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Accusatory Rhetoric

Although accusations and defense have been integral to rhetorical theory and practice since antiquity, a clear tendency has emerged over time: the defense has enjoyed greater empirical and theoretical attention than the accusation. This trend also holds true for the modern rhetorical tradition. This research project seeks to address these shortcomings, by proposing a definition of accusation and by studying a broad spectrum of public accusations as they unfold and are used in current public discourse within a Scandinavian context.

In this project, I define accusation as a situated utterance in which someone attributes guilt to a group or an individual. This definition distinguishes accusation from related phenomena (such as shaming, hate speech, character assassination) by emphasizing guilt as the concrete and personal responsibility for an action. Additionally, this definition links accusation to statements concerning past events that have violated written or unwritten norms. Consequently, I argue that the logic of narrative influences and, to a certain extent, determines the form and function of accusation.

The empirical data is drawn from various individual and collective public accusations, including those presented as part of the #MeToo movement's numerous testimonies of offensive behavior and acts of abuse, as well as from public debates about appropriate and inappropriate conduct during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. A central claim of the project is that accusations can serve as a catalyst for the negotiation of norms and values in public discourse.

The project is led by Rebekka Lykke Ringgaard and is situated at the Center for Rhetoric.