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What Is the Connection between Rhetoric and Stereotypes?

By Lee Johnson
Updated May 23, 2024
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The connection between rhetoric and stereotypes is that rhetorical devices and techniques can be used to enforce stereotypes. People who use rhetoric in this way generally have ulterior motives, in that they are enforcing a stereotype in order to convince listeners or readers of a particular viewpoint for some personal gain. This may be done by politicians who demonize a particular group of immigrants to lobby favor from the public, or by those whose ideas seem diametrically opposed, like fundamentalist religious people and scientists. Pathos is the area of rhetoric most frequently used to strengthen stereotypes, but logos and ethos can also be employed on occasion.

Rhetoric and stereotypes are linked because people who want to enforce stereotypes often wish to convince others of their viewpoint. For example, a politician might want to capitalize on public discontent by blaming the country’s problems on immigration. Rhetoric can be used in these cases to label all immigrants as “a drain on our economic and cultural independence,” or by using a metaphor to describe them as “leeches” or other parasitic creatures. This emotionally charged language may convince listeners or readers to stereotype all immigrants as a drain on the economy, regardless of whether or not such a belief is backed up by evidence.

The specific tools used that link rhetoric and stereotypes are called rhetorical devices. These are set methods of using language in a persuasive way, such as the metaphor "leeches." Other rhetorical devices include "downplayers" and hyperbole. A downplayer can be used to detract from the importance of something, with the use of a word such as "merely" or "so-called." Hyperbole is exaggeration, and is used to make excessive statements such as "people of race X are innate liars and thieves."

Most rhetorical devices used when people combine rhetoric and stereotypes fall under the pathos heading. Pathos means an appeal to emotion, and is one of the three main areas of rhetoric, along with logic and the person’s public image. People use pathos to produce emotional reactions to an issue, such as hatred of a particular race, group, or nationality. For example, somebody might say that “politicians are weasels; lying and cheating their way into power” to convince voters that all politicians are untrustworthy. Again, no solid information is used in this statement, only a metaphor with unpleasant connotations.

Rhetoric is the art of argumentation and persuasion, and can be used to convince anybody of anything. This is why rhetoric and stereotypes are linked, because the art can be used for any end. The study of rhetoric has been in use since the time of the ancient Greeks. Political speeches and advertisements are usually awash with rhetoric, because they have a specific need to convince listeners of something.

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