- Democracy's Lot: Rhetoric, Publics, and the Places of Invention by Candice Rai
Open to the first page of Candice Rai's book, Democracy's Lot: Rhetoric, Publics, and the Places of Invention, and the reader will see a photograph of Wilson Yard, a 5-acre lot in Chicago's lakeside neighborhood of Uptown. The caption simply reads, "I. An Empty Lot. Photo by Author." The black and white image shows an overgrown grass strip in front of a chain-link fence that frames a flat, mown lot. Behind that, there is a parking lot filled with cars, a row of utility poles, and a bridge with a commuter train caught in motion. The scene is not beautiful, nor does it, on its own, tell a compelling story. Yet, this photo serves as the first of a series of paradoxes that Rai presents where everyday spaces act as powerful magnets for invention and democracy.
The question of what democracy is and how it relates to rhetoric marks centuries-old conversations that gather force in this timely book. Rai combines traditional rhetorical concepts and material and ecological approaches with ethnographic methods to explore how materiality shapes "cultural narratives, ideologies, and affective forces within social spaces" (8), in this case, the redevelopment of Wilson Yard in Uptown. The analysis reveals how democracy and its "god terms" of freedom, liberty, and justice manifest in everyday negotiations (66). Her distinctly rhetorical approach demonstrates how places that may at first seem mundane participate in the formation of publics, constitution of suasiveness, production of democratic subjectivities, and surprising and affective relationships between rhetoric and materiality (10).
The book proceeds in seven chapters and an epilogue that, as a whole, document how Wilson Yard became a metaphor for democracy (5). The rhythmic writing reveals the "interplay of people, desires, bodies, senses, [End Page 149] emotions, objects, biology, symbols, arguments ideologies, spaces, institutions, materialities, public memories, contexts, timing, and rhetoric" in enactments of democracy (27). The introduction defines rhetoric as "em-placed, embodied, and embedded in the places and practices—indeed, in the very forms of being of everyday life" (6), which can be observed through "qualitative research engaged by those studying rhetorical phenomenon in a field site over a substantial period of time" (15), and a succinct characterization of the rhetorical ethnographic approach.
In the five subsequent chapters, Rai shows how rhetoric can serve as a "tool of attunement, orientation, and intervention within the social thicket" (6). Because rhetoric attends to context, Rai devotes her first chapter to "a genealogy of the rhetorics that have circulated around disinvestment, urban development, and gentrification" (29). Housing serves as a key topos because the field site itself revealed housing as a place of invention. The genealogy proves necessary for identifying material-discursive patterns that influence rhetoric and the contemporary formation of publics in subsequent chapters. In chapter 2, Rai describes how publics formed in the articulation of future visions for Wilson Yard, which ultimately resulted in the development of a "Target, street-level retail (including Subway, Bedding Expert, Weight Watchers, etc.), and two ten-story subsidized affordable apartment buildings" (68). Chapter 3 works through how diversity circulated through the inscriptions of two public murals. The Roots of Argyle mural, led by the Uptown Chamber of Commerce, celebrates the 100-year development of the neighborhood's sociocultural diversity in a distinctly "jovial multiculturalism" (130). The Uplift Mural was created by the nonprofit Kuumba Lynx and Uplift High School, where initial efforts to include "representations of structural inequity and political strife in Uptown were removed" after they became controversial (127). Both murals produced a "palatable diversity," contributing to a city imaginary that obfuscated the struggles and contradictions embedded in Uptown's multicultural history (132).
In chapter 4, public street corners became sites for the negotiation of power, as people standing and looking for work were met with "positive loitering" that produced forms of community policing (155). In contrast to the framing of such practices in community meetings, this analysis shows how neoliberal and...