Spectacular Rhetorics

Human Rights Visions, Recognitions, Feminisms

Spectacular Rhetorics

Next Wave: New Directions in Women's Studies

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Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 14 illustrations Published: August 2011

Author: Wendy Hesford

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Law > Human Rights, Media Studies

Spectacular Rhetorics is a rigorous analysis of the rhetorical frameworks and narratives that underlie human rights law, shape the process of cultural and legal recognition, and delimit public responses to violence and injustice. Integrating visual and textual criticism, Wendy S. Hesford scrutinizes “spectacular rhetoric,” the use of visual images and rhetoric to construct certain bodies, populations, and nations as victims and incorporate them into human rights discourses geared toward Westerners, chiefly Americans. Hesford presents a series of case studies critiquing the visual representations of human suffering in documentary films, photography, and theater. In each study, she analyzes works addressing a prominent contemporary human rights cause, such as torture and unlawful detention, ethnic genocide and rape as a means of warfare, migration and the trafficking of women and children, the global sex trade, and child labor. Through these studies, she demonstrates how spectacular rhetoric activates certain cultural and national narratives and social and political relations, consolidates identities through the politics of recognition, and configures material relations of power and difference to produce and, ultimately, to govern human rights subjects.


Spectacular Rhetorics is a timely and resonant book. . . . Hesford’s book deserves this time, thought, and celebration.” — Kerry L. Bystrom, Human Rights Quarterly

Spectacular Rhetorics is an impressive literary analysis of the power-laden rhetorical strategies that shape the global human rights regime. It will be of interest to a wide range of scholars working in feminist, postcolonial and cultural studies as well as to individuals working in the field of human rights.”
— Leela Fernandes, International Feminist Journal of Politics

“Hesford alerts readers to the covert ways in which power structures and practices are concealed, reinforced, and deployed in multiple ways through the representation of identified ‘others’ (nations, communities, and subjects. . . . Recommended.” — A. B. Commissiong, Choice

“Hesford’s insistence that we turn the gaze onto ourselves must be heeded if truth is to be valued within human rights discourses and movements. In the spirit of liberation psychology which seeks to expose ‘spectacular’ acts of bystanding through a holistic understanding of collective trauma (see Watkins & Shulman, 2008), such a call for the transformation of passive spectator to active witness demands that truth-telling actors of all kinds embrace more self-reflexive and critically conscious relationships with the subjects of their narratives, and reflect deeply on their research methodologies and representational choices. That is, indeed, a tall order for artists, activists, and scholars, but one certainly worth undertaking.” — Erin Kamler, International Journal of Communication

Spectacular Rhetorics provides an important analytical framework for understanding the role of visual representation in human rights discourses. With insights from feminist rhetorical studies, Wendy S. Hesford explains how spectators are produced around human rights issues from the global sex trade to rape as an instrument of warfare. Her analysis of documentary films on human rights issues is particularly astute and insightful and relevant for all those interested in contemporary feminist politics.” — Inderpal Grewal, author of Transnational America: Feminisms, Diasporas, Neoliberalisms

“Wendy S. Hesford’s book is a provoking and versatile move beyond human rights as a largely juridical, text-centered idiom tied to the Kantian enlightenment. Her use of social rhetoricity allows her to traverse both the field of the visual and the textual and in doing so to bring under scrutiny occluded realist and gendered ontologies anchoring both the humanitarian graphosphere and iconosphere. The writing eloquently and critically moves across the screened-off yet determining frames of media advocacy, traumatic memory, practice-led media work, and occulted geographies of the gaze. Hesford delivers a theory of human rights as visual citizenship and as a politicized aesthetic cosmopolitanism.” — Allen Feldman, New York University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Wendy S. Hesford is Professor of English at the Ohio State University. She is the author of Framing Identities: Autobiography and the Politics of Pedagogy, a co-author of Rhetorical Visions: Writing and Reading in a Visual Culture, and a co-editor of Just Advocacy? Women’s Human Rights, Transnational Feminisms, and the Politics of Representation and Haunting Violations: Feminist Criticism and the Crisis of the “Real.”

Table of Contents Back to Top


1. Human Rights Visions and Recognitions

2. Staging Terror Spectacles

3. Witnessing Rape Warfare: Suspending the Spectacle

4. Global Sex Work, Victim Identities, and Cybersexualities

5. Spectacular Childhoods: Sentimentality and the Politics of (In)visibility

Conclusion: Posthumanism, Human Rights, and the Humanities



Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2012 Rhetoric Society of America Book Award

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4951-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4933-4
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