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Kaufer, David S., and Kathleen M. Carley. "Condensation Symbols: Their Variety and Rhetorical Function in Political Discourse."

Kaufer, David S., and Kathleen M. Carley. "Condensation Symbols: Their Variety and Rhetorical Function in Political Discourse." Philosophy and Rhetoric 26.3 (1993): 201-226. [link to CASOS]


(This is the third in a series of publications I've downloaded from CASOS. There are strong similarities between this essay and "Semantic Connectivity," which was published, I think, while this essay was in press.)

"Rhetorical theorists, however, focus on the stratified impact of words in context, a stratification brought about by the fact that every word has a unique history of usage across populations of audiences who can continue to affect a word's impact in contemporaneous messages.
For the rhetorical theorist, high impact words evince a high degree of connectivity in context" (201).

"what is special about such symbols is not simply that they are networked with other concepts, but that they are (somehow) well-connected in a network of meaning primed by the context....The sense of connectedness at issue involves ties to situational and strategic notions as well, connections between words and specific rhetorical settings" (202).

"Let us say that symbols are well-connected just in case they are at least high in situational conductivity, or situational density, or situational consensus" (202).

"Situational conductivity refers to the capacity of a linguistic concept both to elaborate and to be elaborated by other concepts in a particular context of use" (202).

"Situational density refers to the frequency with which a linguistic item is used in relation to others, within a delineated context and social group" (204).

"Situational consensus refers to the extent to which a concept is elaborated in similar ways across a given population in a given context" (204).

"A condensation symbol differs from ordinary symbols (i.e., ordinary words) by being well-connected in its context of meaning" (205).

Ordinary language and factoids are going to be ignored--uninteresting rhetorically.

Buzzwords (206), Pregnant Placeholders (207)

Better explanation, though: Pregnant place-holders are words that, like buzzwords, are both high in situational conductivity and low in consensus. Unlike buzzwords, they are also high in density, that is, they are highly connected to other concepts, meaning that as rhetorical devices, they have more staying power than buzzwords. Buzzwords begin to lose their magic with too much elaboration. They are names for words that are, symbolically at least, too hot to handle. The significant property of pregnant place-holders, on the other hand, is that they can sustain a great deal of elaboration in the absence of consensus" (207).

Emblems (208)

Also explained in more detail: "Because emblems are not dense (have few connections with other points of reference in their contexts of use). they function as conductive points of consensus at a distance from other focal points, islands of focal agreement. The clearest example of an emblem, perhaps, is the academic citation. This is especially true of citation in the natural sciences where there is likely to be relative consensus about the content of a contribution (e.g., Einstein 1905)" (208).

Standard Symbols (209), Allusions (209)

Nice analysis of allusions here: "The allusion presents challenges to communication. It lies at the periphery of a focal network and so is not highly conductive. And yet because it is dense, there is the danger that it will draw attention away from the focal concepts it is supposed to be elaborating....When the insider nature of the allusion becomes more important than the message, the symbol becomes a kind of insider jargon or argot, a membership card--in short, some variety of dense expression (a pregnant place-holder, allusion, stereotype, or standard symbol) that significantly thins out in meaning as the audiences for it widen.
On the other hand, allusions are the source of many strategies used to hold together, by a thread, fragile coalitions, even to cultivate a false sense of consensus across diverse constituencies" (210).

Stereotypes (211)

Condensation Symbols and Rhetorical Function: "While quantitative measures can be used to extract distributions of language use associated with each of these types, our aims in this paper are qualitative and designed to show how these categories provide descriptive tools for analyzing categories of political argument" (212).

Analysis of exchange between Miro Todorovich and Howard Glickstein on affirmative action (begins 213).

"Because Todorovich and Glickstein speak with different insider reference groups in mind, we should find that different concepts in their argument have different structural/rhetorical characteristics. Some concepts will be standard symbols, others stereotypes, others buzzwords. and so on. We should also find that a single concept has different structural/rhetorical characteristics depending upon the insider reference group to which it is addressed. A concept functioning, say, as a stereotype when addressed (by Todorovich) within one insider reference group may function as an altogether different stereotype (or some other category) when addressed (by Glickstein) within another, Finally, it is possible that different categories play different rhetorical functions in argument. Some categories may be especially useful for building symbolic bridges across belief systems. Others may be especially useful for building solidarity within one" (213).

"As it happens, there is a thin line between speaking of condensation symbols as "devices" and as "beliefs," Do Glickstein and Todorovich use rhetoric differently in the service of their different beliefs? Or do they simply believe different things and their language simply (and accurately) translates these differences? The first question implies that we are dealing with (artistic) devices driven by beliefs. The second question implies that we are dealing with (inartistic) beliefs channeled into routine linguistic expression. Like active viruses on the border of organic and inorganic life, condensation symbols lie on the border of artistic and inartistic life" (223).


There's not much to add here. The difference in audience for this essay and for "Semantic Connectivity" results in some important distinctions. In this essay, C&K are more interested in the ways that their typology functions rhetorically, and their application is an excellent example of those types in action. The interpretive leverage which is mostly implicit in SC is far more explicit here, and (I think) easily extended to other texts.

I'm definitely interested in pursuing the question of jargon further, and this provides some language for doing so, which is nice.