Stephen Olbrys Gencarella

Stephen Olbrys
Associate Professor
N356 Integrative Learning Center
Spring 2016 office hours: TuTh 11:30-1:00
413 545-3685

My research concerns the intersection of rhetorical studies, folklore studies, and performance studies. I am primarily interested in three issues: (1) The promotion of a critical folklore studies as an activist scholarship to examine and redress social injustice, with particular attention to the constitutive nature of expressive culture; (2) The investigation and contemporary appropriation of myths of rhetoric in classical antiquity, to include voices and concepts often excluded from the canonical texts of the rhetorical tradition; (3) The relationship between rhetorical criticism and social theory, especially to criticize persistent discourses of anti-democratic behavior and violence, and to advocate democratic modes of living with others.

Working at these intersections, I am especially interested in the ways contemporary humor performances address, uphold, and critique social and political anxieties. I have also returned to a longstanding interest in tourist sites as arenas of contested rhetorical display.

  • Joint Ph.D., Indiana University (Communication and Culture, and Folklore)
  • M.A., Tufts University (Classical Studies)
  • B.A., Providence College (Humanities)
Courses Taught: 

Undergraduate: Democracy and Discourse; Critical Folklore Studies; Myth, Ritual, and Performance; Rhetoric and Social Theory; Horror and Public Culture; Humor and Public Culture; Political Communication; Rhetoric, Science, and Public Culture; Rhetoric, Ethics, and the Good Life

Graduate: Contemporary Rhetorical Theory; Rhetoric and Social Change; Performance and Public Culture; Language as Action and Performance

  • Readings in Rhetoric and Performance. Strata Publications, Inc., 2010. Co-edited with Phaedra C. Pezzullo. Reviewed in Text and Performance Quarterly and Journal of Folklore Research.
  • "Critical Folklore Studies and the Revaluation of Tradition." In Tradition in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Trevor Blank and Robert Glenn Howard, 49-71. 2013.
  • "Folk Criticism and the Art of Critical Folklore Studies." Journal of American Folklore, 124(494), 251-271. 2011.
  • "Purifying Rhetoric: Empedocles and the Myth of Rhetorical Theory." Quarterly Journal of Speech, 96(3), 231-256. 2010.
  • "Gramsci, Good Sense, and Critical Folklore Studies." Journal of Folklore Research, 47(3), 221-252. 2010.
  • "Constituting Folklore: A Case for Critical Folklore Studies." Journal of American Folklore, 122(484), 172-196. 2009.
  • "The Myth of Rhetoric: Korax and the Art of Pollution." Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 37(3), 251-273. 2007.
  • "Touring History: Guidebooks and the Commodification of the Salem Witch Trials." Journal of American Culture, 30(3), 271-284. 2007.
  • "Disciplining the Carnivalesque: Chris Farley's Exotic Dance." Communication and Critical Cultural Studies, 3(3), 239-258. 2006.
  • "Seinfeld's Democratic Vistas." Critical Studies in Media Communication, 22(5), 390-408. 2005.
Current Projects: 

Currently, I am working with the Connecticut River Museum in the preparation of an exhibit entitled, "Myths and Legends of the Connecticut River Valley," to open in 2016.

I am also working on a book manuscript tenatively entitled Democratic Laughter: Alternative Situation Comedy as Social Criticism. This derives from my long-standing interest in the role of humor in public culture.

Other works in progress include: With Brett Ingram, a critical rhetorical analysis of cruelty and catharsis in contemporary popular culture, and an examination of the relationship between the ideas of ancient Greek sophists and contemporary neuroscience; with Hari Stephen Kumar, a critical folklore study of traditions of racism in southern New England.