RA 4: “Toward a New Sociospatial Dialectic” in Fleming’s “City of Rhetoric”

In Chapter Eight of David Fleming’s “City of Rhetoric,” the author unpacks and explores the rhetoric behind the urban sociology discussed previously in the book, as well as the implications towards the future of public discourse through that sociolofy. More specifically, Fleming discusses the different kinds of social space, how society renders and resolves conflict, and the attitudes society has towards public argument and political language. For example, the author pontificates on the centrifugal movement that has been occurring, which has led to the deconcentration of our population and public life. Therefore, Fleming proposes that the city could become an social scene that anchors and invigorates political lives, and additionally leads to the development of more centralized, integrated and equitable public spheres. Fleming calls these areas commonplaces, and explains that they have the potential to balance society’s needs for unity, diversity, accessibility, power, belonging and anonymity. In this passage, he explains that our society lacks commonplaces, and that American have done a poor job of making spaces for diverse populations to come together to determine their “shared destiny” (181). One example of this is the site of Cabrini Green, a public housing project in Chicago that is faced with the rhetorical problems of isolation, fear and silence.

CHICAGO – JANUARY 12: Residents walk past one of the few remaining Chicago Housing Authority Cabrini-Green public housing buildings. 

Fleming argues that the residents in this area were unable to sponsor any form of healthy public discourse or social interaction, due to the concentration of crime and the isolation by white populations. Fleming compares the rhetorical failures of the ghetto to suburbia, showing that despite the inherent differences of the two areas, suburbia is shockingly similar to Cabrini Green. Both areas are racially and economically homogenous, exclusive, and are built on prejudice that inspires social alienation. Of the sites explored in Part Two of the book, the author states that North Town Village and 1230 North Burling Street are the more promising options, as the consciously work against the deconcentration of the public sphere, and promote social interaction. With all this in mind, Fleming then shifts gears to the close relationship between physical location and rhetoric, advocating that place matters. He discusses housing and economic well-being, proximity to jobs, exposure to crime and violence, neighbors, the presence or absence of social organizations, and the relationships that each of these factors have to the ideas of rhetoric and place. Fleming believes that the way we as a society organize larger political places also affects the civic discourse that takes place there. The author reminds us of the general notion that contemporary North American is segregated by race and class, and the effects of this on space are clear. In sum, then, Fleming advocates that we need to evenly distribute dynamic opportunities for discussion and discourse, and by doing so, we will create strong publics that are inclusive for all of society.

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