Symbolics and Politics of Rhetoric in the Urban Civic Arena- a Critical Synthesis (by Michael B. from Section 2)

When discourse becomes heated in the civic arena, studies of urban politics often focus on the factions involved in the conflict. That is, academic discussion on local power structures scrutinize heavily upon the whats, whos and whys of these issues; what are community organizations and city officials trying to accomplish, who are the so-called “key players,” and why do decisions get made the way they do? An important how, however, that gets underwrote in these processes, is how organizations produce and propagate rhetoric in civic discourse. This question is of central focus in both Hickey’s and Martin’s works on fighting pornography shops in Minneapolis and pushing forward supposedly anti-crime agendas in Atlanta; in each of these articles, this question is central to the authors’ arguments on how community organizations and urban political institutions construct effective arguments against the issues they confront.

The groups at work in Hickey’s article include local feminist organization at both the formal and informal level as well as city officials, other CBOs and the owners and supporters of adult bookstores themselves. This issue begins with the proliferation of adult novelty and print shops that open their doors throughout Minneapolis starting in a period of urban decline in the 1960s that climaxes in the 1980s as neighborhood associations begin to organize themselves in opposition to these stores.

While the grievances these communities have to air against these shops are easily argued as reasonable, they reach a pitfall in the process of removing them in that there is nothing explicitly illegal about what the shops do, and that to remove them is an infringement of free speech. As this obstacle comes into view for the community organizations seeking to remove the shops, these groups turn to the political power of rhetoric in shaping the discourse of pornography shops in Minneapolis.

They accomplish this, Hickey observes, through a variety of techniques; first, these groups begin discussing the NIMBY component of this issue; while stressing that these bookstores necessarily have a write to exist, these organizers are adamant that such stores do not belong in their backyard, or more literally, across their street. The danger these stores impose becomes integral to the argument of this anti-pornography movement, and is further involved in the rhetoric of Dworkin and MacKinnon’s feminist arguments against pornography. By referring to pornography as “‘central in creating and maintaining the civil inequality of the sexes,’” these two involve strong feminist ideologies in their critiques of the shops.

In this case the strategic use of rhetoric in producing an ideology led to the overwhelming support for removal of the adult bookstores in these neighborhoods- demonstrating the power of rhetoric in framing civic discourse. In Martin’s example, community activists employ rhetorical devices in a similar manner, but for different purposes; in this article Martin demonstrates how residents in gentrifying communities in Atlanta produce ideologies in order to further their agendas.

Specifically, Martin argues, these rhetorical techniques are used to obscure the structurally classist and racist upshots of gentrification in these neighborhoods by underlining the need of these communities to consider the quality of the upbringing of children in these communities. These residents carefully craft an argument for the renewal of local schools, green spaces and other community assets by underlining the importance of these resources to the children of the community; in doing this, these residents form a discourse where urban renewal is necessary for the cultivation of the local youth, but only in a perspective that favors goals new residents have and detracts from the wants and needs of longtime residents.

The difference shown in Martin’s research versus Hickey’s is that of the purpose and the ends to which these rhetorical ends meet; for feminist activists in Minneapolis rhetoric becomes a means of shifting a discourse into more radical and powerful terms in order to make streets friendlier for women and even children. While Hickey notes that part of this rhetorical strategy is to delineate from the fact that removing adult bookstores in Minneapolis is disruptive for the gay community, such productions of ideology are regarded in a positive light.

In Martin’s article, by contrast, the devalorizing potential of rhetoric is seen more explicitly for its negative potential. When a young white professional class enters a predominately black community and begins to raise families in it, these new residents frame the discourse at hand with rhetorical pleas to think of the children. In both articles, we see how effectively activists and CBOs can mold perceptions of urban political discourse, and in each we can better see the positive and negative impacts such productions of ideology can have on the decision-making processes in cities.

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