Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy



Our events bring thought-provoking conversations about democracy to the Penn State community and beyond. All events are free and open to anyone, both in-person and online.

Center for Democratic Deliberation Lecture: Ismael Quiñones

Life After Rhetoric: Unrealism in Colonial Times

Wednesday, March 29, 2023, 12:00 p.m. – via Zoom
Register for the webinar

The talk is a meditation on the possibilities of augmenting pluriversal futures. The politics of our current moment, with the escalation of human induced climate change, call for a reorientation in the ways we do rhetoric. Unrealism, both as a problem and a possibility, is a response to the limits of colonial times we were born to live. By reflecting on my own story of migration, the histories of friars that narrate European invasion upon the lands and waters of Originary nations, and the traces of resilience from a colonial archive, my dissertation Undocumented Times: Rhetorics of a Colonial Moment asks us to imagine beyond the confines of the politics of intelligibility.    

Ismael Quiñones is a Ph.D. candidate at the Communication Arts & Sciences department. His work has been published in Quarterly Journal of Speech, Philosophy & Rhetoric, and Communication Education. He will graduate in summer 2023.

Center for Democratic Deliberation Lecture: Scott R. Stroud

Democracy, Caste, and Bhimrao Ambedkar’s Rhetoric of Reconstruction

Wednesday, April 5, 2023, 11:00 a.m. – via Zoom
Register for the webinar

Bhimrao Ambedkar (1891-1956) is one of the most pivotal figures for India’s democracy. Not only did he serve as the architect in the 1940s for India’s constitution, Ambedkar also advocated for India’s most oppressed—the lower castes and the so-called “untouchables” left out of the prevailing caste hierarchy. Drawing on themes in his recent book, The Evolution of Pragmatism in India, Stroud argues that Ambedkar’s commitment to democracy and his rhetorical activity were unified in a philosophical outlook with roots in his early education at Columbia University. It was there that young Ambedkar stumbled into the classroom of John Dewey, starting a lifelong fascination with the pragmatist’s books, ideas, and ideals. Ambedkar’s elaboration of the pragmatist notion of democracy as a way of life will be explored in his own rhetorical activities and anti-caste philosophy, revealing a new perspective on rhetorical reconstruction, highlighting an overlooked figure in Indian public address, and affirming the value of adding caste to our narratives of social justice.

Scott R. Stroud is an associate professor of communication studies and affiliated faculty of the South Asia Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. He serves as the Program Director of Media Ethics at the Center for Media Engagement. He is the co-founder of the first “Center for John Dewey Studies” in India at Savitribai Phule Pune University.

Barbara F. Walter: How Civil Wars Start

Thursday, April 6, 2023 4:00 p.m.
Katz Building Auditorium 
Watch the livestream

Over the last two decades, the number of active civil wars around the world has almost doubled. Walter reveals the warning signs— where wars tend to start, who initiates them, what triggers them— and why some countries tip over into conflict while others remain stable. Drawing on the latest international research and lessons from over 20 countries, Walter identifies the crucial risk factors, from democratic backsliding to factionalization and the politics of resentment in her best-selling book, How Civil Wars Start. 

Walter is the Rohr Professor of International Relations at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego. A life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Walter helps to run the award-winning blog Political Violence at a Glance and has written for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Reuters, and Foreign Affairs.

Heather Brook Adams: Hopeful Advocacy, Reimagining Rhetorics for Reproductive Justice

2023 Center for Democratic Deliberation Kenneth Burke Lecture

Friday, April 21, 2023, 5:00 p.m.
158 Willard Building

A reproducing person’s right to make decisions about their own body is one of the most divisive political issues today. The U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade with the 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision has ushered in renewed forms of intolerance, judgment, secrecy, risk, danger, anger, and despair. Given this context, inclusive and just reproductive politics–politics that assure the agency, dignity, and safety of all–can seem beyond our reach. But rather than giving up, the overturn of Roe can spark our hope; it can prompt us to identify rhetorical tactics for reimagining the possible and support purposeful work toward a truly equitable reproductive politics. The first step in such reimagining is listening carefully to the stories of others. As we listen, we can press ourselves to explore what stories can do: they can call on us to grapple with the unfamiliar, recognize our own implicit biases, and deliberate beyond polarizing talking points.

As Kenneth Burke reminds us, the stories we encounter can be recognized as “strategies for dealing with situations,” can function as “equipment for living.” Activists, advocates, and academics alike have the opportunity to use the current toxic state of reproductive politics as motivation for rethinking broader strategies as we move forward, together. Stories can propel and critically inform this coalitional movement, serving as rhetorical resources for advocacy work as we deliberate toward reproductive justice for all and deepen our reserves of hopefulness. 

Heather Brook Adams is a 2021-2022 Candace Bernard and Robert Glickman Dean’s Professor in the
UNCG College of Arts and Sciences. Her research performs feminist historiography of the recent past and investigates large themes such as health and wellness through a focus on rhetorics of reproduction and pregnancy in relation to affect, gender, race, and class. Her book Enduring Shame: A History of Unwed Pregnancy and Righteous Reproduction, was published by the University of South Carolina Press in 2022.