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Deliberation, Rhetoric, and Emotion in the Discourse on Climate Change in the European Parliament.

Deliberation, Rhetoric, and Emotion in the Discourse on Climate Change in the European Parliament. By Vebjorn Roald and Linda Sangolt. CW Delft, The Netherlands: Eburon Academic Publishers, 2012; pp. 135. $25.00 paper.

The past decade has witnessed an interdisciplinary surge in studies of emotion. From neurobiology to cultural studies, an increasing number of scholars now consider the cultural mediation of emotional processes along with the biological dimension of cultural practices. Rhetorical studies appears especially committed to linking these previously disparate bodies of knowledge (see, for example, Condit, 2013). Vebjorn Roald and Linda Sangolt contribute to such discussion in their recent work, Deliberation, Rhetoric, and Emotion in the Discourse on Climate Change in the European Parliament (Deliberation). The authors offer a succinct, well-researched case study of emotional rhetoric and it likewise deserves the attention of rhetorical and argumentative studies. I begin my review with a brief summary of its six respective chapters. Later I argue that while Roald and Sangolt admirably reinsert emotional discourse into the realm of public deliberation, their logocentrist framework ultimately impedes their attempt to substantively advance knowledge on the topic.

The introductory chapter lays out Roald and Sangolt's text, purpose and theoretical framework. The authors analyze transcripts of plenary debates at three climate change summits of the European Parliament (EP), held in 1992, 2002 and 2007. They argue the EP demands further attention as the world's largest democratic assembly, and, given the emotional volatility of climate change, the issue conveniently lends itself to the study of emotional rhetoric. The authors ask two primary questions, "To what extent do EP debates fulfill [Habermasian] (sic) deliberative standards," and, "Which emotional triggers, if any, are employed in these debates" (p. 18)? The deeper question of their work, however, asks, "How, if at all, does emotional rhetoric enhance or threaten public deliberation on climate change?"

Chapter two outlines the authors' deliberative, rhetorical and emotional frameworks respectively. First, Roald and Sangolt assume a Habermasian framework of communicative action as the ideal standard of deliberative democracy, "where some principles of justice appeal to reason in such a way that they can be seen as universal" (p. 36). While a few of Habermas' critics are attended, namely Jon Elster and Nancy Frazer, the authors appear to take communicative action at face value without thoroughly interrogating the limitations of Habermasian thought. Next, rhetorical theory receives three parochial pages on Plato and Aristotle, along with a short explanation of tropes. While two paragraphs of contemporary theory attempt to counter the Platonic, logos-pathos binary, the authors nevertheless emphasize their Aristotelian commitment to rational deliberation. Although the authors use the concept of "rational deliberation" throughout their work, they never offer a clear definition of what they mean by it. They also purportedly draw on Michel Foucault's (1970) concept of discourse as, "opinion formation tied to an institution, where concepts are tied together in different ways" (p. 30). Yet, they neglect to incorporate Foucault's scholarship in any meaningful way. Instead, Roald and Sangolt reinforce the classical conception of discourse, particularly regarding their Aristotelian view of emotional appeals. Third, the authors draw on the emotional research of social scientist, John Elster, whose eight core emotions are later elaborated in chapter five. Roald and Sangolt situate the status of emotions somewhere between the perceived extremes of Jurgen Habermas on one hand, and David Hume on the other. Instead of engaging the radical implications of Hume's thought, however, the authors merely echo Marlene Sokolon's remark on logos and emotion as a "symphonic" interaction (p. 45). The chapter thereby reinforces the traditional perspective regarding rhetoric and emotion as mere aids, albeit necessary ones, to what the authors persistently and, perhaps glibly, label rational deliberation.

Chapter three outlines the methodological approach and data selection. Two quantitative methods are employed: the Deliberative Quality Index (hereafter DQI) and the Textual Emotional Index (hereafter TEI). First, the DQI is designed to measure deliberative quality by assigning points to given statements. The authors analyze only those statements they consider demands. The greater a demand is built upon evidence and aspires toward consensus, the more points it receives. It does not, however, claim to measure argumentative quality. It measures only the ability to uphold "pre-established deliberative standards" (pp. 51-52). These standards are categorized into seven variables: participation, content of justification, level of justification, respect towards others, respect towards demands/claims, respect towards counter arguments, and constructive politics (pp. 127-128). Second, the TEI measures the frequency of what Elster (1998) labels, emotional triggers. Whereas Elster defines an emotional trigger as any type of experience capable of producing an emotion, however, the authors limit their scope merely to "'textual emotions,' where a statement is read as (potentially) triggering an emotion" (p. 89). A statement pertaining to one's fear of liberal trade leading to environmental dumping, for example, would constitute an emotional trigger, as it could evoke fear in one's audience (p. 90). Physiological indicators of emotion, such as volume, vocal intensity and other nonverbal cues, are ignored. Instead of using a point scale, the TEI simply indicates whether or not triggers of specified emotions are employed. The authors focus specifically on potential triggers to John Elster's (1998) eight core emotions: shame, Cartesian indignation, pride, joy, disappointment, hope, fear, and pity (p. 129). The TEI does not attempt to measure the emotional states of the rhetorical agents or the rhetorical effectiveness of triggers employed. The index merely aims to identify the core emotions likely targeted by given linguistic statements, which, the authors acknowledge, requires the subjective interpretation of the coder in light of the specific context of the utterance. The authors focus specifically on explicitly expressed emotions relevant to the issue of climate change.

Chapter four outlines the contradicting results from the DQI. On one hand, deliberative quality scores high: claims are often substantiated, participants are provided opportunities to speak, and agents exhibit mutual respect (pp. 83-84). The number of demands with sophisticated justification also rises sharply from 1992 to 2007, indicating steady deliberative progress in the discourse on climate change (p. 71). On the other hand, Roald and Sangolt note, the scores fail to account for several unsettling patterns of discourse: counter claims are often ignored, and verbal exchange is minimal. Thus while the DQI results score high according to their standard of good deliberation, the shallow depth of the debates indicates a "deliberative deficit" (p. 84). The authors hypothesize such deficit may result from a tradition of grandstanding, as opposed to one of genuine, critical engagement. EP agents often make demands to create public record as opposed to spark dialogue. The results also indicate limitations of the DQI, along with Habermasian standards of deliberative democracy. The authors appropriately ask, "But will a debate where the participants are concertedly, even ritualistically respectful necessarily be qualitatively better according to deliberative ideals?" (p. 70). Such a question begs further theoretical and methodological consideration.

Chapter five outlines the results from the TEI. The authors develop eight emotional triggers to approximate Elster's eight core emotions. They initially hypothesize: (a) Frequency of emotional triggers will rise over time, given the increased saliency of climate change, and (b) increased disagreement will lead to increased frequency of emotional triggers (p. 101). They learn, however, that emotional triggers were more frequently employed in 1992 than in 2007. This was perhaps because climate advocates were fewer in 1992 and thus felt the need to "emotionalize climate change politics" (pp. 102-103). The authors also learn that more disagreement does not necessarily entail a higher frequency of emotions, perhaps indicating that often, "seeming consensus was a veil" (p. 102). Next, Roald and Sangolt coin the term, "positive pathos," encouraging scholars to reconsider the deliberative function of emotions. Positive pathos refers to "rational or reasonable emotions in view of a particular circumstance or contingency" (p. 104). Thus while an emotion such as shame may be considered negative in and of itself, it may also serve a constructive function in the context of the debate. The authors also recognize limitations in the TEI, such as its inability to measure emotional intensity or rhetorical effectiveness, along with the inherent subjectivity of coding emotional triggers.

In their conclusion, Roald and Sangolt find that the European Parliament overwhelmingly upholds deliberative standards in its discourse on climate change. Still, they acknowledge this is due largely to the EP's tradition of prepared statements and lack of genuine dialogue which contributes to its "deliberative deficit." Of the emotional triggers employed, those aimed to trigger fear, hope and disappointment appear most frequently (p. 114). Overall, the authors observe an "emotional deficit" in the plenary debates, likely a result of its substantive shortcomings. Because debates lack genuine interaction, they, in turn, lack a degree of pathos. Regarding the degree to which emotions were potentially generated, Roald and Sangolt label the emotional triggers employed as too weak in their potential to derail the debate from "rational discourse" (p. 115). In conclusion, a tradition of deliberative deficit has arguably led to one of emotional deficit, thereby preserving a space for rational deliberation. Although argumentative substance in the European Parliament leaves something to be desired, one is at least assured that emotional triggers have not compromised the integrity of the debate.

Despite my admiration for this rigorous investigation, I argue its theoretical framework hinders it from upholding its promise to truly grapple over the relationship between emotions and rationality in deliberative democracy. Roald and Sangolt offer a valuable case study of emotional rhetoric in the discourse on climate change in the European Parliament. That said, the authors are severely limited by their theoretical perspective and unfortunately ignore an array of emotional research that could potentially inform their project.

The primary limitation of the work is perhaps best articulated in a quick anecdote. I began Deliberation with a productive misreading. On the front cover of the book, no commas are used. Thus, I originally read the title as follows: Deliberation Rhetoric and Emotion in the Discourse on Climate Change in the European Parliament. I assumed the term, Deliberation, merely demarcated the area of rhetoric under investigation. Only later did I correctly read the inside title with punctuation included. Upon my rereading, I learned the authors' intention to distinguish between rhetoric on one hand and deliberation on the other, just as they do reason and emotion. It is precisely this distinction that precludes them from delving deeper into the rhetorical possibilities of emotional production. While they carefully resist dismissing emotion outright, they never truly embrace it either. Emotion is at best a rhetorical aid for Roald and Sangolt, and at worst a deliberative impediment. Its only suitable function is to steer deliberative agents toward what must otherwise be dispassionately rational positions.

Roald and Sangolt's Habermasian framework further precludes emotional discourse from occupying any significant space in public deliberation. The precarious life of emotion is reduced to linguistic, emotional triggers. Such a decision is partially justified by the authors' attempt to code and quantify emotional discourse. To a larger extent, however, it reflects and perpetuates the historical Western marginalization of emotion. The authors refuse to accept emotional discourse as anything more than a deliberative (and potentially manipulative) tool wielded by rational agents. The possibility of emotion as a mode of logic itself is elided from the outset. Instead, the authors ask, "Is rhetoric, specified as pathos, something that drives forward, or works against deliberative ideals?" (p. 85). The possibly intrinsic connection between rhetoric, emotion and deliberation is barely considered. If one assumes, as do Roald and Sangolt, that "Deliberation requires the exercise of rationality [and,] [i]deally, the best argument wins the day," we are left little room to advance our knowledge of emotional discourse (p. 18).

The theoretical limitations further manifest in Roald and Sangolt's reference to political scientist, Janne Haaland Matlary (2007):

It is frightening to see how ordinary people today don't see through poor political discussions ... One "feels" this and that.-It is disgusting to hear a politician who feels something. Emotions are uninteresting in politics, and belong in the private sphere, (p. 45)

To be clear, Roald and Sangolt do not share Matlary's position but instead offer it as a prevailing disposition toward emotions in the social sciences. Still, the irony of Matlary's language appears lost on them. In advocating for a rational politics, Matlary justifies her position by noting her fright and disgust caused by the presence of feelings in the public realm. Her position is entirely grounded in emotion; because feelings cause her to be frightened and disgusted, they must likewise be pernicious to deliberation. Even Matlary's nod to Plato and Aristotle defining humans as a "rational and social animal" may be interpreted as the manifestation of emotional nostalgia as much as a technical appeal to authority. As contemporary research increasingly suggests, emotions are often the grounds of deliberative action, not merely its rhetorical appeal. This is precisely the dimension of emotional rhetoric Roald and Sangolt ignore. Here Martha Nussbaum's (1998) work on disgust in judicial decisions may prove especially insightful (see also, Nussbaum, 2013). Similarly, Lee Peirce (2013) recently critiqued the rhetoric of trauma in post-9/11 discourse, where trauma itself becomes the justification for anti-Islamic sentiment. In both cases, emotion functions not as a rhetorical tool but as the very fabric of public decision-making. Such a perspective appears vital to appreciating the productive role of emotions in the discourse on climate change.

Roald and Sangolt are also limited by their utility of John Elster's eight core emotions. Elster remains a leading advocate of rational choice theory, despite gradually refining his position in light of human emotion (see Elster, 1998; see also Elster, 2009). Thus there remains an almost inherent bias toward the rational even as Roald and Sangolt attempt to move emotions to the forefront of discussion. Here other theoretical perspectives may prove more useful to future work in this area. Leading neuropsychologist, Paul Ekman (1971), for example, famously outlined six core emotions-happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust, and anger-before eventually arguing, "all emotions are basic" (1994, p. 15). Jaak Panksepp & Lucy Biven (2012) recently outlined an entirely different set of core emotions: seeking, fear, rage, lust, care, panic, grief, and play. In light of their work, rhetoric grounded in the emotion of care may prove more effective in persuading agents to nurture their environment, regardless of whether or not such an emotion was intentionally triggered. Within the authors' current methodological framework, however, such rhetoric would be difficult to identify if it were not articulated within the narrow confines of their coding procedure. There is certainly no consensus on the existence of core emotions, or on how to identify, label or enumerate them. Still, greater attention to the biological dimension of core emotions may prove valuable for further discussion on the deliberative rhetoric of climate change.

Next, Roald and Sangolt code only those emotional triggers expressly connected to a particular reason for the emotion stated. The authors explain:

By looking for words in representatives' speeches that directly express emotion, but formulate no reason for why a particular emotion is expressed, or how an emotion is related to an argument or line of reasoning, one quickly runs the risk of distorting the emotional import of speakers' addresses, and conversely of ignoring or undercounting more indirect emotional content that is more subtly intertwined with arguing, (p. 92)

The risk of distorting emotional import is certainly a considerable one. Emotions are difficult, if not impossible, to isolate, let alone translate linguistically. Yet we run a deeper risk of ignoring emotional import by obliging a fear of distortion. The authors appear to sacrifice the emotional depth of their investigation in favor of a manageable text. They add:

Even if one cannot know the intention of the speaker, one can judge if an emotion is sincere. One can then ask: which emotions are rational, or reasonable to have and display when it comes to climate change politics? Are emotions, in other words, adequate and justified considering the context? (pp. 103-104)

At the very least, it appears dangerous to judge the sincerity of the speaker's emotions based upon an outsider's perspective regarding which emotions rationally pertain to climate change. At worst, it runs the risk of ignoring rhetorically productive emotional exchanges. Edwin Black (1978), for example, famously outlined a rhetorical style of exhortation, where the speaker utilizes a "language of emotionality" to induce audience beliefs without introducing any logical premises (p. 139). Yet such emotional exchanges are potentially ignored within the confines of the authors' methodology.

In conclusion, Roald and Sangolt should be applauded for attending to the nebulous role of emotions in one of the most pressing and emotionally charged issues of our time, climate change. The authors offer valuable insight regarding the timing of emotional triggers and their apparent inability to derail parliamentary debates pertaining to climate change insofar as how they are currently employed. Still, the work appears inhibited by its dependence on Habermasian standards of rational discourse and a somewhat myopic view of emotional triggers. Instead of undermining the traditional reason-emotion dichotomy, as they purportedly set out to do, the authors wind up only to reinforce that dichotomy by rendering emotional triggers as ancillary tools of rational deliberation. I believe the work may be supplemented by future research aimed at expanding the confines of emotional rhetoric in two ways. First, scholars should attend to the ineffable production of emotion, as opposed to merely those statements explicitly stating an emotion. Second, rather than merely ask how emotional rhetoric helps or hurts rational deliberation, scholars may ask how emotional triggers help shift discourse in interesting ways. In doing so, we may gain deeper insight into the role of emotions in our attempt to deliberate on controversial issues such as climate change.

Kevin Marinelli

Young Harris College


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Pierce, L. (2013). A rhetoric of traumatic nationalism in the Ground Zero mosque controversy. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 100 (1), 31-52. doi: 10.1080/00335630.2014.888461
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Author:Marinelli, Kevin
Publication:Argumentation and Advocacy
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2015
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