Japanese Rhetoric: Inside–Outside Positionalities

I used my dissertation to delve into many different aspects of Japanese rhetoric, cultural and regional identity, and comparative rhetoric as a methodology. As I completed my project I was aware the ideas engaged in each chapter would better serve as parts of stand-alone articles and presentations rather than a single book project. Parts of my dissertation work appear in a special 2013 issue of Rhetoric Society Quarterly (41.3) on comparative rhetoric—an issue which was reprinted as a book, Comparative Rhetoric: The Art of Traversing Rhetorical Times, Places, and Spaces, in 2014—and in the Rhetoric Society of America Conference Proceedings, Re/Framing Identifications, published in 2014.

The RSQ article “Uchi/Soto in Japan: A Global Turn” introduces my theory of inside–outside positionalities. The article traces meaning-making processes inherent in intercultural contact through the example of the “invented tradition” of the Christmas cake in Japan. It demonstrates how inside–outside positionality destabilizes notions of cultural essence and expands understandings of the rhetoric that constructs and reconstructs group identity. I situate my reading of the Christmas cake as an example of a new comparative methodology, one that does not assume single points of origin for traditions but rather looks for intercultural ties and borrowings. The article also highlights the meaning-making power of notions of inside and outside, and how those shift with time and context, giving rise to new meanings and affiliations between and within groups, driving change in the performances of regional and group identities, such as the performance of Japanese identity.

My chapter in Re/Framing Identifications, “Both Insiders and Outsiders: Re/Framing Identification via Japanese Rhetoric,” compares Kenneth Burke’s theory of identification and the uchi/soto (inside/outside) dynamic, a concept developed by linguistic anthropologist Jane Bachnik, which I repurpose as a feature of Japanese rhetoric that highlights the nuances of shifting insider and outsider identities. Beyond offering another way to engage with Burke’s theory in particular, the piece demonstrates the value of engaging in comparative rhetorical study in general—that it pushes scholars of rhetoric to constantly question how much of any theory represents a universal, and how much is tightly culturally bound.

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