Stephen Olbrys Gencarella

Stephen Olbrys Gencarella

Associate Professor

N356 Integrative Learning Center

Fall 2014 office hours: TuTh 11:30-1 & by appt.

(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 both contemporary humor and horror (as two often extreme enactments of aesthetic experience) address, uphold, and critique social and political anxieties.


  • 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; 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.
  • "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.
  • "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.


Currently, I am 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 (with Brett Ingram) include 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.  

Future projects will continue to advance a critical folklore studies, examine myths of rhetoric in antiquity, and redress Indo-European narratives about monstrosities and alterity from a contemporary psychoanalytic perspective.