in the humanities and social sciences in general, and in rhetoric in particular, than the issue of the imbrication(s) of text and context. Even the mundane (but sometimes useful) gesture of exploring etymology demonstrates just how elusive the relationship is between text and context. Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether we could even agree about what we mean by “text,” the prefix “con” means simply “with” or “together.”  So, we are left only with the rather unhelpful conclusion that context is something that accompanies text. Still, the conceptual issue has sparked numerous and sometimes bitter contemporary disputes among disciplinary groups, often without benefit of agreement or even discussion about what the primary terms in the disputes mean or how they are related. In groupings like rhetoric, the conceptual issues of what texts and contexts are, what distinguishes them, what their borders are, and how their modes of “togetherness” matter are crucial, for they are definitive of our intellectual work. This paper attempts to mark out and illustrate the stakes of understanding context in relation to text and alternative ways of theorizing and mobilizing the relationship(s).