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  Originating in the fifth century  BC with the sophists, rhetoric is the study of persuasive discourse; of how words \'influence men\'s [sic] souls\' as Plato put it. Rhetoricians suggest that researchers in all forms of inquiry employ a multitude of different stylistic devices (tropes) to convince others of the plausibility of their arguments. Metaphors, ironic asides, equations, jokes, citations, and anecdotes are all part of the same attempt to establish authority and persuade one\'s audience. Rhetoric is counterposed to epistemology, which attempts to establish truth on the basis of a set of a priori, abstract criteria. For rhetoricians, however, truth emerges only within specific practices of persuasion on the ground. Epistemology tells us what people ought to say, whereas for students of rhetoric it is what people actually do say that is critical. For example, positivist epistemologists would claim that they uphold the distance-decay effect because it was established using the most rigorous of statistical techniques. Yet for most, the plausibility of the distance-decay effect comes from a set of convincing tropes: from self-inspection (what would I do?), from thinking about others (what would they do?), from authority (some very famous geographers believe in it), from analogy (if it works for planetary masses, it should work for humans), and from a sense of parsimony (one equation explains everything). In short, what is persuasive is far wider than the official rhetoric admits, thereby casting doubt on the official rhetoric itself.

With the recent cultural turn in the social sciences since the 1980s there has been an increasing critical appreciation of rhetoric. For that cultural turn problematizes all representations, from those of high-energy physics (cf. science, geography and) to those of cultural geography. In each case, it is suggested, representations are not mirror copies of the world but cultural constructions infused by both politics and poetics, and which are made substantial and powerful by, among other things, specific rhetorical manoeuvres and devices (cf. poetics of geography). In geography rhetoric has been explored by Barnes (1989) and Curry (1996), and most systematically by Smith (1996). (TJB)

References Barnes, T.J. 1989: Rhetoric, metaphor, and mathematical modelling. Environment and Planning A 21: 1281-4. Curry, M.R. 1996: The work in the world: geographical practice and the written word. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. Smith, J.M. 1996: Geographical rhetoric: modes and tropes of appeal. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 86: 1-20.

Suggested Reading Nelson, J.S., Megill, A. and McCloskey, D. 1987: The rhetoric of the human sciences: language and argument in scholarship and public affairs. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Smith (1996).



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