The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Rafters and skylights in the English Building

Colloquium Archive

Michael Burns

Name: Michael Burns, English Department.

Presentation Title: "Race, Space, and Rhetoric: Defining Community with Discourse"

Date: April 21, 2011


In Michael’s talk, “Race, Space, and Rhetoric: Defining Community with Discourse,” he considers the relationships among race, rhetoric, and the built environment. The research takes up the predominantly black North End neighborhood of Champaign-Urbana, with particular attention to the history of the neighborhood’s park and community center. In addition to offering a specific historical account of the activism and agency within the black community, the speaker engages the role of discursive activity in the making of real space. The talk locates black Americans’ struggles for social, political, and economic equality by accounting for rhetorical, discursive, and spatial considerations in the context of those struggles. While legal and economic limits on mobility (for example, via Jim Crow legislation and discriminatory housing practices) indelibly link racist practices to spatial considerations (e.g. Weyeneth), space can also be viewed as a necessary component in the process of making liberatory claims (e.g. hooks). The study addresses how conceptions of space get reinforced and/or reconsidered when subaltern communities speak and write with space in mind. Michael’s attention to related texts and talk underscores the ways in which discourse and rhetoric can facilitate the re-articulation of legal and economic realities into more socially equitable spaces.