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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Stephen Gencarella

Second Advisor

Claudio Moreira

Third Advisor

David Fleming

Subject Categories

Speech and Rhetorical Studies


Although the field of rhetorical studies has expanded from the notion that rhetoric only applies to speeches, there has been little attention paid to the rhetoric of sound. This project focuses on the rhetoric of sound, specifically the musical rhetoric of the community of Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia, Canada. Cape Breton has a long history of maintaining a traditional music community, with its origins in Scotland. The fiddle music of Cape Breton is renowned as a genre of Celtic music. This project looks at the rhetorical acts of the musicians and investigates how these acts of vernacular rhetoric help develop the community. It shows how the individual musicians are conditioned by the history and community they are born into, but also how these same musicians affect and change that community. This cycle allows for the community’s understanding of its own musical properties and style to change through time. This project seeks to dispel the notion that the change in a community’s culture over time is the result of inevitability. Change comes from rhetorical acts by rhetorical actors. Influential musicians enter the community, and make a mark. Their influence is picked up by other musicians, who themselves add their own mark.

This project focuses on the notion of judgment as the locus for this change. The Cape Breton musical community provides spaces where musicians are able to gather and publicly exercise judgment. These judgments are not guided by a blueprint of preconceived action, but rather by a practical judgment, wherein the musician holds themselves accountable to the community. As such, drawing from hermeneutical theory, this project highlights the distinction between practical judgment and technical judgment. This project is a critical one, because it seeks to raise to the forefront the prejudices that allow judgment take place, and as such it is also a hermeneutic one. The critical focus concerns the possibility that practical judgment can be dominated by technical judgment. This project stands to guard against notions of essentialism and romanticism of culture that, if given enough credence, could disrupt the possibility of practical judgment in everyday life.