Role of Visual Rhetoric in Teaching and Learning Political Science

Date01 June 2020
Published date01 June 2020
Subject MatterTeaching–Learning Politics in India
Teaching–Learning Politics in India
Role of Visual Rhetoric in Teaching
and Learning Political Science
Aparna Vincent1
Politics and rhetoric often go together. However, Indian politics has been in recent times dominated by
images. In this context, I make a case here for integrating visual rhetoric as a central component of
political science education through an analysis of an iconic photograph from the anti-CAA protests.
I base my analysis on the work of Brian Ott and Greg Dickinson, ‘Visual Rhetoric and/as Critical
Pedagogy’, published in the Sage Handbook of Rhetorical Studies, where they offer interesting insights
into the wide range of interpretative, analytical and pedagogical possibilities that the world of visuals
presents. I draw upon their work to explore how visual rhetoric can be integrated into pedagogy well
beyond its traditional role as a memory retaining, attention-grabbing and facilitation tool. While visual
rhetoric in politics is not fundamentally new, the ‘proliferation of images’—in the Baudrillardian sense,
that characterizes the post-modern world, brings an urgency to critical education in this area.
Rhetoric, the ‘art of persuasion’, has its origins in ancient Greece, with significant contributions from
the Greek sophists and later from Aristotle through his work Art of Rhetoric (Toye, 2013). Rhetoric has
had a negative connotation to it with many, particularly Plato, associating it with deception and this has
discouraged scholars from taking it seriously as a significant area of academic enquiry. Notwithstanding
these reservations, the scholarship on rhetoric has undergone significant changes from the time of the
Classical Greeks, particularly in light of the improvements in technology, especially in mass media.
While earlier studies of rhetoric have focused exclusively on its persuasive potential, later studies have
paid a lot of attention to the processes which shape different kinds of rhetoric and their reception
(Kjeldsen, 2018; Martin, 2014; Toye, 2013). Scholars are increasingly seeking to demonstrate how
societal conditions and structures contribute to rhetoric and influence the manner in which a certain
audience/public receives them.
Visual rhetoric is that branch of rhetoric which deals with the study of images (Foss, 2005). Images
forming part of visual rhetoric includes photographs, cartoons, graffiti, maps, design of public spaces—
cities, memorials, government offices, and so on, as well as miscellaneous visual artefacts. Western
academia which always prioritized the words over the visuals witnessed a shift in its approach with
increased insight into the significance of images. Visual rhetoric as a separate area of enquiry emerged
in the West in the 1970s with Kenneth Burke’s A Rhetoric of Motives being an inspiration for early
scholars who studied visuals. Rising prominence of visuals is leading to an erosion in the dominance
of language (Ott & Dickinson, 2001, p. 391). Enquiries into the significance of visual rhetoric in
Studies in Indian Politics
8(1) 98–104, 2020
© 2020 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2321023020918067
Note: This section is coordinated by Rajeshwari Deshpande (
1 Guest Lecturer-Political Science, Sacred Heart College, Kochi, Kerala, India.
Corresponding author:
Aparna Vincent, Guest Lecturer- Political Science, Sacred Heart College, Pandit Karuppan Road, Thevara, Kochi
682013, Kerala, India.

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