Department of Communication
13th Biennial Public Address Conference
Andrew Barnes

Cosmopolitan Discursive Formations: Presidential Rhetoric
at the United Nations

Despite longstanding attention to rhetorical form and structuring logics that give discourse its persuasive power (metaphor, genre, narrative, definitional frames, ideology, etc.), a related focus on situations that give rise to and are in turn constituted by public address, and work emphasizing the institutional and social structural dynamics within which rhetoric operates, the relative amount of publication attending to international rhetoric remains slight. This is particularly so in studies of American presidential rhetoric; as the composition of presidential audiences has stretched to global proportions, scholarship has lagged given the challenges of apprehending the manifold cross-cultural complexities of reading reactions to presidential speech. Spanning five decades and four presidencies (Kennedy, Carter, H.W. Bush and Clinton), the dissertation work undertaken takes presidential public address at the United Nations as its object of study in an effort to help remedy this shortcoming, while also aiming to provide a richer theoretical underpinning for accounts of the modern rhetorical presidency. The analysis grapples with three particular problems: conceptualizing increasingly pluralized audiences, the matter of ascertaining how non-American institutions (like the United Nations) shape and are shaped by American rhetorical productions, and the difficulties in gauging presidential rhetorical efficacy. Two main arguments are advanced. First, the dissertation argues that presidential rhetoric at the United Nations traffics in a particular brand of liberal cosmopolitanism, which helps American presidents to constitute a universal audience nonetheless ideologically made in America's image. The terrain and implications of this cosmopolitanism rhetoric are mapped and unpacked. Second, it is argued that when crafting rhetoric for the specific audience of the United Nations General Assembly, the President is obligated to work within the confines of the rhetorical institution that is the United Nations. Here – taking a cue from Campbell and Jamieson – the project seeks to understand the limits and possibilities of presidential rhetoric based on existing international institutional constraints. Taken together, the resulting scene of presidential cosmopolitan address, rather than culminating in efforts primarily concentrated on persuasion, end up mainly interpellating a global audience supportive of a liberal cosmopolitan agenda which in turn is pre-structured to support the interests of the United States.

Andrew Barnes
Georgia State University

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