Notes: Marlana Portolano, “The Rhetorical Function of Utopia: An Exploration of the Concept of Utopia in Rhetorical Theory”

Portolano, Marlana. (2012). The rhetorical function of utopia: An exploration of the concept of utopia in rhetorical theory. Utopian Studies, 23(1), 113-141.


Portolano makes connections between utopian studies and rhetorical theory, arguing for consideration of a utopian rhetoric, that realizes utopia as conveyed through symbolic communication and thus rhetorical.

Keywords: invention, philosophy, rhetoric, rhetorical theory, utopianism



“Without naming it ‘utopia,’ rhetorical theorists have consistently referred to an imagined, often idealized aspect of place as a part of ethos, the artistic rhetorical proof that is drawn from an audience’s collective character” (114).

“[W]hat is often left out in utopian studies is how this concept is communicated or mediated via symbols and communicative
conventions” (p. 115).

“[W]e might define a utopian rhetoric as the use of symbolic communication in an attempt to move the actual state of human affairs into alignment with an imagined, better state of affairs—that is, a utopia, either one shared by the community or one invented by the speaker or both. All sorts of utopia, then, are forms of rhetoric, but the reverse is not always true” (p. 116).

“This concept of utopia is essentially the same thing as constitutive rhetoric: It is a way of interpreting textual and symbolic events as they contribute to the realization of cultural norms” (p. 130).

“What is meant by “rhetorical invention” that might enhance utopian studies’ array of interpretive tools? Traditionally, it is the artistic creation of all the emotional, ethical, rational, and imaginative means of persuasion possible for a particular social group—the discovery of how to move an audience to psychological cohesion and, eventually, to action. Because rhetoric is usually understood as a civic art, like politics, this kind of invention is essential to any civic utopia” (p. 131).

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