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  • Finding Place to Speak:Sarah Winnemucca’s Rhetorical Practices in Disciplinary Spaces
  • Rosalyn Collings Eves

I am crying out to you for justice,—yes, pleading for the far-off plains of the West. (207)

Sarah Winnemucca, Life Among the Piutes, 1883

Growing up as she did in a contact zone, Sarah Winnemucca occupied social and geographical places that would come deeply to inform her rhetorical advocacy “for the far-off plains of the West” and for the Northern Paiute tribes (Life 207).1 While a rich body of scholarship lays out the influence of Winnemucca’s social place on her discursive strategies, the influence of Winnemucca’s physical place on her rhetorical practices has been consistently overlooked.2 Yet, as this essay seeks to demonstrate, physical places and the discourses that shape them are critical to Winnemucca’s rhetorical choices and to the ultimate success of her rhetoric.

Born on the western fringes of US territory just prior to Anglo-American settlement in the region, Winnemucca found herself in the midst of nationalist anxieties about expansion. As Carolyn Sorisio argues, the imperialist mandate of Manifest Destiny defined and refined notions of nationhood, threatening a stable domestic identity even as it sought to expand the nation’s domestic reach. Native Americans found themselves caught up in the riptides of both colonialism and imperialism: their representations by and to Anglo-Americans depended on their locations. Those Native Americans who were located firmly within US borders were represented as subjects for colonialism’s project to assimilate and domesticate. Those along the frontier (like Winnemucca) were viewed as foreign and therefore subject to imperialist conquest (36–41). Sorisio explains, “Spatially, Winnemucca witnessed a shift from the Northern Paiute’s territory conceptualized as outside the US to being incorporated [End Page 1] within it, from imperialism to colonialism” (37). This shift from foreign to domestic(ated) body became part of the context Winnemucca negotiated in every rhetorical performance. Within this broader context, Winnemucca also navigated the specific expectations of the sites where she performed: lecture halls, reservation lands, military forts. In each place, she sought to create a space for persuasion, one that allowed her personal and tribal concerns to be heard by her Anglo-American audience.

While most scholars focus on Winnemucca’s public lectures and her 1883 autobiography, I focus here on some of her lesser-known rhetorical performances: the disciplinary spaces of the reservation and the military fort.3 By disciplinary space, here I mean any site that aims at Foucauldian discipline as explained in Discipline and Punish. Discipline is a mechanism that “makes [the body] more obedient as it becomes more useful” (138). Disciplinary spaces are particularly useful for analyzing spatial rhetorics, as discipline relies on the “distribution of individuals in space.” This occurs through enclosure, “the specification of a place heterogeneous to all others and closed in upon itself” (141); partitioning, the specification of a place for each individual (143); and rank, “the place one occupies in a classification” (145).

For each space, I explore how that site both constrains and enables Winnemucca’s rhetorical choices. I begin with a site analysis of each place, in terms of its physical layout (where known and applicable) and its framing ideology and spatial function. I then analyze the ways that Winnemucca negotiates these spatial parameters in her rhetoric. Finally, I assess how her strategies in each space represent a search for shared rhetorical space—physical or cultural ground that provides the basis for identification with her audience—that would enable her to make a persuasive argument on behalf of herself and the Northern Paiutes.4

Defining Space and Place

Most spatial theorists distinguish between space as an abstract or relational term and place as a concrete site (McDowell 32). Like other critical social factors, such as race, class, and gender, spaces and places are socially constructed and constructing. Cultural factors shape the ways that we interpret particular places and landscapes, and these places and landscapes in turn influence the social behaviors of the individuals situated within them. In this essay, I examine three different but interrelated aspects of place: first, the physical characteristics of a given site; second, the cultural discourses and...