Manipulation has a bad name, unless you are a physiotherapist by profession. In English the word was not current in even its basic sense (‘to fashion something, to change its shape by hand’) until the middle of the nineteenth century. But it soon developed a more abstract sense – the sense of ‘treat unfairly, by skilful means to one’s own advantage’. The ‘skilful means’ came to include, perhaps predominately, verbal means. I take it that our notion of verbal manipulation is closely related to what we also call ‘persuasion’. Persuasion was directly associated with the teaching and practice of ‘rhetoric’ – whether it was regarded as ‘manipulation’ depended on how you viewed rhetoric and on your theory of rhetoric itself. Most people assume that verbal manipulation exists and that it works. In this paper I want to present some of the ways in which manipulation and persuasion have been viewed, but also to ask whether there is such a thing as manipulative persuasion that is intrinsically verbal.
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