Mikhail Bakhtin and the rhetorical tradition

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Over the course of the past decade, the work of Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin has exerted an increasing influence in rhetorical studies. This essay explores the ways in which rhetorical scholars have embraced Mikhail Bakhtin as a rhetorical theorist in spite of the fact that he disdained rhetoric. The first section of the essay examines the concept of tradition, elucidates three definitions of the rhetorical tradition commonly available to theorists, and explains the processes through which these definitions articulate as rhetorical theorists even those people who attack rhetoric. The essay then turns to the rhetorical reception of Mikhail Bakhtin, critiques the strategies that frame him as a rhetorician, and offers an alternative reading of his key discussion of rhetoric and of the rhetorical tradition in general. The conclusion argues that the reception of Bakhtin suggests a pattern in rhetorical studies. As rhetoricians encounter theorists who condemn rhetoric, they tend to defer the instrumental aspect of rhetoric, its potential for manipulation, in favor of a more benign view of rhetorical action. It is dangerous to disregard the danger of rhetoric in pursuit of a higher status for rhetoric.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)259-277
Number of pages19
JournalQuarterly Journal of Speech
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • History of rhetoric
  • Mikhail Bakhtin
  • Rhetorical criticism
  • Rhetorical theory
  • Rhetorical tradition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education


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