• rhetoric;
  • interpretation;
  • situation;
  • strategy;
  • J. F. Kennedy

Ideas are increasingly acknowledged as factors in explaining political behaviour. But often they are treated as inert resources rather than dynamic instances of action in themselves. The latter, I propose, requires reflection on the character of speech – as the medium of ideas – in responding to and refiguring a prevailing situation. I undertake such reflection by setting out a rhetorical approach to political strategy. Building upon ‘interpretive’ advances in political science I shift the focus from stable cognitive frames to the dynamics of argumentation where ideas work expressively. I then explore the rhetorical aspect of strategising with attention to the way speech serves to orient audiences by creatively re-appropriating a situation. That approach is shown to be consistent with a ‘dialectical’ political sociology that emphasises the interaction of structure and agency. Finally, I sketch a method for undertaking rhetorical analysis and indicate how it might be applied to a concrete example.