Visual Rhetoric and Stasis Theory: How Audiences “See” Value Judgments

Saturday, 14 February 2015: 10:00 AM-11:30 AM
Room 210AB (San Jose Convention Center)
Lynda Walsh,University of Nevada, Reno, NV
This talk introduces rhetorical stasis theory as a vehicle for understanding why publics routinely interpret climate pictures as making value judgments about the economy or energy policy. Stasis theory is an ancient representation of the levels or “stases” of democratic deliberation, a model that still substantially applies today. The theory predicts that in public debate, arguments about natural causes and effects will segue into value judgments (economic, religious, or otherwise) about these causes/effects and, finally, into policy arguments centered on those values. This “upward pull” effect of stasis has a dramatic and consistent effect on arguments about the causes and effects of climate change in public debates: namely, climate projections are interpreted as value judgments on industrial practices and policy recommendations. Stasis presents unique problems for climate scientists’ attempts to communicate their work to the public—chief among them the impracticability of scientists “just sticking to the facts” in public debate; these problems are illustrated via reception studies of climate pictures from recent IPCC reports, and the ways in which pictures “argue” are briefly clarified using Toulmin argumentation, which meshes well with stasis theory. The talk concludes by reviewing and evaluating various solutions that have been proposed to the problems that stasis creates for public debates about climate change.