Urban sprawl is omnipresent in America and has left many citizens questioning their ability to stop it. In Distant Publics,
Jenny Rice examines patterns of public discourse that have evolved in
response to development in urban and suburban environments. Centering
her study on Austin, Texas, Rice finds a city that has simultaneously
celebrated and despised development.
Rice outlines three distinct ways that the rhetoric of publics
counteracts development: through injury claims, memory claims, and
equivalence claims. In injury claims, rhetors frame themselves as
victims in a dispute. Memory claims allow rhetors to anchor themselves
to an older, deliberative space, rather than to a newly evolving one.
Equivalence claims see the benefits on both sides of an issue, and here
rhetors effectively become nonactors.
Rice provides case studies of development disputes that place the reader
in the middle of real-life controversies and evidence her theories of
claims-based public rhetorics. She finds that these methods comprise the
most common (though not exclusive) vernacular surrounding development
and shows how each is often counterproductive to its own goals. Rice
further demonstrates that these claims create a particular role or
public subjectivity grounded in one’s own feelings, which serves to
distance publics from each other and the issues at hand.
Rice argues that rhetoricians have a duty to transform current patterns
of public development discourse so that all individuals may engage in
matters of crisis. She articulates its sustainability as both a goal and
future disciplinary challenge of rhetorical studies and offers tools
and methodologies toward that end.