Moral discourse and argumentation in the public sphere: Museums and their visitors

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9 Scopus citations


Recent studies of moral discourse and argumentation highlight the pervasiveness of morality in everyday life, and how the public sphere is shaped by moral ‘stuff’: speech acts, narratives, accounts and the like. By taking a discourse analytic orientation, this article joins this line of research, and delineates the situated and interactional nature of moral argumentations and rhetoric. The article focuses on the role moral discourse plays in the formation of the public sphere, as conceptualized by Habermas, and specifically on moral discourse (co-)produced by museums and by their visitors. As cultural public institutions, museums play an important role in shaping the public sphere both thematically (topically) and materially (communication technologies and materialities of display and participation). In recent years, museums have shifted to more interactive modes of operation, where visitors are invited to participate in the public sphere by producing discourse in situ. This study explores museum questions and visitors responses in a large Jewish cultural/heritage museum in the Unites States. The study first looks at the museum apparatuses, through which discourse is publicly invited, produced and presented, to then study visitors’ responses as moral discourse. The analysis critically highlights the dramatic quality inherent to moral scenes, and depicts and discusses how visitors’ texts selectively address the moral Actor, Action and Motive as parts of the social moral drama they evaluate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-47
Number of pages9
JournalDiscourse, Context and Media
Early online date1 Feb 2017
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd


  • Critical discourse analysis
  • Everyday morality
  • Habermas
  • Museum visitors
  • Public sphere
  • Rhetoric


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