Waterlines: Confluence and Hope through Environmental Communication. The 15th biennial Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE). June 17-21, 2019, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Tracing Rhetorical Tectonics in the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake

Hannah Smay's picture
Smay, Hannah
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Scholarly papers

Earthquakes have the potential to expand the limits of what we consider rhetorical and what bodies are considered capable of producing it. By examining the Tōhoku earthquake under a constitutive definition that sees rhetoric as a relational force which makes and unmakes worlds, I investigate the scope of animate rhetoric and question a foundational assumption underlying materialism in which the world of discourse is unfixed and unruly whereas the material world is fixed and stable. I argue that earthquakes are rhetorical, tectonic expressions of earth’s continual making and unmaking, expressions that interact with and influence human discourse and culture. I trace the pathways made by Tōhoku’s tectonic and oceanic forces through material and discursive worlds during and after it struck off the northeast coast of Japan on March 11, 2011. If environmental communication is indeed a “crisis discipline” which ought to account for silenced voices, earthquakes are overlooked environmental crises that demand the recognition of the planet’s own background voices and articulations. By putting aside humanist rhetorical limits that see the earth as inert and mute, and instead considering earthquakes expressions of an animate, speaking planet, I highlight how planetary systems participate in the creation of cultures, discourses, and material realities.