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date: 20 September 2017

Theories of Economic Justice in the Rhetorical Tradition

Summary and Keywords

Depending on how you approach it, economic justice is either an extremely old intellectual tradition or a relatively new one. From the first perspective, economic justice is part and parcel of classical political philosophy—Plato’s The Republic and Aristotle’s The Politics, for instance, both discuss property distribution in an ideal society, emphasizing the philosophy of justice over economic precepts. From the second perspective, the one we embrace, economic justice is a uniquely modern inquiry that emerged with the writings of Karl Marx and his revolutionary critique of the capitalist political economy. For Marx, economic justice can be understood as a critical enterprise that attempts to locate contradictions between universal and particular conceptions of human freedom and intervene politically into these contradictions with the aim of creating a more just, equitable, and egalitarian society. So conceived, economic justice liberates the collective potential of humanity from its exploitation and degradation by capitalism as well as the various legal institutions it develops to control human behavior for the purpose of extracting of surplus-value. It is this Marxist perspective and the various historical reformulations that it has authorized that influence the way rhetoricians and scholars of cultural studies conceptualize economic justice in the discipline of communication. While not all of these scholars endorse an explicitly Marxist line of thought, they all attempt to conceptualize economic justice as a normative political category that influences various models of rhetorical agency and social change.

Keywords: economic liberalism, materiality, Marxism, rhetorical agency, democracy, ideology, social change, power, hegemony, discourse


The difficulty in historicizing economic justice stems, in part, from the vexed relationship between economics and politics throughout Western history. As Hannah Arendt explains in the Human Condition (1958), prior to the invention of political economy in the late 18th century, politics and economics were viewed as separate and opposing realms of human existence. Politics denoted a democratic realm of freedom and contingency in which equals gathered together to deliberate over laws and legislation that would affect the collective well-being of its citizens while economics signaled a despotic realm of nature and necessity that concerned the prudential rationing of resources within a particular household. Although discussions of economic justice can be found in early political treatises, such as Plato’s The Republic as well as Aristotle’s Politics and Nicomachean Ethics, they emphasized a philosophy of justice over economic precepts, conceptualizing economics as a means to the more noble pursuit of “the good life.” Modern questions of economic justice—such as who has the freedom to participate in a market economy or what legal framework should be upheld to protect the rights of this economic conception of liberty—were not a concern for early theorists of economic justice.

With the rise of political economy in the 18th century, however, a very different way of imagining economic justice came into existence. Through the writings of political philosophers such as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, economic freedom came to be seen as the necessary infrastructure for creating a political sphere rather than as a domain of hierarchy and inequality bracketed from political life. This transformation can be attributed to a host of historical, cultural, institutional, and technological changes that took place between the 16th and 18th centuries, but the birth of the modern nation–state and rise of a capitalist market economy are certainly the more dominant forces. As these transformations eroded the sovereign power of feudal monarchs and gave rise to a new ruling class that defined government in terms promoting economic exchange and commerce, a new understanding of the individual came into existence that was no longer tethered to the norms of tradition and political community. Defined first and foremost by a universal capacity to labor and buy and sell commodities in an open marketplace of exchange, this new individual was seen as having inherent rights and liberties that preceded any collective political identity. From this perspective, economic justice shifted from a peripheral matter to the central concern of politics. If the foundation of society entailed free commerce and exchange among individuals, rather than the collective pursuit of the good and virtuous life, then government would have to be rethought as a question of commutative justice. As a legal framework that ensured the protection of an individual’s private property against theft and other criminal activities, commutative justice deferred other concerns, such as the fair and equitable distribution resources, to the innate reason of the market economy. This lassize faire view on economic justice, which is best encapsulated by Adam Smith’s famous metaphor of the invisible hand, held that markets, when left to their own devices, would “make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants” (2010, p. 128). From Smith’s perspective, economic justice meant nothing more than ensuring a free market economy where all members could participate and compete equally.

Not everyone favored this commutative articulation of economic justice, however. As the 18th and 19th centuries led to increasingly glaring contradictions in capitalism, such as poverty, inequality, monopoly capitalism, and the mass immiseration of millions of laborers, it became clear that the state ought to play a more active role in regulating the market. Given that the capitalist political economy produced an abundance of wealth amid devastating poverty, its critics emphasized the importance of the state in assuring distributive justice, or the equitable distribution of resources. So conceived, economic justice works from the assumption, famously proclaimed in Karl Marx’s (1978a) “Critique of the Gotha Program,” that an advanced society receives from each individual “according to his ability” and provides for “each according to his needs” (p. 531). Marx came to this conclusion by way of his analysis of laissez faire capitalism and its exploitation of the masses of working people. This critique of the capitalist political economy charges the owning class with extracting surplus-value from workers whose pay only remunerates part of their working day—they add more value to the products of their labor than the value paid to them in wages. Surplus-value, or the unpaid portion of the worker’s value-added labor, is the source of capitalist profit and thus also the source of economic injustice.

Yet Marx does not appeal to the government for a more just distribution of this profit (as was the case with other proponents of distributive justice who emphasized social democracy and welfarism) because he rejected the liberal conception of the rights-based individual so foundational to political economy. Instead, he predicates his critique of economic exploitation with an alternative conception of the human subject as irreducibly social in nature. This socialized vision of the human being is crucial to both his program for economic justice and, we argue, his concern with rhetoric as a way to mobilize populations on behalf of that program. Marx’s critique of capitalism as unjust—economically as well as socially—and his critique of the political sphere as the proper vehicle for bestowing human freedom—an argument forcefully lodged in “On the Jewish Question”—opened an entire field of critically inclined economic justice scholarship beginning with, but by no means limited to, Marxist values. It accomplished this task, we believe, by emphasizing the rhetorical constitution of human subjectivity and its historically contingent relationship to power. Long before Michael Calvin McGee articulated his materialist conception of rhetoric, Marx understood historical materialist consciousness as rhetorically constructed from diverse and seemingly unconnected practices, comprising what Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel called a totality. Where Marx diverged from Hegel, however, was that he implicitly understood totality as an all-pervasive rhetorical force—“a naturally recurring phenomenon with which we must cope, and in which we must participate” (McGee, 1982, p. 31). For Marx, capitalism was built up through concrete historical and political processes that simultaneously produced the self-identity of individuals comprising this social order through material and symbolic forces.

This conception of Marx and Marxism as participating in the rhetorical formation of self-reflective subjects tethered to material realities veers significantly from the canonical reception of Marxist thinking among rhetoricians. As Matt Bost and Matthew May (2016) have recently argued, “[r]rhetorically inflected discussions of Marx’s thought have tended either to read his work as a totalizing system, [or] as part of a larger trend within 19th-century historical philosophy” (pp. 4–5). Perhaps the most thoroughgoing explication of this reading strategy comes from James Arnt Aune (1999) who argues that both Marx and the Marxist tradition positioned rhetoric, at best, on the margins. This intellectual practice, Aune maintains, focuses on combatting illusion, ideology, and mystification promoted by the capitalist structure as well as its advocates and thus advances its arguments as reality, truth, and demystification as opposed to rhetorically crafted positions. Consequently, he says, Marx may have known about rhetoric and even translated some of Aristotle’s famous treatise On Rhetoric, but “the tradition had a negligible influence” on him and those who advanced his ideas (Aune, 1999, p. 540). For Aune, this exists in stark contrast with the liberal political economists who, beginning with Adam Smith, embraced rhetorical theory and established important ties between democracy and rhetorical pedagogy. Aune draws official connections between the two disciplines, stressing Smith’s rhetorical training and instruction as well as the political economic work of key rhetoricians like Richard Whately and Thomas De Quincey. No doubt, these explicit ties exist in the liberal democratic tradition in a way they do not in the Marxist tradition; however, if one works from a more organic, everyday conception of rhetoric such as the one put forward by McGee (and, more recently, by Bost and May), it illuminates previously dimmed relationships between rhetoric and Marxism.

Without such a vantage point, Aune’s essay as well as his 1994 follow-up book, Rhetoric and Marxism, represents the Marxist tradition as either ignoring or repressing rhetorical theory as it was canonically conceived up through the Scottish Enlightenment (see Aune, 1994). Given this absence, he concludes that “a critical ‘articulation’ of Marxism and the rhetorical tradition is perhaps premature” and may even be impossible (Aune, 1999, p. 540). Working from a different rhetorical vision, we disagree: not only is such a linkage possible, its time is overdue. In addition to viewing rhetoric as the process of inventing the means of persuasion suited to a particular audience, as Aune does, we also see it as a constructive process (McGee, 1982), a constitutive process (Charland, 1987), and a logic of articulation and publicity (Greene, 1998b; May, 2013). With the aid of these more recent definitions of rhetoric, one cannot avoid the conclusion that Marxism has its own multivalent rhetorical theory grounded in the immanent contradictions between language and praxis. More than twenty-five years after the publication of Aune’s groundbreaking attempt to bring Marxism more directly into the rhetorical conversation, we offer an outline for how to read the ties weaving the multiple threads of a Marxist program for economic justice into the equally divergent forms of its rhetorical theory. We begin by explicating the rhetorical foundations undergirding Marx’s agenda for economic justice; we then map the many permutations of that agenda before and after 1968, and end with an overview of contemporary rhetorical scholarship—both theoretical and applied—that grows out of a Marxist approach toward economic justice.

Marxism and Rhetoric—Potentiality, Passion, and Persuadability

The Marxist tradition of economic justice—a term that does not exist in Marx’s own writing—emerges from a critique of rights-based liberalism and a desire to position individuality within its full human potential or what Marx calls its species-being. Capitalism, he argues, alienates people from their collective human identity, or species-being, by transforming the human into an alienated individual who works only as a means to life and in that labor transfers his or her own powers into the commodity world that is devoid of any universal values beyond the infinite pursuit of wealth and profit. Marx names this process the commodity fetish and outlines it in detail in chapter 1 of the first volume of Capital. According to Marx, the foundational problem with capitalism is not simply its inequitable distribution of profit; on the contrary, it is the much more complex and all-encompassing fact that its political economic structure impedes the free expression of productive human activity by focusing on the individual and dividing that person’s activities among the different facets of human potential—separating the public from the private self, for instance. The abolition of this process means, for Marx, the realization of an authentic species-being in which one’s individual experiences become understood as innately social and thus humanity reconnects with its unique potentiality.

Marx critiques the nation–state and capitalism as mediating forces standing between particularized conceptions of human rights and their universal expression as species-being in an early essay that addresses the ability of a political state to secure individual freedom for Jews. Responding to Bruno Bauer’s recently published The Jewish Question, which outlines the problem of religious identity in the secular state, Marx says that the fundamental problem of human equality is neither religious nor political; instead, it lies in the fact that “man leads, notably in thought, in consciousness, but in reality, in life a double existence” (1978b, p. 34). Individuals imagine themselves as social beings through the abstract notion of citizenship, but they live their concrete lives as egoistic beings in the private sphere. Even worse, people live an alienated existence—one that displaces human potential onto an external object—in both parts of this fractured environment. As citizens, they place their species-being in the state and, as members of civil society, they place their species-being in commodities. The answer to the question of human emancipation, therefore, cannot be founded in an identity as either a free citizen or a free worker; instead, it must be derived from the process by which individuals extend their social existence from the abstract realm of politics into their concrete lived experiences. In Marx’s words, true freedom happens when “in his everyday life, in his work, and in his relationships, [an individual] has become a species-being; and when he has recognized and organized his own powers (forces propres) as social powers so that he no longer separates this social power from himself as political power” (1978b, p. 46). Economic justice will not be meted out by the state nor delivered spontaneously by the capitalist class, but will emerge once individuals transform themselves into species-beings and discover their full human potential. This transformation (at once individual and material) forms the bedrock of Marx’s rhetorical project—to establish human agency as society’s future potential.

For him, human species-being, the collective social force that enables our individuated agentive capacity in the world, resides in the free development of our conscious physical and mental labor. In other words, the value-adding power of life, what Marx characterizes in The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts as passion, emerges in labor regardless of what form it takes. In language that strikes critics of his early work as dangerously Hegelian, Marx (1964) explains that “the dominion of the objective being in me, the sensuous outburst of my life activity, is passion which thus becomes the activity of my being” (p. 144). Stated differently, “the productive life is the life of the species. It is life-engendering life” (1964, p. 113). For Marx, passion adds value to life—it is “life-engendering life”—and it is the core of human potential to participate in such value-adding activities. To be clear, passion resides in individuals as social beings and not an external force. As Marx contends, the individual is “endowed with natural powers of life” and “these forces exist in him as tendencies and abilities” (1964, p. 181). As an agentive force, passion emerges from human beings as they construct the natural world into a social world. Capitalism, however, displaces this agentive force from the social individual onto the state or into the commodity world; and, in doing so, it transforms that individual’s embodied perception of the world.

Because it alienates an individual from himself by virtue of commodity production, capitalism changes the phenomenal experience of that individual. This alteration, for Marx, is a material one: “the senses of the social man are other senses than those of the non-social man” (1964, p. 141). Instead of individuals capable of exerting innate human capacity to express passion through labor, the liberal individual of rights derives his or her powers from external entities. In capitalism, Marx claims, “The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power … Thus, what I am and what I am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality. I am ugly, but can buy for myself the most beautiful women. Therefore I am not ugly” (1964, p. 167). The result of collective labor and collective efforts, money represents “the alienated ability of mankind” and its privatization within capitalism marks the injustice of the system (1964, p. 168). In contrast, a just society requires “a whole man” whose “human relations to the world—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, thinking, observing, experiencing, wanting, acting, loving—in short, all the organs of his individual being” work simultaneously to further both individual and social life (1964, pp. 138–139). The injustice of capitalism reframes all sensuous experience within the one experience of private ownership. Marx’s economic critique, that is to say, results from the rhetorical observation that the material reality of capitalism suffocates the agentive potential of human species-being.

Marx further maintains that discourse works hand-in-hand with life experience to cultivate the proper rhetorical subject of capitalism. He explicitly addresses such ideological constitution in The German Ideology, a treatise coauthored with Friedrich Engels that opposes transcendent thinking—thinking that separates consciousness from lived experience while leaving the existing conditions untouched. The speculative philosophical tradition of German intellectuals, say Marx and Engels, theorizes individual and world history in isolation from material practices, creating the illusion that consciousness exists separate from its concrete, experiential nature. To understand the function of language, therefore, Marx and Engels begin with “real individuals, their activity and [the] material conditions under which they live” (1995, p. 42). Consciousness and language, residues of the social labor of the human species as it has evolved with the world, are every bit as intertwined with the material world as the production of physical communities and yet they appear as other-worldly forces acting on and through human beings. Language, and thus consciousness, are social products that endure wherever human relationships exist. As these relationships change alongside social developments, so do language and consciousness. From this perspective, language and consciousness are “the result of the activity of a whole succession of generations” and not in any way outside of human experience (1932, p. 62). The division of labor inherent in capitalism, however, breaks this organic symbiosis between experience and language as it produces professional ideologues. Practicing a specialization, language experts such as priests, legislators, and professors produce consciousness as something distinct from the world of lived experience (1932, pp. 51–52). Emerging through political and economic liberalism, capitalist society is awash in the discourses of freedom, equality, and self-determination and while these ideas are firmly rooted in the intellectual consciousness, they have little material connection to lived experience.

Marx famously argues that the ruling ideas are in every epoch the ideas of the ruling class, but to maintain these ideas they have to appear universal. Offering an implicit rhetorical analysis, he explains the process by which this takes place. In brief, he outlines a three-step sequence to the colonization of thought: (a) separate the ideas from the empirical reality of the rulers who espouse them; (b) create an order to the ideas, ensuring that they explain disparate phenomena; and (c) transform the idea into a person or some agentive force. Capitalism’s unifying order and agentive force is, of course, Adam Smith’s invisible hand—a discourse Marx takes to task in his discussion of land rent in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts and in the closing paragraphs of Capital’s chapter 3. Opposed to this process of colonizing thought, Marx and Engels assert that the material world undergirding its consciousness “cannot be dispelled by dismissing the general idea of it from one’s mind”; on the contrary, the material conditions themselves must change along with, and enable, a change of consciousness (1995, p. 83). Thus, for Marx, the goal is to reabsorb such consciousness into the material world and its realities.

Marx’s critique of capitalism and the liberal tradition of economic justice that it authorizes have inspired a long history of ideological criticism that has disclosed the complicity between language and power. McGee identifies such ideological critique as critical to rhetorical materialism, arguing, in step with Marx, that “discourse, even language itself, will have to be characterized as material rather than merely representational of mental and empirical phenomenon” (1995, p. 19). Once language is understood as materially constituting both rhetorical agents and the structures within which they live and work, rhetoric opens itself up to a range of economic, political, and social critiques that explore how language shapes the world in which we operate as well as how language can be mobilized to change that world.

As Marx clearly separates himself from the philosophical tradition in which thought and language are independent of lived experience, he implicitly positions himself in the rhetorical world. Indeed, Aristotle was among the first classical thinkers to locate consciousness within the material world as opposed to an immaterial realm and rhetoric, for him, was at the center of that work. Like Aristotle, Marx believed that thinking and speaking are embodied activities that arise from material necessity. Capitalism has appropriated both activities on behalf of its narrow drive toward individual profit-making. Understood in this way, economic justice is only one aspect of human emancipation—a larger project that promotes non-alienated labor (passionate, free labor) and allows individuals to explore the full range of human possibilities. In such an emancipated society, Marx and Engels (1995) say, “it is possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind” (p. 53). Although couched in somewhat romantic terms, this society is characterized by the free movement of labor power (what Marx termed living-labor) rather than labor’s ongoing capture and specialization (what Marx termed abstract-labor). Furthermore, criticism, the mental work of language production, functions alongside physical labor practices, creating an economically and socially just world in which the individual does not transform into the product of his or her work. In Marx’s imagination, he never becomes any one thing tethered to specific labor practices, but lives, works, and thinks in concrete relationship to his human potential in the world.

The rhetorical agency of species-being undergirding Marx’s indictment of capitalism as an unjust political economic structure inhibiting productive social, political, and cultural possibilities has animated many divergent pathways through his work, all of which promote some variation of economic justice that emerges from a dynamic, though perhaps tacit, sensibility for the rhetorical construction of that world. We turn now to an explication of these theories divided chronologically by 1968, a year in which increasingly large numbers of young people engaged in political and countercultural movements. Contrary to the widely accepted Marxist claim of capitalist conformity, these individuals were rhetorically immersed in a critique of dominant political, economic, and cultural practices as well as the production of alternative practices. In this way, the characterization of Marxism as pre- and post-1968 emphasizes the rhetorical nature of its intellectual traditions. To be sure, this historical marker offers a convenient break in the political engagement with Marxism—highlighting the disillusionment with party politics as well as a single-minded approach to workplace politics—and does not provide a rigid separation of these different schools of thought, many of which collide in unexpected ways. Nevertheless, it does highlight the implicitly rhetorical function of Marxism as mobilizing social change.

Pre-1968 Marxism and its Rhetorical Critique

Several early 20th-century uptakes on Marx’s rhetorical approach to economic justice emerge from those engaged in the vexed project of state communism: V. N. Vološinov in the Soviet Union; Georg Lukács in Hungary; and, Antonio Gramsci in Italy, among others. These theorists self-consciously craft a Marxist heuristic for interpreting problematic discourse and producing alternatives that better promote communist political economic agendas. Offering a Marxist hermeneutic for semiotic production, Vološinov’s (1996) Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, for instance, theorizes ideology as both a reflection and refraction of material experience. Contrary to Soviet dogma, he undermines a base-superstructure relationship in which material reality determines consciousness and encourages a more rhetorically dynamic association between reality and language. According to his sociopsychological formulation, all language is ideological in that it contains competing meanings, each of which connects with a particular group of people and its material interests. The ability to impose one’s meaning as the dominant one enables psychological and thus material power. Eschewing the reality-fiction binary that Aune imposes on the Marxist tradition, this linguistic theory emphasizes rhetorical constitution and negotiation among divergent communities. As Vološinov sees it, “different classes will use one and the same language. As a result, differently oriented accents intersect in every ideological sign” and, thus, the sign itself “becomes an arena of the class struggle” (1996, p. 23). In other words, groups struggle over signification because it acts on materiality rather than simply reflecting or concealing that reality as one might conclude from a superficial reading of Marx’s The German Ideology.

This emphasis on class struggle playing out through language production intersects significantly with Gramsci’s (1971) notion of hegemony, especially in relation to cultural and educational production. According to Gramsci, each class of people has a specific group of “organic” intellectuals whose rhetorical efforts align with the material interests of that class (p. 12). The cultural life of a particular community, in addition to its social value, has a rhetorical function to mobilize consent for those political economic and material conditions that align with the group’s interests. Consequently, the dominant economic terrain of any given society is, in part, secured by an equally dominant, indeed official, intellectual and cultural production. This dominant position, however, is constantly under attack from other intellectual and cultural forces. Thus, like Vološinov, Gramsci concludes that economic struggle requires rhetoricians to populate the terrain of civil society and use rhetoric to communicate (through various institutional platforms) the desires and lived experiences of marginalized groups. Put differently, political hegemony is both secured and challenged vis-à-vis institutional and discursive means.

Interested in many of these same themes, Georg Lukács focuses his analysis on the ways in which commodity production and consumption obscure the social relationships among human beings and inhibit their class consciousness. For him, this process represents “the central, structural problem of capitalist society,” and so he adds to Marx’s theorization of the commodity fetish, extending its reifying powers from the productive sphere into the consumptive one (Lukács, 1990, p. 83). The fragmentation and atomization of human beings into workers and consumers obfuscates the alienation inherent in capitalist world building, preventing an easy alliance between one’s material conditions and a revolutionary class consciousness. Contrary to the presumed relationship between a material base and its conscious superstructure, Lukács concludes—in line with both Vološinov and Gramsci—that political agents must be cultivated so that they might be capable of enacting change in the right rhetorical situation or what they would call the conjunctural moment. Drawing on Marx’s basic contention that human agency emerges within social relations that are reconstituted by the material structures and ideological production of capitalism, all three of these authors provide a basis wherein individuals can identify an exigency within the limitations of capitalism and mobilize struggle against it, simultaneously forging a class conscious audience and advocating for greater social agency within the ongoing material struggle for a more economically just world. These theorists, despite their differences, offer rhetorical approaches that significantly overlap in their attention to the relationships among discourse, consciousness, and material reality. The differences within Marxists political economic and cultural theory, however, become more pronounced after the Second World War.

Two different cultural studies traditions, identified with the Frankfurt School for Social Research and the Birmingham Centre for Cultural Studies, signify a decisive theoretical fork in the road of Marxist-oriented economic justice agendas and their relationship to rhetoric. The Frankfurt School, which combines a Freudian psychoanalytic tradition with a Marxist one, produced such well-known thinkers as Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, and Jürgen Habermas (Walter Benjamin was also a notable colleague, though never officially part of the Institute). More than other Marxist traditions, the Frankfurt School suffers from a reputation of elitism, a critique that ignores a great deal. The Frankfurt School undertook massive empirical research projects aimed at understanding the era’s historically specific subject formation. They studied popular culture and engaged popular audiences through books, radio, and television. Yet, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s (1994) classic Dialectic of Enlightenment is nearly synonymous with the thesis that everyday populations are duped by capitalism’s mass cultural production. Indeed, it does argue that enlightenment rationality has so colonized popular thinking that what passes for reason is nothing more than superstition. The culture industry (a term they coin) is the primary mechanism in this process. It markets nearly indistinguishable mass products that replace an individual identity—one capable of reasoned behavior—with a collective identity emptied of its agentive power, thereby securing capitalist hegemony. This critical approach dismisses the subtle identity differences between those who purchase Chrysler and those who sing the praises of General Motors as both groups, according to their assessment, function within a similarly unthinking dynamic. No doubt, this overarching conclusion dampens its reception among the consuming masses whose identities are forged, in part, through such subtleties.

Although Horkheimer and Adorno’s work—along with the majority of their colleagues’ publications—circulated primarily within universities and among intellectuals, One-Dimensional Man, by Herbert Marcuse (1998), was read by activists and academics alike. Marcuse, who remained in the United States while Horkheimer and Adorno returned to Germany, found a receptive audience for his critique of dominant culture among a progressively more enlivened counterculture. Nevertheless, Marcuse’s argument is not much different from Horkheimer and Adorno’s: he maintains that the multidimensionality of human experience has been flattened under the rapidly developing technologies of contemporary society. By finding new ways to commodify emancipatory desire, modern technologies turn potential acts of resistance into a tepid form of capitalist consumerism. Without a more complex human subjectivity—without the more critical sociality that Marx characterized as our species-being—people simply conform. Equally disillusioned with capitalist and communist nation–states, the Frankfurt School tradition ultimately lacks a concrete alternative to the alienated state of mass-mediated society. Their important critique of commodity capitalism notwithstanding, these thinkers have not generally found a welcome home among rhetoricians as they paint a rather dismal picture of the possibility for human agency and rhetorical change.

Habermas, the last of the Frankfurt School theorists, provides a conspicuous exception to this rule. Trained by Horkheimer and Adorno, Habermas refocuses attention from consumer culture to the public sphere and the possibility for rhetorical deliberation. In his breakout study, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere—which emerged from his work at the Frankfurt School—Habermas (1991) argues that contemporary society reflects a neo-feudalism in which centralized powers represent dominant ideas to the masses rather than allow space for rational, critical debate. Mass media, he says, manufactures a public and its opinions vis-à-vis its structural (as opposed to discursive or symbolic) relationships. Although published in Germany in 1964, this book did not come to an American audience until its 1989 English translation. When it did, however, it initiated a dynamic conversation about publics and public spheres, including critiques from political theorists like Nancy Fraser, Seyla Benhabib, and Chantal Mouffe; activists like Michael Warner; and rhetoricians like Rosa Eberly, Jerry Hauser, and Robert Asen. Perhaps Habermas’s argument has garnered more attention than other Frankfurt School theories because it positions economic injustice explicitly in rhetoric’s home base of democratic deliberation; indeed, if there is no public sphere, there is no rhetorical agency as it is conventionally theorized. Although Habermas (1992, 2000) has answered his many critics with an elaborate theory of communication, this has not been a palliative for the poor reception of the Frankfurt School brand of cultural criticism.

Maintaining a place for critical agency and counterpublics, theorists associated with the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, the other vein of Marxist cultural theory, are more easily incorporated into rhetorical scholarship than the Frankfurt School. Including such important scholars as Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams, and Stuart Hall, the Birmingham tradition of cultural materialism asserts that the working classes produce homegrown and often resistant cultural artifacts. Rather than simply consume, in an unthinking way, those commodities flooding the mass market, working-class communities adapt and resist dominant cultural products by interpreting them through their own frames. Whereas the Frankfurt School explores the working class as a kind of broken subject—one that does not resist when it should—the Birmingham approach gives voice to the working class, explaining what it does do rather than what it does not do. Trained primarily in humanist studies like literary analysis, these scholars take the working class and popular culture as their objects of study and thereby legitimate those subcultures and counterpublics that deviate from the dominant one mass-produced by capitalist society. In doing so, they extend the organic intellectual tradition forged by Antonio Gramsci. They do not necessarily dispute the Frankfurt School critique—the capitalist commodity structure drains mass consumers of their critical agency—but, importantly, they reinvigorate that emptied subject by emphasizing its capacity to interpret texts in ways that often subvert hegemonic cultural framings. Moreover, the Birmingham School approaches individual agency as reflective of a host of interwoven factors—historical, technological, social, and cultural—as opposed to making agency exclusively dependent on one’s rational capacity.

Both Hoggart’s (2000) The Uses of Literacy and Raymond’s (2001) The Long Revolution emphasize this holistic approach by discussing the powerful “felt quality of life” or the “structure of feeling” that permeates working-class communities and motivates their personal and political decision-making. Their scholarship asserts an affective component of such communities that is crucial to their potential rhetorical mobilization. Attending to the whole person—a theory that supports Marx’s notion of species-being—the Birmingham method describes the dynamic nature of particular cultural or discursive signs, characterizes political practice as an ongoing hegemonic struggle, and reclaims the working class as intellectual agents capable of political change. Their views on language and economic justice are largely congruent with the earlier Marxist theories of Vološinov, Lukács, and Gramsci. Yet, unlike these scholars, they did not advocate widespread economic, political, or social change, characterizing such wholesale agendas as themselves subject to the same alienating power against which they position themselves. As the political energies of the worldwide movements of 1968 gained momentum and then deflated without substantial global change, it forced the question of economic justice to be addressed in different ways, most of which take their cue from the same micropolitical and embodied methods that founded the Birmingham School. We turn now to some of these theoretical interventions.

Post-1968 Marxism and its Rhetorical Critique

Marx’s critique of liberal political and economic practices as structurally and discursively detrimental to the agentive species potential of human beings takes a number of intellectual paths in the post-1968 moment. Most of these theories fall under the extremely broad banner of poststructuralism; we limit our discussion, however, to the main French, Italian, and British variations of such theorization. The French poststructuralist tradition of Marxist theory includes Louis Althusser’s new materialism; Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri’s schizoanalytic approach; and Foucault’s biopolitics. The Italian tradition centers on autonomists Marxists like Mario Tronti and Paolo Virno as well as Antonio Negri whose collaboration with Michael Hardt produced the manifesto-like trilogy of Empire (2000), Multitude (2004), and Commonwealth (2009). The British tradition, often referred to as the Essex School, draws heavily on the writing of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, who, starting in the late 1970s promoted a reinterpretation of Gramsci’s hegemony thesis in step with a view of economic justice that they affirmed as post-Marxist. With a conviction that traditional political advocacy drew movements for economic and social justice into dead ends, these poststructuralist theories advocate political mobilization in nontraditional spaces and in nontraditional ways. In doing so, they reanimate the meaning of economic justice in Marxist terms and position rhetoric as increasingly central to such struggles. As theories partly responsible for igniting the Anti-Globalization Movement and its protest against the worldwide oppression of workers as well as the Occupy Movement and its indictment of the now infamous 1 percent of wealth holders, they have helped to mobilize what was once thought to be an apathetic generation into a more politically active one. These theories have also had a profound impact on how scholars in communication studies have conceptualized social, cultural, and political struggles for economic justice. From Kevin Deluca’s (2005) work on image politics, to Christine Harold’s (2007) account of culture jamming, to more recent discussions of parrhesia in relationship to Occupy Wall Street (see Happe, 2015; May & Synk, 2014), poststructuralism subtly informs a wide range of economic justice scholarship in communication studies.

Although poststructuralism is a not a unified orientation toward economic justice, its diverse theories converge on a critique of binary power structures that contributed to the failed movements of 1968. For instance, deeply imbricated in the French Communist Party, Louis Althusser (1971) explores the social reproduction of capitalism in his article “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” According to Althusser, Marx established the economic base within an overdetermined set of relationships to the cultural and political superstructure—multiple competing antagonisms mutually influence each other and yet, in the last instance, the entire web of associations becomes beholden to economic relations (see Althusser, 1969). His essay on ideology offers a rough sketch of this overdetermined process through the dual devices of state coercion (repressive state apparatuses) and social coercion (ideological state apparatuses). People, he says, submit to state authority because of its punitive capacity to prosecute and jail its citizens but also because of the productive socializing pressures within the various communities to which one belongs—political, religious, familial, and recreational, for instance. Althusser argues that the most important of these communities is the educational ideological apparatus. In language that mirrors Gramsci, he accuses most educators of reproducing the social relations of capitalism, although admits to a small counterforce of educators. What separates Althusser from Gramsci, however, is a psychoanalytic perspective, influenced heavily by the writings of Jaques Lacan, in which the individual who participates in these communities comes to understand him or herself vis-à-vis one’s positionality within language rather than consciously joining those groups based on preexisting interests. According to Althusser, the individual is discursively and symbolically interpellated, or hailed into being, through various ritualized practices that are materially embedded in both ideological and state apparatuses.

In addition to the opening provided by his modification of the base superstructure and the pervasive role of ideology within it, Althusser’s later work—disentangled from his participation in the French Communist Party—conceptualizes materialism as itself a product of these immanent processes. Althusser reappraises Marx along with a host of other theorists, including Spinoza and Heidegger, to argue for a more robust philosophical understanding of reality. In Philosophy of the Encounter, he rejects the idea of an autonomist individual thinker with privileged access to the world and its history. In its place, he offers contingent truths oriented toward a more just engagement with economic and social structures (see Althusser, 2006). Althusser’s account of political economic and social reality as mutually constitutive of subjectivity calls the classical humanist understanding of rhetorical agency into question—the fact that individuals are produced as subjects by virtue of their entryway into ideological and symbolic structures compromises their ability to negotiate those apparatuses through an unmediated frame of reference. Yet, his stress on individuals and reality as materially structured grounds economic justice movements within rhetorical regimes of meaning-making rather than within the purportedly objective unfolding of material reality. Put differently, in Althusser’s account the emancipatory framework for economic justice is never determined in advance. Rhetoric is not a tool that communicates an underlying truth, or worldly experience, but a techne that makes truth appear as part of a broader network of power in situated historical moments. By rethinking the relationship between rhetoric and materiality in this way, Althusser underscores a very different vision of economic justice than the one imagined by the Marxist traditions that preceded him. Whereas the earlier traditions emphasized the conscious strategies and tactics of working-class individuals to achieve social change, the Althusserian tradition argues that economic justice is overdetermined by a multiplicity of social struggles that are only indirectly related to economic matters.

Althusser’s couching of subjectivity within this overdetermined landscape prompted further analyses of the relations among individual identity, material reality, and economic justice. Slavoj Žižek, who picked up on Althusser’s Lacanian and Marxist threads in his The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989), is notable in this respect. He asserts that individuals hailed into a particular kind of capitalist identity—one that unconsciously motivates their actions—cannot consciously access those foundational identifications if, in fact, they occur without one’s conscious recognition. As a consequence, Žižek believes that consciousness raising, in the tradition of Lukács and other emancipatory theorists, does not lead to material change—people become aware of injustice but do not actively seek to change political economic structures or even individual behavior. Just as Lukács illustrated that material conditions alone will not necessary produce revolutionary subjects, Žižek adds that consciousness of one’s subjected positionality within an exploitative political economic system will also not necessarily result in actions that change the system. For Žižek, people are well aware of the problems with capitalism and yet act as if they were not. This schism between knowledge and action is, perhaps, the crucial question for post-1968 theorists committed to greater economic justice, one taken up in different ways by Althusser’s contemporaries Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari as well as his student Michel Foucault.

Deleuze and Guattari break decidedly new ground in their theorization of capitalism and human agency as not only overdetermined in any particular instance, but also as historically, socially, and psychically fragmented. In two complementary books, Anti-Oedipus (1983) and A Thousand Plateaus (1987), they argue for a fractured historical sensibility that does not place its hope in uniform responses to stimuli nor direct pathways between material existence and consciousness. So conceived, the individual subject in the material world rarely acts according to logical causal influences and, thus, ideological analysis and consciousness raising will not garner their expected results. These two volumes shift the Marxist agenda from its concern with mobilizing the masses for revolution to more localized concerns over how to exist in the world with others. In fact, they argue that mass mobilization is a logic that tends to promote totalitarian agendas or state-thinking and, consequently, they explicitly reject any vision of economic justice tethered to a unified and/or predetermined political model. At the center of this theory is a vitalist conception of unconscious desire that resists structuration and is materially and socially embedded in the world. In other words, just as earlier Marxist theorists pulled the discursive world into the material one, Deleuze and Guattari make unconscious desires part and parcel of that same emergent reality. As the driving engine of capitalism and the various structures it erects to capture surplus-value, desire has a role to play in transforming the world and creating more equitable social relations. Yet for Deleuze and Guattari that role is not located primarily in the embodied individual, but is instead constituted through assemblages that transmit desire between people and things. This desiring force functions through intensities, deterritorializations, nomadic movements, and lines of flight rather than through rational deliberation. Deleuze and Guattari thus propelled a range of future thinkers, such as their one-time translator Brian Massumi, to replace agency with affect, a subject littered across their oeuvre but especially pronounced in the final chapter, “Percept, Affect, Concept,” of What is Philosophy? (1994).

Massumi owes a great deal of debt to Deleuze and Guattari’s articulation of the limits of ideological analysis as the basis for engendering structural change. For instance, his Parables for the Virtual (2002), among the more cited works in affect studies, argues that ideology and signification belong to one order of interpretation and that affect and sensation belong to a different order. Like other poststructuralist theorists, he believes that the ideological analysis of the relationship between discourse and reality has run out of steam as a method for political mobilization. It is not that theories of ideology are wrong, but that they are incomplete without attention to the other order of reality—the order of affect and sensation, which communicates faster but is less discernable than the realm of signification. Consequently, like Deleuze and Guattari, Massumi explores the material body as a communicative apparatus for unconscious decision-making. Affectively, we are comprised of energy that enables us to only retroactively imagine ourselves as self-bounded and autonomous individuals acting within history. And because this energy is in constant movement, our potential to exist differently is always available. This is not a transcendental notion. On the contrary, it is materially embedded within the biochemical makeup of physical bodies. Defining affect as a material reality, Massumi orients economic justice toward imperceptibly molecular (and micropolitical) components and encourages the adoption of what is now only virtual or immanent (see Bost & Greene, 2011). Although poststructuralist thinking has been criticized for imperiling the agentive subject of economic change, the affective element of its theories provides a platform for Massumi and others to theorize forms of agency that are embodied and performative rather than representational.

Foucault, who also has been accused of disarticulating the agentive subject from the global structures of economic and social injustice, provides a different notion of individual action in the world through his account of the body and its capture by various apparatuses of power. Much like Deleuze, Guattari, and Massumi, who argue that desire and affect precede capitalist structures and, thus, are suited to transform them, Foucault locates economic justice in bodily practices that disrupt and destabilize normative orderings of human agency and value. This view of economic justice is clearest in Foucault’s account of biopolitical theory. As discussed in his recently published lectures, Security, Territory, Population (2007) and The Birth of Biopolitics (2008), biopolitics emerges with capitalism and its liberal political state. Security, Territory, Population focuses on what Foucault calls a “genealogy of the modern state” that begins in ancient Greece and progresses to the birth of political liberalism (2007, p. 43). The key moment in this genealogy is the transition from pastoral power (a state organized in the image of God) to the democratic governing rationality of modern states. In the modern state, governing includes two different tasks: first, government creates a problem to be addressed; and, second, it builds fluid and flexible structures for intervening into such problems and grappling with their unintended outcomes. Consequently, a series of governmental problems exist alongside a series of interventionist practices. The totality of these experiences—the ones that are forced upon us as well as the ones we freely choose—are crucial to understanding liberal economic practices and the juridical framework that it authorizes.

In his final lecture of this academic year, Foucault begins fleshing out this argument by exploring German ordoliberal economics. Ordoliberals, he says, endorse Scottish enlightenment thinkers (Adam Ferguson, David Hume, and Adam Smith) over French enlightenment thinkers (Rousseau, for instance). The Scottish enlightenment conceives of the state as a natural form that individuals stumbled upon by trial and error. In contrast, the French enlightenment, which values the rational powers of individuals, argues that the state was first intellectually conceived and later implemented. Accordingly, the first group defines the state as under the rule of law (legitimate actions are circumscribed by universal principles) whereas the second group believes in a state wherein law is the rule (whatever is legislated is valid). This distinction means that for ordoliberals, grounded in Scottish enlightenment, it is irrational for the political state to intervene in the problems of capitalism. Its only function should be to maintain the proper terrain in which capitalism can freely operate.

Foucault (2008) follows these lectures with The Birth of Biopolitics that more fully explains how this state reason becomes tethered to economic logic. Focusing on the economic rationality of the contemporary state, The Birth of Biopolitics historicizes neoliberal rationality through the German ordoliberals or the Freiburg School. According to Foucault, the Freiburg School takes the Frankfurt School’s criticism of cultural irrationality and applies it to the state, arguing for the need to free the private sphere from irrational state regulations. These ordoliberals argue that governments are not supposed to care for their populations, but to provide a competitive economic environment in which the best rise to the top. Quite simply, the contemporary nation–state is a “juridical structure of a governmentality pegged to the economic structure” of capitalism (Foucault, 2008, p. 296). Government intervention, directed by the rule of law, is limited to constructing the political economic landscape of free, competitive capitalism through which the population can then care for itself vis-à-vis biopolitical power. These lectures do not provide a method for engaging economic justice as much as they articulate the modern state and capitalist apparatuses within the production of economic and social injustice, a salient point that often gets obscured in other poststructural theories.

Although Foucault’s account of biopolitics wavers in terms of describing what economic justice might look like, it frames an understanding of how the autonomous Marxist tradition, which emerged from the Workerist (operaismo) Movement in Italy during the early 1970s, theorizes the topic. Drawing on Foucault and other poststructuralists, the autonomous Marxists work from a critique of capitalism that grounds itself—like the Birmingham School did—in the working-class perspective to offer an alternative politics of individual agency. In their view, workers struggle to reduce labor time and increase wages, simultaneously constituting themselves as a class and forcing capital into crisis because the shortened workday decreases surplus-value and cuts into potential profits. To overcome these crises, owners develop technological innovations. As the capitalist class secures itself against crisis by constantly adopting new innovations, the spread of advanced technologies across the social field enhances the general intellect and unwittingly provides opportunities for greater worker autonomy. Autonomist Marxists urge individuals to take advantage of these openings in order to establish more just social, political, and economic relationships. As opposed to traditional revolutionary politics, autonomists advocate a strategy of escape—or exodus—that can be identified within various contemporary practices (such as the Arab Spring, WikiLeaks, Anonymous, etc.) designed to appropriate and redeploy advanced technologies toward anticapitalist ends. In this way, they hope to promote economic justice by transforming and redirecting the inevitable socializing tendencies of biopolitical capitalism (see, for example Chaput & Hanan, in press).

Originally cultivated within the Italian political economic scene, this theoretical orientation exploded with the publication of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s (2000) Empire. For them, contemporary capitalism, which they conceptualize as a logic of Empire, works primarily through immaterial labor (work related to affect, service, or communication) and thus represents a qualitative leap in capitalist relations predicted by Marx in the Grundrisse. In these notebooks, Marx conjectures that with technological advances, “the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labor time and on the amount of labor employed” (1993, p. 704) than on the general intellect and its technologies. As advanced technological know-how seeps into everyday life, the terms of production shift: technologies work more and people work less. For Hardt and Negri, this change unleashes creative human potential—what, following Hobbes and Spinoza, they term the multitude—from its captivity within capitalism at the same time that it reflects a logic of power and social control that has never been more extensive, intensive, and corporeal (see also Hardt & Negri, 2004, 2009). Hardt and Negri provide an account of how life itself has become increasingly central to capitalist command and control and, in turn, revise Marx’s labor theory of value into an affective theory of value. For them, affective labor—in both its paid (e.g., nursing) and unpaid (e.g., parenting) versions—produces and reproduces human beings in their movement toward self-valorization or the possibility for becoming subject to one’s own creative energies beyond the reaches of capital. Essentially combining Marx with Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of desire, they offer an “affirmative” vision of biopolitics disarticulated from the limitations of state capitalism and its regulation of all modes of human and nonhuman sociality (see also Esposito, 2008).

Hardt and Negri’s theory of the multitude is often seen as an alternative to the vision of economic justice presented by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. The founders of the Essex School of discourse analysis, and two of the few theorists to openly identify as “post-Marxists,” Laclau and Mouffe achieved international acclaim in 1985 with the publication of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (see Laclau & Mouffe, 1985, 1987). This book draws on Gramsci’s account of hegemony to argue for a poststructuralist reinterpretation of the concept that emphasizes the importance of discourse, and its constitutive limits, in the production of what they call “political antagonisms.” In a critical move they describe as thoroughly anti-essentialist, Laclau and Mouffe argue that economic justice must be theorized, in its broadest terms, as a social struggle between conflicting and heterogeneous desires that unify within a collective signifier and play out in an always uneven and hierarchical discursive field of power. This unstable terrain of symbolic conflict is, for them, precisely the ground of hegemony, as theorized by Gramsci. Yet unlike Gramsci who saw hegemony as a project centered on fidelity to working-class revolution, Laclau and Mouffe argue that there is no essential identity to the working class. Laclau and Mouffe thus break with the more unifying narrative of Marx’s communist project and promote, instead, an agenda for economic justice that they term “agonistic pluralism.” As an account of social transformation that emphasizes the intersecting and overdetermined relationship between multiple political antagonisms, such as women’s rights, LGBTQI equality, class struggle, and environmental justice, agonistic pluralism frames economic justice as an irreconcilable tension between inclusion and exclusion within a liberal democratic frame.

Because of their detailed emphasis on discourse as a framework for theorizing social change, it should be no surprise that at the center of Laclau and Mouffe’s critical project is a theory of rhetoric. By rethinking economic justice as a political struggle over the meaning of humanity within an uneven and hierarchical field of meaning production, Laclau and Mouffe promote a vision of social change that is irreducibly rhetorical. This framework’s indebtedness to rhetoric becomes even clearer in two more recent books published by Laclau—On Populist Reason and The Rhetorical Foundations of Society. In On Populist Reason, Laclau argues that populism offers the royal road to theorizing social change and should be understood as a rhetorical logic that centers on the tropological play of catachresis, metonym and metaphor. In The Rhetorical Foundations of Society, Laclau develops this argument in even greater detail, advocating for a rhetorical ontology predicated on discourse and its radically unstable figurative foundations. Thus, despite criticisms that his work often informs a tepid account of politics that is complicit with liberal democracy, rather than antagonistic toward it, Laclau’s work (in conjunction with his collaborations with Mouffe) has been particularly important to understanding scholarship on economic justice in communication studies (see also Kaplan, 2010).

Theoretical Discussion of the Literature in Communication Studies

Discussions of economic justice in the discipline of communication studies tend to inflect, in various ways, the different strands of critically inclined Marxist scholarship that we traced in the previous sections. As might be expected, the earlier work in the field sought to tease out the implicit rhetorical perspectives at work in Marx’s own writings on economic justice, whereas the more recent scholarship tends to follow the poststructuralist interventions into Marx’s thought, emphasizing the role of rhetoric in constituting economic justice as a normative political category that anchors understandings of human agency and social change. This trajectory in the discipline has not been purely linear, however, as several scholars in the discipline reject poststructuralist accounts of economic justice in favor of more traditional Marxist and liberal democratic frameworks. Below we trace the broad strokes of this disciplinary conversation and then, in the final section, discuss how scholars have applied these ideas in concrete analyses.

As noted earlier, Michael Calvin McGee’s (1982) essay, “A Materialist's Conception of Rhetoric,” was the first disciplinary attempt to define rhetoric as a material practice linked to broader Marxist and post-Marxist philosophical currents. McGee’s innovative move was to shift the discipline’s attention away from approaching rhetoric as a strategic art limited to particular situated responses and, instead, emphasize the role of rhetoric as part of a broader phenomenological world that was historically and culturally produced. In doing so, McGee set the stage for understanding rhetoric as a socializing force that conditions human consciousness and attempts to “sublimate” collective political action. From this vantage point, rhetoric becomes understood less as a formulaic set of precepts deployed willingly by conscious and intentional agents and viewed more as a “coercive force” that captures the way agents self-reflexively understand their capacity for imagining and practicing rhetoric.

This materialist account of rhetoric would become even clearer in the writings of Maurice Charland who, five years after McGee’s materialist rhetoric essay, published “Constitutive Rhetoric: The Case of the Peuple Québecois.” In this piece, Charland aligned McGee’s scholarship with the writings of Kenneth Burke and Althusser, arguing for an account of rhetoric that was constitutive of political identity. By providing a rhetorical criticism of the White Paper document penned by the Peuple Québecois separatist party, Charland illustrated how the narrative form of the document literally called the party into existence as a historically stable and internally coherent political subject. Charland’s work thus provided a basis for thinking about how “the very character of a collective identity, and the nature of its boundary, of who is a member of the collectivity, were problematic” (1987, p. 135). If the Peuple Québecois did not exist as a collective identity oriented toward social change prior to the symbolic narrative that constituted them, then perhaps the idea of “injustice” that brought them together as an oppositional bloc also did not exist prior to its articulation through discourse.

This constitutive account of rhetoric emerged along with an increasingly broad conceptualization of the role of rhetoric within justice movements. For instance, Raymie McKerrow’s (1989) “Critical Rhetoric: Theory and Praxis,” which drew on numerous poststructuralist scholars including Althusser, Foucault, and Laclau and Mouffe, advocated a rhetorical project that attempted to destabilize and unmask relations of power, conceived in the broadest sense possible. Drawing on the liberationist principles of Marxism, but also challenging its tendencies toward essentialism, McKerrow promoted not only a “critique of domination” but also what he called a “critique of freedom.” According to McKerrow’s Foucauldian perspective, power manifested itself everywhere, including in the discourses of those advocating for economic justice. Thus, McKerrow argued that scholars of rhetoric could not be content putting forward models of social change without also being reflexive toward how these models unwittingly reproduced relations of power. As an economic problem that concerned the distribution and allocation of value in a social field constituted by internal crises and contradictions, rhetoric was simultaneously the condition of possibility and impossibility for social transformation.

McKerrow’s critical rhetoric essay was widely influential and helped to launch a poststructuralist turn into the study of social movement rhetoric. Much like Laclau and Mouffe, who transformed Marxist political thought with their anti-essentialist reading of Gramsci’s hegemony theory, McKerrow’s essay facilitated an explosion of scholarship that focuses on rhetoric as central to the contestation of normative values within a hierarchy of language and signification. From Ono and Sloop’s (1995) account of “vernacular rhetorics,” to Kevin Deluca’s (1999, 2005) turn to articulation theory as a way to study rhetorics of environmental justice, a number of essays and book projects would turn to McKerrow’s insights to explore the complex relationship between discourse and power. McKerrow’s essay can thus be read as a turning point in the discipline, advocating accounts of economic and social justice that are broadly intertwined by power and the constitutive limits of discourse.

Yet not everyone was satisfied with the increased emphasis on discourse as way to approach questions of economic justice and social change more broadly. Reacting explicitly against the anti-foundationalism that characterized this turn in critical thought, in 1994 Dana Cloud published “The Materiality of Discourse and Oxymoron” (see Cloud, 1994). In this essay, we see the beginning of a rift in positions over economic justice that continues to express itself into the present. As a committed Marxist and activist dedicated to social change, Dana Cloud charged both McGee and McKerrow with promoting accounts of rhetorical agency that were idealistic and relativistic in respect to their assumptions about the nature of reality. She argued that instead of expanding the way scholars of rhetoric theorized economic justice, the argument that discourse is constitutive of social change promotes complicity toward capitalism and a failure to confront the very real and concrete dialectical contradictions located within the capitalist mode of production. In fact, for Cloud, critical rhetoric, and other poststructuralist variants of Marxism that emerged in the aftermath of 1968, say more about the increased power of capitalism to capture the contemporary political imaginary then they do about genuine articulations of social justice. Cloud’s essay thus served as an important rejoinder to poststructuralist theorizations of economic justice in the discipline, a mode of critique she would continue to develop, alongside several other scholars, throughout her influential career (see, for example, Cloud 1996, 1998, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2011).

Several years after Dana Cloud published her trenchant critique of materialist theories of discourse, Ronald Walter Greene published another theoretically innovative essay relating to Marxism and economic justice called “Another Materialist Rhetoric.” Building on Barbara Biesecker’s (1989) earlier critique of “the logic of influence model” in her essay, “Rethinking Rhetoric from within the Thematic of Différance,” Greene recast rhetoric as a geographic project that maps how a discursive “logic of articulation” links different elements of meaning onto the always uneven terrain of a governing apparatus. To accomplish this goal Greene argued that scholars of rhetoric not only needed a more complex and distributed account power than the theoretical framework provided by Cloud, but also a richer understanding of the relationship between discourse and materiality than the accounts provided by McGee, Charland, and McKerrow. Conceptualizing rhetoric as an immanent publicity effect, rather than as an exclusively discursive or extra-discursive project, Greene sought to overcome dualistic tensions in the field by arguing that rhetoric’s materiality was responsible for not only the production of collective identity (and social grievances such as economic injustice), but also the governing rationalities in which that collective identity came to self-reflexively understand itself. Put differently, Greene’s project emphasized the institutional and technological dimensions of discursive accounts of economic justice, as much as he strived to embrace the idea that meaning is always articulated in radically contingent ways.

Greene’s theoretical model was widely influential and, in addition to popularizing articulation theory as a way to study the constitutive dimensions of social movement rhetoric, his work provided a natural segue to theorizing rhetoric and economic justice as problems of biopolitics. This latter perspective would become particularly clear in 2004, when on the footsteps of “Another Materialist Rhetoric Essay,” Greene published “Rhetoric and Capitalism” (see Greene, 2004). In this essay, written for the journal Philosophy and Rhetoric, Greene drew on his earlier account of rhetoric as a governing apparatus to argue that the pervasive effects of capitalism on contemporary social life necessitates that scholars of communication rethink the way they conceptualize economic justice. Whether approaching economic justice as a liberal democratic project emphasizing a more active and participatory civil society, a hegemonic struggle concerning the strategic mobilization of various political antagonisms, or a Marxist project striving toward working-class revolution, Greene argued that all of these frameworks were bound to be coopted by a logic of biopolitical capitalism that, today, regulates life at all levels of existence, including the discursive. Hence, in a move inspired by Hardt and Negri (2000), Greene argued that resistance to capitalism required coming to grips with the increased centrality of communicative labor to the capitalist mode of production and harnessing these materially embedded relationships toward a new commonality that is a precondition for all modes of human individuation. This subtractive logic of resistance, Greene argued, was true to the democratic struggle for economic justice and illustrated how the concept could not be decoupled from technological transformations taking place inside the capitalist mode of production.

Inspired by such alternative materialist perspectives, Matthew S. May (2013, 2015) has framed the struggle for economic justice in terms of a logic of “immanent causality” [see also May and Synk (2014) and Bost and May (2016)]. He argues that historically most scholars of communication have approached rhetorical effects in terms of “transitive causality,” which follows a simple cause/effect structure (what Barbara Biesecker (1989) termed the logic of influence model), and “expressive causality,” which considers the way some total social fact, or unifying principle of social organization (e.g., the Hegelian spirit), animates a structure of meaning and signification. By contrast, May contends that Althusser, Greene, and other new materialists promote a logic of immanent causality, which emphasizes how a structure of signification is always constituted through and against that which remains absent and deferred from meaning. The benefit of this latter approach, May argues, is that it resists the urge to posit any sort of teleological model that can explain how rhetoric might be used to bring about economic justice. Whereas transitive causality and expressive causality both tend to determine in advance the proper rhetorical pathways for human emancipation and social transformation, a logic of immanent causality approaches the relationship between communication and economic justice as emergent, and situated in terms of local contradictions and regional struggles (May, 2013; Greene & Kuswa, 2012; Bost & May, 2016). Not everyone found the framework of immanent causality to be a viable perspective toward economic justice, however.

In fact, Greene’s reimagining of economic justice led to a heated exchange when Dana Cloud, Steve Macek, and Jim Aune published a critique of his project in a special forum section of the same journal. Titled “The Limbo of the Ethical Simulacra,” Cloud, Macek, and Aune (2006) argued that Greene’s “immanent” account of economic justice not only promoted a paradoxical view of Marxism that abandoned its dialectical conception of social change, but also ended up acting as an alibi to capitalism by advocating that scholars of communication abandon theorizing social change as an instrumental political project. For them, economic justice is an empirically quantifiable concept that stems from internal contradictions within capitalism and requires a level of fidelity to the working class as the historical agents of social change.

In his response piece titled “Orator Communist,” Greene argued that his view was not ethically bankrupt and, instead, refused the desire on behalf of any group or political party to monopolize what economic justice might mean and/or look like. For Greene, rethinking economic justice in the present meant imagining the concept in ways that previously had not been possible and using this inventive space to materially intervene into society in ways that were more socialized, collective, and inclusive of a multiplicity of values. Since his original publication, a number of scholars have attempted to use Greene’s framework as a model for understanding economic justice, including Joshua S. Hanan (2013), Catherine Chaput (2010), Chaput and Hanan (2015, in press), Matt May (2013), and Kelly Happe (2015). Others have taken up the framework begun by Dana Cloud, including Mary Triece (2001, 2007), Bryan McCann (2007), and Paige Edley and Nina Maria Reich (2011).

In addition to prompting an important conversation in Philosophy and Rhetoric, the debate between Cloud, Macek, and Aune and Greene helped spur a further conversation over the status of ideological criticism in communication studies. Termed “Wither Ideology,” and edited by Dana Cloud and Joshua Gunn (2011), the forum sought to expose the benefits and limitations of conceptualizing rhetoric in a way that deconstructed the relationship between reality and ideology. Since the publication of Philip Wander’s (1984) influential essay “An Ideological Turn in Rhetorical Criticism” the discipline had been interested in using rhetoric as a tool for demystifying the contradictions in language between the universal and particular. Yet, with the publication of essays such as McKerrow’s “Critical Rhetoric” and Greene’s “Another Materialist Rhetoric” it appeared like the field had abandoned this approach in favor of an “immanent turn” that rejected any transcendence of ideology. Thus, turning to Žižek’s own complex account of ideology in The Sublime Object of Ideology, the editors of the forum sought to consider whether immanence was a viable framework for doing ideological criticism and, consequently, promoting economic justice.

Like the debate between Cloud, Macek, and Aune and Greene, there was no consensus that emerged out of the “Wither Ideology” forum. Instead, a number of different accounts of ideology were proffered that all sought to engage the tension between immanence and transcendence in different ways. On one end of the spectrum, for example, were contributors such as Philip Wander (2011) and Mary Triece (2011) who argued that a purely immanent orientation toward ideological criticism forestalled an analysis of economic injustice and the ability to differentiate who is able to speak freely and who is not. Adopting a position rooted in standpoint epistemology, Triece argued that “individuals who experience scarcity (of food, safety, adequate shelter) are in a better position to articulate what that experience is like” (436). Similarly, Wander argued that “[w]ithout negation, the inclusion of what does not appear or was not said, the notion of choice vanishes” (422). Attempting to forge a middle ground, James Arnt Aune (2011), turned to Pierre Bordieu’s account of the habitus to argue that ideology must be theorized as both embodied and representational. Echoing the arguments put forward by Triece, Aune asserted that an emphasis on the body brought attention to the ways ideology unevenly affected lived experiences. On the other end of the spectrum were pieces by Matthew Bost and Ron Greene (2011) and Barbara Biesecker (2011), who sought to demonstrate that at stake in ideological criticism was not a tension between reality and representation, but a struggle over how a relational (and, consequently, economic) system of meaning materializes in and through rhetorical practices and processes. Taking a position similar to Deleuze and Guattari, Bost and Greene (2011) argued for an account of ideological criticism tethered to the “virtual” or an indeterminate and immeasurable field of potentiality. Supporting a position akin to Bost and Greene, but turning to the psychoanalytic writings of Jaques Lacan and Joan Copjec, Biesecker advocated for an account of ideological criticism oriented toward the sublimation of unconscious drives. From this vantage “[r]adical rhetorical agency … is the name for a detotalizing and, thus, interruptive effect, or, the visible mark of splitting within the order of being together” (448). So conceived, economic justice becomes rethought as “incalculable,” and any attempt to measure and quantify economic justice becomes an act of ideology that dissociates meaning from its irreducibly material and social production.

These debates over the relationship between rhetoric and economic justice pinpoint two views on social transformation in the discipline that, at present, appear ontologically incommensurable with one another. On one end, we have a view of economic justice that points to a very specified and circumscribed path for emancipation from capitalist exploitation. On the other, we have a vision of economic justice where nearly all acts of resistance can be read as having indirect effects on the exploitative capitalist social order and, thus, over time play a crucial role in “cracking” and destabilizing capitalism (see Holloway, 2010). In between these two positions, we find a vast array of scholarship on social movement rhetoric and counterpublics that either treat economic justice as the aggregate effect of other struggles against inequality and social exclusion, or view economic justice as secondary to other pressing political questions centering on the rhetorical constitution of identity and social value. Ultimately, all of this scholarship makes important contributions to how economic justice is understood and assessed in the discipline, and it is perhaps the differences and incongruences between these divergent rhetorical frameworks that will prove most helpful to communication scholarship that applies these theories to assess economic justice in concrete situations.

Applied Uses of the Literature in Communication Studies

The best book conceptualizing how rhetoric can be used to support economic justice in concrete contexts is likely James Arnt Aune’s (1994) Rhetoric and Marxism. While he provides a less generous reading of Marx’s sensitivity to rhetorical theory than we personally endorse, his book offers the most detailed account of how rhetoric might be conceptualized from the historical materialist standpoint of Marxism. Indeed, he wishes to move Marxist understandings of political economic and historical processes from determinant structural analyses into the contingent political realm wherein audiences are invited into economic readings and motivated to participate in movements toward greater economic justice. There is, for him, a real ground on which the political economic battle takes place and rhetoric functions to secure alternative positions within that struggle.

Aune’s (2001) follow-up book, Selling the Free Market, is also an important venue for learning about economic justice debates, particularly in more applied contexts. If his first book argued that Marxism failed historically to capture the rhetorical imagination of its intended audiences, this book maintains that capitalist advocates have developed a rhetorical framework of “economic realism” that has historically been more effective. His linking of this rhetoric to the institutional apparatus of neoclassical and libertarian economic theories is especially relevant to scholars seeking to critique economic justice from the standpoint of political economy. It also provides a foundation for more recent work critiquing the rhetoric of economics from a disciplinary vantage point, such as the scholarship by G. Thomas Goodnight and Sandy Green (2010); and Joshua S. Hanan, Indradeep Ghosh, and Kaleb Brooks (2014). Perhaps the most intriguing claim of Aune’s book, however, is that the rhetoric of freedom espoused by neoliberal economists finds a correspondence in the progressive discourse of tolerance, highlighting a rhetorical vulnerability for those on the political left.

This liability has been exploited by neoliberal economists from Friedrich Hayek (2005) to Milton Friedman, revealing that the relationship between discourse and economic justice is not the exclusive purview of rhetoricians. As Aune makes clear, free market economists such as Friedman (1962, 1980) and Deirdre McCloskey (2016) proffer economic freedom as an equivalent to political freedom, a point of contact that gives campaigns founded on individual freedom reason to pause. The primacy of the individual has not always prevailed among economists as it does in the neoliberal period. During the second half of the 20th century, Friedman and John Kenneth Galbraith (1958, 1967, 1973) debated this issue in a series of popular books, culminating in two different television documentaries. Catherine Chaput’s (2013) “The Rhetorical Situation and the Battle for Public Sentiment” explores how Friedman overturned Galbraith’s collectivism with his position on individual freedom. Although Friedman’s argument has become commonplace, Galbraith’s position has not been abandoned. His son, for instance, has taken up the cause of increasing economic justice by advocating for the state as a collective counterbalance to corporate individualism (see James Galbraith, 2000; see also Cloud, 2002).

Dana Cloud’s (1998, 2011) book projects also explore the role of rhetoric in constituting individual and collective freedom and are thus indispensable to understanding economic justice conversations in the discipline. Her first book, Control and Consolation, illustrates the important links between economic justice and ideological criticism by analyzing the rhetorics of therapy. Because therapeutic rhetoric focuses on the individual, she argues that it helps constitute a society organized around the values of liberal individualism, rather than bringing attention to the collective social and political structures that lead to alienation and emotional disenchantment in the first place. Offering an account of economic justice in the context of worker union strikes and protests at Boeing, her more recent book, We Are the Union, explores one site of collective world-making within a wider culture of individualism. This study details the obstacles posed by the political economy of neoliberalism and how ordinary people nevertheless assert their economic agency through discourse. This agency, from her account, emerges through activist politics geared toward common interests and not through union bureaucracy. Her narrative of Boeing employees reasserts the value of ideological critique, collective consciousness raising, and material struggle against a poststructural critique of such practices. It also articulates the stakes of unionization in terms of a broader struggle for rhetorical democracy (see, for example, Hauser, 1999). Both of these books provide important models for scholars interested in studying economic justice from the standpoint of dialectical materialism, but they are not the only such books.

Mary Triece has also written extensively about the role of rhetoric in labor movement struggles. Her Protest and Popular Culture (2001) focuses specifically on the role of women in labor movements, a capacity documented in the blacklisted film Salt of the Earth (1954), Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County U.S.A. (1976), and Barbara Kingsolver’s Holding the Line (1989). Evidenced by this long line of texts and Triece’s careful rhetorical analysis of primary sources is the enduring effects of both class and gender propriety. These ideologies, she argues, maintain economic injustices that require alternative class and gender imaginations in order to break through their pervasive stronghold. She elaborates this argument in On the Picketline (2007), which details the rhetorical strategies employed by women as they negotiated their roles as employees in the workforce and caretakers in the home. Triece concludes that many of these tactics, used during the Depression Era, continue to have salience for contemporary labor conflicts, suggesting that a traditional materialist approach to concrete economic struggles has not entirely run out of steam.

Yet a number of other scholars, including Ron Greene, have applied a more poststructuralist account of economic justice and social change. Among Greene’s most illuminating use of his materialist rhetoric is his ongoing exploration of early 20th-century YMCA films. In a series of articles (2005, 2011, 2012) Greene deploys his alternative materialism as rhetorical strategy to assess the production and distribution of films designed to cultivate an immigrant population into fully functioning American citizens. Using Foucault’s work on pastoral power, Greene discusses the content of the films in relationship to their form and mode of engagement, all of which, he argues, have implications for the construction of citizenship and the governance of gender, sexuality, and ethnicity. In an article coauthored with Kevin Kuswa, Greene (2012) further deploys his materialist method to map the circulation and transformation of neoliberal and socialist discourses as they emerged in protests across the globe. Their analysis demonstrates the uneven cartographies of rhetoric and power and the importance of accounting for how these configurations get rearticulated when studying economic justice movements.

Alongside Greene’s diverse efforts are several book-length studies that likewise argue for alternative modalities of investigating and working on behalf of economic causes. For instance, Matt May’s recent book Soapbox Rebellion: The Hobo Orator Union and the Free Speech Fights of the Industrial Workers of the World, offers a detailed consideration of the rhetorical tactics of the IWW between 1909 and 1916. Arguing that the rhetoric of IWW during this time offers a window into nonhierarchical modes of social organizing, May explains how it is possible to study economic justice rhetoric without recourse to an instrumental political model. Such an approach emphasizes how class struggle is central to the way free speech materializes in public culture. It also highlights the role of rhetoric in union formation without recourse to a coherent and unified political identity. May’s book, thus, contrasts nicely with Dana Cloud’s We Are the Union, which argues for a more organized and instrumental account of the relationship between rhetoric and union formation. Another project that complements May’s scholarship is Christina Foust’s (2010) recent book, Transgression as a Mode of Resistance. Providing an up-to-date survey of social movement scholarship in the discipline of communication studies, Foust reads this history through the theoretical lens of hegemony and autonomous Marxism. She combines Hardt and Negri’s autonomist Marxism with an anarchist orientation to account for a performative mode of rhetorical agency and social change that she terms transgression. As a logic that stresses the need to abandon the binary thinking characteristic of many traditional struggles, even those such as Triece’s that focus on the intersectionality of identity, transgression promotes a mode of resistance that forestalls being named in advance (and, in this way there are strong overlaps between Foust’s project and May’s). Another project that studies economic justice movements from a poststructuralist vantage point is Christine Harold’s (2007) book OurSpace. This book takes a Foucauldian and Deleuzian approach to social movement theory and, like Foust’s book, surveys much of the important disciplinary literature. Harold encourages progressives to take their cue from corporate marketing tactics, but to do so through parodies, hoaxes, and pranks. She maintains that these techniques call dominant strategies into question in a more productive way than traditional struggles that conceptualize social change in dialectical terms. Focused on corporate culture, Harold’s work intersects importantly with Robert McChesney’s critique of the corporatization of media production. Like Harold, McChesney (1999, 2013) argues that the corporate media serves as a surrogate for democratic deliberations. Although they share this view of the corporate sphere, they approach the issue from two different perspectives—McChesney from a traditional materialist account and Harold from a poststructuralist materialist position. In this way, they suggest a certain complementarity between these purportedly divergent theories. Moreover, McChesney and Nichols’s (2016) recent book, coauthored with John Nichols, lays out an activist alternative to this democratic disenfranchisement, making his work even more important to rhetorical approaches to economic justice.

For scholars interested in a more liberal democratic take on the rhetoric of economic justice, the work of Robert Asen (2002, 2009) is indispensable. His two books, Visions of Poverty and Invoking the Invisible Hand, illustrate the centrality of rhetoric to framing issues of economic equality and inequality in public policy and the important role rhetoric can play in contesting these various representations. He has recently carried this thread into his analysis of public education policy. Democracy, Deliberation, and Education explores local school boards, emphasizing the unequal power among divergent groups in the deliberation processes (Asen, 2015). If education is central, as is often claimed, to economic justice, school board deliberations represent an important site for rhetorical analysis (see also, Conners & Solomon, 2013). On top of exploring the question of economic justice by directly interrogating the rhetoric of economics in relationship to political structure, Asen promotes a wide variety of criticism that studies the relationships among rhetoric, politics, and identity formation with a secondary focus on economic justice. In addition to publishing an edited collection with Daniel Brouwer that is considered the foundational text on publics and counterpublics in communication studies (See Asen & Brouwer, 2001), Asen (2004) has advocated a discursive theory of citizenship that locates economic justice in a multiplicity of participatory rhetorical practices. Exemplifying such a theory is Karma Chavez’s (2013) Queer Migration Politics, which offers a queer studies perspective on citizenship that emphasizes the centrality of race and sexuality to structuring meaning within the capitalist social order and studies resistance to capitalism along these varied axes.

Building upon Asen’s call to study economic justice struggles from within the political sphere itself, there are several additional studies that examine economic rhetoric in the context of liberalism. Paul Turpin’s (2011) The Moral Rhetoric of Political Economy provides an important rhetorical criticism of the commutative justice tradition that informs the political and economic philosophy of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman. Through a comparative analysis of these two thinkers, Turpin outlines a theory of the subject of political and economic rights as the collectively constituted individual and not the autonomous one imagined by liberal political theory. Similarly, M. Lane Bruner’s (2009) Democracy’s Debt explores the intersections among rhetoric, politics, and economics through a historical survey that culminates in a contemporary moment in which economic rights trump political ones. Like Turpin, he holds out the possibility of balancing democratic citizenship with economic liberalism, advocating for a Habermasian inspired reclaiming of the public sphere as a way to rhetorically negotiate this tension. Such tensions have also been explored in terms of presidential public address, a topic Davis Houck (2001) interrogates in his in-depth rhetorical study of the presidential discourse of Herbert Hoover and Roosevelt. He argues that contrary to their cultural legacy, the two men significantly overlapped in terms of economic policy. Among their shared rhetorical convictions are a belief in government intervention and consumer confidence. Jayson Harsin’s (2010, 2012) essays “The Lost Histories of American Economic Rights” and “Cultural Studies and/of Economic Rights” also exposes rhetorical tensions between laissez faire liberalism and government intervention. In one article he interrogates the ideograph of “economic rights” through a close reading of how the term is differentially employed by Roosevelt and Reagan. Critiquing Reagan for hallowing out the meaning of the concept through a neoliberal agenda, Harsin offers another rhetorical approach to interrogating the autonomous individual so fraught in economic rhetoric. His other article attempts to equally rescue individual rights from its precarious position within both Marxist and Foucauldian critiques. For Harsin, there is value in individual rights that should not be lost to the critique of neoliberal discourse.

In addition to these important books and articles on the topic, there are several edited collections that attempt to move conversations over economic justice in new directions. The first of these projects is an edited collection by Lee Artz, Steve Macek, and Dana Cloud (2006) called Marxism and Communication Studies: The Point is to Change it. With essays by a number of leading Marxist scholars, both inside and outside communication studies, this book offers an excellent introduction to dialectical thought and how it can inform economic justice scholarship tethered to the goals of rhetorical criticism. Another collection, edited by Joshua S. Hanan and Mark Hayward (2013), is titled Communication and the Economy and showcases a variety of economic justice projects in communication studies with particular attention to the ways neoliberalism is restructuring the disciplinary accounts of rhetorical agency. A third useful collection, titled Rhetoric, Materiality, and Politics and published by Barbara Biesecker and John Louis Lucaites (2009), attempts to expand conversations about rhetoric and materiality in a number of new directions. Building upon McGee’s (1982) influential account of rhetorical materialism, the essays in this collection all argue that materiality can be studied rhetorically as a condition of possibility for the maintenance and transformation of power.

Further Reading

In this essay, we traced a particular tradition of economic justice tethered to the canon of Marxism and the broader tradition of critical theory that it inaugurates. As we demonstrated, the Marxist call for economic justice reinvented itself through a range of interrelated cultural and social initiatives that require both rhetorical analysis and rhetorical production. Consequently, instead of an exclusive focus on state and workplace politics as the sites of struggle for economic justice, there emerged a widespread effort to imagine noncoercive alternatives to capitalist exploitation. In addition, we have shown that the Marxist account of economic justice has influenced a range of critical projects that both support the goal of working-class struggle and offer alternative political frameworks. Hence, while not all economic justice scholarship in communication studies is reflective about its indebtedness to Marxism, and the various strands of poststructuralist thought that have grown out of this tradition, there is no doubt that without Marx and his complex account of economic exploitation, these varied perspectives would not be possible. There is also no doubt that this conversation is constantly shifting and evolving both in the discipline of communication studies and beyond it. We therefore conclude by recommending the books and journal articles in our bibliography, as well as the books and essays listed directly below. All of these important texts make visible different views on communication and economic justice while seeking to move the conversation in new directions.

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Asen, R., & Brouwer, D. C. (Eds.). (2001). Counterpublics and the state. Albany: SUNY Press.Find this resource:

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Chaput, C., & Hanan, J. S. (2015). Economic rhetoric as taxis: Neoliberal governmentality and the dispositif of freakonomics. Journal of Cultural Economy, 8(1), 42–61.Find this resource:

Cloud, D. L. (2009). The materialist dialectic as a site of Kairos: Theorizing intervention in material social relations. In B. Biesecker & J. Lucaites (Eds.). Rhetoric, materiality, and politics (pp. 293–320). New York: Peter Lang.Find this resource:

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Bost, M. W., & May, M. S. (2016). The surplus of the machine: Trope and history in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 49, 1–25.Find this resource:

Bruner, M. L. (2009). Democracy’s debt: The historical tensions between political and economic liberty. Amherst: Prometheus Books.Find this resource:

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Chaput, C., & Hanan, J. S. (in press). WikiLeaks and its production of the common: An exploration of rhetorical agency in the neoliberal era. In C. Foust, A. Pason, & K. Rogness. (Eds.), What democracy looks like: The rhetoric of social movements and counterpublics. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.Find this resource:

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Cloud, D. (2004). “To veil the threat of terror”: Afghan women and the <clash of civilizations> in the imagery of the U.S. war on terrorism. Quarterly Journal of Speech,90, 285–306.Find this resource:

Cloud, D. (2006). The Matrix and critical theory’s desertion of the real. Communication and Critical Cultural Studies,3, 329–354.Find this resource:

Cloud, D. L. (1994). The materiality of discourse as oxymoron: A challenge to critical rhetoric. Western Journal of Communication,58, 141–163.Find this resource:

Cloud, D. L. (2011). We are the union: Democratic unionism and dissent at Boeing. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Find this resource:

Cloud, D. L., & Gunn, J. (2011). Introduction: W (h) ither Ideology?. Western Journal of Communication, 75, 407–420.Find this resource:

Cloud, D. L., Macek, S., Aune, J. A. (2006). The limbo of the ethical simulacra: A reply to Ron Greene. Philosophy and rhetoric,39, 72–84.Find this resource:

Conners, P., & Solomon, R. (2013). The business of school board deliberation. In J. S. Hanan & M. Hayward (Eds.), Communication and the economy: History, value and agency (pp. 209–232). New York: Peter Lang.Find this resource:

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Edley, P., & Reich, N. M. (2011). Democracy in the academy: Ethnographic articulations and interventions for social change. In S. Kahn & J. L. (Eds.), Activism and rhetoric: Theories and contexts for political engagement (pp. 125–136). New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Foucault, M. (2007). Security, territory, population: Lectures at the Collège de France 1977–1978. M. Senellart (Ed.). (G. Burchell, Trans.). New York: Palgrave.Find this resource:

Foucault, M. (2008). The birth of biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978–1979. M. Senellart (Ed.). (G. Burchell, Trans.). New York: Palgrave.Find this resource:

Foust, C. R. (2010). Transgression as a mode of resistance: Rethinking social movement in an era of corporate globalization. Lanham: Lexington Books.Find this resource:

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Galbraith, J. K. (2000). Created unequal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Find this resource:

Galbraith, J. K. (1958). The affluent society. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Find this resource:

Galbraith, J. K. (1967). The new industrial state. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Find this resource:

Galbraith, J. K. (1973). Economics and the public purpose. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Find this resource:

Goodnight, G. T., & Green, S. (2010). Rhetoric, risk, and markets: The dot-com bubble. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 96, 115–140.Find this resource:

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