Notes: Kelly E. Happe, “Parrhēsia, Biopolitics, and Occupy”

Happe, Kelly E. (2015). Parrhēsia, biopolitics, and occupy. Rhetoric & Philosophy, 48(2), 211-223.


Happe looks at the Occupy movement’s rhetorical work within neoliberal, late capitalist contexts as ethical parrhēsia.

Keywords: occupy, parrhēsia, rhetoric, writing studies


Chaput, Catherine. (2010). Rhetorical circulation in late capitalism: Neoliberalism and the overdetermination of affective energy.” Philosophy and Rhetoric, 43(1), 1–25.

Endres, Danielle, and Samantha Senda-Cook. (2011). Location matters: The rhetoric of place in protest. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 97(3), 257–82.


“Indeed, analyses of Occupy have shored up many of our commonsense assumptions: that direct action is a method for creating the spaces for free speech and radical democracy; that cooperative living in public is an expression of and desire for communism or socialism; that refusal to conform to accepted conventions of political speech will not be persuasive; and that utopian discourses necessarily draw from already existing ideas and concepts. Nevertheless, occupiers and advocates maintain a stubborn indeterminism that is at once intended and productive” (p. 213).

“If neoliberalism has indeed saturated all rhetorical spaces and our rhetorical productions unavoidably produce value for capitalism, how might we produce discourses that can effectively challenge these institutions and their logics?” (p. 213).

“Bareness of life is not to be confused with a stripping away of artifice, such as rhetorical language (understood as ornament), in order to reveal true knowledge. Rather, what the Cynic mode of life allows for is ethical parrhēsia, which, as opposed to political parrhēsia, or a kind of truth telling possible only when one conforms, implicitly, to structures and conventions of intelligibility, requires the suspension of the properly political in order to make way for ethical transformation of the self” (p. 216).

Parrhēsia, in this formulation, is not exercised for the purpose of creating or expanding otherwise properly political spaces in order to include more voices and perspectives. It entails, rather, a radical risk taking, the relinquishing not only of what are established conventions and norms but also ‘needs.’ The only guarantee for such risk taking is the opening up of the space of an ‘other’ life” (p. 216).

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