Monday, August 15, 2011

Security and Liberal Reform


















Katherine Henry, Liberalism and the Culture of Security: The Nineteenth-Century Rhetoric of Reform (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2011).

from the publisher:

Figures of protection and security are everywhere in American public discourse, from the protection of privacy or civil liberties to the protection of marriage or the unborn, and from social security to homeland security. Liberalism and the Culture of Security traces a crucial paradox in historical and contemporary notions of citizenship: in a liberal democratic culture that imagines its citizens as self-reliant, autonomous, and inviolable, the truth is that claims for citizenship—particularly for marginalized groups such as women and slaves—have just as often been made in the name of vulnerability and helplessness.

Katherine Henry traces this turn back to the eighteenth-century opposition of liberty and tyranny, which imagined our liberties as being in danger of violation by the forces of tyranny and thus in need of protection. She examines four particular instances of this rhetorical pattern. The first chapters show how women’s rights and antislavery activists in the antebellum era exploited the contradictions that arose from the liberal promise of a protected citizenry: first by focusing primarily on arguments over slavery in the 1850s that invoke the Declaration of Independence, including Harriet Beecher Stowe’s fiction and Frederick Douglass’s “Fourth of July” speech; and next by examining Angelina Grimk√©’s brief but intense antislavery speaking career in the 1830s.

New conditions after the Civil War and Emancipation changed the way arguments about civic inclusion and exclusion could be advanced. Henry considers the issue of African American citizenship in the 1880s and 1890s, focusing on the mainstream white Southern debate over segregation and the specter of a tyrannical federal government, and then turning to Frances E. W. Harper’s fictional account of African American citizenship in Iola Leroy. Finally, Henry examines Henry James’s 1886 novel The Bostonians, in which arguments over the appropriate role of women and the proper place of the South in post–Civil War America are played out as a contest between Olive Chancellor and Basil ransom for control over the voice of the eloquent girl Verena Tarrant.

Workers' Gospel


Erik S. Gellman and Jerod Roll, The Gospel of the Working Class: Labor's Southern Prophets in New Deal America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011).

from the publisher:

In this exceptional dual biography and cultural history, Erik S. Gellman and Jarod Roll trace the influence of two southern activist preachers, one black and one white, who used their ministry to organize the working class in the 1930s and 1940s across lines of gender, race, and geography. Owen Whitfield and Claude Williams, along with their wives, Zella Whitfield and Joyce Williams, drew on their bedrock religious beliefs to stir ordinary men and women to demand social and economic justice in the eras of the Great Depression, New Deal, and Second World War.

Williams and Whitfield preached a working-class gospel rooted in the American creed that hard, productive work entitled people to a decent standard of living. Gellman and Roll detail how the two preachers galvanized thousands of farm and industrial workers for the Southern Tenant Farmers Union and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. They also link the activism of the 1930s and 1940s to that of the 1960s and emphasize the central role of the ministers' wives, with whom they established the People's Institute for Applied Religion.

This detailed narrative illuminates a cast of characters who became the two couples' closest allies in coordinating a complex network of activists that transcended Jim Crow racial divisions, blurring conventional categories and boundaries to help black and white workers make better lives. In chronicling the shifting contexts of the actions of Whitfield and Williams, The Gospel of the Working Class situates Christian theology within the struggles of some of America's most downtrodden workers, transforming the dominant narratives of the era and offering a fresh view of the promise and instability of religion and civil rights unionism.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Critical Rhetorics of Race


Michael G. Lacy and Kent A. Ono, editors, Critical Rhetorics of Race (New York: New York University Press, 2011).

from the publisher:

According to many pundits and cultural commentators, the U.S. is enjoying a post-racial age, thanks in part to Barack Obama's rise to the presidency. This high gloss of optimism fails, however, to recognize that racism remains ever present and alive, spread by channels of media and circulated even in colloquial speech in ways that can be difficult to analyze.

In this groundbreaking collection edited by Michael G. Lacy and Kent A. Ono, scholars seek to examine this complicated and contradictory terrain while moving the field of communication in a more intellectually productive direction. An outstanding group of contributors from a range of academic backgrounds challenges traditional definitions and applications of rhetoric. From the troubling media representations of black looters after Hurricane Katrina and rhetoric in news coverage about the Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres to cinematic representations of race in Crash, Blood Diamond, and Quentin Tarantino’s films, these essays reveal complex intersections and constructions of racialized bodies and discourses, critiquing race in innovative and exciting ways. Critical Rhetorics of Race seeks not only to understand and navigate a world fraught with racism, but to change it, one word at a time.


Shooting Nature


Ronald B. Tobias, Film and the American Moral Vision of Nature: Theodore Roosevelt to Walt Disney (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2011).

from the publisher:

With his square, bulldoggish stature, signature rimless glasses, and inimitable smile — part grimace, part snarl — Theodore Roosevelt was an unforgettable figure, imprinted on the American memory through photographs, the chiseled face of Mount Rushmore, and, especially, film. At once a hunter, explorer, naturalist, woodsman, and rancher, Roosevelt was the quintessential frontiersman, a man who believed that only nature could truly test and prove the worth of man. A documentary he made about his 1909 African safari embodied aggressive ideas of masculinity, power, racial superiority, and the connection between nature and manifest destiny. These ideas have since been reinforced by others — Jesse “Buffalo” Jones, Paul Rainey, Martin and Osa Johnson, and Walt Disney. Using Roosevelt as a starting point, filmmaker and scholar Ronald Tobias traces the evolution of American attitudes toward nature, attitudes that remain, to this day, remarkably conflicted, complex, and instilled with dreams of empire.