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GIBBONS, Michelle G.

Winter 2020, 51.1, pages: 55-70

Rhetorics of the Cognitive Vernacular: Blame Amid the Opioid Crisis


In public discourse, lay cognitive precepts are invoked at every turn. People regularly speak of believing, thinking, knowing, and so forth, ascribing those states to themselves and others alike. This essay identifies the cognitive vernacular as a discernible dimension of public discourse, one that includes such regularly deployed lay precepts as well as popularized psychological and neuroscientific ideas. The cognitive vernacular may find expression in focal texts (e.g., a self-help book on positive thinking), but also pervasively, and somewhat elusively, takes shape in discussions that are otherwise overtly concerned. This essay takes the public discussion regarding the discovery of a teenage heroin ring in Centreville, Virginia, in 2008, a single episode within the large-scale and enduring American opioid crisis, as a focal site to investigate the cognitive vernacular. In doing so, it discerns how lay precepts concerning choice and knowledge are wielded as rhetorical resources to both cast and mitigate blame.



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