Crowd with Masks


A series of online panel discussions on the role and functioning of rhetoric today 

14-15 January 2021 (via Zoom).

Viral Rhetorics is a series of panel discussions with academic specialists from a range of disciplines with a shared interest in rhetoric in all its forms.  

Rhetoric has always been at the heart of debates over the relationship between democracy and the public sphere. The unprecedented global public health crisis of COVID-19 has only underscored the vital importance of processes of communication, persuasion, and the sharing of expertise, at a time of intense digital connectivity in which ideas can circulate in a more viral-like way than ever before.

Organised by researchers from across the GW4 institutions (Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter), Viral Rhetorics is a forum for scholars from a range of disciplines to provide comparative perspectives and approaches. Panel discussions are open to all, though we are particularly keen to welcome participants from GW4 institutions and from the South West more generally, as well as from all career stages and pathways, especially postgraduate research students and postdoctoral researchers.

Panel Format:

Each session will begin with panellists briefly presenting a text, image, or artefact relating to the panel theme. These will be circulated to all registered participants in January. 





14 January, 13:00-14:30 

Chair: Prof Michelle Bolduc, Exeter


Maria Gisella Gioannone (Classics and Ancient History, University of Exeter)
Prof Lynette Mitchell (Professor in Greek History and Politics, University of Exeter)
Dr Aske Damtoft Poulsen (Postdoctoral Fellow, Classics and Ancient History, University of Bristol)
Dr Rowan Tomlinson (Senior Lecturer in Renaissance Studies, University of Bristol)

This panel will focus on the potential of rhetoric to develop and foster, via commonplaces, commonalities among people. Imagined here not only as the topoi necessary for rhetorical invention, but also as vectors of adherence, commonplaces may allow us to understand how compromise has been brokered (or not) amid differing opinions, beliefs, and values. Commonplaces, as described by Chaïm Perelman and his collaborator Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, serve to justify our preferences and our choices, and thus undergird our reasoning and our decision-making. As such, research into the use of commonplaces historically--in Ancient Greece, Rome, through the Renaissance--may allow us to better understand how inclusion and social cohesion may be created and maintained, and conversely, the mechanisms by which exclusion may be instituted.   

To register for this session, click here.​

To download the handout for this session, click here.



14 January, 15:00-16:30 

Chair: Dr Elisabeth El Refaie, Cardiff


Dr Andrew Blades (Lecturer in English, Bristol University)

Dr João Florêncio (Senior Lecturer in History of Modern and Contemporary Art and Visual Culture, University of Exeter)

Prof Luna Dolezal (Associate Professor in Philosophy and Medical Humanities, University of Exeter)

The focus of this workshop will be on how rhetorical representations of illness may shape the attitudes of both patients and health professionals, as well as having potential implications for the diagnosis, treatment and psycho-social impact of particular diseases. Does it matter whether we talk about cancer in terms of fighting an enemy or dealing with an unruly orchestra, for example? Another important and timely question is how rhetoric can be used in public health campaigns in a way that encourages the desired attitudinal and behavioral changes, while maintaining high ethical standards and respecting the rights of individuals.

To register for this session, click here.

To download the handout for this session, click here.


Friday 15 January 


15 January, 9:30-11:00 

Chair: Dr Sophia Hatzisavvidou, Bath


Mike Bolt (Politics, University of Bath)

Dr Susan Kinnear (School of Journalism, Media and Culture, Cardiff University)

Prof James Martin (Professor of Political Theory, Goldsmiths University of London)

Prof Richard Toye (Professor of History, University of Exeter) 

The soundbite ‘take back control’ evolved into one of the key reference points of the Brexit campaign. Considering the British imperial past declarations to ‘reclaim national sovereignty’ sound ambiguous; yet they found an audience and have been keeping the Brexit campaign vibrant for several years. What kind of insights and tools can rhetoric provide to those interested in understanding the tensions and ambiguities inherent in the Brexit debate? This workshop offers several entry points to reckon with this problematique, as well as insights into the role that the rhetoric of Empire plays in contemporary British life more broadly. 

To register for this session, click here.

To download the handout for this session, click here.



15 January, 11:00-12:45 

Chair: Dr Paul Earlie, Bristol


Dr Paul Earlie (Lecturer in French, University of Bristol)

Dr Chris Heffer (Reader, School of English, Communication and Philosophy, Cardiff University)

Dr Maria Vaccarella (Lecturer in English, University of Bristol)

​In recent years, discourse in the public sphere has increasingly relied upon a new vocabulary. Terms such as ‘alternative facts’, ‘fake news’, ‘post-truth’, and the ‘postfactual’ saturate debates at all levels and in all spheres, from politics to history, education to law, media to cultural studies. This workshop explores what the theory and practice of rhetoric can contribute to understanding this apparent shift in attitude towards truthfulness, mendacity, expertise, and evidence in public discourse. Does our current 'postfactual’ age represent a rupture with previous debates on truth and lying in the public sphere, or is it continuous with earlier polemics? To what extent has a rapidly changing media environment shaped and influenced this contemporary situation? And can the study of rhetoric, broadly construed, provide any tools for addressing some of these challenges? 

To register for this session, click here.

To download the handout for this session, click here.