‘Strangers in their own Country’: Epideictic Rhetoric and Communal Definition in Enoch Powell's ‘Rivers of Blood’ Speech

Judi Atkins

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This article treats Enoch Powell's ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech as an example of the epideictic rhetoric of blame and exclusion. Drawing on a framework proposed by Celeste Michelle Condit, the analysis explores the functions of the address for the speaker and for the audience. Of particular concern are Powell's self‐presentation as a statesman and prophet; his account of the impact and consequences of unrestricted immigration; and his portrayal of a community where ordinary, decent English people were being displaced and victimised by Commonwealth immigrants—a process in which he claimed the authorities were complicit. For the audience, the speech gave public expression to their concerns about immigration, though Powell's predictions of a dystopian future also aroused sentiments of anger and foreboding. Despite the controversy that ensued, the impact of ‘Rivers of Blood’ was far‐reaching, and its influence is still apparent in contemporary debates over immigration.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)362-369
Number of pages8
JournalThe Political Quarterly
Issue number3
Early online date16 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2018


Bibliographical note

This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Atkins, J 2018, '‘Strangers in their own Country’: Epideictic Rhetoric and Communal Definition in Enoch Powell's ‘Rivers of Blood’ Speech' The Political Quarterly, vol 89, no. 3, pp. 362-369, which has been published in final form at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-923X.12548
This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.


  • Enoch Powell
  • rhetoric
  • immigration
  • race
  • community
  • national identity

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