25.09.2011

Taru Haapala, MA, L.Soc.Sc., Ph.D. Candidate

Academy of Finland research project ”The Politics of Dissensus. Parliamentarism, Rhetoric and Conceptual History”

University of Malaga research project "Las retoricas de la democracia: Los usos de la experiencia democratica en la argumentacion moral y politica"

Email: taru.k.s.haapala(a)jyu.fi

Tel. +358 40 8054159

Room: Y332 (Ylistönmäentie)


Academic debating societies and oppositional style of speaking in the nineteenth-century British parliamentary culture

This study ventures to understand changes in parliamentary rhetoric in nineteenth-century Britain and the role of academic debating societies in them. More specifically, it concerns the circumstances in which members of parliament acquired self-understanding of their political power by speech through general rekindling of interest for oppositional style of political speaking. Special interest is afforded to the general acceptance of academic debating societies in the British political culture, the most renowned of which are the Cambridge and Oxford Union Societies. It is argued that the change in the criteria of parliamentary speeches occurred gradually in Britain while parliamentary rhetoric turned away from epideictic to the more deliberative style of debating. The theoretical approach for analysis is afforded by rhetorical figures of mockery and ridicule. They have their origin in the English Renaissance but are also distinguishable in more recent parliamentary language. Mockery is commonly displayed in situations where information alone is not enough to convince. The English parliament is a political arena in which arguments for and against are presented according to the procedure, and where it often happens that arguments for both sides are equally strong. Thus opportunity for making fun of a political opponent is provided. Here the deliberative aspect of parliamentary rhetoric becomes visible, as parliamentarians try to make each other’s arguments look less authoritative by means of ridicule, which allows more room for persuading the House. The oppositional style of speaking in the Parliament, the strict following of the procedure of speaking for and against, was reproduced in the Unions, which became commonly known as training grounds for parliamentarians of the nineteenth century.