Spurr, David. The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial discourse in journalism, travel writing, and imperial administration. Duke University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-8223-1303-0 ISBN 0-8223-1317-0 (paper)
David Spurr’s book The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial discourse in journalism, travel writing, and imperial administration presents some of the rhetorical methods used in non-fictional writing in a colonial context. Spurr unfolds twelve rhetorical methods that he developed by identifying basic tropes used to write about non-Western people in the 19th and 20th centuries. While his work rests upon many postcolonial study writers, it is also a study of the basic principles of rhetorical study. By analysing non-fictional writing – mainly journalistic works – from France, the USA and Great Britain, Spurr found common tropes used in these works and derived his twelve rhetorical methods. Therefore, the methods are not narrowly defined by historical narratives or geographical areas. The book focuses on a broader time period – not only on traditional colonial time but as well on decolonization and postcolonial time. For Spurr non-fictional writing is the best way to examine these common tropes, as non-fictional writing is based on reality and is not consciously written for aesthetic reasons.
The book contains twelve chapters in which the twelve methods are presented. Some of the methods overlap or build on each other and the distinction between the methods is not always clear. Spurr explains the methods in the chapters shortly and expands them with examples from different sources but mainly journalistic work. Some of the methods are based on psychological or philosophical theories that are presented in the chapters as well. The twelve methods are Surveillance, Appropriation, Aestheticization, Classification, Debasement, Negation, Affirmation, Idealization, Insubstantialization, Naturalization, Eroticization, and Resistance.
The methods include rather broad functions. Some of them deal with the measuring and comparing of the Other with the Self and the different measuring instruments and theories. Other methods deal with presenting an image of the Other and some methods are more self-referential and deal with writing and reporting itself.
Spurr’s rhetorical methods are sometimes a bit hard to pinpoint. He tends to get caught up in some of the philosophical and psychological theories behind his rhetorical methods. This lead to some vague methods. The examples are informative and relevant but sometimes their sheer numbers takes away from the theory presented and this leads to rhetorical methods that stay rather broadly defined. It does not help, that the rhetorical methods included present such a broad scope.