chapter  9
14 Pages

Encomium of the harlot, or, a rhetoric of refusal

WithDavi Thornton

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, a slew of T-shirts, bumper stickers, and memes featuring the statement ‘Science is Real’ circulated across social and public spaces via a range of embodied and digital media. This statement often shares space with other slogans, including ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Love is Love’, recognized as an explicitly political statement with a distinctly social justice ethos. In this context, the claim ‘Science is Real’ states more than the obvious. I start by unraveling this compressed statement to query what, precisely, is at stake in critical approaches to scientific language. I articulate my inquiry as a response, and potentially a challenge, to belief that rhetoric of science scholars should heed a moral obligation to approach scientific disciplines as ‘mutual contributors to a cosmopolitan and globalizing perspective’, and avoid scholarship that suggests science is ‘bad’, or an ‘enemy’. Rather, I offer an alternative, suggesting that oppositional approaches challenge the view that history is a story of human progress with the basic plot summary ‘improving the human lot, over time, through human agency’. The challenges I am interested in are not simply empirical challenges—but rather epistemological and ontological challenges able to be brought out through the recurring image and discourse of rhetoric as itself ‘a harlot’ of the arts.