Samuel McCormick

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2017/2018
discipline Communication
Associate Professor, Communication Studies Department, College of Liberal & Creative Arts, San Francisco State University

Research project

The Chattering Mind: A Conceptual History of Everyday Talk

 

In "The Chattering Mind", I explore a largely forgotten tradition of philosophical commentary on the communicative practices of mass society, especially insofar as this intellectual tradition can be shown to inform ongoing discussions of collective life in the digital age. In particular, I trace the conceptual history of ordinary conversation as it stretches from Søren Kierkegaard’s innaugural theory of "chatter" (snak) to Martin Heidegger’s resurgent account of "idle talk" (Gerede) to Jacques Lacan’s culminating treatment of "empty speech" (parole vide)—and ultimately into our digital present, where "small talk" has become the basis for "big data".

 

From Plato’s struggle to elude "the madness of the multitude" to Kant’s lament for “the great unthinking mass,” the history of Western thought is riddled with tagline derisions of ordinary civic life. But it was not until Kierkegaard coined the term "chatter" (snak) that this ridicule began to center on the communicative practices of ordinary citizens. The intellectual tradition inaugurated by this coinage has been insufficiently traced. In "The Chattering Mind", I attempt to provide such a tracing. It is at once a genealogy of elite theoretical discourse on the communicative practices of mass society, and, at its furthest reaches, an effort to reclaim this genealogy as the proper conceptual foundation for ongoing discussions of collective life in the digital age, when the originary logic of "the chat room" continues to evolve in an ever-expanding landscape of new social media.

 

More than a history of ideas, "The Chattering Mind" is a book in search of a usable past. It is a study of how the modern world became anxious about ordinary conversation, figured in terms of the intellectual elites who peaked this anxiety, and written with an eye toward recent dilemmas of digital communication. It is the first book-length study to explain how a quintessentially unproblematic form of human communication—casual conversation—became a communication problem in itself, notably one in need of philosophical commentary and now, in the digital age, ongoing technological support.

 

 

Biography

 

Samuel McCormick is Associate Professor of Communication Studies at San Francisco State University. He holds a Ph.D in Communication Studies from the University of Iowa. His research interests include communication and social theory, intellectual and cultural history, and the ever-shifting relationship between media, technology, and social change.

 

 

Selected publications

 

'Arguments from Analogy and Beyond: The Persuasive Artistry of Local American Civic Life', Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol. 100, no. 2, 2014, pp. 186-212.

 

'Argument by Comparison: An Ancient Typology', Rhetorica, vol. 32, no.2, 2014, pp. 148-164.

 

'Inter et Inter: Between Kierkegaard and the Heibergs', Søren Kierkegaard Newsletter, no. 59, 2012, pp. 3-7.

 

Letters to Power: Public Advocacy without Public Intellectuals, The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, 2011.

 

'Neighbors and Citizens: Local Speakers in the Now of Their Recognizability', Philosophy & Rhetoric, no. 44, 2011, pp. 424-445.

 

 

 

institut

junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies (AIAS)
discipline History
2017
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies (AIAS)
discipline Political Philosophy
2018
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies (AIAS)
discipline Political Science
2018