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The Prettier Doll

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R h e tor i c, C u lt u r e, a n d S o c i a l C r i t i qu e

Series Editor
John Louis Lucaites

Editorial Board
Richard Bauman
Barbara Biesecker
Carole Blair
Dilip Gaonkar
Robert Hariman
Steven Mailloux
Raymie E. McKerrow
Toby Miller
Austin Sarat
Janet Staiger
Barbie Zelizer

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The Prettier Doll

Rhetoric, Discourse,
and Ordinary Democracy

Edited by
Karen Tracy, James P. McDaniel,
and Bruce E. Gronbeck

The U nive rsity o f Al a b a ma Pres s


Tuscaloosa

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Copyright © 2007
The University of Alabama Press
Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487-0380
All rights reserved
Manufactured in the United States of America

Typeface: Perpetua


The paper on which this book is printed meets the minimum requirements of American
National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library
Materials, ANSI Z39.48–1984.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

The prettier doll : rhetoric, discourse, and ordinary democracy / edited by Karen Tracy,
James P. McDaniel, and Bruce E. Gronbeck.
p. cm. — (Rhetoric, culture and social critique)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-13: 978-0-8173-1575-7 (cloth : alk. paper)
ISBN-10: 0-8173-1575-6
ISBN-13: 978-0-8173-5439-8 (pbk. : alk. paper)
ISBN-10: 0-8173-5439-5
1. Communication in politics—United States. 2. Rhetoric—United States.
3. Democracy—United States. I. Tracy, Karen. II. McDaniel, James P.
III. Gronbeck, Bruce E.
JA85.2.U6P74 2007
320.97301′4—dc22
2007004146

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In Memoriam
James P. McDaniel
1965–2004

At the Very Start, One’s Terms Jump to Conclusions


—Kenneth Burke, Collected Poems, 1915–1967

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Contents

Acknowledgments ix

I. INTRODUCTORY REMARKS
1. Introduction: A Moment of Ordinary Democracy
Karen Tracy 3
2. Through the Looking Glass and Back: Democratic Theory,
Rhetoric, and Barbiegate
James P. McDaniel and Bruce E. Gronbeck 22

II. THE BARBIEGATE DISCOURSE


3. Race, Liberalism, and Barbiegate Discourse:
A Dilemma-Centered Rhetorical Analysis
HerbertW. Simons 45
4. Political Performances in Public Proceedings:
The Social Dramas of Barbiegate
Bruce E. Gronbeck 70
5. Darkness on the Edge of Town: On the Interface between
Communicational and Racial Ideologies
Darrin Hicks 103
6. Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand:
Discursive Moves of Ordinary Democracy
Kathleen Haspel and Karen Tracy 142

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viii / Contents
7. Chairing Democracy: Psychology, Time, and Negotiating the Institution
Jonathan Potter and Alexa Hepburn 176

III. AFTER WORDS


8. Understanding Ordinary Democracy:
The Intersection of Discourse and Rhetorical Analysis
Mark Aakhus 205
9. Amateur Hour: Knowing What to Love in Ordinary Democracy
Robert Hariman 218
Appendix A: Transcripts of BVSD Speeches 251
Appendix B: Newspaper and School District Documents 289
Contributors 293
Index 297

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Acknowledgments

Coffee and conversation were the spawning ground for this book. James
McDaniel, my colleague at the time, and I would take stray hours here and
there to talk about what we were reading or writing. As I was—and still
am—in the midst of a project examining a three-year case study of school
board meetings and ordinary democracy, I talked incessantly about the inter-
esting, weird, and amusing happenings at these meetings. When the science
fair controversy erupted in the winter of 2001 in Boulder, James and I saw its
possibility as an event that could aid us in reflecting more complexly on how
rhetoricians and discourse analysts approach texts. The following November
at the annual conference of the National Communication Association (NCA)
we organized a one-day workshop that brought discourse analysts and rheto-
ricians together to discuss the science fair speeches and the issues they fore-
grounded. Out of the NCA session came plans for this volume.
Well on his way to becoming an academic star in rhetorical studies, James
died a tragic death soon after work on the volume had begun. Ordinary De-
mocracy is dedicated to him. With his death, we lost an exceptional and char-
ismatic colleague. James’s essay for the volume had been partially drafted
but had not been completed. Bruce Gronbeck, one of James’s teachers dur-
ing his PhD years and an NCA seminar participant, stepped in to revise
and complete the essay. “Through the Looking Glass and Back: Democratic

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x / Acknowledgments
Theory, Rhetoric, and Barbiegate” is now the second chapter of the volume’s
introductory section.
With James’s death, a number of changes in the volume were called for.
As a discourse analyst, I was on unfamiliar ground developing a book in an
established rhetoric series. In figuring out what adaptations were needed,
Bruce Gronbeck became my main sounding board, offering advice about de-
sign decisions and giving feedback on various chapters. My deep thanks to
him for his willingness to add these responsibilities to his many others. The
magnitude of his contributions was significant. In recognition of this fact,
Bruce Gronbeck became a volume coeditor.
Three additional parties deserve thanks.The first is The University of Ala-
bama Press series editor, John Lucaites, who gave multiple rounds of feed-
back. Not only did his comments help make the volume’s central argument
clearer, but his suggestions about language use in the opening essay enabled
me to write in a livelier, more engaging style. The second party is Paula Du-
four and the TAC (technology across the curriculum) staff in the communi-
cation department at the University of Colorado. Paula tracked down mul-
tiple pieces of information related to James, and the TAC staff converted
the fourteen speeches that are the volume’s focus into streaming video files
that are publicly available on the Internet with this book (http://comm.
colorado.edu/rdod). Finally, thanks to Bob Craig, my most valued conversa-
tional partner. His interest and support helped me keep the volume rolling
along when it encountered more than the usual share of snags.

Karen Tracy
Boulder, Colorado

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The Prettier Doll

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i
Introductory Remarks

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1
Introduction
A Moment of Ordinary Democracy
Karen Tracy

In February of 2001 in an affluent, predominately white Colorado commu-


nity, a third-grade girl conducted an experiment as part of her school’s an-
nual science fair requirement. The girl had presented both black and white
Barbie dolls in dresses of two colors to thirty adults and thirty fifth grad-
ers. Her question: Which doll was prettier? Among the adults, all selected
the doll in the purple dress whatever the doll’s skin color; among the fifth
graders, most picked the white doll whatever the dress color. Upon seeing
the girl’s science fair project—a poster board with results accompanied by
pasted pictures of black and white Barbies—the school staff informed the
girl and her parents that the Barbie doll experiment would not be included
in the public display of science fair projects. Her project, school officials said,
violated the district’s nondiscrimination policy because it displayed “visual
or written material with the purpose, or depending upon the circumstances
and context, [that have the] effect of demeaning the race, ethnicity, national
origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, or religion of any indi-
vidual or group.”1
At the district’s board meeting following the school’s action, the girl’s fa-
ther, David Thielen, denounced the decision, arguing that removing the proj-
ect had violated his daughter’s civil liberties and was inconsistent with sev-
eral existing policies in the district. His speech was given attention by the
local newspaper, and soon after a columnist, Clint Talbout, weighed in with

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4 / Tracy
an editorial that took the school district to task for their decision. Talbout
concluded by saying: “School teachers and administrators might, in fact, have
unimpeachable intentions. But from time to time, they seem hypersensitive
and altogether asinine. From time to time, analytical children make them
look like blockheads . . . there’s a tremendous difference between the cen-
sored girl and the censoring teachers. She was right. They were wrong. She
has suffered. They should learn.”2 The event was picked up by the Associated
Press and it appeared as a news story in newspapers nationally. As a result,
Mesa Elementary and the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) more gen-
erally received a barrage of critical e-mails and telephone calls from as far
away as South Africa.3 In addition, the removal of the science project became
a focus in the local community, leading to a large outpouring of letters to
the editor and editorials by the local newspaper. Consider but one response
to the initial editorial:

Racism and race relations are too often ignored—sometimes in the


schools, and certainly in our homes (how did we get to the place where
we expect our teachers to be responsible for all morality issues?). No
these subjects should not be taboo in classrooms. But a third-grade
classmate should not be delivering such lessons. What good will come
of presenting these blunt findings? What will the students who chose
the white doll feel? Confusion, perhaps. Resentment, maybe. Shame,
quite likely. . . . Racism and inequality are far too complex and im-
portant subjects to be handled in a “science experiment” that would
make a statistician wince. We don’t need an experiment to show that
skin color makes far too much of a difference. The facts reveal it. And
it’s not “censoring” a child to prevent her from pointing fingers at her
classmates. Each and every one of us must stop pointing those fingers
outward, and begin turning them back on ourselves, both to look for
the roots of racism and to search for solutions.4

At the next meeting of the BVSD board, other citizens came to speak
about the science fair decision. In this meeting, occurring two weeks after
his initial speech, Thielen spoke again; additional speakers included two at-
torneys from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a leader of the
Million Man March from the nearby city of Denver, a representative of the

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Introduction / 5
teachers at Mesa Elementary School, the head of Mesa’s parent-teacher or-
ganization, and another Mesa parent. After the district superintendent made
comments in which he problematized social science as an option for elemen-
tary school science projects, all six of the board members who were pres-
ent at that meeting offered their views. The first board member to speak re-
ferred to the swirl of events as “Barbiegate.”5 This label was picked up by
other board members, was used in some newspaper commentaries, and is
the one we use in this book.
This elementary school science fair controversy was a smaller crisis than
its namesake, and many shades paler, yet like Watergate it raised a tangled
swath of touchy issues.6 Barbiegate reflects an intersection of concerns about
education, censorship, science, the sources and attributions of racism, foun-
dational tensions between democratic values such as liberty and equality,
public participation in the steering of society, and more. This moment of
“ordinary democracy,” one concrete occasion in which local and larger issues
intersected, is the focus of this volume.
“Ordinary democracy” is the name I give to the discursive actions, decision-
making practices, and participation frames that occur in public meetings of
local governance groups. Ordinary democracy is about mundane meeting
exchanges; it is what goes on when local governance groups talk. Ordinary
democracy involves the actions of praising and blaming others as a group
makes, avoids, and reshapes its decisions. Democracy as a term rarely occurs
without a modifier that qualifies its particular variety. For instance, there’s
“middle,” “participative,” and “real democracy,” “representative” versus “di-
rect,” “strong” versus “thin,” “democracy by poll” versus “discursive democ-
racy,” “aggregative, voting-based” versus “deliberative,” “unitary” versus “ad-
versarial,” and “deliberative” versus “communicative.”7 Is there a need, one
might ask, to differentiate one more kind of democracy? Does ordinary de-
mocracy give us anything of value that these other terms do not?

ORDINARY DEMOCRACY

For too long, discussions about the meaning of democracy have been con-
ducted in an idealized key, shorn of contextual particulars. There is little un-
derstanding of what goes on as elected officials and citizens seek to be demo-
cratic in community-level public meetings. Very few deliberative democrats,

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6 / Tracy
David Ryfe comments, “have sought to apply their principles to the real
world.”8 Democracy as a practice and democracy as a principle have had little
to do with each other. This chasm is problematic. Ideals formed without at-
tention to the communicative actions that would enact them are inherently
limited.9 There needs to be traffic between observations concerning what is
democratic governance and prescriptions about what such governance ought
to be. Ordinary democracy foregrounds democracy’s empirical face.
Democratic governance, argue James March and James Olsen, is “an ac-
cumulation of concrete institutional practices, rules and procedures that are
tied to democratic ideals.”10 In contrast to alternative characterizations of
the project of democracy, ordinary democracy focuses on how citizens and
elected officials speak in public meetings within actual sites of local gover-
nance. Foregrounding talk in definitions of democracy is an important move
deliberative democrats have made. Benjamin Barber, for instance, distin-
guishes “thin” democracy, which equated democracy with expression of indi-
vidual interests assessed through voting, from “strong democracy” in which
engaged discussion of issues is central.
Talk is important to deliberative democrats, yet many commentators
specify a highly constrained view of what the talk must look like if it is to
warrant being called democratic deliberation. Relative equality of speaking
rights, for instance, is often assumed. Michael Delli Carpini and his col-
leagues explicitly rule out citizen-to-elite communicative forms, such as
school board meetings, as instances of deliberative democracy. Others, such
as Joseph Bessette and Iris Marion Young, are more expansive in definition.11
Arguing against the tendency to restrict definitions of democratic delibera-
tion to exchanges in face-to-face groups outside of state-linked organiza-
tions, Young suggests that “democracy is better thought of as a process that
connects ‘the people’ and the powerful, and through which people are able
to significantly influence their actions.”12 It is the strength of the connections
and the ability to influence that is most important, she argues, not a small
group format or an occasion’s occurrence outside the state.
Young also expands the kind of talk that should count as doing democracy.
Theorists of deliberative democracy, whether scholars align with Jürgen
Habermas or John Rawls, have tended to restrict democratic talk to reason-
giving argument. But democratic talk,Young argues, also involves narratives,
language choice and tropes, and what she calls “greetings,” the small commu-

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Introduction / 7
nicative moves that people use to recognize others as persons.13 “Commu-
nicative” democracy, the ideal she puts forth, is a better and more inclusive
norm than “deliberative” democracy. As an ideal, communicative democracy
more closely connects to how people actually talk. Nonetheless, it is based
on an armchair view of talk, giving little thought to a host of actions that are
part of ordinary expression. Should anything other than what Young noted
be outside of the ideal of communicative democracy? Or, should other con-
versational actions be added to this normative portrait? To make that judg-
ment well, we need a richer sense of ordinary democratic talk. As an idea,
ordinary democracy directs our gaze toward just these communicative par-
ticulars.
In addition to its talk-centric character, ordinary democracy focuses on
local governance: school boards, municipal governments, and city coun-
cils. Barber distinguished two main sites of democracy in the United States.
A first, and the dominant one, focuses attention on presidential politics and
national issues. The second, the ignored site, is that of local neighborhood
and governance groups. “We wax exuberant” about these groups, he notes,
“though we scarcely associate it [what they do] with politics or democracy
at all.”14 In directing attention to local governance groups, ordinary democ-
racy also contrasts with “participatory democracy,” a kind of democracy that
typically highlights decision making in workplaces, religious groups, and so-
cial movements.15
Of all the varieties of democracy, ordinary democracy is most similar to
“real democracy.” Real democracy, a term coined by Frank Bryan, refers to
the actual conduct of citizens in town meetings. Town meetings, loosely or-
ganized by Roberts’ Rules of Order, are places in which all citizens in a com-
munity vote on decisions of relevance to the town, usually following public
discussion. One might see town meetings with their commitment to direct
democracy as more “real” than representational governance forms such as
those of most school boards. It is important to realize, however, the rarity
of such formats. Real democracy is largely restricted to small communi-
ties in New England. Ordinary democracy is what occurs in most places
in the United States: the routine communicative practices in communities
that elect officials. Ordinary democracy highlights the talk in regular public
meetings where officials listen, or at least act like they are listening, to citi-
zens. It is the discussion that officials do with one another and selected ex-

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8 / Tracy
perts in front of a viewing public. Ordinary democracy concerns how offi-
cials vote and how they justify their votes.
Finally, although ordinary democracy is an empirical notion, it is tethered
to U.S. beliefs about what democratic conduct should look like. What local
governance groups actually do will be shaped by the normative ideals about
what it means to act democratically that permeate public life. At the same
time, ordinary democracy is shaped by the aims and purposes that are rou-
tine parts of doing any public meeting. Ordinary democracy is the coming
together of practical meeting concerns, ideals of democratic decision mak-
ing, and the myriad of concerns, both self-serving and legitimate, that par-
ticipating individuals bring. Ordinary democracy is about communicative
actions that uphold the ideal(s) of democracy, as well as the actions that sub-
vert, appeal to, or challenge the ideal.
In sum, we need the concept of ordinary democracy if we are to under-
stand an important, overlooked facet of democracy—what people actually
say and do in representative, local governance groups. Ordinary democracy
directs us toward the talking, participation-structuring, and agenda-setting
practices of actual groups. In the next chapter James McDaniel and Bruce
Gronbeck develop a complementary view of ordinary democracy, extending
what has been articulated here to make visible ordinary democracy’s im-
peratives of time, place, and performance.

SCHOOL GOVERNANCE

Public meetings, where elected school board officials meet with their com-
munity’s citizens and the district staff, are an especially contentious site of
ordinary democracy. According to Jennifer Hochschild and Nathan Scov-
ronick, education “is a deeply political enterprise, regardless of how much
people try to hide the point behind professionalism, nonpartisanship, or ab-
dication to the market. How could it be otherwise? One of our nation’s most
important tasks is to teach the members of the next generation how to main-
tain a democracy while pursuing their own life goals, and the schools are
our only collective way of doing it.”16 Up until about the mid-1970s, school
board meetings were usually boring events, a kind of meeting where “poli-
tics” was expected to be left at the door. Since then school governance meet-
ings have become battlegrounds for the most difficult and divisive issues in

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Introduction / 9
American society. The reasons for this greater politicization are many; two
important ones are the structure of education governance and the increased
racial-ethnic and value diversity of U.S. society.
Unlike most Western countries in which education decisions are consid-
ered matters of professional expertise, important decisions about education
are made locally and democratically in the United States. To be sure, edu-
cational governance is a hybrid form, shaped by a belief about the reasona-
bleness of “leaving it to the experts,” alongside of the equally strong belief
that local communities have a right to decide how their children are to be
educated. The local structures for U.S. school governance were shaped by
the “apolitical” philosophy championed in the Progressive Era. As Frederick
Hess notes, “Progressives argued that there was ‘no Democratic or Repub-
lican way to pave a road’ or run a school and sought to drain any partisan
fever from the electoral process.”17 As a result, elections for school board of-
fices were made nonpartisan, with school-related elections set for different
times of the year than elections for other offices.
There is little uniformity among school governance practices in the
United States: fifty-four unique governance structures exist.18 School boards
vary in terms of whether members are elected, appointed, or some com-
bination of the two. If elected, districts vary with regard to whether elec-
tions are partisan or nonpartisan, and whether they are conducted at-large
or within wards.Yet although the diversity of structures is large, there exists
a strongly preferred format. Ninety-three percent of boards elect all mem-
bers. The vast majority of these hold nonpartisan elections, with candidates
running at-large rather than in wards. In addition, most board positions are
either entirely unpaid or include only a small token salary. In only 3.4 per-
cent of districts, mostly the largest ones, do board members receive sala-
ries of even as much as $10,000.19 School districts, and the boards that gov-
ern them, comprise roughly one-sixth of the 87,525 local governance bodies
identified in the 2002 Census.20

THE BVSD BOARD MEETINGS

School board meetings in Boulder Valley School District have the most com-
mon format found in communities throughout the nation.21 An unpaid vol-
unteer board, elected through nonpartisan elections, is officially responsible

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10 / Tracy
for oversight of the school district. The board meets in public with its citi-
zens, the district superintendent, and school staff to do the business of the
district. The BVSD bimonthly meetings occur in the district’s administration
building in order to facilitate the taping and broadcasting of the meetings
over a local cable channel. Because the district is a large one—more than
25,000 students and fifty+ schools—public meetings are relatively formal.
The seven elected board members and the superintendent are seated on an
elevated dais that faces a podium for public presenters, and the room has sev-
eral tables in the front where district administrators or invited experts sit
when they present information to the board. Rows of chairs facing the dais
provide seating for the public.
Citizen participation is limited to speaking during “public participation,”
the phase of the meeting that occurs immediately after a roll call of board
members and the community’s flag-pledging ceremony. After signing up be-
fore the start of a meeting, citizen speakers address the board. Public par-
ticipation typically consists of two kinds: speakers who want to comment
about agenda items and those raising a concern not on the agenda. Follow-
ing repeated complaints from citizens about waiting long hours before be-
ing able to speak, the meeting structure was changed to bundle together the
two kinds of participation. Official rules limit citizen comments to two min-
utes, but adherence to the rule varies considerably.
Following opening activities that typically take about an hour, each board
member has an opportunity to make comments, a phase of the meeting re-
ferred to as “board communications.” During board communications, mem-
bers may offer comments about any issues that are not part of the day’s meet-
ing agenda. Following these opening activities, the board turns its attention
to the business of the day: discussion of and voting on issues that are part of
the publicly posted agenda.
The science fair controversy occurred in the opening public participation
and board communications phases of the BVSD meeting. It was not an is-
sue on the day’s agenda. This fact highlights a feature of ordinary democracy.
Ordinary democratic talk occurs within meetings that have multiple pur-
poses and phases in which different categories of participants (i.e., ordi-
nary citizens, those designated as “experts,” district administrative staff,
elected officials) are granted different speaking rights. Whether this state

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Introduction / 11
of affairs is reasonable is an issue that occupies a number of authors in this
volume.

BARBIEGATE’S AFTERMATH

After the two regular board meetings that are the primary focus of analysis in
this volume, the BVSD board and its community moved on to other issues;
Barbiegate appeared to be over. But as it turned out, this was not the end of
the story. The next year the district returned to deliberate on two issues for-
mulated as problematic by Barbiegate speakers.
The first matter concerned the character of science fair projects. In the
year following Barbiegate the district created a “Science Fair Handbook for
Elementary Grade Levels” that spelled out the purpose, scope, and proce-
dures for the science fair.22 These new procedures instituted a requirement
that students gain school approval before moving forward with a project. In
addition, elaborate rules were put in place for “behavioral and social science”
projects that largely paralleled the procedures used by universities to over-
see research with human subjects. Such rules required, for instance, survey
questions to be approved by school authorities before students administered
them, students to inform participants of the purpose of their research be-
fore beginning, and permission to be obtained from parents for any project
involving minors.
In addition to developing a science fair handbook, the board revisited and
revised its policy on nondiscrimination. The main change consisted of re-
wording the contested bullet in the section that spelled out the kinds of ac-
tions that would count as instances of discrimination. The bullet, quoted
at the chapter’s start, had originally stated that displays of visual material
deemed to “demean” a person’s race, ethnicity, religion, and so forth were
violations of the policy. It was this particular section of the policy that led the
elementary school, as the local newspaper had labeled it, to “yank” the girl’s
science fair project.23 The document’s new language raised the bar for what
would count as discrimination, shifting the focus from the somewhat vague,
adjectival “demeaning” to more specific acts that created “ill will or hatred.”
According to this revision, discrimination would be judged as occurring if a
district employee or student “harasses or intimidates another individual or

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12 / Tracy
individuals by name calling, using derogatory slurs, or wearing or displaying
items or images that, depending upon the facts, circumstances, and context,
are reasonably likely to or do create ill will or hatred toward the individual
or individuals, on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual
orientation, disability, or religion.”24
Whether the district saw this as a “mere” wording change to better express
the group’s intended meaning (as the ACLU speakers argued was needed) or
as an explicit change in policy is open to question. What can be said is that
the revision created a different solution to the school’s dilemma of how to
honor both the First and Fourteenth Amendments. In the district’s commit-
ments to insure freedom of expression and to create a safe, nonhostile envi-
ronment for all, the language in the revised document tilted policy toward
the First Amendment.
The effect of BVSD policy changes was to make a repeat of Barbiegate un-
likely. Not only were the district’s children less likely to tackle a social sci-
ence project—the work to do so is now college-level onerous—but should
they do so, the project would be inspected through a nondiscrimination
policy that gives weight to students’ expressive rights. Developing and revis-
ing policies and the document language that instantiates them is what gov-
erning groups do when troubling events occur.25 If democracy is to be found
in the details of how groups govern themselves, then the language that en-
acts rules and shades their interpretive possibilities is the biggest detail of all.
Events such as Barbiegate are what motivate governing groups to deliberate
and act. The outcome of a group’s deliberation frequently has unintended
consequences, sowing seeds for subsequent political “- - - - gates.” These
new Barbiegates, in turn, generate the need for more rounds of decision
making that lead to yet a differently flavored Barbiegate with its accompa-
nying issues that demand attention. That’s what ordinary democracy is all
about.

ENHANCING ANALYSIS OF ORDINARY DEMOCRACY

This volume brings together discourse analysts and rhetorical critics to ex-
plore meanings of this particular moment of ordinary democratic discourse.
In interweaving essays from two intellectual communities, the volume seeks

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Introduction / 13
to build an understanding of ordinary democracy that goes beyond what ei-
ther discipline could accomplish alone. Through the complementary differ-
ences of rhetoric and discourse analysis, ordinary democracy’s intriguing
character is animated. Four complementary differences deserve mention.
First, although rhetoric is a humanistic discipline and discourse analysis an
enterprise of the social sciences, scholars in both traditions share a convic-
tion that how individuals and societies go about constructing representations
matters and requires focused analysis. Both believe that looking at texts care-
fully, taking account of what exactly is said or written is consequential. Both
believe that how impressions of literality or factuality (or their reverses)
are stylistically constructed and enacted is an important matter. “Part of the
job of the rhetorical critic,” Herbert Simons espouses, “is to determine how
constructions of ‘the real’ are made persuasive.”26 And, as discourse analysts,
Derek Edwards and Jonathan Potter state, “One of the features of descrip-
tion or reports being proffered in situations of dispute is that they are typi-
cally contrasting versions, that is, they are typically organized to undermine
or reject an alternative that may be either implicit or explicit.”27
Second, both discourse analysts and rhetoricians work with “texts” in
which creators, whether subtly or obviously, artfully or crudely, attempt to
generate knowledge and opinion, motivate action and attitude, and overall
induce others to cooperate. To analyze texts, then, is to analyze layers of
persuasive action. In other words, rhetoricians and discourse analysts take
“texts” to perform actions in a manner that reflects preferred ends of per-
suasion as well as their means. To motivate action is to evoke notions of what
is good and ought to happen, and its reverse: what is bad or wrong. Scenes
in which speakers devise and deploy talk are not merely for expression, but
to shape action and decision; this is a shared concern among rhetoricians and
discourse analysts.
Although both traditions are textually tied, the kinds of texts that each tra-
dition typically examines differ. An interest in public moments and culturally
significant symbols leads rhetoricians toward oral texts that have been writ-
ten down, away from oral texts that are rarely inscribed, as is the case with
speeches at local school board meetings. For discourse analysts, the commit-
ment to study talk in ordinary places leads them toward meetings, but away
from formal, speech-giving occasions that have relatively little back-and-

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14 / Tracy
forth interaction, as is frequently the case in school board meetings. For dif-
ferent reasons, then, the texts that comprise Barbiegate have been atypical
objects for both rhetoricians and discourse analysts.
Related to preference about types of texts is an additional difference in
defining what counts as “the text.” Pauses, repetitions, repairs, and audi-
ence interjections are not part of a rhetorician’s text. Discourse analysts, in
contrast, include all of those particulars and have serious arguments among
themselves as to whether it is reasonable to leave any of them out of a tran-
script of a speech. From a discourse scholar’s point of view, the texts that
rhetoricians study are untethered to social life. From a rhetorician’s view-
point, discourse analyses are overly quirky, full of trivial, inconsequential ir-
ritants. These differences in textual orientation will become apparent as au-
thors forward their arguments.
The third difference between the two traditions concerns whether a nor-
mative or descriptive vocabulary is dominant. By and large rhetoricians as-
sume a critical, evaluative stance in relation to their object of study, whereas
discourse analysts give greater weight to description. From the rhetorical
point of view, the evaluation in discourse traditions may seem so “lite” as to
make it hard to taste. For discourse analysts a carefully worked up descrip-
tion is essential before moving to critique. From the discourse analytic point
of view, rhetoricians are prone to rush to judgment, often inattentive to im-
portant particulars of the scene.
Finally, both traditions are committed to analyzing “discourse,” but how
the term is understood is strikingly different. James Gee distinguishes two
meanings of “discourse,” what he refers to as the Big-D and little-d mean-
ings. John Conley and William O’Barr use the terms “macro-” and “micro-”
to capture a similar meaning of difference.28 Microdiscourse (discourse) re-
fers to actual instances of talk or writing: texts that can be pointed to,
named, counted, analyzed. This meaning, in fact, is the dominant one among
discourse analysts. The second meaning for discourse, macrodiscourse (Dis-
course), builds on Michel Foucault’s work and is the more common meaning
for rhetoricians. Discourse for Foucault is about meanings within texts and
social practices. His interest is in meanings that go beyond single texts, that
are bigger and more enduring and that arise from “an ensemble of discursive
events.”29 “In short,” as Foucault puts it, discourse is that “which is spoken and
remains spoken indefinitely.”30

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Introduction / 15
This volume’s analysis of ordinary democracy seeks to build a bridge be-
tween these two senses of discourse. In this bridge building, rhetoricians and
discourse scholars analyze the Barbiegate materials, with authors in each tra-
dition beginning construction from their big-D or little-d side of the river.
Textual materials supplied to authors for developing their analyses, available
in Appendix A, included videotapes and transcripts of David Thielen’s initial
speech and the thirteen speakers (seven citizens, six board members) who
spoke in the second BVSD meeting. Authors were also given a copy of the
district’s nondiscrimination policy and a set of articles, editorials, and letters
that appeared in local newspapers (see Appendix B).
For readers who have no experience in looking at transcripts, I need to
offer a caution. When a written record is made of speech, even for articu-
late speakers, there will be a large number of repairs, repetitions, and uhs
and ums. These conversational perturbations, a normal part of speaking, fly
by unnoticed when a person is simply listening. When transcripts are read,
however, unless readers are consciously working to avoid doing so, they
will apply standards of writing. Talk is not writing; it is an activity in which
people edit and fix as they go. Admittedly, the talk in public meetings is
more similar to writing than what occurs among friends who gather for cof-
fee and conversation. Even so, public meetings are moments of talk. Keep-
ing this in mind is essential if one is to make fair judgments about ordinary
democracy.

THE ESSAYS

In chapter 2 James McDaniel and Bruce Gronbeck set the theoretical stage
for looking at Barbiegate. How has democratic expression been studied by
rhetoricians? Why have the dramas that occur in local school board meetings
previously been ignored? The rhetorical preference for BIG ideas and BIG
communicative sites over small ones, they answer, is why. A preference for
the BIG, McDaniel and Gronbeck suggest, is misguided. Rhetoricians have
much to gain by looking at sites of ordinary democracy, or to use their vo-
cabulary, by studying vernacular political communities. Situating their dis-
cussion of the valuing of the BIG and the small within bumper stickers and
grassroots aphorisms; Poe and Rousseau; Habermas and Foucault; Cicero,
Sartre, Marcuse, and Derrida; and the sparring partners John Dewey and

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16 / Tracy
Walter Lippman, readers are led through the looking glass and back. Study-
ing social interaction in mundane forums, McDaniel and Gronbeck propose,
will better help us understand ourselves.
The next five chapters comprise the volume’s analytic heart. Drawing
on one or another of the focal texts, each author analyzes the school board
“Discourse/discourse” to shed light on ordinary democracy.
Chapter 3 by Herbert Simons offers a dilemma-centered analysis of
Barbiegate discourse writ large. Barbiegate occurred in Boulder, Colorado,
a community that unlike much of the state prides itself on taking a progres-
sively liberal stance. Because of Boulder’s commitment to liberal values, its
affluence, and the whiteness of its residents, multiple paradoxes were cre-
ated for community members as they expressed opinions about race. Fo-
cusing especially on the father, the teacher who represented the elementary
school, and the Latino vice president, Simons makes visible the different di-
lemmas each speaker faced, and, as a result, the partly contradictory posi-
tions that each person espoused. The chapter concludes with a list of lessons
to be learned about ordinary democratic discourse.
In chapter 4, “Political Performances in Public Proceedings,” Bruce Gron-
beck examines the Barbiegate meetings as a hybrid rhetorical genre that
combines actual decision makers with citizen-spectators. Using Aristotle’s
Poetics as a frame, with its concerns about ethos, dianoia, and mythos, the ideo-
logical and emotional tenor of the Barbiegate drama is unpacked. Exam-
ining the event as a chronological sequence of fourteen speeches, we are
given a sense of the social drama and are shown how participants, them-
selves, framed the issues about which they spoke. Citizens and elected offi-
cials treated the science fair controversy as a sociopolitical, educational, pro-
cedural matter, or some combination, while bathing what they said in a rich
stream of feelings. In concluding, Gronbeck addresses the evaluative ques-
tion called forth by his characterization of Barbiegate, showing how this hy-
brid, multipurpose, often chaotic, community-level public proceeding has
both promise and danger.
Chapter 5 by Darrin Hicks focuses on the speech of Clare Schoolmaster,
the teacher-spokesperson for Mesa Elementary. Hicks considers how ide-
ologies of communication and race interfaced in the larger interaction mo-
ment. Schoolmaster’s speech, Hicks suggests, points a way out of a diffi-

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Introduction / 17
cult doctrinal dilemma that American courts face as they seek to adjudicate
speech-related antidiscrimination policies. Simply put, how can the impor-
tance of promoting civility in interaction be reconciled with a societal com-
mitment to freedom of speech? As Schoolmaster argues, elementary school
science fairs are a particular kind of communicative event, designed for dis-
seminating “information” rather than promoting dialogue. This feature of the
communicative environment, in conjunction with the content of the girl’s
project, is what made the Barbie poster unacceptable for display. The impli-
cations of Schoolmaster’s speech, Hicks argues, offer a novel principle for
regulating speech. In situating judgments of inappropriate speech neither in
the realm of bad speaker motives nor in potential recipient harm, it offers a
way out of a dilemma. At the same time, this novel and useful strategy of di-
lemma management comes at a price. Hicks’s chapter makes clear the costs,
as well as the possibilities.
In chapter 6, Kathleen Haspel and Karen Tracy compare David Thielen’s
second speech with that of Alvertis Simmons, the representative of the Den-
ver chapter of the Million Man March. From openings to conclusions, the
white father and the black speaker representing the local African American
community marked race as a sensitive topic for talk. Haspel and Tracy’s
chapter describes the discursive moves that these different-raced speakers
used to manage this sensitivity. Both speakers sought to unify those pres-
ent at the meeting and, at the same time, to demarcate difference with some
of them. Through inclusive category terms; time and place references; and
repetition, lists, and contrast, each speaker invited collective sentiment and
encouraged action. Looking closely at the talk of ordinary citizen speak-
ers, Haspel and Tracy conclude, revitalizes theoretical discussions of democ-
racy and provides a map for the “conjoint and interacting” behavior that John
Dewey regarded as so crucial to democratic action.31
Chapter 7, by Jonathan Potter and Alexa Hepburn, shows how democ-
racy’s enactment draws upon delicate and indirect discursive means. The
delicacy of speakers’ moves, Potter and Hepburn argue, arises from the
ideological dilemmas that institutions face: Institutions want to control what
can happen and they need to insure freedom; they value formality and also
seek to foster informality. As a result, speakers frequently use conversa-
tional moves whose functions are not immediately apparent to tack back

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18 / Tracy
and forth between ideological poles. Examining the board president’s ini-
tial comments about public participation and two exchanges between the fa-
ther and the president, the chapter makes visible the delicacy of the maneu-
vers to support democracy. Then, through analyzing David Thielen’s speech,
the chapter makes vivid a second dilemma inherent in democracy. Passion,
a desired quality for public talk, invariably, has prejudice as its accompany-
ing danger. As the father’s speech became passionate, he was also employ-
ing multiple discursive moves to disarm prejudice. Big ideas, such as democ-
racy, Potter and Hepburn conclude, should and can be rooted in discourse
particulars.
In the volume’s final section, “After Words,” scholars Mark Aakhus and
Robert Hariman step back from Barbiegate to comment on the chapters and
their larger implications for discussions about ordinary democracy.
In chapter 8 Aakhus focuses methodologically, identifying similarities in
how discourse scholars and rhetoricians analyzed ordinary democracy. The
analyses of Barbiegate in chapters 3 to 7, Aakhus notes, intersected each
other in interesting and unexpected ways. In particular, rhetoricians paid
more attention to little-d discourse features and discourse scholars became
more rhetorical and big-D sensitive. Not only were dilemmas a key focus
within both communities, but also each tradition analyzed language choices
and their consequences. If discourse analysts are to construct scholarly ideas
that help citizens and deliberative groups develop situated civic judgment
abilities—a goal Aakhus argues discourse scholars should be pursuing—then
a melding of the critical and normative impulse of rhetoric with the empiri-
cally attentive gaze of discourse analysis is needed. The analyses of Barbie-
gate, Aakhus concludes, provide rhetorical-discourse hybrids that model dif-
ferent ways to create richer portraits of ordinary democracy.
In the final commentary, chapter 9, Hariman argues for what should (and
shouldn’t) be loved in this Barbiegate moment of ordinary democracy. Ex-
actly what features of this meeting scene should be held up as practices to
be cultivated? What should not? Coming to an answer, Hariman suggests, is
difficult because talk in local public meetings requires that speakers give at-
tention to their relationships with the occasion’s people. At the same time,
speech in local political meetings, as is true for other political arenas, should
be judged by how clear, well reasoned, and emotionally powerful it is. Ex-
actly how social and political concerns should be melded together is far from

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Introduction / 19
transparent, but American society, Hariman argues, needs to be seriously
thinking and arguing about this question.

NOTES

1. Appendix B, no. 21.


2. Appendix B, no. 1.
3. See the Board vice president’s comment in Appendix A, N.
4. Appendix B, no. 2.
5. Appendix A, I.
6. In December of every year the newspaper in Boulder County invites read-
ers to vote for the stories they see as the top local news for the year. Barbiegate was
rated no. 4 for 2001. Amy Bounds, “Mesa Elementary Removes Experiment at Sci-
ence Fair,” Daily Camera, December 28, 2001, B1.
7. Uses of the terms participatory and deliberative are especially widespread.
Although meanings vary, participatory usually cues a group that uses some version
of consensus decision making, usually outside of a governance body; deliberative
highlights reason-giving talk that may or may not be concluded with a vote. For dis-
cussion of deliberative democracy, see Jon Elster, ed., Deliberative Democracy (Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); and David M. Ryfe, “The Practice of
Deliberative Democracy: A Study of 16 Deliberative Organizations,” Political Com-
munication 19 (2002): 359–77. Participatory has commonalties, although not iden-
tical, with unitary and strong democracy. For an elaboration of unitary and a distinc-
tion from adversarial democracy, see Jane Mansbridge, Beyond Adversary Democracy
(New York: Basic Books, 1980). For a discussion of strong democracy and a contrast
with “thin” democracy, see Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics
for a New Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). The notion of discur-
sive democracy has much in common with participative notions but focuses on the
contrast with democracy that is equated with determining opinions by polls. See
John S. Dryzek, Discursive Democracy: Politics, Policy, and Political Science (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1990). In a recent book, Frank Bryan coins the term
descriptor “real democracy” to refer to direct democracy in government bodies
that contrasts with representative governance groups. Direct democracy in volun-
tary groups or workplaces would not be included in the notion of real democracy.
See Frank M. Bryan, Real Democracy: The New England Town Meeting and How It Works
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004). For an earlier formulation that used
the term “direct democracy,” see “Direct Democracy and Civic Competence: The
Town Meeting” in Citizen Competence and Democratic Institutions, ed. Stephen L. Elkin

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20 / Tracy
and Karol Edward Solan, 195–223 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University
Press, 1999). Finally, for a discussion that compares deliberative and communica-
tive democracy, see Iris Marion Young, Inclusion and Democracy (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2000).
8. See Ryfe, “Practice of Deliberative Democracy,” 360.
9. This sentiment is one that John Dewey espoused in The Public and Its Problems
(New York: Henry Holt, 1927), 141.
10. See James G. March and James P. Olsen, Democratic Governance (New York:
Free Press, 1995), 2.
11. See James Bohman, Public Deliberation: Pluralism, Complexity, and Democracy
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000); Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson, De-
mocracy and Disagreement (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1996); Michael X. Delli
Carpini, Fay Lomax Cook, and Lawrence R. Jacobs, “Public Deliberation, Discur-
sive Participation, and Citizen Engagement: A Review of the Empirical Literature,”
American Review of Political Science 7 (2004): 315–44; Joseph M. Bessette, The Mild
Voice of Reason: Deliberative Democracy and American National Government (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1994).
12.Young, Inclusion and Democracy, 173.
13. Ibid., chap. 2.
14. See Barber, Strong Democracy, xi.
15. In her study of social movement groups, Francesca Polletta uses the term
“participatory democracy”; see Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American
Social Movements (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).
16. See Jennifer L. Hochschild and Nathan Scovronick, The American Dream and
the Public Schools (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), x.
17. Frederick M. Hess, School Boards at the Dawn of the 21st Century: Conditions and
Challenges of District Governance (Washington, DC: National School Board Associa-
tion, 2002), 33.
18. Richard Briffault, “The Local School District in American Law,” in Besieged:
School Boards and the Future of Education Politics, ed. William G. Howell (Washington,
DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2005).
19. Hess, School Boards at the Dawn.
20. Briffault, “Local School District.”
21. See Hess, School Boards at the Dawn, for an overview of basic facts about
school boards in the United States. To mention but a few, the number of school
districts in the United States is about 15,000. Although most board members are
elected (93 percent), a few big cities have begun to appoint boards; of boards with
elections, 89 percent are nonpartisan. Most boards are composed of between five
and eight members. In terms of a profile, board members are generally more edu-

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Introduction / 21
cated, affluent, and slightly more conservative than the average citizen. In addi-
tion, board members over-represent certain professional backgrounds, with re-
tired people and homemakers comprising 26 percent of positions nationally. In 67
percent of boards, members receive no salary for serving; in 10 percent, mem-
bers receive less than $2,000; in 20 percent—usually the largest school districts—
members receive between $10,000 and $20,000.
22. “Science Fair Handbook for Elementary Grade Levels,” 2001–2 ed. (Boulder,
CO: Boulder Valley School District, available through http://www.bvsd.org/
default.aspx.
23. Appendix B, no. 16.
24. See Boulder Valley School District Nondiscrimination Policy (File AC-R),
available through http://www.bvsd.org/default.aspx.
25. Karen Tracy and Catherine Ashcraft, “Crafting Policies about Controversial
Values: How Wording Disputes Manage a Group Dilemma,” Journal of Applied Com-
munication Research 29 (2001): 297–316, provides a discussion of the links between a
policy and the document’s language.
26. Herbert W. Simons, “Introduction: The Rhetoric of Inquiry as an Intellectual
Movement,” in The Rhetorical Turn: Invention and Persuasion in the Conduct of Inquiry, ed.
Herbert W. Simons (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 11.
27. Derek Edwards and Jonathan Potter, Discursive Psychology (London: Sage,
1992), 3.
28. See James P. Gee, An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method
(London: Routledge, 1999); John M. Conley and William M. O’Barr, JustWords: Law,
Language, and Power (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).
29. See Michel Foucault, The Discourse on Language (New York: Harper Colo-
phon, 1971), 231.
30. Foucault, Discourse on Language, 220.
31. Dewey, Public and Its Problems, 23.

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2
Through the
Looking Glass and Back
Democratic Theory, Rhetoric, and Barbiegate
James P. McDaniel and Bruce E. Gronbeck

OF MACROSCOPY AND MICROSCOPY

To the democratic imagination no transgression of individual dignity or


rights is in principle too small for contemplation and no social code is too
magnificent for interrogation, revision, or erasure. Democracy depends on
details, or else remains a formal abstraction. For concreteness and visibility,
for “publicity,” if you will, even the largest-scale social movements rely on
localized sites of struggle. In these, the connective tissues between publicity,
passion, and reason flare up. However immense the body politic becomes
or is thought to be, it probably will always remain most intelligible and pal-
pable in its parts, and we can continue to expect these to grow most vividly
in what Walter Benjamin called, in his sixth thesis on the philosophy of his-
tory, “moments of danger.”1 What ultimately counts as dangerous moments
depend on where and how we look; it is the intensity of political engage-
ments in dangerous moments that lights up their institutional and rhetorical
features. A priori categorical distinctions between mountains and molehills
of political life do not apply. Democratic understandings emerge from places
and perspectives, tempestuous teapots and coordinated agitations spread
across the globe and across magnitudes of scale, macroscopic and micro-
scopic, thus undermining easy differences between categories of political
performances.

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Democratic Theory, Rhetoric, and Barbiegate / 23
The bumper sticker aphorism to “Think Globally” can have a variety of
consequences, but among the more problematic of these may be the link
suggested between Big and Important, which in turn discounts the Small and
(thus) Trivial. The demand for Big Thinking implies the need for Big Think-
ers, with socially intensified senses of anxiety about complexity, speed, vast-
ness, essences, mythic vision, high stakes, and technicality, and the concen-
tration of mass spectators and diversified actors into closely defined cultures
of expertise. A cynical stance toward public affairs, though bemoaned from
all spokes on the political wheel, seems not only sensible but in fact ap-
pears the desired by-product and likely consequence of Thinking and Act-
ing Big. Individual stars seem mundane and insignificant when you’re gazing
at the whole sky. The citizen-cynic enjoys immense resources for justifying
detachment, apathy, and remoteness from worldly affairs when operating
beyond the human scale. The gap between leaders and the led that greets
us at national and transnational sites of politics convinced Murray Edelman
early in his career that mere “political arousal and quiescence” were the pri-
mary outputs of political institutions and their processing of societal con-
cerns.2

Reflections of Democratic Processes

At the grassroots, claim Gustavo Esteva and Madhu Suri Prakash, such at-
titudes lose traction when subjects of local communities relearn how to
“think small.” Because even humungous global institutions “have to locate
their transnational operations in actions that are always necessarily local,” Es-
teva and Prakash argue, “it is only there—at the local grassroots—that they
can most effectively and wisely be opposed.”3 There, on the ground, close
inspection of social interaction as well as strategic discourse in somewhat
more regulated or ritualized spaces within which community decisions arise
may begin to reveal the vernacular rhetorical resources of what Esteva and
Prakash term the “organic memory” of peoples making decisions with what
they have intimately shared in daily life.4 Such a language already exists, they
assert, yet remains relatively understudied or undervalued if studied because
of the fetish for the grandiose that typifies much social thought, academic
and popular, today. Although we all know the outcome of the match between
David and Goliath, Esteva and Prakash shrewdly recall, strangely enough the

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24 / McDaniel and Gronbeck
greater share of attention and reverence—or rather fear—continues to be
granted the giant.
More broadly still, this volume reflects concerns for and attempts to re-
cuperate a conception of civic judgment, on which Ronald Beiner offers the
following reflections:

The purpose of inquiring into the nature of judgment is to disclose


a mental faculty by which we situate ourselves in the political world
without relying upon explicit rules and methods, and thus to open up
a space for deliberation that is being closed ever more tightly in tech-
nocratic societies. In respect of this faculty, the dignity of the com-
mon citizen suffers no derogation. Here the expert can lay claim to no
special privileges. If the faculty of judging is a general aptitude that is
shared by all citizens, and if the exercise of this faculty is a sufficient
qualification for active participation in political life, we have a basis for
reclaiming the privilege of responsibility that has been prized by us on
the grounds of specialized competence.5

In analyzing how citizens attempt to assess their own political interests and
to sway others toward specific decisions, then, judgment is part and parcel
of what is being analyzed. The judicationes, the points of decision, of which
Cicero spoke in De inventione, reflected not simply rational assessments of
problem and solution, but also of those grounds—whether scientistically
analytical or perspectivally moral—upon which actual citizens made spe-
cific decisions. Like all other human faculties, judgment functions within a
social world, marked, limited, and legitimated (or not) by collective values,
and hence its shaping and appearing in discourse characteristically reflects
intermediacy: it is not either entirely subjective or objective, an operation
of mind or matter, but something of each and both. Exploring politics at the
local level, within a particular institutional forum and in response to a rela-
tively specific controversy, we can expect the character of civic judgment in
the discourses about Barbiegate to reveal significant dimensions of the con-
text in which they were addressed.
So it is that specific embodiments of civic judgment may be easily ig-
nored or caricatured for their partiality, impermanence, relativity, and trivi-
ality when viewed from on high. Equally maddeningly, among some political

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Democratic Theory, Rhetoric, and Barbiegate / 25
scientists judgment often is reduced to the abstracted notion of a political
cognition—more than that, a person’s cognition that can and usually is ag-
gregated with those of others to map the collective mind of a citizenry, that
is, “public opinion.” The idea of political judgment lacks those qualities of
generality or even universality that seem to attract many contemporary so-
cial theorists, for whom any given instance of civic judgment could serve as
an example of broader data patterns but would seem enigmatic or, more to
the point, too particular to be of general interest on its own terms. Yet, as
Cristina Alsina, Philip John Davies, and Bruce Gronbeck argue, making citi-
zens “speak as a segment of [a social] mass is to destroy the idea of public
voices participating in a public conversation”—and, consequently, to destroy
the idea of individualized citizen judgment as well.6
Other resistances to talk of judgment stem from transformations of pro-
grams of inquiry over the past several decades. In the aftermath of the as-
cendancy of poststructuralism in the human sciences, the structuring of
civic judgment by local material pressures and constraints renders it either
uninteresting or too problematic for analysis. As well, as Benjamin Gregg
notes, postmodern thought tends to “aestheticize away any notion of po-
litical activity” in its focus on “precious interiority.”7 From a somewhat dif-
ferent angle, with the rise of global thinking, the practice of ordinary judg-
ment simply appears too small to be of consequence. Either of these lines of
resistance can be sustained and indeed fortified with reference to the con-
textual strictures of social performance operative in the case at hand. With
democracy, the devil lies in the details.

Distorted Reflections?

Nonetheless: Seen in the mirror of traditional political philosophy, ordinary


persons representing their positions and others on the grade school contro-
versy dubbed Barbiegate would probably appear at best the unruly burlesque
of democratic idealizations of the agora—the public place of speech—as
well as of that notional figure hailed by the name of Citizen. Specifically, the
liberal tradition’s gaze into the looking glass reflecting its ideals—and their
perversions—is a priori framed by the desire, even the demand, “that public
life should be free but rational, diverse but disciplined.”8 Further, these im-
peratives for the agora hinge on reasonably skillful and virtuous political sub-

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26 / McDaniel and Gronbeck
jects: “Citizens must have character. They must possess virtues such as the
ability to rise above the battle, to discern arguments on the basis of merit
rather than personal preference, and to take the perspective of the other.”9
Finally, these virtues framing the mirror and the gaze of liberal democratic
theory culminate in the paradoxical requirement that “the liberal citizen
must possess the art of self-abstraction.”10 In short, they must step outside
of themselves in order to participate democratically with others in the for-
mation of public interest and policy. This, according to Joan Copjec, is the
“peculiar logic of democracy” in America: “Democracy is the universal quan-
tifier by which America—the ‘melting pot,’ the ‘nation of immigrants’—
constitutes itself as a nation. If all our citizens can be said to be Americans,
this is not because we share any positive characteristics but rather because
we have all been given the right to shed these characteristics, to present our-
selves as disembodied before the law. I divest myself of positive identity,
therefore I am a citizen.”11 When this authentic citizen looks into the mirror
of liberal polity before entering into the agora to participate with others in
steering society, he or she ought to see perfection: an impartial, dispassion-
ate, self-abstracted, virtuous no-body.
No wonder Barbiegate would probably seem a burlesque of certain demo-
cratic communication ideals. Let us begin to detail why, with a series of
loosely tethered empirical observations from the kind of liberal gaze just il-
lustrated, suggesting only some broad patterns that could guide analyses that
are more specific. For instance, we would have you notice that the speak-
ers almost invariably invoke their own particularity or personal perspec-
tive, though through various strategies, yet also they recurrently employ
the voice of universality. A similar fluctuation typifies the fields of refer-
ence activated in any given discourse: Factuality and fancy, material events
and human hopes for them combine and collide, becoming increasingly in-
discernible from one speaker to the next in a chorus line of hundred-and-
twenty-second orations.
Despite such rapid, comprehensive, and virtually unpredictable altera-
tions, discernible patterns emerge out of the swirl of rhetorical perfor-
mances. Chief among these is the prevalence of appeals to relatively un-
checked self-interest or group loyalty. No clear (or even hazy) criteria for
what counts as a “good move” in the language-game seem evident in the civ-
ics version of solitaire. Perhaps time constraints can typically be expected to

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Democratic Theory, Rhetoric, and Barbiegate / 27
increase the proliferation of such appeals, but whatever the causes, the fren-
zied scramble for advantage subordinates the patient trek of mutual under-
standing and agreement to the hope that all possible positions can be sprayed
into the environment for consideration and effect. Nonetheless, the para-
phernalia of civility and the desire for mutual recognition come into play:
Greetings, threats, strained historical analogies, personal narratives, mythic
reconstructions of history, appeals to authority, formal yet immensely at-
tenuated gestures of having heard and understood another speaker, and other
such rhetorical flourishes abound.
Overall, a norm of self-expression rather than reflection or deliberation
holds sway. The chances that any given individual will persuade or be per-
suaded by others seem enormously slim and the Judges—members of the
school board who hold the power to make policy—often seem by turns
tired, bored, and convinced that all this “civic participation” has somehow
missed the obvious. “Well,” the first board member to speak, following on
the heels of the orations by “the people,” says with mock approval, “I’m very
pleased that people are agreeing with the board, but we’ve never discussed
this issue, so I don’t know what you’re agreeing with.” The agora thus re-
vealed in the “vernacular voices”12 of Barbiegate seems a phantasmagoria, a
fantastical version of public life wildly transgressed and distorted in reality,
and the figure of the Citizen embodied in these public addresses a caricature
of itself. So goes the liberal lamentation.
For a cynical peeper into the looking glass, though not one necessarily
inconsistent with the liberal vision, these public performances may reflect
merely the simulacra of democratic representation. More cynically still,
they may embody poor simulations at that: To the degree that each citizen
believes his or her own moralizing representations, equally each plays the
role of Narcissus. The Judges have every interest in plumping up citizens’
self-assurance, piety, and feeling that they’ve spoken their heart. To darken
the appearance of these cynical impieties, one even might invoke an ana-
lytic of “repressive tolerance” to characterize the discourses.13 A key con-
cept to Herbert Marcuse’s critical social theory, repressive tolerance names
the full variety of institutional strategies that work to satisfy the desire to ex-
press political sentiments while proportionately diminishing the capacity of
those sentiments to transform public opinion. Herein lies one version of the
rhetorical mechanisms by which Edelman’s sense of acquiescence is engen-

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28 / McDaniel and Gronbeck
dered. Repressive tolerance makes the appearance and produces the feel-
ing of democratic representation, yet in this very catharsis of image and pas-
sion it relieves the tensions requisite for wielding practical, institutionalized
power in any given case.
Having already burlesqued the character of the speech and speakers, let
us exercise the analytic of repression with primary reference to the socio-
aesthetic configuration of the public space. The forum in which citizens de-
liver their discourses spotlights individuals.Whom and for whatever a person
presumably “stands” or represents, each speaker literally stands alone. Op-
posed to such isolation, “the Board” as civic institution appears an organic
social-political body with interacting, interdependent parts, the most evi-
dent of which is a “head,” a “president.”14 More abstractly yet quite obvi-
ously, board members possess that quality of togetherness called “history,”
or what Jean-Paul Sartre termed “fusion”: a group identity developed over
time, across tasks, with collective goals and a written “constitution” that
binds them together in a single script common to all.15 Accountability to
public opinion, a frequently invoked principle, is but a loosely tethered prac-
tice that exists in contradistinction to the organizational accountability board
members owe one another.
And so, able to express themselves and their positions within the allotted
time, citizens enjoy considerable freedom, but to what end? The aesthetic
configuration of public space furthers a mystification of citizen speech and its
consequence. When speaking, citizens face members of the board, turning
their backs to those who were a moment before their equals. With television
cameras in the arena, oratory is doubled spectacle, not an act of political soli-
darity, viewed from behind by their fellow citizens and as mediated personae
by the folks back home. In Sartre’s analysis (he used a boxing match as his
example), a dialectical relationship between combatants (including citizen-
speakers in the case of Barbiegate) makes the other citizens in the room sub-
jects of the clash in one sense, but part of the dialectic and hence likewise
combatants for the virtual subjects (viewers) sitting at home.16 The on-site
citizens become part of political spectacle while those at home are simply
lumpen spectators, not political actors.17 And so a cynical diatribe against re-
pressive tolerance could go on and on.
So where are we? We have been complicating the great Massachusetts
representative Tip O’Neill’s aphorism that “All [democratic] politics is lo-

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Democratic Theory, Rhetoric, and Barbiegate / 29
cal,” sometimes in process, always in foundation and application, resistance
and acquiesence. And, at least since Aristotle’s Rhetoric, where politics was
construed not simply as system or as collective redistribution of money and
labor, but as deliberative process, the result or outcome of politics is judg-
ment. To the Stagarite, citizen-spectators sat as kritês or judges of the expe-
diency and the prudence of policies that flowed from the Assembly. The role
of judge and the act of judging, however, in the democratic imagination have
proved to be elusive, even paradoxical. Political advocacy is partial, based
in personal experience and self-interest, yet the outcomes of politics must
reflect collective experiences and apply to the interests of all, or else the
citizen is not committed to the demos. And because it so often seems not to,
the looking glass of deliberation shows us not our better selves but our own
ugliness and delusions. The speculum, the mirror of civic spectatorship, may
reflect the baseness of the opportunistically political, the nightmares of col-
lective association.

THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

Although merely imaginary and radically incomplete, these sorts of analyses,


liberal and cynical in turn, reflect from arguably distinctive angles a critical
sensibility that has ascended among certain groups of political scientists and
cultural studies scholars today. In part, this sensibility has been fashioned
out of critiques of structural transformations of the public sphere, the title
of Jürgen Habermas’s immensely influential book that became prominent in
the post-Vietnam era. Central aspects of his argument on the degeneration
of talk in the public sphere, however, were raised half a century earlier, in the
post–World War I era. The disputes between and around John Dewey and
Walter Lippmann produced analyses of the increasing scale and complexity
of social composition in the United States. Their ripostes unearthed signifi-
cant sources of fragmentation and challenged Americans to make better use
of the public resources for democratic deliberation.
Their engagement began when Dewey reviewed two of Lippmann’s
books—Public Opinion (1922) and The Phantom Public (1925)—and took on
more detail in Dewey’s 1927 book, The Public and Its Problems.18 To Dewey, the
patterns of social fragmentation combined with empowerment of economic
and political institutions to produce the “eclipse of the public,” and to counter

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30 / McDaniel and Gronbeck
them he imagined the cultivation of a social media apparatus that would per-
form time- and space-binding operations—bringing “the people” closer to-
gether and creating common resources of social knowledge—essential to
constituting, maintaining, reproducing, and revising a large-scale democ-
racy. Localist social-political engagement would be enlarged. With the aid
of media (particularly newspapers in this period), Dewey imagined that citi-
zens could possess shared stories, facts, and worries essential to their ca-
pacity for democratic deliberation. Such resources would permit them to
weigh in substantially into political-economic processes.
The attitude of Lippmann was far less optimistic. In Phantom Public, which
marks the transition from agora to phantasmagoria that predominates much
theoretical discussion today, Lippmann drew the picture of a society too
vast and tangled for commoners to effectively think or talk about it in de-
terminative ways. In a prelude to detailing arguments for an extraordinary
democracy built around a cult of expertise, premised on delegation of “the
people’s” power to technically competent decision makers, he remarked: “I
have not happened to meet anyone, from a President of the United States
to a professor of political science, who came anywhere near to embody-
ing the accepted ideal of the sovereign and omnicompetent citizen.”19 If “the
public” and indeed “the citizen” are phantoms that, in the words of contem-
porary French philosopher Jacques Derrida, are “present as such in any of
the spaces” of the social—school board meetings for example, the House
of Representatives and Senate, the European Parliament, panoramic media,
and such—the question remains: “How then to open the avenue of great de-
bates, accessible to the majority, while yet enriching the multiplicity and the
quality of public discourses, of evaluating agencies, of ‘scenes’ or places of
visibility?”20
Derrida’s way of framing the question privileges responses that obey the
call of magnitude—large numbers of participants, “great debates,” maximum
visibility or openness, and so forth—and thus displays the persistence of
worries shared not only by the likes of Dewey, Lippmann, and Habermas,
but moreover by a long line of political theorists tracing backward to Mon-
tesquieu and to Aristotle, for whom democracy, whatever else it would be,
must remain small. If citizens are to participate in their own governance and
in the making of policies that bind them to law and social order, they must
remain reasonably familiar to one another.

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Democratic Theory, Rhetoric, and Barbiegate / 31
At precisely what point spatial extension and increases in population be-
come destructive to such conditions, for this philosophical legacy, it’s hard
to say, but in any case the steadfast resistance to the very idea of a large-scale
democracy holds constant to this axiom: When the conditions of possibility
for embodied, face-to-face communication among familiars disappear, so do
those for an authentic democratic society. Dewey clung to interpersonal po-
litical encounter as that which will perpetuate democracy and cohere even a
diversified society such as that of the United States: “Associated or joint ac-
tivity is a condition of the creation of a community. But association itself is
physical and organic, while communal life is moral, that is emotionally, in-
tellectually, consciously sustained. Human beings combine in behavior as do
atoms, stellar masses and cells; as directly and unknowingly as they divide
and repel.”21
Often implicit in these enduring philosophical biases for communal prox-
imity, familiarity, and opportunity, another cluster of desire dwells. Shared
geopolitical space, civic recognition of others as fellow citizens of that space,
and occasions for participation reflect minimal conditions for political as-
sociation and action. A more amorphous set of qualities promises to aug-
ment and transform shared space into democratic political culture, a set of
qualities that gather under the name of character, a term which, in the liberal
tradition of theorizing democratic society at least, hinges on an account of
communication skills deemed essential for civic conduct, participation, and
decision making.
Thus, at the center of democratic theory lies worries of decentering and
dispersal, incompetence and apathy, scope and reduction, and at the core of
these is a yearning for place, intimacy, and, if not shared values, then at least
a culture of communication through which these may be negotiated. Then,
in consequence of such characteristics of democratic distention, there is the
problem of analytic magnitudes, the scales on which investigations of ordi-
nary democracy can best be brought forth and the perspectives with which
such mundane sociality can be illuminated. By and large, and not by co-
incidence, we believe, much of the scholarship emerging from the “public
sphere” literatures concerns media—the time- and space-binding technolo-
gies, mediums, and genres that sustain the dreams of democracy as well as its
nightmares—and texts of official political culture, Derrida’s “great debates,”
which is to say, more often than not, great speeches or texts by great white

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32 / McDaniel and Gronbeck
men thinking aloud Big Thoughts. Although littered with pleas for investi-
gations into the mundane worlds of ordinary social interactions, the “pub-
lics” literatures characteristically reserve these appeals for gestures toward
work to be done—the favored genre of the academic apologist, the “call
for future research.”22 In a short tale by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Man of the
Crowd,” the conflict of magnitudes enjoys elegant expression. Convalescing
in London, the narrator of the story recounts how, looking out a coffeehouse
window onto a crowded street, absorption in appearances passes from sub-
jectivity to objectivity, from panorama to minutia: “At first my observations
took an abstract and generalizing turn. I looked at the passengers in masses,
and thought of them in their aggregate relations. Soon, however, I descended
to details, and regarded with minute interest the innumerable varieties of
figure, dress, air, gait, visage, and expression of countenance.”23
Poe’s tale can be read as an allegory of transitions from one magnitude
of social analysis to another, from the generalizing tendencies of theoreti-
cally driven work in rhetoric and cultural studies to the particularizing fet-
ishes of social science, and however else it can be read the story embodies
a socially significant description of, as well as attitude toward, nineteenth-
century urbanization. Paradoxically, in Poe, the centralizing of populations
in concentrated social spaces renders more difficult the task of specific char-
acterization: Aggregates are easier to see than particulars, patterns clearer
than diversities, crowds commoner to the eye than individuals. In cities, the
world becomes smaller but at a price: its dynamics of composition and con-
stitution fade from intelligibility. Poe’s “solution” to the problem involves
fixating on a single person, a “man of the crowd.” Yet, for all its detail,
“Poe’s manner of presentation cannot be called realism,” Walter Benjamin
asserts. “It shows a purposely distorting imagination at work,” he explains,
“one that removes the text far from what is commonly advocated as the
model of social realism.” Poe’s descriptions of tensions between the social
and the individual, characteristic patterns of signification and aberrant mun-
dane details that distinguish each subject as such from the rest, suggest to
Benjamin “the absurd kind of uniformity with which Poe wants to saddle the
crowd.”24
We are suggesting that the challenges to social science and social critique
of ordinary democracy today may be more similar to those of the poet or
storyteller than some would like to admit. The choice between “descent”

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Democratic Theory, Rhetoric, and Barbiegate / 33
into the infinite variety of details and abstraction or elevation above the mi-
nutia, to use Poe’s language, represents not only two possible perspectives
but also two distinctive configurations of analysis and its subject matters. To
take seriously the means by which ordinary citizens engage in civic dispute
presupposes that details matter, but moreover it suggests that democratic
theorizing requires grounding in the “mundane.” Telling the story of mun-
dane details and vernacular strategies of conduct, however, can lead to Poe’s
impasse: focus on the particular ultimately leads to the madness of unintel-
ligibility. Some secrets are better left untold is the moral of his story. Inci-
dentally, Benjamin’s criticism of Poe’s storytelling seems to miss the mark:
“The Man of the Crowd” doesn’t aim to “saddle the crowd” with an “absurd
kind of uniformity,” but rather it exposes the breakdown of uniformity at the
level of individuality.
Translated from poetic into analytic idiom, the problem here is one of
part-whole or text-context or strategy-situation or individual-social or
local-global or micro-macro ratios. Philosophically, here is the bugaboo: the
proportions of freedom and determination as they appear in any given case
or, metaphysically, in the Case of Cases that Hannah Arendt calls “the human
condition.”25 Storytelling and philosophizing share a problem of perspective,
in short. Between these, social science and social critique always run the risk
of (unwittingly) committing to a specific politics or metaphysics or both.
The liberal dream of civic participation turns on an instrumental concep-
tion of communication that wishes for the live speech of the public assembly
to be transparent and tool-like. The assumption that all citizens can pick up
language and use it equally to create their identities, to speak their minds, to
argue their positions, and to have even say on matters of the state or com-
munity rests on a flawed conception of communication and a naïve under-
standing of the social. Public rhetoric, precisely because public, exposes
speaking subjects to others who may see and hear differences as deficiencies.
Further, even if the language of civic participation could be “neutralized” or
“leveled” such that citizens would experience themselves and others trans-
parently, as equals, still the sights of bodies and the sounds of voices, gestures
and idioms, colors and dialectics, and shapes and dictions would remain. The
very ideas of a “neutral” public sphere and a purified culture of communica-
tion reflect xenophobia.
The problem with these socially and theoretically relevant worries, which

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34 / McDaniel and Gronbeck
one can observe in two contrasting types of analysis—Jürgen Habermas and
Michel Foucault—is not that they are somehow wrong. Rather, the problem
is that they are always right. Invoking the analytics of power (Foucault) or
of a counterintuitive ideal speech situation (Habermas)—two sides of the
same coin, we would argue—can aid in gauging systematic imperfections,
asymmetries, and injustices embodied in any given case, but they typically
do so at the price of underplaying the ways in which power produces resis-
tances and nonideal situations evoke inventiveness. Civic judgment operates
within social structures marked by uneven distributions of power or cultural
capital—that much is clear. Citizens routinely violate norms of ideal speech
situations that might make better worlds—that is clear as well.
Yet, we suggest, these blemishes on ordinary democracy double as bless-
ings: we can agree at once with Habermas as well as Foucault, arguing that
ideals arise from practices imperfectly and that these imperfections may
even serve as lures to further discussion, richer strategies, sharper ripostes,
and more vivid exposure of social contradictions and antagonisms. As Fou-
cault urges, power circulates and produces some unforeseen rhetorical op-
portunities. If Foucault underplays the normative requirements for a more
just society, Habermas skimps on how strategic—and not necessarily or ob-
viously “rational”—discursive action can work toward democratic ends. In
any case, the uneven distribution of cultural capital makes the Habermas-
ian discount unattractive just as it makes the Foucauldian analytics of power
somehow redundant. How ordinary democracy depends on citizens inven-
tively negotiating power asymmetries and developing norms in action be-
comes the more interesting question.

. . . AND BACK: PERFORMING ORDINARY DEMOCRACY

Having traveled through a looking glass into the wonderland of strains of


social-political thought that inform so much of contemporary work within
media, cultural, and rhetorical studies especially, we should ask what remains
invisible inside such visions of public participation in an actually existing, if
always effervescent, civil society and multi-institutional order. Perhaps these
repressed elements can be clarified by bringing alternative perspectives to
bear on the norms of ordinary democratic culture and the rhetorical inter-
actions that constitute it. We offer this volume not in order to discover or

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Democratic Theory, Rhetoric, and Barbiegate / 35
invent the ideal democratic citizen, sovereign and omnicompetent, nor to
suggest techniques and ideals for remanufacturing the media apparatus, but
rather to illuminate signs of the vernacular intelligence with which ordinary
social-political actors perform democracy in their daily lives.
For starters, we would suggest that four imperatives characterize ordi-
nary democracy practiced within localist (sometimes just called vernacular)
political communities:

1. The imperative of place. Localness should be understood both conceptu-


ally and materially as a marked or circumscribed place for political ac-
tivity. Conceptually, the “Think Globally” bumper sticker, of course, is
completed by a second kolon, “Act Locally.” An American citizen is an
American citizen anywhere in the world; American democracy in general
transcends place. But not ordinary democracy. Conceptually, “local” from
the Latin locus is a concrete “here,” and that concreteness is materialized
in the particular places within which local politics occurs. Iowa City poli-
tics does not happen in Boulder, despite the fact that their governmental
institutions are parallel and both have residents inflected by the generally
liberal ideology of university towns in America. Each municipality has a
symbolic aura built out of its past and present. Barbiegate was an event
very much driven and interpreted within the Boulder County, Colorado,
environs of 2001.
2. The imperative of time. Yes, 2001. Ordinary democracy also is what rhetori-
cians these days call kairotic—marked by not only the hereness but also
the nowness of a particular time-in-place. Kairos was a complicated con-
cept out of especially the pre-Socratic philosophers, but for our purposes
it implied that “the truth depended on a careful consideration of all fac-
tors surrounding an event, including factors such as time, opportunity,
and circumstances.”26 While we need not wrangle over musings about
“truth,” the idea that human controversies, the dissoi logoi of the pre-
Socratics, occur within the thinking, worrying, and available generally ac-
cepted truths of a here-and-now is a marker of both traditional and post-
structuralist rhetorical thought.
3. The imperative of performativity. To perform politically is to be engaged in a
face-to-face encounter with an other, each proposing and/or attacking vi-
sions for a better (morally, pragmatically) tomorrow.Yet, as Judith Butler

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36 / McDaniel and Gronbeck
reminds us, speaking bodies in an important sense are inscribed by what
they name.27 An important aspect of symbolizing processes in face-to-face
dialogues/dialectics is the materiality of opponents, belly button to belly
button, discursively reenacting duels to the death. Ordinary democracy
thus has a physical presence and vitality simply unachievable when dele-
gates to national or international parliaments puff and posture for radio,
television, and QuickTime movies.
4. The imperative of the doxastic. And fourth, we need say more about gener-
ally received opinions, about doxa. While the doxastic, generally speaking,
itemizes those pieces of conventional wisdom, prudential thinking, that
mark a people and stand as valuative-conceptual—even when unstated—
premises for public arguments, more specifically within the times and
places of ordinary democracy they are radically localized. Within virtu-
ally any local community one can inventory histories of prudent and im-
prudent conduct, moments of pain and pleasure, heroes and villains, the
turns of fate (e.g., natural disasters) and fortune (e.g., the highway or
railroad that was or was not built) that impacted on community develop-
ment and communal relationships. What Benjamin Gregg called “enlight-
ened localist politics” permits “coherent interaction among diverse parts
without requiring some all-embracing unity or universally valid norms”
because coherence and comprehension are governed by a limited popula-
tion working within the confines of a specific time-and-place.28 It is, ulti-
mately, species of communal thought and values that must fill up the ab-
stracted self of the citizen if he or she is going to have rhetorical efficacy
in localist political environments. (A variety of such species will be seen
in Barbiegate.)

Circumscribed space, a particular break in the flow of time to allow for


reflection and possibly the remanufacture of social and educational institu-
tions, actors who embody and articulate the ideas they espouse, and pieces of
thinking that are given their relevance and force by the degree to which they
are embedded in local conditions—these four imperatives, at least, mark
ordinary democratic process. They of course are not absent from society-
wide political engagements, at least most of the time—though they can be.
Televised political controversy, on the one hand, can occur in the no-place
we identify as a network studio, with journalists working seemingly without

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Democratic Theory, Rhetoric, and Barbiegate / 37
embodied commitments to anything; there is no sense of place and political
persona, or so Joshua Meyrowitz argues, in televisual politics.29 Ordinary
democracy, on the other hand, cannot occur without all four imperatives in
view and in operation.
It seems to us that efforts at grand theory no longer can afford to neglect
or ignore the tenacious intrusions of the nonsovereign subject speaking to
neighbors and the institutions of the village, town, and city. Indeed, perhaps
the ascendant presumption of civic mediocrity dominant in current social
thought goes too often unchallenged precisely because the desire for a “bet-
ter,” “enlarged,” more representative democratic public culture seems so
intrinsically appealing. Its favorite scapegoats—a monstrous media appara-
tus unleashed on an ever-fragmenting social body made up of damaged, in-
creasingly disconnected, hence “incompetent” parts—serve to intensify this
appeal. From the debates between Lippmann and Dewey in the early twenti-
eth century to the characteristic disputes of today, many of which involve the
work of critical theorist Habermas,30 the lofty dreams of civic participation
have risen so high that we are encouraged to think of democracy in terms of
a “mythic town square in the sky”—a utopia (literally, “no-place”) wherein
citizens speak uniformly the language of Reason, or, if they can’t, the Cult of
the Experts will speak it for them.31
But, if no-place is the site of politics, then perhaps no binding, mutu-
ally accounted-for relationships between the governed and their governors
maintain civility. The notion of “ordinary democracy” commends rethink-
ing such dreams as emergent not just from philosophical discourses but also
from community-level controversies in which citizens openly voice their in-
terests, participate in policy disputes as their own (as well as others’) rep-
resentatives, invent and revise their identities, and motivate collective deci-
sion making. Such practices are shaped by an ideal and communicative forms
that enact, appeal to, and subvert that very ideal in the process. This notion,
which borders on the ultramundane and hence unsayable, obviously needs
work.
This volume reflects a process of friendship that in turn mirrors a certain
condition of impossibility on which the very idea of democracy depends: a
process and condition of familiarization, the premise of which is strange-
ness, unfamiliarity. Such paradoxes are commonplace in our everyday ex-
periences of public life and in the enormous literature on democracy in

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38 / McDaniel and Gronbeck
America, the title of an 1835 book by a well-known stranger, France’s Alexis
de Tocqueville, whose belonging to another land may have helped him to see
the United States in ways the natives could not. When we engage Tocqueville
“reading America,” we see it through other eyes and another wisdom.32 Per-
haps such displacements or estrangements of the familiar self and society are
far more routine than most of us may suspect. Jacques Derrida’s book, The
Politics of Friendship, well captures the paradox in a wonderfully contradic-
tory greeting: “O my friends, there is no friend.”33
A century and a half before Derrida, Ralph Waldo Emerson scored a
similar point in favor of democracy’s stranger in his essay “Friendship”: “In
strict sense, all persons underlie the same condition of an infinite remote-
ness.”34 Whatever the theoretical divides between our time’s deconstruction
and nineteenth-century transcendentalism as well as Poe’s and Benjamin’s
descriptive phantasmagorias, Derrida and Emerson share a tendency to re-
gard radical difference more as a source of delight than of despair. Ordinary
democracy, like friendship, from their views, represents not the fusion of
the Many into the One, the E pluribus unum that you carry around on nick-
els in your pocket, but the strategic negotiation of differences that more
than occasionally bursts open from routine interaction among familiar citi-
zens into the wonders and horrors of social and political estrangement. Yet,
as Kenneth Burke puts it, when “different kinds of beings” try to communi-
cate with one another, motives for “courtship” as well as conflict arise. Senses
of mystery and mystification, wonder and horror, dwell in one and the same
site: the social, which in turn lodges in discourse—the interaction between
“different kinds of beings.”35 The core of civic friendship is not so much affec-
tion and amity; rather, a commitment to common rights and responsibilities
holds a people together in spite of those things that separate them.

CIRCLING THE TOWN SQUARE

Recalling our imaginary liberal looking glass, and drawing upon Robert
Hariman,36 we might reconsider its communication norms or civic virtues
in terms of performative pragmatics, or, to employ Hariman’s more elegant
term, style, inquiring not in the first instance into whether these virtues re-
flect viable norms for the conduct of civic participation in an ordinary de-

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Democratic Theory, Rhetoric, and Barbiegate / 39
mocracy but rather about how they could be simulated in virtuoso social
performance—and, in fact, how they already have been and are every day.
Toggling from virtue to virtuosity, from political ends to performative ac-
tion, from the figure of the citizen to that of the social actor, we believe this
way of reframing the overall question of civic participation opens it more in-
vitingly to rhetorical and discourse analysis. For example rather than asking
as a primary question whether “rising above the battle” is a good thing to do
or if it’s even possible at all, the foundational question to the rhetorician as
we see it concerns how to do it—that is, convincingly to perform for oth-
ers, wherein “rising above the battle” is understood as a particular rhetorical
topos or even genre of politics.
Likewise, rather than plumbing the depths of the concept of “self-
abstraction” as characteristic of citizen, the rhetorician’s hermeneutical task
involves surveying the surface features in search of discernible discursive
patterns that reveal what citizenship looks like when done well by actual ac-
tors performing in actual situations. Whatever “taking the perspective of the
other” might mean in any given case, the rhetorical analyst of political dis-
course explores the conventional methods by which social actors impress
upon one another the notion that they have actually taken audients’ view-
points. Furthermore, upon empirical examinations of communicative per-
formance within an actually existing ordinary democracy, these privileged
norms of rhetorical conduct may turn out to be among the least important
or the most absent. Only by working through the details of public texts, per-
formances, and activities carried out in particular political spaces can we
begin to develop strong interpretations of what is actually present, what is
absent, and what yet may need recovering or inventing.
By selecting Barbiegate for a site of analytic and political reflection, we of
course have displaced all other possible sites—for example, Watergate. The
choice represents an attitude concerning the relative importance and theo-
retical richness of these public controversies: the Barbiegate materials al-
low for sustained reflections on how citizens perform ordinary democracy,
whereas the Watergate materials would have tended us toward reflections
on the construction of the political spectacle on a larger scale. Our point is
not that Watergate was unimportant or uninteresting—quite the contrary
(see Gronbeck’s use of it in the essay that follows)—nor is it that analyses

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40 / McDaniel and Gronbeck
of large-scale political performances and embarrassments should somehow
be forsaken. Neither are we suggesting that localist politics has no spectacle;
quite the contrary, Barbiegate was telecast through the local access outlet of
Boulder County. Rather, it is that scholarly studies of ordinary citizens, stra-
tegically engaging in community concerns at the grassroots, may offer an
important counterpoint, and even extension, to how we understand poli-
tics in the large.
We can continue to take interest in how the discourses of official political
culture shape perception and action, participation and decision. We also can
continue to enjoy the insights of Cultural Studies and media critique into
the uneven distribution of chances and the distorted representations of the
social. Yet, the underlying hope of ordinary democracy and of rhetoric-in-
action involves increasing the quantity and quality of public discourse. As
even such apparently opposed figures as Derrida and Habermas can agree,
perhaps one way to begin working toward these goals is to take social inter-
actions in the mundane forums of local sites of struggle more seriously. In
moving through the looking glass, we should better understand ourselves.

NOTES

1. Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” in Illuminations, ed.


and intro. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Shocken, 1968), 255.
2. Murray Edelman, Politics as Symbolic Action: Mass Arousal and Quiescence (New
York: Academic Press, 1971), 11.
3. Gustavo Esteva and Madhu Suri Prakash, Grassroots Post-Modernism: Remaking
the Soil of Cultures (London: Zed Books, 1998), 25.
4. Esteva and Prakash, Grassroots Post-Modernism, 71.
5. Ronald Beiner, Political Judgment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1983), 3.
6. Cristina Alsina, Philip John Davies, and Bruce E. Gronbeck, “Preference Poll
Stories in the Last 2 Weeks of Campaign 2000,” American Behavioral Scientist 44 (Au-
gust 2001): 2288–305.
7. Benjamin Gregg, Coping in Politics with Indeterminate Norms: A Theory of Enlight-
ened Localism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003), 165.
8. John Durham Peters, “Publicity and Pain: Self-Abstraction in Adam Smith’s
Theory of Moral Sentiments,” Public Culture 7 (1995): 657.
9. Peters, “Publicity and Pain,” 657.

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Democratic Theory, Rhetoric, and Barbiegate / 41
10. Ibid., 658.
11. Joan Copjec, Read My Desire: Lacan against the Historicists (Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press, 1994), 146.
12. The most detailed book on the topic of vernacular voices probably is Gerard
Hauser, Vernacular Voices:The Rhetoric of Publics and Public Spheres (Columbia: Univer-
sity of South Carolina Press, 1999).
13. Herbert Marcuse, “Repressive Tolerance,” in A Critique of Pure Tolerance, ed.
Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington Moore Jr., and Herbert Marcuse, 81–123 (1965;
repr., Boston: Beacon Paperbacks, 1969).
14. An important circumstance of the night of speeches about Barbiegate dur-
ing the open-mike portion of the school board meeting was that the president of
the board was absent, meaning that the vice president—a Hispanic with a history
of concerns over racism and diversity—could claim the position as last speaker that
evening. His voice provided quite a different institutional inflection than had the
board president’s sentiments in the previous meeting (see Gronbeck’s essay in this
volume).
15. Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique of Dialectical Reason: Volume II (Unfinished), The In-
telligibility of History, ed. Arlette Elkaïm-Sartre, trans. Quintin Hoare (1985; trans.
New York: Verso, 1991). Briefly, Sartre saw “dialectical intelligibility” as depending
upon the historical fusion of three factors: totalization, particularization, and con-
tradiction. A central conceptual difficulty in social liberation and empowerment for
Sartre lay in the requirement that centralized structural fusions must be resisted or
broken even as fusion remains the central engine of collectivization. It is in manag-
ing those seemingly contrary social-political forces that historical intelligibility—
and political praxis—must lie.
16. Sartre, Book III (“The Intelligibility of History”), Sec. 1 (“Is Struggle Intel-
ligible?”), Sub. Sec. 1 (“Conflict, Moment of a Totalization or Irreducible Rift?”),
3–16.
17. In Roderick Hart’s analysis, viewing televised politics is an act that explic-
itly vitiates political participation. See his Seducing America: How Television Charms the
ModernVoter (1st ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 1994; rev. ed., Sage Pub-
lications, 1999).
18. John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (New York: Henry Holt, 1927).
19. Walter Lippmann, The Phantom Public (New York: Macmillan, 1927), 20–21.
20. Jacques Derrida, The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe, trans. Pascale-
Anne Brault and Michael B. Naas, intro. Michael B. Naas (Indianapolis: Indiana Uni-
versity Press, 1992), 87.
21. Dewey, The Public, 151.
22. For example, see all of the chapters in Bruce Robbins, ed., The Phantom Public

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42 / McDaniel and Gronbeck
Sphere (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), particularly the intro-
duction (vii–xxvii) and Nancy Fraser’s crucial essay, “Rethinking the Public Sphere:
A Contribution to the Critique of Actual, Existing Democracy” (1–32).
23. Edgar Allan Poe, “The Man in the Crowd,” 2004, available at http://poe.
thefreelibrary.com/Man-of-the-Crowd.
24. Benjamin, “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” in Illuminations, 171, 175.
25. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1958). The central problematic of the human condition for Arendt is, of course, to
justify the human right to have rights, or, in a similar formulation, the authority of
“we” to constitute that “we.”
26. James A. Herrick, The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Introduction, 2nd ed.
(Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2001), 36.
27. Judith P. Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New
York: Routledge, 1993).
28. Gregg, Coping in Politics, 168.
29. Joshua Meyrowitz, No Sense of Place:The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Be-
havior (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985).
30. Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, trans.
Thomas Burger with the assistance of Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge, MA: MIT
Press, 1989).
31. The phrase “mythic town square in the sky” is attributed to Stanley Aronowitz
by Bruce Robbins in his “Introduction: The Public as Phantom,” viii.
32. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1945; repr., New York: Knopf,
1989).
33. Jacques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, trans. George Collins (London:
Verso, 1997), 281. The sentence is actually attributed to Aristotle, though it is Der-
rida who devotes three hundred pages to understanding it.
34. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” from Essays: First Series (origi-
nally published 1841), 2004, available at http://www.rwe.org/comm/index.
php?option=com_content&task=view&id=129&Itemid=161.
35. Kenneth Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives (1950; repr., Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1969), 115.
36. Robert Hariman, Political Style: The Artistry of Power (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1995).

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ii
The Barbiegate Discourse

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3
Race, Liberalism, and
Barbiegate Discourse
A Dilemma-Centered Rhetorical Analysis
Herbert W. Simons

Heading north from Denver on a suburban highway offering splendid views


of the Rockies to the west, one soon comes upon Boulder, Colorado, and
the nearby communities that together constitute the Boulder Valley School
District (BVSD). Home to the University of Colorado’s flagship campus,
Boulder is in many ways an idyllic city—affluent, cosmopolitan, blessed by
climate and geography, a center for learning and research. A ring of open
space surrounds the city and a creek bringing water from the mountains runs
through it into the city center. Leading out from Boulder toward the Rock-
ies are bikeways and hiking trails, along which the habituated local traveler
moves easily through the thin mountain air while the visitor huffs and puffs.1
Proximity to the Rockies has brought tourism to Boulder, which, together
with high tech start-ups and other university-related sources of purchasing
power, insures an ample supply of good eateries, watering holes, and cul-
tural amenities. The fast-growing suburban enclaves that border the city par-
take of its benefits, and they, like Boulder, are generous in support of their
public institutions.
Not incidentally, Boulder is a liberal mecca combining classical and pro-
gressive liberalism. The latter has lost favor in much of the United States but
is nevertheless a source of civic pride. Colorado, like the rest of America,
is classically liberal in the sense of being committed to such well-established
liberal values as democratic decision making, good government, the rule of
law, public education, respect for the individual, freedom of speech and of

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46 / Simons
the press, and a modicum of compassion for the less fortunate.2 These ac-
coutrements of a centuries-old ideological tradition in Western Europe and
America are so well entrenched as to be honored even by social and political
conservatives.3 They are among the values of our Founding Fathers and of
the British parliamentary tradition, from John Locke through Jeremy Ben-
tham and John Stuart Mill, and they have found their way into the workings
of local communities and local institutions.
But, as mentioned, Boulder is also progressively liberal,4 and thus is seen in
some parts of Colorado as “ultraliberal” and even as “crazy” liberal. People
of a progressively liberal bent migrate to the Boulder area, and they in turn
help sustain its liberal ethos. As characterized by more conservative Colo-
radoans, Boulder sends “tax-and-spend” liberals to Congress and to the state
legislature. Its morality, if it can be called that, is retrogressive, a throwback
to the freewheeling, overly permissive values of the 1960s. Its Open Space
regulations are hypocritical, defended in the name of environmental preser-
vation, but providing a bonanza to homeowners in the form of skyrocket-
ing real estate prices. In fact, Boulderites tolerate, and indeed celebrate, life-
style diversity to a far greater degree than in such conservative enclaves as
Colorado Springs.5 They place a far higher premium on social and economic
equality, as illustrated by the emphasis placed at the February 27, 2001,
BVSD meeting on closing the educational achievement gap. And, as was also
manifested at the February 27 meeting, they are especially sensitive to is-
sues of race.
Into this progressively liberal environment came news that a committee
of teachers at BSVD’s Mesa Elementary School, overseeing a science fair, had
first permitted but then pulled a third grader’s “Barbie” experiment, one that
reportedly provided scientific evidence of a preference by fifth graders for
a white Barbie over a black Barbie, whatever the color of the Barbie’s dress.
They did so, moreover, in the name of sensitivity to Mesa Elementary’s mi-
nority children, albeit at the risk of appearing insensitive to the girl who did
the study and of seeming all too eager to cover over what may have been the
fifth graders’ learned prejudices. The decision also called into question their
commitment to other liberal values, including freedoms of speech and scien-
tific inquiry. Thus l’affaire Barbiegate, including news of the experiment and
of its removal from the science fair, exposed fissures in the community’s lib-
eral ideology, made all the more embarrassing by the attention Barbiegate
received well beyond the BVSD’s boundaries.

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Race, Liberalism, and Barbiegate Discourse / 47
The Barbiegate saga is of interest to rhetoricians like myself for many
of the same reasons that it garnered press attention nationwide. Here on
a human scale was high comedy of great forensic complexity—a comedy
in Kenneth Burke’s sense of the term6—featuring well-meaning citizens at
loggerheads over what it meant to “do the right thing.” At one level, the
drama was geographically confined, but other communities could identify
with Barbiegate because, in a broader sense, its problems were their own.
And indeed, the Barbiegaters seemed caught up in conflicts that were not
entirely of their own making. The questions of justice and policy that circu-
lated through the proceedings and press commentaries were given a distinc-
tive cast by affluent Boulder’s distinctive mix of classical and progressive lib-
eralism. Barbiegate was also symptomatic of larger conflicts between liberals
and conservatives, and within liberalism since the early successes of the civil
rights movement.7 Race figured prominently in Barbiegate discourse, and in
much else that was raised at the February 27 school board meeting. Even as
they differed over Barbiegate, those who addressed its racial implications be-
spoke commitments to one or another variant of liberal ideology.
Ideologies are widely shared systems of belief that arise out of peoples’
needs to make sense of the world. They are the glue that binds ideas to-
gether, including ideas as seemingly disparate as capital punishment and the
right to life, freedom of speech and freedom to have anal sex, and love thine
enemy and fight a just war. In this sense, they are strategically adapted to our
need for a unifying “common sense.” But because ideologies must square so
many circles, serve so many masters, and be adapted to so many situations,
they require a degree of flexibility—of meaning, of purpose, of logic—that
may strain credulity and even appear contradictory. Thus the same ideology
that draws us together may also divide us from one another and even from
ourselves—hence the need to address these problems rhetorically.

A DILEMMA- CENTERED ANALYSIS


OF BARBIEGATE RHETORIC

In this essay I offer an analysis of Barbiegate discourse, taken as a whole. I


also venture separate rhetorical assessments of textual fragments by some of
Barbiegate’s principal actors: among them the complainant, David Thielen,
the “defendants” and their supporters, and various school board members,
including board vice president Bill de la Cruz.

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48 / Simons
I do so with a view toward gleaning larger lessons from Barbiegate, as it
underscores the distinctive, local, situated character of the discourse itself.
Likewise I bring a theoretical and historical framework to bear upon the tex-
tual fragments being examined, rather than treating them atomistically, or at
a purely local level, as some discourse analysts are wont to do.
As in much of my work, the approach that I take here to rhetorical analysis
is dilemma-centered.8 I look for evidence of rhetorical dilemmas in the dis-
course being examined and in the larger currents of ideological opinion that
swirl through Boulder and beyond. I look too for more mundane tensions.
The “Barbiegaters” are enacting roles, representing agencies and institutions,
speaking for constituencies, and, in so doing, confronting the usual run of
rhetorical problems for people in their positions: How to appeal to multiple
and diverse audiences, balance ethics against expediency, and weigh the long
term against the short? How to contest while appearing cooperative, pre-
serve one’s options while appearing wedded to principle, wield power while
appearing to cede it to others, and serve one’s individual or group interests
while also (perhaps) seeking to promote the greater good?
Finding evidence of rhetorical dilemmas in the tape and transcripts made
available to this volume’s contributors was not difficult. On opposing sides
of various divides, the leading Barbiegaters trafficked in ambiguities, hid be-
hind platitudes, dodged ultrasensitive issues, smoothed over other tough is-
sues that could not be ignored, and came dangerously close in some cases to
contradicting themselves. But these apparent defects of character or logic
can be understood and perhaps even admired given the rhetorical predica-
ments the Barbiegaters confronted. One value of dilemma-centered analysis
is that it renders explicable talk that might otherwise seem anomalous or im-
moral. Recurrent patterns of such talk also provide indicators of larger so-
cietal problems. And, as was repeatedly illustrated in Michael Billig et al.’s
Ideological Dilemmas, talk of this kind is rhetorically interesting from artis-
tic and theoretical perspectives.9 Skilled practitioners of the art often find
ways to extricate themselves from dilemmas or to practice effective dam-
age control. But even the best practitioners may compound their rhetorical
problems in their efforts to manage them.10 Dilemma-centered analysis also
reveals limitations in prescribed forms of talk. I find evidence of that in the in-
ability of the school officials to mount their strongest case.
Much that I have to offer in this essay in the way of conclusions from the

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Race, Liberalism, and Barbiegate Discourse / 49
evidence will be impressionistic. This is due in part to questions left un-
answerable in the record made available to this book’s contributors. How,
for example, did the Barbiegate story get press attention, and why did it take
two weeks for it to break in the press? Besides ACLU representatives, who
else within the community did Thielen talk to, and with what effect? What
behind-the-scenes conversations took place between Thielen and BVSD offi-
cials in the period between the pulling of his daughter’s science project and
the first BVSD meeting (February 13, 2001) at which he registered his com-
plaint? Who were the various school and BVSD officials, what did they say to
one another, and who carried the most weight? What strategies, if any, did
they develop for responding to press reports? How did the story play on lo-
cal radio and TV, or in the University of Colorado’s widely read daily news-
paper? When did it become national and even international news, and how
were those accounts read by the Boulder Valley community?11
I had related questions. Because Barbiegate took place in Boulder proper,
did that lead residents of BVSD who lived outside the hub city to distance
themselves from it—as a Boulder problem but not a Boulder Valley problem?
Did Boulder liberalism produce tinges of liberal guilt over the way its fifth
graders had voted? Was this a sign that Boulder’s children lacked the liberal
zeal of their parents, and might even go over to the other side? Had anyone
talked with the children who participated in the experiment or who learned
about it secondhand?
Then, too, one could raise legitimate questions about the competence
and freedom from bias of this message analyst. Despite these limitations, I
remain reasonably confident about the epistemological stance taken in the
paper and about the impressions here recorded. Early on, in preparation
for this essay, I decided against posing as a disinterested spectator while at
the same time not claiming to bracket issues of truth or falsity, wisdom or
folly—for example, by adopting the stance of the methodological or pro-
grammatic relativist.12 Neither stance seemed appropriate for a crisis of this
sort, one that cried out for truth-claims that could not, however, be vouch-
safed by appeal to some foundational court of last resort. I would be oper-
ating then in the contingent realm of judgment rather than certainty, re-
quired to own up to my own liberalism, while also making clear that I was
not blinded to its problems.
Would I also be obliged therefore to acknowledge that my own relativism

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50 / Simons
rendered me incapable of choosing between competing logics—those, for
example, of Thielen and of the teachers who decided to remove his daugh-
ter’s science fair project? I don’t believe so. A choice is not always necessary,
and even when one is called for, the choice can be defended on nonfounda-
tionalist, contingent grounds, as Barbara Herrnstein Smith has argued.13 In
his introduction to Ideological Dilemmas, Billig and his colleagues make pre-
cisely this point as regards the conventional wisdom of a dominant cultural
ideology like classical liberalism. True, he says, it will contain a logoi and
a dissoi logoi, as reflected in seemingly contradictory aphorisms. Do many
hands make light work? They do, in some circumstances. But it may also be
the case on occasion that too many cooks spoil the broth. To the person who
is excessively cautious, it may be appropriate to say, “nothing ventured, noth-
ing gained.” To the excessively venturesome, a word of caution may be called
for: “Look before you leap.” Smith and Billig make clear that one can argue
relativistically and yet persuasively.
What, then, will we be able to say about the reliability of this visitor’s
Barbiegate analysis? Will the story I tell account for the discourse of Barbie-
gate, capture its essence, resolve its mysteries, vindicate my theoretical
framework? Or will this (inadvertently? ultimately?) be a story of my liber-
alism, my affluence, my liberal guilt, my misimpressions of Boulder culture,
my chutzpah in presuming to know what caused what, my rhetorical prob-
lems in attempting both to appear credible as a message analyst and at the
same time both opinionated and modestly self-effacing? I may be the last to
know.

PROPOSITIONAL CLAIMS

The following observations and judgments about Barbiegate discourse are


arrayed as numbered propositions.

Proposition I. Boulder (and Boulder Valley more generally) was em-


broiled in paradox by virtue of its mix of affluence and progressive
liberalism.

Boulder’s affluence made its progressive brand of liberalism affordable, and


this is no small thing. But this also had the effect of keeping “Denver-like”
problems like poverty and race conflict from Boulder’s doors, thus ren-

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Race, Liberalism, and Barbiegate Discourse / 51
dering it vulnerable to charges that it was really a haven for white privilege,
giving mere lip service to its concerns for the poor and the oppressed. A
March 1, 2001, editorial in the Daily Camera took aim at Boulder liberalism.
“Here in Boulder, this ocean of mostly white faces, we may use all of the po-
litically correct labels . . . and we may yearn to be accepted as the tolerant,
supportive people we believe we are, but we are not immune from the taint
of prejudice.” The editorial goes on to provide a telling example. Based on
self-acknowledged prejudicial “profiling” by a resident of an upscale Boulder
neighborhood, Boulder police accosted two young Latinos, both innocent of
an alleged robbery, and manhandled them before questioning them. Says the
editorialist, “We live (by choice) in an environment where we seldom have
to live our words. It’s easy ‘armchair’ philosophizing.”14
A mix of affluence and progressive liberalism also raises the bar for com-
munities like Boulder, preventing them from ever appearing “good enough.”
There are always larger problems to be solved (e.g., famine in Africa, mis-
treatment of animals) requiring larger expenditures of public resources.
And conservatives are right when they express skepticism about how much
government can do. Thus, affluent progressive liberalism is an easy target
for criticism, even from those it seeks most to help. I believe Mesa PTA
president Jordana Ash when she says that Mesa Elementary is “an incredible
school, an award-winning school.”15 And I believe board members Teresa
Steele and Jean Bonelli when they express particular concern for the needs
of underperforming minority children. But that still leaves Boulder liberals
vulnerable to verbal darts from those whose praise it most ardently seeks.
Boulder may or may not have “a history of hating black folks,” as Million Man
March representative Alvertis Simmons alleged at the February 27 school
board meeting,16 but it would not be surprising if many black folks in cit-
ies like Denver hated Boulder, despite its good works and even better inten-
tions.

Proposition II. L’affaire Barbiegate posed a series of rhetorical dilemmas,


made especially vexing because the Boulder community is liberal, well-
meaning, and also vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy on the very sorts
of issues it was forced to confront.

Consider first the questions of whether and when one should conceal or re-
veal one’s prejudices. The adult white subjects in the Barbiegate experiment

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52 / Simons
seemed to be savvy enough to express a preference for the lavender dress,
not the Barbie with a skin color similar to their own. Arguably, this is a good
thing. Direct expressions of racist feelings and beliefs have become anathema
in America, but owning up to prejudice can also be regarded as a good thing.
The woman who mistakenly implicated the two Latinos in a robbery was
congratulated for admitting to unconscious prejudices. Who among us, after
all, is not prejudiced? But suppose that the adult white Barbie subjects had
responded as the fifth graders had done? Board member Janusz Okolowicz
speculated that they may have “lied.”17 True enough! But their honesty, nor-
mally considered a virtue, would not in this case have been rewarded.What’s
the difference?
Consider next the dilemmas confronting David Thielen. Should he have
played the outraged St. George, eager to slay the dragon of racism? If so,
whose racism? The fifth graders’? That would have alienated his adult audi-
ences. And besides, he probably was sincere when he theorized on Febru-
ary 13 that the result of the experiment was “not necessarily a racist one.”18
Still, why on February 27 did Thielen bring up the Clark study of preferences
by white children for white over black dolls, if not to suggest that these fifth
graders had already acquired the seeds of prejudice? And why did he but-
tress this point with evidence that children start making distinctions about
race at age three?
How, then, should Thielen have framed his complaint? As an indictment
of the kids’ parents, of Mesa school officials, of school board members?
And for what? For having made the subject of current race problems taboo?
For failure to prevent the seeds of prejudice from growing? For failure to
seize upon a “teachable moment” with a full airing of the issues raised by his
daughter’s research findings? Thielen himself seemed unclear about the im-
port of those findings in his initial presentation to the board: “Um and i—
it’s not a terribly surprising result, and in my view not a terrib—not neces-
sarily a racist one either.”19 And perhaps he also feared that interpreting the
findings as evidence of racist attitudes could add fuel to the argument that
the experiment itself created racial animosities—in violation of BVSD anti-
discrimination policy: “Um, the experiment was not derogatory, it was not
racially discriminatory—it’s right there—did not create racial animosity.
And its conclusion was incredibly innocuous.”20
Consider also the dilemmas confronting the school officials. Their pro-

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Race, Liberalism, and Barbiegate Discourse / 53
fessional judgments were at stake in what shaped up as a “sensitivity” con-
test with no clear rules. Janusz Okolowicz put the matter well when he said
that “in Boulder Valley, sensitivity is the only commandment, that is a com-
mandment, thou shall be sensitive to replace all the other commandments.
But sensitivity does—doesn’t have a standard, it is in the eye of the beholder.
Therefore, all kinds of fine, upstanding people, and we hear all of them
around, feel incensed—try to show that they are also sensitive to something
else. And, we have the real orgy of sensitivity.”21 Okolowicz comes down
eventually on the side of “the little girl”22 who did the science experiment
and on science itself, but not before he had indicated that there was a “logoi”
and a “dissoi logoi” in the matter of the Barbiegate experiment, and that is-
sues of racial sensitivity intersected with others, such as freedom of speech.
L’affaire Barbiegate also prompted discussion of other issues of race and
ethnicity. Were Boulderites who “profiled” guilty of racism? Had the BVSD
done enough in its efforts to close the school achievement gap? Could school
choice be reconciled with classical liberalism’s standard of equality of op-
portunity? Should BVSD set itself the more demanding goal of equality of
results? Did its multiculturalism curriculum paper over race and ethnicity
problems that needed to be confronted directly?

Proposition III. The race controversies that Boulderites confronted were


not entirely of their own making. They were reflective of broader divi-
sions of opinion within liberalism over the past fifty years.

Of special interest were questions of meaning. Liberalism has never been just
a political philosophy or program of action. It has also been a hermeneutic
with none-too-clear rules of interpretation. On matters of race, what did it
mean to be liberal? Too liberal? Not liberal enough? And what did it mean to
be racist?23 Consider the following:

a. Liberals entered the civil rights movement, as Martin Luther King Jr. did,
with a clear-cut commitment to a color-blind society that would guaran-
tee equality of opportunity. On balance, the civil rights movement was
extremely successful. But as discrimination persisted and as massive gov-
ernment efforts to overcome the effects of past discrimination produced
disappointing outcomes, liberals began to seek race-conscious remedies

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54 / Simons
the test of which would be equality of results. Thus liberal universities
like my own that initially declared themselves to be “Equal Opportu-
nity” employers now announced, much more ambiguously, that they were
“Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action” employers.
b. The civil rights movement fragmented in the mid-1960s, its steadfast
commitments to nonviolence and racial integration giving way to calls
for black nationalism and black power “by any means necessary.” Besides
fueling a conservative backlash that is still with us today, the movement’s
increasing militancy placed greater strains on liberalism’s self-definition.
Did rejection of black nationalism and of black power mean that liberals
had sold out? Did endorsement of black nationalism and of black power
mean that they had abandoned their earlier commitments to racial in-
tegration and nonviolence? And what of the increasing lawlessness dur-
ing the mid- to late 1960s? At what point, for example, did liberals need
to stop explaining the ghetto riots as manifestations of white racism and
begin blaming the rioters for their transgressions?
c. Also increasingly uncertain were questions of who and what was racist.
The frustrations experienced by the civil rights movement in the mid- to
late 1960s convinced many liberals that racism was far more pervasive
than had previously been thought and required expanded definitions and
better radar detection. Government had not done enough to overcome
institutional racism, covert racism, the naturalized racism of white privi-
lege. But liberals became ensnared by their own rhetoric. The 1970s were
marked by increased sensitivity to language and to signs of racism in non-
verbal behavior. Hence the need, it was assumed, for diversity workshops
at which unconscious racists, white liberals included, could learn to ap-
preciate Otherness. This had something of the quality of a double bind in
that to protest against being labeled as racist could be construed as fur-
ther proof of one’s racism.
d. The culture wars of the 1970s and 1980s exacerbated fears that what
began as an effort to heighten sensitivities wound up stifling thought.
With greater awareness of how prejudices were formed had come in-
creased scrutiny of what was taught in the schools as well as “liberatory”
efforts at rectification. Similar efforts were directed toward reforming
the mass media and popular culture. Not incidentally, liberals pressed

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Race, Liberalism, and Barbiegate Discourse / 55
the Mattel Corporation to add black Barbies to its collection of curva-
ceous Caucasians. But liberals divided over what came to be called “po-
litical correctness,” the alleged substitution of dogma for critical inquiry.
Typifying the larger conflict was the debate over the literary canon. Lib-
erals responded enthusiastically to calls for an expansion of the literary
canon, but many had difficulty with blanket repudiations of the old canon
as the work of “dead white males.” Similarly, they endorsed multicultural-
ism but not necessarily at the price of repudiating Western culture’s (Eu-
rocentric?) commitments to universal human rights.
e. Liberals were at a loss to explain the persistence through the 1990s of
race-related problems that had resisted their best efforts at ameliorating
them. Some problems were largely confined to the inner city, but others
knew no boundaries: the persistence, for example, of academic achieve-
ment gaps across socioeconomic classes and age levels, even in school dis-
tricts like Boulder Valley’s that had worked hard to remove them. Some
explanations were unthinkable to liberals: genetic inferiority, for one.
Others were undiscussable: for example, the 1972 Moynihan Report on
dysfunctional features of black inner city culture. That report was es-
sentially shelved for many years with the blessing of liberals. And lib-
erals were torn between employing victimage explanations and urging
poor blacks not to think of themselves as victims, lest this become a self-
fulfilling prophecy. Meanwhile, conservatives were having little difficulty
coming up with explanations. Too much government. It had stifled crea-
tivity, encouraged infantile dependence, become part of the problem. Too
little choice, self-initiative, reliance on the wisdom of the free market-
place.
This is not to say that conservative ideology was seamlessly coherent.
Fiscal conservatives warred at times with social conservatives or main-
tained uneasy coalitions with them. Both groups vacillated between calls
for judicial activism and judicial restraint on civil rights issues. Neither
lived up to their expressions of compassion for the poor. The comfort re-
ligious conservatives took from consulting the Good Book became dis-
comfiting when the Book seemed ambiguous or inconsistent. Fiscal con-
servatives who preached “free market economics” also used government
to secure their own ends. Even as they lobbied for more and more favor-

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56 / Simons
able tax policies, agribusiness subsidies, and other such forms of corpo-
rate welfare, they railed at victims of those policies for an inability to
compete. And not infrequently they had their hands in the till.
But these problems were difficult for many Americans to comprehend.
White collar crime may have had greater adverse consequences for av-
erage Americans than street crimes and welfare fraud, but Americans of
nearly all income levels increasingly identified themselves with conserva-
tive versions of the American dream, which often included the pursuit of
economic happiness at the expense of the already disadvantaged.
f. At century’s end, liberals were in rhetorical disarray. Bill Clinton had suc-
ceeded to the presidency (the first Democrat in a little over a decade) by
presenting himself as a centrist. He called for a “Dialogue on Race,” but
had little to say himself in the way of proposals for new legislation specifi-
cally aimed at redressing problems of past and continuing discrimination.
Rather, he essentially capitulated on conservative initiatives for welfare
reform and longer prison terms for repeat offenders. His biggest accom-
plishment, from a liberal standpoint, was to stave off a conservative take-
over of the Congress. Meanwhile, conservative think tanks were churning
out new initiatives on race, many of them having to do with education.
By February 2001, the time of Barbiegate, a conservative was back in the
saddle, and liberals, despite all that they had done over a fifty-year period
to rectify wrongs done to blacks, were now left licking their wounds.

Proposition IV. The Barbiegaters were, for the most, rhetorically astute,
their apparent “defects of character or logic” providing evidence from a
dilemma-centered perspective of competence at persuasion.

1. The Complainant. Recall my earlier analysis of the dilemmas confronting


David Thielen. Both within the local Boulder Valley arena and in the larger
context of race and liberalism in America these past fifty years, Thielen’s
wafflings over whether to come forward, what was at issue, and what needed
to be done were understandable. Looked at another way, these apparent in-
consistencies mirrored those of the community and thus could be appreci-
ated as signs of a common humanity. In other ways Thielen projected excep-
tional qualities that, in combination with that common humanity, marked

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Race, Liberalism, and Barbiegate Discourse / 57
him as an ideal type persuader, a “super-representative” of those he was try-
ing to influence. Thielen also came across as a concerned parent and a re-
luctant warrior, with passion sufficient to ignite a firestorm of controversy
and wisdom enough to help put out the fire before it burned out of control.
His second speech at the February 27 board meeting cleverly expressed two
kinds of appreciation, the first to be taken at face value, the second ironi-
cally. The first list of thanks was a long and inclusive one, beginning with
gratitude for what his daughter had done and ending with “a huge thanks to
MEAC.”24 The second list seemed initially to be an appendage to the first but
had a Burkeian twist: with appreciation for those in the school system whose
errors of judgment in support of yanking the science project had led a lot of
people to realize a lot of valuable things. Presented in this light, the school
officials were not vicious but simply mistaken, a very human failing, and not
to be condemned for that. Little wonder that Thielen got a favorable press,
his issue agenda becoming theirs substantially, his arguments shaping their
editorial content.25
The peroration to Thielen’s second February 27 speech is stunningly elo-
quent. Admittedly, he says, race is difficult to talk about but it remains a huge
issue that must be addressed, and not merely as a prepackaged lesson in the
sterile confines of the classroom. The discussion should also not be confined
to the bad things bad people did in the past; it must be extended to the much
more dangerous—that is, “sensitive”—territory of the “here and now . . . as
it comes up.”26

This is the hard fight we have to make. Studies have shown that chil-
dren start disc—making distinctions about race at age three. And if we
make the subject taboo, it means they make the decisions without our
guidance. We talk to our children about drugs, we talk to them about
sex. We should be talking to them about race. Our society has been
stuck on the issue of race for the last thirty years, since 1970. And per-
haps our children can show us the way out.27

2. The Defendants and Their Supporters. Cicero taught us that what is eloquent
is not necessarily wise. There are holes in Thielen’s argument, but his pow-
erfully stated appeals for free and open, “here-and-now” discussion were dif-

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58 / Simons
ficult to resist. Who could possibly object to waging the hard fight against
racism, providing guidance to children before ugly stereotypes took form in
their heads, being as candid about race as we are about sex and drugs?
This is not to say that pulling the Barbie experiment was wise. It was not.
If the object was to contain the genie of race—to bottle up school discus-
sions of race issues as well as public discussions of race pedagogies—then the
decision to remove the Barbie project was clearly counterproductive. More-
over, those who supported removal of the science project quickly became
“The Defense” in the sensitivity contest.
On balance, the defense was rhetorically adept at handling its difficult
rhetorical situation. Rhetorical critics seldom applaud banalities, but with
the cards stacked against the defense, it was helpful to say what in other con-
texts would not have needed saying: for example, that “parents want the best
for their children, and so do the teachers at Mesa.”28 Some critics of the sci-
ence fair project wisely paired their criticism with evidence of their progres-
sively liberal, antiracist bona fides. “Encourage our children to open their
minds,” pleaded the Daily Camera’s features editor, Maria Cote: “Ask them
to read the paper every day to understand that injustice exists everywhere,
that prejudice burns ugly and deep in all parts of the country—not just in
the South, not just in the past, but in every city and town, today.”29 Her ar-
gument took the form of the classic “yes-but” for such situations. Yes, there
is racial inequality in Boulder County, as there is in the rest of the United
States. And yes, racism and race relations are too often ignored. It’s true,
adds Cote, that these subjects should not be taboo in classrooms. “But a
third-grade classmate should not be delivering such lessons.”30
At issue fundamentally for the defense were questions about what “be-
longed” where. The Barbie project was not “appropriate” for the science fair,
said Clare Schoolmaster. It “belonged” in the classroom where it could be
discussed.31 She had a point, to which I shall return. This, however, is tricky
rhetorical ground in discourse directed toward adults. Words like “belongs”
and “appropriate” play well in the elementary school classroom. They are
teacherly words, often implying the authority of professional judgment. But
left undefended, or inadequately defended, they appear more authoritarian
than authoritative. On what everyone agreed was the “difficult” topic of race,
much that was said by the defense seemed inadequate to the task of ex-
plaining why the Barbie project didn’t belong in the science fair. But that

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Race, Liberalism, and Barbiegate Discourse / 59
should not surprise us, for, just as it is difficult to teach race issues to little
kids, so it is difficult to defend one’s race pedagogies to adults. Clare School-
master provided the most elaborate defense of the decision to pull the proj-
ect but it relied heavily on speculative professional judgment. The fateful
decision came after attempts to work out alternatives with the parents had
failed, she said. Letting the project stand on its own was risky. It could have
had the reverse effect from what was intended. The media might have had
a field day with the decision as well. Speaking on behalf of the staff on Feb-
ruary 27, Schoolmaster emphasized that Mesa does not fear the topic of
prejudice or intolerance. “As professionals, we made the decision in the best
interest for all our students, staying true to teaching practices that are best
for students’ developmental readiness, their capacity for understanding, and
their ability to transfer their learning into usefulness for their lives.”
This sort of claims-making leaves the essential weaknesses in Thielen’s
case still unexposed. Suppose, however, that someone as knowledgeable
about race pedagogy as Schoolmaster could have gone toe to toe with David
Thielen, in a forum where neither side enjoyed the presumption of moral
superiority or suffered the presumption of error. What might such a school
master have been able to say to him?
I think she might have begun with a word that they both used liberally, the
word “discussion.” What did Thielen mean by discussion? Discussion how?
Discussion for what? Did Thielen have in mind a guided discussion, something
on the order of what Billig and his colleagues call “cued elicitation,” in which
the teacher prompts the student to deliver the correct response?32 If so, how
guided would Thielen have been willing to make the discussion? Would he as
teacher have gone so far as to coerce a politically correct outcome? But if so,
how open would that discussion be? And if, by contrast, Thielen would have
insisted on a fully open discussion, what objections could he possibly reg-
ister if, say, the prejudiced white students not only gave voice to their stereo-
types but also sought to justify them, and did so convincingly to the other
students? “No,” our imagined school master might have said, a free and open
discussion isn’t the answer either. And a discussion outcome that reinforced
race prejudice wouldn’t sit well with Boulderites or with the larger society.
So we both must fall back on some such notion as “appropriateness.”
Our imagined school master might now take another tack. Clearly
Mr. Thielen would not want little children to believe that all was well in

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60 / Simons
American race relations. If so, how far would he be willing to go in the op-
posite direction? Malcolm X far? Black Panthers far? Afrocentrism far? And
if, in fact, he was prepared to turn those cherubic little children into the
fiercest of militants, was he not aware that this sort of persuasion would be
seen as unprofessional propagandizing, even in liberal Boulder, and certainly
in more conservative quarters? So, again, some sense of “appropriateness”
is in order. The elementary school teacher is rhetorically required to steer
a middle course between saying that things are just right in the race depart-
ment and saying that they are awful.
Consider next the relative merits of poster displays versus give-and-take
discussions of controversial matters. Wouldn’t Thielen himself prefer the lat-
ter in communications on controversial issues with fellow physicists? And if
such discussion is preferable to poster displays among physicists, how much
more vital is it that little children get a chance to talk things over in their
classes, especially when, as Thielen seemed to acknowledge, the findings
from the Barbie experiment can variously be interpreted as “innocuous” in-
dicators of familiarity or as evidence of race prejudice?
This Socratic dialogue that never happened but perhaps should have
happened could have done a lot to deflate the balloon of free, open, here-
and-now discussion. It could have made more understandable why schools
teaching race issues routinely begin (and sometimes end) with stories about
unequivocal heroes and villains, good and evil, and why on such matters they
place a heavy emphasis on affective learning, postponing talk of scientific re-
search findings for later.

3. The School Board Members. But the February 27 school board meeting was
not set up for such a dialogue; they seldom are. Nor did it aim at negotia-
tions leading to the precise wording of an official resolution; that would have
required an executive session. This was an open meeting before an audience
at which resolutions of some sort could have been introduced but weren’t.
What then was the February 27 board meeting designed to accomplish, and
what rhetorical requirements did its structure and its functions impose upon
its board members?
Michael Halloran lists the open school board meeting as a species of public
proceeding, the genus including such other varieties as a courtroom trial, a
legislative debate before an audience on a proposed piece of legislation, and

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Race, Liberalism, and Barbiegate Discourse / 61
the televised deliberations of a national political convention.33 Halloran’s
shoe fits well enough as to suggest two primary rhetorical requirements for
the February 27 school board meeting. The first of these involves provision
of a forum for the airing of differences and subsequent decision making. Al-
though no action was taken or proposed at the February 27 meeting, it had
elements of a trial and elements of a legislative deliberation. Those present
heard testimony for and against the science fair project, the decision to re-
move it, the media’s coverage of Barbiegate, and possible remedial steps that
the board or BVSD administrators could take to prevent future Barbiegates.
Exactly what purpose (or purposes) was to be served by this testimony
remained somewhat unclear. Arguably, its goal was to prepare the way for
subsequent decision making on policies, regulations, and guidelines. Several
board members joined Janusz Okolowicz in commenting on the adequacy
of BVSD antidiscrimination and science fair rules.Yet playing up policies and
regulations and guidelines may also have been a way of playing down issues
of personal responsibility in the Barbiegate case.Without anyone articulating
it as such, I believe the Barbiegate case also became “a teachable moment” for
Boulder Valley’s adult community, prompting consideration of what it stood
for on matters of race, freedom of speech, and the like, and how it thought
its value priorities could best be passed on to the next generation.
The second rhetorical requirement for the public proceeding as a whole is
described by Halloran in fictive and theatrical terms. It consists of presenting
a mythic view of the community to the community as in a certain sense a
unit or unity with shared norms to which its members “belong.” What is
offered to the community, he says, is one among a number of possible images
“of a reality that is itself ultimately more fiction than empirical fact.”34 The
proceeding collectively enacts a view of community and of itself as a repre-
sentative body, with which the audience may or may not identify. If it suc-
ceeds, the body’s legitimacy is enhanced.
This translates into rhetorical requirements for individual board mem-
bers. They were free to declare for one side or another in the Barbiegate
case, but, as Halloran has suggested, they had another, overriding rhetorical
function to perform, that of representing the community.35 Failing to fulfill
that function or going so far as to attempt subversion of that function would
have placed their own legitimacy at risk.36 More than the others who testi-
fied at the meeting, the board members were obliged to affirm the commu-

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62 / Simons
nity, to insure a fair hearing for competing viewpoints, to help bridge dif-
ferences and protect egos, and finally to move the deliberations forward,
effecting some degree of closure. This sense of rhetorical obligation to re-
inforcement of overarching communal values constrains what representa-
tives can say as adversaries and how they can say it. It places a premium on
appearing evenhanded, balanced, nonjudgmental—which can conflict with
expressions of partisan interests. And the primary responsibility for repre-
senting the community rests upon the chair of the public proceeding. Balanc-
ing rhetorically his own interest in weighing in on Barbiegate with his obli-
gation as committee chair to represent the community’s interests was done
expertly by vice president Bill de la Cruz.
As the closing speaker at the February 27 school board meeting, vice
president de la Cruz took upon himself the difficult tasks of reconciling op-
posing positions and healing wounds opened up by Barbiegate in what he
said was an effort to move the conversation forward. He presented him-
self as a credible bridge between the white and minority communities of
Boulder Valley, thus indispensable to both, and right for the larger dialectical
tasks of reconciliation. De la Cruz’s children were “minorities”;37 he himself
was a combination of the “oppressor and the oppressed.”38 And his expensive
Southwestern attire testified to a comfort with affluence as well as ethnicity,
thus adding to his bridging potential.
Moreover, de la Cruz proved to be a master of strategic ambiguity, a
hedger par excellence. “Based on the regulations,” he begins, “what was done
was proper and in the best interests.”39 Just whose interests is left unclear, but
clarity in this instance would not have been a virtue. The utterance serves
rather as support for the teachers, which then enables him to say: “It [not
the teachers] could have been a little more sensitive to all of the people in-
volved.”40 This second utterance comes off as something of a reversal of the
first, but not entirely so; and any implication that wrong may have been com-
mitted is mitigated by the possibility that the fault lay not in the actors but
in the wording of the regulations. Thus, the second utterance effectively bal-
ances the first, providing succor to those (everyone?) who may have felt at
one time or another that they had been treated insensitively.
De la Cruz provides further support to all involved when he says: “So,
I’m gonna talk a few minutes more about the piece that intrigued me the
most which was the reaction from the racial perspective and how quickly in

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Race, Liberalism, and Barbiegate Discourse / 63
this community everybody was calling everybody a racist. And um just going
from that perspective and to me a racist is somebody who from a series of
events and interactions shows that they indeed have no tolerance and no re-
spect for other people. And if I believed that the people in this room or the
people in this school were racist, I wouldn’t sit here and try to change things
from this seat.”41
So, according to de la Cruz, no one on either side of the controversy is a
racist, at least not an out-and-out, intolerant, disrespectful, overgeneraliz-
ing racist. However, in the very same speech segment, de la Cruz retells the
story that appeared in the Daily Camera about the Boulder homeowner whose
own overgeneralizing led Boulder police to mistreat two Latinos in her up-
scale Boulder neighborhood.
At first glance the two statements seem blatantly contradictory. But, like
the Daily Camera editorial of March 1 that took up the case, de la Cruz was
drawing a distinction between impermissible racism and racist attitudes that,
if properly acknowledged and confronted, turn the admitted defect into a
potential virtue.
That distinction, here reinforced by de la Cruz, may have been the prin-
cipal lesson from the “teachable moment” that was Barbiegate. But now de la
Cruz, having warmed to the task of rooting out racism, borrows pages from
Thielen on the need for a more tough-minded multiculturalist curriculum
and from his critics on the need not to refrain from pointing the finger of
guilt at anyone. Thielen is right about the need to look at our own attitudes
and our behaviors, and not always in a controlled environment. But the
school board and the school district are equally committed to rooting out
racism, equally committed to looking at the oppression and the injustices.
So Barbiegate in de la Cruz’s reframing of it becomes a win-win for all con-
cerned: “we can all benefit from it and move forward.”42

CONCLUSIONS

In an oft-quoted passage from Attitudes toward History, Kenneth Burke ad-


monished us to give up our pretensions to superiority over others, pairing
“our” virtue against “their” madness or badness. Humane enlightenment, said
Burke, “can go no further than in picturing people not as vicious, but as mis-
taken.When you add that people are necessarily mistaken, that all people are

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64 / Simons
exposed to situations in which they must act as fools, that every insight con-
tains its own special kind of blindness, you complete the comic circle, re-
turning again to the lesson of humility that underlies great tragedy.”43
This is, I think, a recurring lesson of small-scale, “ordinary” democracy. It
helps of course if there is a noticeable breach in accepted community prac-
tice, as occurred over Barbiegate. Then we become sensitized to the fissures
and contradictions and potential embarrassments of taken-for-granted ide-
ologies, to the ways they have been managed rhetorically in the past, and
to the new and greater problems sometimes created by the “solutions” de-
vised.
It helps too if, as in Barbiegate, the principal actors are nice people,
people like us, members of our community. Then we have little choice but
to identify.
It helps if, as with Barbiegate, the case also defies easy resolution. Then
we can observe others (and perhaps ourselves) muddling through—doing
with rhetoric what can’t possibly be done by reliance on hard fact and cold
reason.
What, then, were the chief lessons I learned from Barbiegate?

1. Barbiegate exposed fissures in liberal antiracism reflective of divisions of


liberal opinion nationwide, but rendered more difficult to manage rhe-
torically in affluent Boulder, “sensitive” Boulder, owing to its vulnerability
to charges of hypocrisy. The paradox of affluent progressive liberalism is
that it is easy to vilify, despite its good works and even nobler intentions.
2. Dilemma-centered analysis helped to account for anomalous features of
Barbiegate discourse, such as Thielen’s waffling and the retreat to plati-
tudes by the “defense.” Analysis of the discourse further sharpened my
appreciation of the rhetorical problems these actors confronted, and it
challenged my own liberal convictions, prompting me to entertain as rea-
sonable, for example, a distinction between permissible and impermis-
sible racism.
3. Halloran’s theory of the public proceeding was similarly helpful in making
sense of the board members’ discourse on February 27. Especially useful
in studies of this sort is his notion of a collective rhetorical obligation to
honor and further legitimize the myth of community—or else risk one’s
own perceived legitimacy.

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Race, Liberalism, and Barbiegate Discourse / 65
4. The Barbiegate study further convinced me of the value of a dialogic, So-
cratic rhetoric, and of distinguishing, as Socrates did, between what per-
suaded and what was wise. I found myself moved by Thielen but not fully
convinced that the race pedagogy he preached was—well—“appropriate”
for the elementary school classroom. Removing the poster was unwise,
but critics of teaching about racism via a poster display had a point, one
that they could not develop effectively under the constraints imposed by
school board meeting rules. Were I a member of the BVSD community,
I would urge that future school board meetings over issues as important
as Barbiegate provide opportunities for dialogue, and not simply for the
making of statements to the board.
5. Much as I applaud the study of “ordinary democracy,” it poses difficul-
ties for the rhetorical analyst accustomed to the study of extraordinary
news events where the record is likely to be far more complete.The many
questions left unanswered for me by the record made available to the con-
tributors to this volume and by my own limited sleuthing were probably
not fatal for the purposes of the study, but they remained limitations of
the study nonetheless.
6. While I cannot justify my own claims in this essay by appeals to bed-
rock foundational supports, I do not regret having weighed in on the is-
sues confronting the Barbiegaters. Postmodern skepticism has effectively
called into question blithe assertions of the good, the true, and the real,
and I don’t pretend to have resolved the paradoxes it has posed. But
po-mo effectively renders itself silent or enfeebled where judgment is
called for. There are alternatives to foundationalism and to postmodern
skepticism, which this essay should have illustrated. Viewed in context,
some arguments appear as better than others, some judgments wiser than
others. Rhetorical analysis cannot settle Barbiegate-type issues, but it can
advance their consideration.

NOTES

1. I was one such visitor in June 2003, a visiting professor at CU Boulder. Be-
sides teaching a course, leading some colloquia, and catching my breath, I also tried
to catch on to the distinctive culture of Boulder. I believe it figured prominently in
Barbiegate.

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66 / Simons
2. These classic values are given contemporary expression in Robert N. Bel-
lah, Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Stephen M. Tipton, The
Good Society (New York: Random House, 1992).
3. Radical political theorist Robert Paul Wolff lamented, “The confusion of
contemporary American political thought shows itself nicely in the paradoxical fact
that while liberals invoke the authority of John Stuart Mill’s great libertarian tract,
On Liberty, conservatives echo the rhetoric and deploy the arguments of Mill’s other
great contribution to social philosophy, The Principles of Political Economy. What is
more paradoxical still, Mill’s strongest arguments for what is today known as con-
servatism are set forth in On Liberty, a fact which liberals seem congenitally unable
to notice; while in the pages of the Principles, we can find the germs of a justification
of that welfare-state philosophy which modern conservatives abhor.” See The Poverty
of Liberalism (Boston: Beacon, 1968), 3.
4. I was teaching at Boulder when Bill Moyers’s fabulous speech on progressive
liberalism arrived online via the Common Dreams News Center (June 10, 2003).
It had been presented in Washington DC to the Campaign for America’s Future on
June 4, 2003. Progressivism, says Moyers, “started late in the 19th century and re-
made the American experience piece by piece until it peaked in the last third of the
20th century.” It counts as its accomplishments the eight-hour day; the minimum
wage; the conservation of natural resources; and the protection of our air, water,
and land; women’s rights; and civil rights. Moyers incorporates classical liberal-
ism’s democratic ideal into his “story” of progressivism, but he insists that it is un-
realizable in nations that do not share a commitment to civil rights and to a level-
ing of incomes and opportunities. Thus, the progressive liberal asks whether “ ‘we
the people’ is a spiritual idea embedded in a political reality . . . or merely a charade
masquerading as piety and manipulated by the powerful and privileged to sustain
their own way of life at the expense of others.” If income inequality is on the rise, if
it persists and grows, then unless you believe that some people are naturally born to
privilege, “it’s a sign that opportunity is less than equal.” Self-interest “may be a great
motivator for production and progress, but is amoral unless contained within the
framework of community.” The rich “have the right to buy more cars than anyone
else, more homes, vacations, gadgets and gizmos, [but] they do not have the right to
buy more democracy than anyone else.” Available at http://www.commondreams.
org/views03-10.htm.
5. Why is lifestyle libertarianism linked in progressive liberalism with welfare
state capitalism? What logic joins them together? And can the working class benefi-
ciaries of progressive liberalism be counted as liberals because they vote their inter-
ests, or must they articulate to themselves an altruistic rationale for their benefits,
as affluent progressive liberals do? I don’t have good answers to these questions.

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Race, Liberalism, and Barbiegate Discourse / 67
6. Kenneth Burke, Attitudes toward History (1937; repr., Boston: Beacon, 1961),
39–44.
7. The civil rights movement was the model for many other movements (e.g.,
gay/lesbian rights, Latino rights, welfare rights) with which liberalism strongly
identified and from which conservatism benefited greatly in the form of a late-1960s
white backlash that persists even today.
8. See, for example, “Social Movements,” in Encyclopedia of Rhetoric, ed. Thomas
Sloane (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001). Readers familiar with my
“Requirements-Problems-Strategies” (RPS) approach to the study of movements
and much else will recognize elements of it in this essay.
9. Michael Billig, Susan Condor, Derek Edwards, Mike Gane, David Middle-
ton, and Alan Radley, Ideological Dilemmas (London: Sage, 1989).
10. One can find numerous examples of both creative adaptations and tactical
blunders in Ideological Dilemmas.
11. I learned some things about what transpired from telephone conversations
with Clint Talbott and Amy Bounds of the Daily Camera, and a subsequent e-mail
from Bounds, but I would have liked to have learned a good deal more. Bounds
passed along two Daily Camera pieces that were not in the contributors’ press file,
the first her own news-breaker, dated February 14, the second an editorial highly
critical of the teachers’ decision, that appeared two days later. Talbott surprised me
further with news that the story had been carried along by bloggers (Web loggers).
As to its origins, the Camera had gotten the story from Thielen but had refused to di-
vulge it until after the February 13 board meeting because up until then he had in-
sisted on anonymity. Still, why didn’t the newspaper investigate the matter through
its other sources?
And what was Thielen afraid of? One concern surely was for his daughter’s pri-
vacy. Despite repeated requests from the national news shows and talk shows, said
Bounds, he never allowed his daughter to be interviewed and insisted that her name
be kept out of the press (Bounds, August 13, 2003).
As for the thinking of school officials, their strategizing, if any, about how to de-
fend the decision to pull the project, the dynamics of influence at Mesa Elementary
and within the larger BVSD—all this remained a mystery to me. I did learn from
Amy Bounds that Principal Greg Thompson was ultimately responsible for the re-
moval decision, and that he was new to Mesa Elementary, having recently come
from Australia.
12. See Jonathan Potter, Representing Reality: Discourse, Rhetoric, and Social Con-
struction (London: Sage, 1996), chap. 1.
13. See Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Belief and Resistance: Dynamics of Contemporary
Intellectual Controversy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992). See also

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68 / Simons
my essay on “The Rhetoric of Philosophical Incommensurability,” in The Rhetoric of
Incommensurability, ed. Randy Harris (West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2005).
14. Appendix B, no. 1.
15. Appendix A, F.
16. Appendix A, G.
17. Appendix A, I.
18. Appendix A, C.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid.
21. Appendix A, I.
22. Ibid.
23. For strongly opposed views on these and related race issues, see the con-
servative critique by Dinesh D’Souza, The End of Racism (New York, Free Press,
1995); and the liberal defense by Andrew Hacker, Two Nations (NewYork, Ballantine,
1995).
24. Appendix A, C. MEAC is the Multi-Ethnic Action Committee of the Boulder
Valley School District.
25. This generalization at least applies to the press record made available to this
book’s contributors, and to the additional Daily Camera editorial that I was able to
obtain.
26. Appendix A, C.
27. Ibid.
28. Appendix B, no. 11.
29. Appendix B, no. 2.
30. Ibid.
31. Appendix A, E.
32. Billig et al., Ideological Dilemmas, chap. 4.
33. See Michael Halloran, “Doing Public Business in Public,” in Form and Genre:
Shaping Rhetorical Action, ed. Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson,
118–38 (Washington, DC: National Communication Association, 1978).
34. Ibid., 122.
35. At the Nixon impeachment deliberations of the House Judiciary Committee,
which Halloran analyzed, this meant that even Nixon’s supporters, those who op-
posed impeachment, risked opprobrium from committee members if they sought
to subvert the deliberations, but added to the committee’s perceived legitimacy if
they behaved cooperatively. Hence, their rhetorical dilemma. The performances of
Nixon supporters Charles Sandman and Charles Wiggins provided a study in con-
trasts.
36. Appendix A, N.

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Race, Liberalism, and Barbiegate Discourse / 69
37. Ibid.
38. Ibid.
39. Ibid.
40. Ibid.
41. Ibid.
42. Ibid.
43. Burke, Attitudes toward History, 41.

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4
Political Performances in
Public Proceedings
The Social Dramas of Barbiegate
Bruce E. Gronbeck

A deliberative political setting such as the televised Boulder Valley School


District (BVSD) board meetings provides interesting and significant chal-
lenges to students of rhetoric. Events such as the televised public discus-
sion between citizens and school board members that came to be known as
Barbiegate stretch rhetorical critics’ talents because of their multidimen-
sionality. Public proceedings evoke rhetoric’s civic tradition, grounded in
Aristotle’s focus on deliberative or legislative discourse as the heart of the
rhetorical enterprise; even though it was not officially convened as a hearing,
the BVSD board was, among other things, challenged to refine policy when
listening to speeches on whether a third grader’s science fair project violated
the district’s nondiscrimination policy. But, a televised public proceeding is
more than a deliberative process.
The “public proceeding”—institutionalized discussions with audiences
purposively composed both of the actual political decision makers and of
citizen-spectators—represents by now a significant political form on its own,
a hybrid genre of rhetorical practices. The electronically mediated public
proceeding has been so clearly and forcibly defined situationally over the last
roughly fifty years in different species, from the 1954 Army-McCarthy hear-
ings to Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 and the 9/11 Commission hearings in
2004, that it comes with its own performance requirements for participants.
As Michael Halloran points out, the public proceeding is a rhetorical event

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Political Performances in Public Proceedings / 71
speciated in varied forms: trials with social or political implications, state or
national legislative sessions deemed important enough to be televised live,
gavel-to-gavel coverage of major political party conventions, and televised
school board meetings.1 In public proceedings, the dual audience tends to
multiply the functions such proceedings can play for persons who may be the
subject of such events, for the decision makers, and for the citizen-spectators
who are witnessing them. There need not even be votes of affirmation or de-
nial. Central to a proceeding is the nexus of political institutions and con-
stituents in a comparatively formal way.
In a previous study of Watergate,2 I additionally argued that public pro-
ceedings are marked by processes of officialization (the participants casting
themselves not as ordinary people with personal and political interests but
as legitimized adjudicants), dialectical engagement (event-defining transcen-
dental issues that make the proceedings ever more significant), and dramati-
zation (acted out as high dramas treating matters of import). Sociopolitical
understandings of community ethos and political effectivity often are con-
structed in and through public proceedings. They become very much like
what Kenneth Burke termed a representative anecdote: a story performed
for a community to help it better comprehend the practical consequences
of some of its central cultural values.3 To Burke, the event may be reductive,
but its rhetorical scope is telematic.
Murray Edelman would add that the language of public proceedings is
generally hortatory; “[t]he conclusions [of a hortatory style], being promises
or threats, amount to appeals for public support.”4 The promises and threats
so characteristic of a hortatory style suggest that a public proceeding al-
ways is about more than its explicit subject matter; it is also about con-
structing public support and understanding through a sort of implicit public
participation. We will see that the sorts of exhortations offered in Barbie-
gate suggest that advocates saw a great many stakes bound together in a third
grader’s science fair project.
Rhetorically, then, I am interested in sociolinguistic maneuvers that
rhetors use to mark themselves as expert, legitimate spokespersons deserv-
ing of voice within the boundaries of the representative body executing a
public proceedings; the range of frames that they bring to the subject mat-
ter,5 seeking to have it seen through particular social-political portals; and
the ways in which the voices and the frames become arranged and related

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72 / Gronbeck
to one another in identifiable stages through time, becoming a social drama
with cultural significance and force.6 If rhetoric is understood as discourse
in the service of power,7 then I am examining three aspects of discursive
power in public proceedings: the power to construct selves as worthy of in-
stitutional station (ethoi), one’s viewpoints as relevant to the contingencies
of decision making (dianoia or “thought”), and roles that are played in the
construction of the discursive formations (mythoi of a sort) that will domi-
nate the public’s understanding of the subject matter as well as their own
relationships to it and, ultimately, to one another. Speakers and speeches
as they are bound together in a dramatic political performance, in a kind of
deliberative-epideictic exercise: that is what we are examining here in order
to better understand what a public proceedings does for and to citizen-
spectators through ethos, dianoia, and mythos—the three primary character-
istics of drama in Aristotle’s Poetics. The ideological and emotional tenor of
the social drama that was Barbiegate will provide our focus.

OFFICIALIZING VOICES

To have voice, in conceptions as old as Thomas Hobbes’s,8 is to be a partici-


pant in a convent (or convention, as we now say). Those with voice join with
others so designated to form a “plurality of voices,” which then within that
convent are the bases of power (to kratos). Unwritten, that is, voiced, gov-
ernment draws from both civil and natural law, and hence to Hobbes is more
central than writing to the human political experience.9 To have voice is, in
Carl Schmitt’s understanding of public opinion, to be part of a collective
acclamation—the unorganized but publicly assembled bodies and sounds of
a citizenry.10
If having voice is a citizen’s right, even yet must that citizen construct a
persona in ways relevant to the subject matter of the proceedings in order to
be taken seriously. The voices that sought to be taken seriously took one or
more of the conceptual-valuative terms inhering in Barbiegate and then used
it or them as a portal into the plurality.

Barbiegate: The Dramatis Personae:


Those who spoke during the open-mike, pre–board meeting period on Feb-
ruary 27, 2001:

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Political Performances in Public Proceedings / 73
Teachers
Clare Schoolmaster, Mesa Elementary School
School Board Members
Janusz Okolowicz
Julie Phillips
Teresa Steele
Jean Bonelli
Angelika Schroeder, Treasurer
Bill de la Cruz, Vice President
Parents
David Thielen, parent of the third grader in Mesa Elementary School
Jordana Ash, President of the Mesa Parent/Teacher Organization
Rita Davis, another Mesa Elementary School parent
Nonschool Institutional Representatives
Barry Satlow, Boulder County ACLU
Judd Golden, Boulder County ACLU
Alvertis Simmons, Denver Million Man March

The controversy was two weeks old as far as public knowledge of it was
concerned. The parent David Thielen had announced it at the February 13
meeting; articles, editorials, and letters to the editor had appeared in Boul-
der’s newspaper, the Daily Camera. National papers and even an international
media organ had circulated the story. The story was hardly news by late Feb-
ruary, yet speakers lined up to address it because here was the opportunity
to call the school system to an accounting from one side, to vindicate it from
the other. Now was the time for classic epideictic—the discourses of praise
and blame. Those who were offering the discourses created for themselves
voices that, they hoped, would be taken as relevant to that public accounting.
Only one teacher, Clare Schoolmaster, spoke and then, as she said, “on be-
half of the [Mesa Elementary School] staff.”11 That staff undoubtedly wanted
a voice, but as professionals under attack, they obviously preferred to leave
the fight to the institutionalized citizen-directors of K-12 education, the
Boulder Valley School Board. Three parents spoke. David Thielen used his
patrilineage as a doorway into the proceeding.12 Counterbalancing him was a
eulogistic parent, Rita Davis, who “want[s] to come in tonight and say thank
you to Dr. [Superintendent] Garcia” and Mesa Elementary; she later referred

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74 / Gronbeck
to herself again as a “parent” and to the school staff possessively as “our teach-
ers.”13 The third parental voice belonged to Jordana Ash, self-identified presi-
dent of the Mesa Parent/Teacher Organization (PTO). Like Davis, she, too,
thanked the school board, the superintendent, and the teachers who collec-
tively and administratively had created “this incredible school, this award-
winning school” thanks to “these award-winning teachers.”14 Here was the
voice of a parent who fit Edelman’s vision of the satisfied citizen, the citizen
who had felt the arousal and uncertainty of large-scale community contro-
versy but who now was in a state of quiescence thanks to the “[r]itualistic re-
affirmation of beliefs.”15 Ash wanted to return to business as usual.
In contrast, a professionalized, inquiring persona was constructed for
Barry Satlow, chair of the Boulder County American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU). He spoke as its mouthpiece: “Uh, the ACLU’s very concerned
about the prohibition of this project.”16 Here was a voice addressing the
very foundation of BVSD school board operations—the basic rights of com-
munity membership. His voice was echoed and amplified by Judd Golden,
another ACLU representative, one who had worked with the board on its
nondiscrimination policy the year before and now wanted to chastise the
board.17 One more nonschool institutional representative spoke: Alvertis
Simmons, the executive director of the Denver organizing committee of the
Million Man March.18 Simmons’s speech, and especially his voice, already
have been treated to study by Samuel McCormick,19 who found an “imi-
tative hermeneutic” operating within the speech, one wherein Simmons’s
voice intoned both integrationist and nationalist discourses, both Martin Lu-
ther King Jr. and Malcolm X. A nationalist ethos was combined, McCormick
argued, with an integrationist turn toward harmonizing the races in Boulder
County schools, reminiscent of the character Smiley in Spike Lee’s Do the
Right Thing who sold copies of a picture of the two men together.20
For our purposes, his voice complemented the ACLU representatives; if
they articulated the legal dimensions of free speech and nondiscrimination,
Simmons sought to amplify his voice with a full range of cultural-political
overtones from the marginalized communities of Colorado. He was liter-
ally situated outside Boulder County, and hence Simmons was pleading for
admission to the plurality of voices to which in reality he did not legiti-
mately belong. Simmons signaled his externality: “Um it’s a long drive up
to Boulder. I almost didn’t get here, couldn’t find my way,” and “um I don’t

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Political Performances in Public Proceedings / 75
know if Boulder knows about us, but um we are very hurt by what hap-
pened here in Boulder.” From the outside, he continued, “We’re watching.
The community is watching; the minority community is watching.”21
Like Satlow and Golden, therefore, Simmons spoke as an instrument for
others inserting themselves into BVSD business, even though separated in
space (he couldn’t find his way) and personal knowledge (not being sure if
Boulder knew about the Million Man March group). Yet, the distance was
not so great that it could not be bridged by sight and the knowledge was
not so absent that monitoring was not possible. Ultimately, Simmons’s was a
transcendent voice, seeking to speak in as broad a multicultural way as pos-
sible. It reverberated in the tones of all of those voices that come to us from
the margins, anxious to tell the center how to repair itself.22
This leaves us with one more set of participants in Barbiegate: the school
board members. Like most members of legislative and quasi-judicial bod-
ies, school board members come with dual personae: that of representative
in Halloran’s first sense, as exemplars of community, but also as that of dis-
interested or distanced institutional operatives, as presumably neutral over-
seers of educational professionals. They are rule makers, rule interpreters,
rule enforcers, arbiters of budgets and personnel, and politicians. As elected
officials they owe particular attention to their constituencies, though as ad-
ministrators they have role expectations defined by the educational culture.
They operate liminally, on the boundary of two worlds. Both worlds, as we
will see, were marked in the arguments they framed and in the social drama
they sought to direct to a self-protective and yet productive denouement.
My point for now is simple: the range of speakers making their voices
relevant to Barbiegate was rich enough ideologically, institutionally, and
emotionally to make the open-mike portion of the February 27, 2001, BVSD
meeting a fitting culmination to the two-week brouhaha: a time and a place
for stakeholders of various stripes to reflect on relationships between edu-
cational institutions, legal tenets, and the sociomoral dynamics of every-
day life.

THE FRAMING OF BARBIEGATE

Framing is a metaphor suggesting that the world looks different, and is un-
derstood differently, from various vantage points. In the case of Barbiegate,

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76 / Gronbeck
various speakers spoke from multiple discursive formations, employing not
only different languages but also different understandings of social life. They
framed the science fair project in multiple ways.
Table 4.1 lays out in rough form three of the issues central to Barbiegate
under three frames: sociopolitical frames, wherein social, legal, and technical
perspectives applicable to areas of life outside as well as inside educational
institutions are articulated; educational frames, wherein matters affecting
what and how children learn inside school environments are raised; and
procedural frames, that is, those dealing with the steps or actions that should
be taken in order for educational institutions to achieve their instructional
goals. And then I examined the speeches, available in Appendix A, for ex-
amples of talk on three issues: nondiscrimination, that is, systemic differen-
tiations of power or opportunity for differently raced children; freedom of
expression, that is, the right to speak one’s mind; and the science of the proj-
ect itself, which is to say, the degree to which the Barbie experiment was ac-
ceptable science. Notice some of the dynamics of the substantive arguments
in Barbiegate.

• Sometimes direct clash could be seen in the primary speeches of participants. David
Thielen saw the project as one attacking racism, but Alvertis Simmons
thought it was racist. David Thielen argued its methodology was good
enough to be found acceptable for postsecondary work, while Angelika
Schroeder objected to its methods as those of bad science. The father also
thought it appropriate to elementary-aged children, while Clare School-
master did not. In such cases of direct clash, it might have been possible
to work toward agreement or at least well-argued decisions, even to edu-
cate the viewing citizenry on the place of schools in their social lives. But,
direct clash on particular issues generally was avoided through other ma-
neuvers.
• Frame-shifting is a common occurrence. The question of the BVSD’s nondis-
crimination policy could be trumped, as Alvertis Simmons seemed to do,
by playing the racism card. The arguments “-ist” and “-ism” are attitudinal,
with almost any statement made by another being capable of assessment
as evidence of his or her “-ist” attitude.23 Both David Thielen and the two
ACLU spokespersons also shifted frames when they explicitly introduced
constitutional arguments into the discussion of school policy; such frame-

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Table 4.1 Frames for three central issues in Barbiegate
Sociopolitical Frames Educational Frames Procedural Frames

Nondiscrimination
Racism is attacked (DT) Children have different Policy on projects is unclear
Project is racist (AS) levels of understanding (JG; JD; JO; JB; BDLC)
(CS; TS; AS) Other nondiscrimination
Children can understand more important
issues (DT) (JP; TS; JB)

Freedom of Expression
First Amendment is Scienti¤c freedom is at Censorship was exercised
violated (DT, BS, JD) stake (DT; JO) (DT; BS)
Treasure the Consti- Issue is suppression vs. Incident parallel of civil
tution (DT) comfort of children rights actions of kids in
(BS; JO) 1960s (DT)
Barbiegate parallel to Interpretation of regu-
K.B. Clark's studies of lations was faulty (JG; JO)
self-image of Black No censorship because the
children (BS) project was evaluated
Public discussion of before removal (RD)
issues needed in BVSD
(RD; CS)
Sensitivity can become
censorship (JD)
Project improves under-
standing of science (JO)
Issue is important, but
not project (CS; JA)

Science Project Itself


BVSD needs unfettered It would be acceptable as It would have created dis-
scienti¤c inquiry (DT) a university project (DR) comfort and racism (CS; TS)
Facticity of science is It's only appropriate to Schools are ¤lled with
paramount (JO) upper grades (CS) discomfort (DT)
Political action is part It was bad science (AS)
of kids' education (DT)

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78 / Gronbeck
shifting was enlarging but probably also distracting. In a different direc-
tion, responses to questions about the eight-year-old being discriminated
against were answered by a host of procedural frame shifts: from the bu-
reaucratic “let’s study the policy” to the procedurally transcendent tactic
of “let’s move on to more important questions of discrimination [quota
systems in the Gifted and Talented program, achievement gaps].” So long
as the frame shifted-to is constituted discursively as relevant, it seems to
fit. The appearance of fit is what matters in a public proceeding. Further,
those who want to avoid the central issues can always invoke the proce-
dural frame as a last resort.24
• Issue-redefinition also can be used as an argumentative distraction. David Thielen
did that when saying that his daughter’s project paralleled the actions of
black children in joining 1960s-era civil rights marches, explicitly making
her project not one of science but of social-political action. Then her civil
rights, and not just her educational rights, were presumably violated. The
most fluid of the cells in table 4.1 is “Educational Frame: Freedom of Ex-
pression.” Queries about the suppression of the project were answered by
concerns for the comfort level of others; others—notably Rita Davis and
Clare Schoolmaster—wanted to define the issue, not as a science proj-
ect, but as one of how diversity and nondiscrimination are taught gener-
ally in BVSD. When David Thielen raised a challenge to arguments about
the comfort of other students, “comfort” was traded in for “safe environ-
ment” by Clare Schoolmaster and Teresa Steele. When confronted, they
redefined the issue.
• And, issue-hopping is a regular occurrence. If you do not want to talk about
the nondiscrimination policy, then, like Angelika Schroeder, you could
attack the science of the project itself. Or, in the most marvelous move,
Julie Phillips absolutely ignored the topic and decided instead to discuss
the balancing of schools racially in a new system of school choice. “And so
I just wanted to share that with everybody”25 was her only justification for
hopping out of one racial arena and into another.

Overall, then, the citizen-spectators who tune in on such a televised pro-


ceeding can be treated to a sparkling panoply of exhortations for how to think
about and act in the face of an event-of-interest. Not only are the possible
issues numerous, but they can also be framed from both inside and outside

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Political Performances in Public Proceedings / 79
the institutional confines of the dispute, both substantively and procedurally.
The ethoi of the speakers announce their sources of expertise, concern, and
legitimacy, and then from those charactertological positions they articulate
what they take or make to be relevant positions (logoi). The positions each
person assumes may or may not engage others in rational or even reason-
able ways. While public proceedings often are juridical, they in fact need not
be. Laws of evidence and operative rules need not apply, making them loose,
wide-ranging public affairs, especially when no decision is to follow.

THE SOCIAL DRAMAS OF BARBIEGATE

Barbiegate may have seemed disorganized, even chaotic, without a recogniz-


able fractal in sight. Thinking about it as a hearing or trial could lead to such
an assessment. But it was a public proceeding, not a rule-governed, foren-
sic encounter.
Because discussions and debates occurring in open-discussion periods re-
quire no legislative or judicial outcome, they are loosed from the rules of
judicial and parliamentary procedure employed in other parts of political-
institutional encounters. Indeed, only two temporal rules controlled Barbie-
gate: (1) speakers were given two minutes apiece in a prearranged order to
say what was on their minds, and (2) the open-discussion period was to take
no more than an hour in toto. Such temporal controls, of course, leave the
impression of efficiency as the dominating political value. What is valued is
the orderly opportunity to have a voice and a position. The two-minute time
limit permits a large number of voices to be heard and a maximum (more
or less) number of positions to be built. And that is all. Being given a voice
only once all but guarantees no real exchange, no direct challenges requiring
answers—and no focused discussion formed so as to produce resolution.
The drama of Barbiegate, then, is not that of the well-made play or le-
gal proceeding. There is no systematic march from narration to struggle to
denouement, or from accusation to defense to verdict. Neither do we see
in any pure form Burke’s conception of the social drama as moving from
order to pollution to guilt to sacrifice/redemption and back to order again,
though such a pattern forms a shadowy background, especially if the open-
discussion events are put in the context of public materials that can be found
through a LexisNexis search.26 The Daily Camera and the citizens who wrote

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80 / Gronbeck
letters to the editor were sensitive to the issue as disruptive of Boulder’s
smug community of supposedly enlightened, liberal Coloradoans who saw
themselves in sharp contrast to the generally conservative population of the
rest of the state. The issue signaled pollution in the community, as can be
seen in this letter: “It’s unfortunate yet predictable that the Mesa Elementary
School science fair project regarding skin color was pulled from the exhibit.
America continues to deny that skin color is an issue and as always, it’s never
the ‘right forum.’ Benign neglect continues to move across America.”27 Even
stronger statements on the racism of Boulder schools in particular were
made by Malaika and Andrea Pettigrew, Richard Garcia, and Karen Ash-
more, parents from the Boulder area.28 And then, depending upon letter
writers’ points of view, either David Thielen’s daughter or other children in
Mesa Elementary were being sacrificed to school policies. But, hoped “75
Mesa Parents,” order could be and would be restored:

As parents, we are sorry for the disappointment the third grader has
felt for working hard on her science project and then having it pulled.
She was trying to tackle one of the most highly complex and sensitive
subjects of our country, if not our world.We are also sorry for the pain
it has caused our school as well as the teachers we believe [are] trying
to [be] just. Hopefully this will help us all become kinder, more toler-
ant people.
We have faith Mesa Elementary will grow from this tough experi-
ence and will continue to help its students learn about human rights,
diversity and acceptance as it has done so in the past.
75 Mesa Parents29

Those seventy-five parents ever so nicely depicted the controversy as over,


as one more episode that allowed the school to grow “as it has done so in
the past.” Students could learn about human rights, diversity, and acceptance
of others in the wake of teachers’ just actions and Mesa Elementary’s—the
abstract-yet-concretized school’s—willingness to endure pain. Here was a
representative anecdote worthy of Burke’s (and our) attention, one with
scope yet reduction, a pollution-guilt-sacrifice-order narrative line filled
with pathos and productive even of Aristotelian catharsis. The community
was purged and returned to health after doing battle with the diseases that
Barbiegate manifested in the bodies educational and politic.

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Political Performances in Public Proceedings / 81
But what of the public proceeding itself? How should we conceptualize
its drama, its life as an episode in century-long controversies? I think that,
rhetorically, it is useful to understand the performed drama that centered
Barbiegate in two ways: (1) ideologically, that is, as a series of statements
drawing from politically marked perspectives, and (2) emotionally, as a flow
of lived experiences imbued with feelings that are related to one another
in formal ways and to the cultural environments created when a school re-
jected an eight-year-old’s science project and her father raised a public stink
about that rejection. Put more formally, the drama of Barbiegate had posi-
tionality and flow.

Positionality

During an open-discussion portion of a BVSD board meeting, those who


want to speak sign up and then speak in the order in which they recorded
their names. Those who talk do so in a preordered fashion, though the order
is determined by exigencies of who signed up when, not by an alteration of
affirmative and negative speakers as happens, for example, at so many public
meetings. The result is that a public proceeding can be filled with ideological
shards, neither structurally nor substantively whole. The short speeches lie
around as so many chips of recognizable but fragmentary positions that move
by spectators like the tinted crystals of a kaleidoscope. Each speaking turn
produces a different ideological scene.
Part II of Kenneth Burke’s The Grammar of Motives is titled “Scope and Re-
duction.”30 It opens with his discussion, as we already have noted, of the rep-
resentative anecdote, which reduces cultural life to the material circumstances
of particular events even as it magnifies the scope of social life’s underlying
valuative and ideologies tenets. The dramatic uptake of Barbiegate’s school
board discussions, in part, lies in its reduction of underlying principles of
the catchphrases of ideological positions and yet the sheer scope of those po-
sitions taken as a whole. Any sense of dramatic form comes from the ways
positions become related to one another proximally—even if those proxi-
mations are the result of the haphazard process of signing in to become part
of a speaking order. That is, speaking order determines which comments
or speeches provide the contexts for the following talks, that order likely
dictates at least in part how one statement is related to another ideologi-
cally, and thus the drama that is the public proceeding takes its shape. The

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82 / Gronbeck
drama is not found “in” the speeches so much as it is made out of them by
the citizen-spectators. For example, had the public proceeding that night
started with Jordana Ash’s hymn of praise to Mesa Elementary rather than
David Thielen and the ACLU attorney’s summary of the issues, quite a differ-
ent event would have been witnessed and, I suspect, quite a different drama
would have been made by the audience.
Table 4.2 captures the drama of the ideological positions I saw acted out
in the school board meeting. The prologue was David Thielen’s opening ad-
dress on February 13. One can be sure that he hurried to sign up to be
an early speaker, hoping to dictate both the emotional climate (see below,
“Structures of Feeling”) and the ideological orientations deemed relevant to
Barbiegate. His opening speech:31

• described the “science fair experiment,” challenging those who saw it as


anything other than science;
• argued that it was not “racially discriminatory,” trying to counter the raced
“-ist” charge before it was made publicly;
• called the school’s action “censorship,” preparatory to raising the First
Amendment issue of civil rights later in the speech;
• termed the school’s action “a violation of your own strategic plan,” urg-
ing that the school’s action was in conflict with the board’s educational
goals;
• suggested to the school board that it controlled the lessons that would be
learned by children if the “teacher-administrator network” continued do-
ing similar things to other children, implying institutional conspiracies;
• talked of the “devastation to a child” who was told her project was “so ter-
rible it had to be removed,” reinforcing his parental role;
• described the basic tenets of science invoking Galileo’s fate as paralleling
his daughter’s, invoking his professional training;32
• attacked a school administrator’s suggestion to reword the conclusions if
she wanted the project shown;
• bemoaned the small number of women going into science, introducing
gender;
• talked about the kindergarten-aged children of Selma, Alabama, who
“marched out against white police officers,” suggesting that social action
is a natural result of good education at any level; and,

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Political Performances in Public Proceedings / 83
Table 4.2 Ideological positioning of Barbiegate speakers
Speaker Topics Ideological Positions

Act I. Education, Individuals, and Society


Satlow free speech, individual liberties libertarian individualism
Thielen school board must act on issues classic republicanism
Golden free speech, need for institutional ad- negotiative individualism
justments of nondiscrimination policy
Schoolmaster pedagogical control needed on all issues technocratism
Ash panegyric to school system from parents classic republicanism
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Act II. Education as Equipment for Living
Simmons social equality at all costs absolute multiculturalism
Davis extra-curricular issues in assemblies technocratism
Okolowicz ¤ght against totalitarianism in education intellectual individualism
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Interlude
Phillips [new ways of balancing school populations; irrelevant to Barbiegate]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Act III. Learning from the Past
Steele achievement gap historicization of event,
social responsibility
Bonelli achievement gap, teachable moments historicization of event,
technocratism
Schroeder bad science proceduralism
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Epilogue:A Brighter Tomorrow
De la Cruz anti-racism, achievement gap historicization of event,
social responsibility

• reviewed his arguments about censorship, the strategic plan, and free
speech (and hence “civil rights”).

David Thielen’s first speech, therefore, was built around an ideological in-
ventory of educational-institutional, social-political, technical-scientific, and
sexist-ageist arguments. His was a dramatic prologue wherein was reviewed

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84 / Gronbeck
a magnificently broad array of topics that would comprise this episode of
American controversies over the purposes of public education, civil rights,
the tenets of science, and familial advocacy: family rights versus educational-
institutional prerogatives. His opening speech served as a traditional narra-
tio or prologue, painting the conceptual and doctrinal universe within which
the public proceeding in fact would proceed.
Then came the speeches alluded to in table 4.2. I group the speeches of
Barry Satlow, David Thielen, Judd Golden, Clare Schoolmaster, and Jordana
Ash together as the first act because I see them putting the foundational
ideological forces into play: The ACLU lawyers Satlow and Golden brought
the visions of citizenly individual rights into the ideational universe, differing
only in the fact that Satlow offered a more pure libertarian doctrine while
Golden stressed the need to translate libertarianism into operative policy,
which would involve some practical negotiation with the tenets governing
educational institutions. Interestingly, Thielen and Ash were paired, yes, as
parents, but more fundamentally as republicanists calling upon educational
institutions to represent the needs and values of the citizens who legitimate
them; both were, in Hobbes’s understanding, embodying the plurality of
voices calling governing bodies to account.They differed in polar ways, how-
ever, in actually giving that account:Thielen, finding that the board had failed
to act in accordance with enduring principles, and Ash, praising the respon-
siveness of the system to students’ (and hence parents’) needs and expecta-
tions. The school system itself talked through Schoolmaster, who celebrated
the technocratic efficiency of the BVSD that, when teachers as educational
professionals are given control, produces highly laudatory educational out-
comes and environments for growth.
In Act I, citizen-spectators viewing the proceedings watched the initial
dance of individual rights, citizen rights, and systemic operations. The initial
set of ideological issues brought into play produced the central controversial
questions: What do schools owe to children? to their parents and the citizens
that legitimate them? What level of autonomy is appropriate for the profes-
sionals, the experts, running the system? to what degree should an over-
sight citizens’ body, the school board, intervene so as to bring interpretive-
political accounting into an institution that often sees its missions as strictly
intellectual (cognitive) and social?

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Political Performances in Public Proceedings / 85
The next trio of speakers, Simmons, Davis, and Okolowicz, formed
Act II. Both Simmons and Okolowicz offered impassioned pleas for under-
standing the school system as a microcosm for society: Simmons, around ra-
cial themes (raced actions in school are equatable with raced actions in exter-
nal society), and Okolowicz, around matters of individual actions within the
collective. Yet, not only did Simmons and Okolowicz offer contrary assess-
ments of Mesa Elementary staff actions and judgments, but they also were
polarized ideologically, with Simmons focused on the dynamics of sociality,
and Okolowicz on a conception of collectives as comprised of autonomous
individuals. Davis’s speech echoed Ash’s, but with an important proviso: that
school assemblies could have aired the cultural (relational) issues brought to
the fore in Barbiegate. So, she could laud the school even while suggesting—
albeit in a soft voice—that the educational establishment should be attentive
to social issues. Thus, these three speakers, in their own ways, understood
that schools must provide students and communities with equipment for liv-
ing, as Burke understands that idea.33 Act II, therefore, treated the dynam-
ics of ways in which individuality and sociality could directly become imbri-
cated in the educational processes.
I term Phillips’s speech an interlude, a sort of lyrical rhapsody on ways
of balancing magnet school programs racially, because while it deals gener-
ally with educational strategies in a multicultural society—with a kind of
affirmative action policy—it yet has nothing to do with the racial issues of
Barbiegate per se. It fit into the open-discussion-period philosophy of letting
people say what is on their minds regardless of what is on the school board’s
agenda, yet on the surface was irrelevant to the talk of others. Nonetheless,
it released the ideological tensions building through Acts I and II.
In Act III, the three speakers effectively historicized the events of Barbie-
gate. They were thrown into the past, as events from which something im-
portant or useful could be learned. Steele started to talk about the achieve-
ment gap as a supposedly related issue through which educational institutions
could demonstrate and execute their social responsibilities. Bonelli picked up
the thought, though moved the discussion squarely into pedagogical territory
with her reference to the “teachable movement,” thus historicizing Barbie-
gate as an event that will be useful to teachers in the future.34 Schroeder
offered a direct answer to Okolowicz’s discussion of the project as teach-

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86 / Gronbeck
ing the tenets of science and to Thielen’s assertions about the high quality
of the project; her speech was a proceduralist attack on the eight-year-old’s
work, justifying teachers’ rejection of it on technical grounds. Schroeder’s
arguments paralleled yet did not touch those of Bonelli, who was preaching
pedagogical, not investigative, lessons. Schroeder thus sought to step away
from ideological engagement in her disquisition on scientific method. It is
little wonder that de la Cruz did not engage her.
De la Cruz, instead, provided the bookend to match Thielen’s prologue.
His was a summative review of anti-(not just non-)discrimination, personal-
ized understandings of racism, and the need to bridge the achievement gap
between ethnic groups regardless of cost, even pointing to a legislative ini-
tiative in a package of educational reforms. The rights of individuals were
blended into the need to reform the collective. De la Cruz’s epilogue was
choric in its vocalization of the social responsibilities of schools in bring-
ing up the young in ways that will produce better citizens and a better so-
ciety. Barbiegate was but one more event that should give direction and force
to the work of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and Coloradoan
society-at-large in the never-ending search for a brighter tomorrow.
Ideologically, in sum, the primary Barbiegate speeches laid out an array
of frames or vantages from which to view the events of Barbiegate, frames
that sorted themselves out around philosophies of individualism, institu-
tional responsibilities to society (republicanism), and the pedagogical and
administrative technocracies that made educational systems function effec-
tively, justly, and responsibly. Acts I, II, and III can be constructed as they
are, I would stress, because of how speakers signed up. With Thielen, Satlow,
and Golden getting on the sheet first, questions of individuals’ and society’s
stake in the operations of schools of course dominated Act I, and provided
the contexts within which Schoolmaster’s and Ash’s discussions of school
operations would be understood. That is, Schoolmaster’s technocratism be-
came framed in the individualism-republicanism divide because that dialec-
tic was articulated before her speech. And Ash’s panegyric could be thought
of as a republicanist statement only because it, too, followed Satlow, Thielen,
and Golden.35 Pairing it with Thielen’s second speech created a place from
which citizen-spectators could assess their school system’s operational suc-
cesses or failures.
Act II affirmed those educational philosophies that stress schools’ cen-

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Political Performances in Public Proceedings / 87
trality to cultural practices of relationship. Simmons and Okolowicz may
have disagreed on how Barbiegate was handled, but they were unified in
their understanding of education’s place in society. The ideological jockeying
that contrapoised the republican rights of the collective with the libertarian
rights of the individual evolved in Act II into a more straightforward inquiry
into the social and citizenship responsibilities of schools.
And then, after an interlude, Act III provided ideological space for en-
larged rumination: on schools’ social responsibilities, on how to meet them
pedagogically in teachable moments, and on pedagogy itself as it was asked
to judge the quality of an elementary student’s science project. And it was
left to de la Cruz’s epilogue to explore the individual, educational, and ul-
timately social-political aspects of positive race relations as they ought to be
pursued by students, educational professionals, parents, and even state-level
governmental agencies.
Before we consider the dramatic form—one that I will identify techni-
cally as a romance—let us look to the other face of the drama, its emotional
demeanor.

Structures of Feeling

The phrase “structures of feeling” is identified most closely with British cul-
turalist Raymond Williams. While he used it in multiple ways, it took on its
clearest meaning in his book Marxism and Literature.36 Structures of feelings
are aspects of lived experience, that is, ways in which individuals lead and
understand their everyday lives. They are the places in the mind where cul-
tural sentiments run into societal structures, where the “affective elements
of consciousness and relationships” negotiate with familial and institutional
structures within the subject or observer.37 John Feteke calls a structure of
feeling “the distilled residue of the organization of the lived experience of
a community over and above the institutional and ideological organization
of the society,” and Alvaro Pino, an articulation of “the social with the per-
sonal, emotion and affect with meanings and values, the lived with the de-
sired, experience with change, material practice with semantic availability,
the known with the knowable.”38
The key in all of these characteristics is: what is known or understood
from the past is relived or felt in an evolving present. Williams says that “the

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making of art is never itself in the past tense. It is always a formative process,
within a specific present.”39 But he could as easily have been talking about
such prosaic media as local-access television. The citizen-spectators tuning
in to the school board meeting we are discussing likely experienced the
“frequent tension between the received interpretation and practical expe-
rience.”40 That is, the Barbie dolls incident had been written up in the Daily
Camera after David Thielen first made a complaint at the February 13 meeting
prior to the February 27 one that is the focus. Citizen-spectators had a “re-
ceived interpretation,” and, for that matter, prior knowledge of what Wil-
liams identifies as “the social past”—“the known relationships, institutions,
formations, positions.”41 Citizen-spectators perhaps came with curiosity,
anger, fear, or any number of other feelings derived from their past ex-
periences with known relationships, institutions, formations, positions—
the “facts” of the Barbie doll incident, the newspaper’s judgments, perhaps
social interactions, maybe the school district’s struggle even with its non-
discrimination policy.
But, the public proceeding with which we are concerned was not in the
past. It was an evolving present and hence subject to the structuring of feel-
ings that occurred within that progression of event-after-event-after-event. I
am not evoking a phenomenological reading strategy here, though that is not
foreign to my purpose. I mean to suggest only that public proceedings catch
up their audiences in the emotions of the sheer drama of the performances—
the wondering of what will come next, who will perform how, who will be
embarrassed or angry, what one will be asked to think about or feel. Just as
the public hangings of old allowed collectivities to act out not only their ul-
timate cultural sanctions but also a range of other festive activities (picnics,
markets, children’s day out, etc.), so a school board’s public proceedings are
multifaceted.
The feelings that were structured into the evolving present that was
those televised school board meetings in February 2001 were called up in
the sequence of the actors’ performances. The assault on the teachers and
principal of Mesa Elementary as well as the school board launched by the
initial speakers—Thielen, Satlow, and Golden—undoubtedly created an at-
mosphere of attack, of intellectual, pedagogical, and especially moral in-
dignation. The assertions-of-fault in those four speeches, as we have seen,
ran through multiple frames; the voices articulated legal-professional and

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Political Performances in Public Proceedings / 89
parental-citizenry personae. The accusations, the kategoria in classic rhe-
torical terms, created a hostile environment, with strong feelings com-
pressed all the more tightly because David Thielen thought he had five min-
utes to speak and so was forced to mount all of his attacks in a long two
minutes. As one views a videotape of the event, he seems all the more urgent
and aggressive because he was hurrying.
The language of sheer anger—personal, social, and political outrage—
that ran through the opening speeches no doubt charged the atmosphere
and challenged those who saw racism but no censorship, sensitive teaching
but no suppression of a child. The negatively charged feeling-states could be
matched in kind only with positively charged counterexpressions. Katego-
ria could be balanced only with apologia, speeches of justification or defense.
Accusation and defense, to be sure, were not played out in any orchestrated
way; that occurs in legislative or legal settings, but not in free-flowing forms
of public proceedings. Rather, the point is that the speeches of Schoolmaster
(the focus on pedagogy as a guiding consideration) and Ash (the panegyric to
the school system) likely were perceived as apologia, as justifications or even
defenses, because they directly followed the kategoric speeches of Thielen,
Satlow, and Golden.
The Act II talks of Simmons and Okolowicz not only had similar ideo-
logical functions (even though they worked in dialectical tension with each
other); they also served parallel emotional functions—Simmons, inten-
sifying the apologia, and Okolowicz, the kategoria. Their statements were
powerful enough to simply sweep away Davis’s quiet disquisition on the
place of assemblies in elementary education—so powerful that perhaps Phil-
lips’s seemingly irrelevant discussion of balancing school populations was
necessary if the public proceeding was going to be anything other than a con-
frontational shouting match.
If the kategoria and apologia had continued to dominate the proceeding in
a kind of Firing Line atmosphere, one side or the other would have had to tri-
umph and the other side would have to have been vanquished. When feelings
are structured dialectically, the need for resolution through decision can be-
come overwhelming. A zero-sum game would have been played. But that is
not what happened. Rather, Steele and Bonelli altered the emotional atmo-
sphere, and hence the drama. In driving the Barbie incident into the past and
then transcending it by following some of its frames into other aspects of

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90 / Gronbeck
Boulder County public education, Steele and Bonelli provided the grounds
for restructuring the feelings of the citizen-viewers. And de la Cruz supplied
emotional flesh to the new structure.
Steele’s was the more interesting of the two speeches emotionally.42
She referenced the difficult times that focused on “a science fair project” in
her first sentence, thus depersonalizing it even as, in the second sentence,
she talked about another student, Timo Sandoval, who was shot in a target
shooting incident. The pain of another allowed her to worry a few state-
ments later about “a safe environment for every one of our students.” From
that expression of concern, she then shifted the emotional climate to how
she has worked on teaching reading skills around issues of race and “religious
beliefs,” thus broadening the issue, which, four statements later, became a
call for an attack on “the achievement gap.” That gap was talked about, not
in terms of race, but in terms of “English [as] second language learners,”
whose percentage in a nearby school (Columbine Elementary) had jumped
from 14 percent in 1991 to, ten years later, 34 percent who were also get-
ting “free and reduced [price] lunch.” Race now was overlaid with linguis-
tic and economic categories. She completed her speech with: “And t- to take
responsibility for what we have said that we care about these kids now let’s
put the money where it’d do the most good.” Thus, Steele bumped Thielen
off the front page by substituting Sandoval, first expanding the morality of
race with a question of religion added to it, and then remanufacturing the
racial differences as more generally ethnic and economic differences. The
substitution of Sandoval for Thielen put bodily injury in place of the psycho-
logical “devastation” that Thielen alleged, the reference to religion made the
question of race more than the prejudice of mere eight-year-olds, and the
introduction of Columbine’s data on ethnic and economic differences be-
tween high and low achievers trivialized the question of hurt feelings in the
case of the Barbie experiment. And so, physical pain trumped psychological
pain, sacred questions overran secular ones, and the achievement gap vapor-
ized the kategoria and apologia of the perception gap that lay at the founda-
tion of the Barbie interviews. And with that, Barbiegate itself was shunted
to the past and locked up there, to remain only as a lesson-for-the-future.
The structure of feeling then could change—from the acrimony of the zero-
sum game about racism and free speech to the anticipated promise of insti-
tutional and collective progressivism.

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Political Performances in Public Proceedings / 91
Bonelli’s speech about the teachers knowing what they were doing—by
listening to kids so that no one could be hurt—while the adults engaged in
“a philosophical discussion,” added fuel to the fire of emotional enlargement,
as did Schroeder’s concern about improving the “comfortable level” that
should come from a clear and broadly understood discrimination policy.43
But it was de la Cruz who offered personal testimony intense enough to en-
flame a new structure of feeling.
The dialectics of the first couple of acts were replaced by his personal
drama that developed into a collective drama, a representative anecdote.44
While he suggested early on that the Thielen girl was not treated in a “sen-
sitive” manner, he signaled that her case should not be revisited: “that’s not
something I’m going to dwell on because it’s really time to move forward
um from this point.” What he related was his own story: explaining preju-
dice to his two-year-old children “because they are a minority population
and it’s important for them to understand um not to fear, but to understand
the issues that come from being different and looking different.”45 He then
offered a stringent definition of “racist,” one strong enough to assure him that
no one in the room was one. He also suggested that talk of racism “is uncom-
fortable, and it is not ever risk-free because when you talk about racism, you
have to talk from your heart and you have to talk about injustice and you have
to talk about oppression.”
And from there, he moved into personal anecdotes: one, about an elderly
neighbor who called the police when she saw two Hispanic males in his own
neighborhood, both non-Americans studying at the University of Colorado;
another, about his experiences as someone of mixed blood (Mexican, Indian,
and Spanish); a third about the Trail of Tears, which was not studied in their
schools; a fourth about teaching kids about the foods and dress of Asians but
not about American discrimination against them; a fifth about being followed
around stores in Boulder; a sixth about not being able to cash a check.
From these educational and personal examples, de la Cruz draws conclu-
sions: (1)Yes, the Holocaust can be taught, but “we have all of these examples
of discrimination and racism in our own country. But I think to look at those
means we have to take some ownership of them, not from guilt and not from
saying well gee I’m not responsible, but to really look at how it perpetuates
the whole notion.” (2) “I truly believe in my heart that this school board and
this school district is totally committed to dealing with these issues and be-

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92 / Gronbeck
cause we take a step back does mean we’ve uh we’ve we’ve finished and we
can’t keep moving forward.” (3) The board, therefore, should hold a sympo-
sium on the issue to “be aware of our own stereotypes and our own ways that
we operate and and be able to move forward.” (4) And, we should follow the
governor, the state attorney general, and a bipartisan legislative group, all of
whom are pushing educational reform so that the achievement gap can be
effectively closed.
The structures of feelings, that is, the affective realms of individuals’ con-
sciousness lying between the personal and the social, between their personal-
subjective and the institutional-objective senses of identity and belonging,
shifted across the open-mike portion of that school board meeting. The kate-
goria and apologia were criterion-referenced attacks on the shortcomings
of teachers, a superintendent, and members of the central school adminis-
tration. They were the voices of the plurality exercised in examination of a
powerful community institution. They were deeply involved emotionally in
their expressions of outrage and satisfaction. The dialectic-of-performances
was intense enough to require—to demand—some kind of resolution.
But, one set of personae did not do battle with and then defeat another
set. Here was not a comedic confrontation, where evildoers who had vio-
lated societal norms were vanquished and punished; rather, the drama here
witnessed was a romance.46 There was a confrontation, yes, a struggle, yes,
but then, a realization that principles of life could be seen in the confron-
tation and used to transcend the mundane details of the confrontation. The
transcendence in this social drama, I have argued, was dual: it represented
the articulation of a general institutional-cultural principle—social respon-
sibilities of schools—that stood as a kind of synthesis of the dialectic among
the ideological positions, and, as well, a distinct movement away from bi-
polar emotional states to the joyous sense that a lesson was learned and the
school and community were progressively attacking the divisive forces of
ethnicity, race, and all other forces of discrimination.
The social drama as witnessed by the citizen-spectators thus achieved
structural solutions to its ideological conflict (transcendent synthesis that
comes from articulating a higher principle) and its distraught emotionality
(transcendent affection that comes from confronting personal-collective evil
and laying out paths to progressive improvement). Remembering that “[t]he

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Political Performances in Public Proceedings / 93
romance is nearest of all literary forms to the wish fulfillment dream, and
for that reason it has socially a curiously paradoxical role,”47 the transcen-
dent endings ideologically and emotionally to Barbiegate in no way actually
solved the problems that were articulately by those involved. Rather, order
was only apparently restored: the guilt was not washed or sacrificed away; it
was eliminated through transformation.
By the end, Barbiegate was no longer about an eight-year-old’s civil right
to discuss the racial attitudes of her peers. It was about learning when En-
glish is a second language; about the underclass and ways to improve its edu-
cational achievements; about clarity of school policy; and about collective
commitments by the community, the school system, and even the state to
find the means to foster social harmony. Those items comprised the dream
that Barbiegate fostered. The paradox, as Northrop Frye would have it, lay
in decrying the science and the politics of the Barbie study but then escaping
to a larger cultural realm to articulate the very concerns that the eight-year-
old’s study seemed to demonstrate. That which had been denied vehemently
at the beginning of the evening was affirmed in equally impassioned perfor-
mances by the end of the night.

RHETORIC, AUDIENCES, POLITICAL PERFORMANCE,


AND THE PUBLIC PROCEEDING

This essay has ambled through discussions of Aristotle’s three defining char-
acteristics of drama—mythos (the emplotment of human activity), dianoia
(“thought” or discursive formations as we now understand that phrase), and
ethos (the character of individuals and the communities of which they are
parts)—albeit in terms Aristotle might have found a bit strange. It remains
now to pull together both interpretations of Barbiegate as a concrete crisis
in the life of a community and of public proceedings as a genre of activity in
the life of the polis. I will begin this assemblage process by discussing explic-
itly something only alluded to along the way in this chapter—the audience,
its experiences and the uses to which it could put Barbiegate. Then I will re-
turn to the definition with which we began this investigation in order to fill
it out a bit, and conclude with some additional thoughts about the place of
public proceedings in contemporary political culture.

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94 / Gronbeck
The Audience of Public Proceedings

I have referred regularly to “citizen-spectators.” Now is the time to think


about them in a more focused way.

A television gallery. The audience may well have had expectations and per-
sonal interests in Barbiegate the evening they tuned in, but they also were
treated to a political spectacle. That is, their television screens positioned
them in several important ways; in the electronic world, specularity is a cen-
tral term.48 As Murray Edelman argued in 1988: “The spectacle constituted
by news reporting [or live televised community events of import] continu-
ously constructs and reconstructs social problems, crises, enemies, and lead-
ers and so creates a succession of threats and reassurances.These constructed
problems and personalities furnish the content of political journalism and
the data for historical and analytic political studies. They also play a central
role in winning support and opposition for political causes and policies.”49
Specularity is a term encompassing the ways by which viewers are posi-
tioned by what they view. They are positioned by the array of signs that con-
stitute the image, that is, by what they actually see.They are positioned by the
camera angles, by the places from which they look.The screen itself serves as
a frame, cutting away from sight the nonseen so as to emphasize that which
is actually in view. And all of this they are allowed to see from home or some
other location, at a distance. There is always an actual and a psychological-
symbolic distance between political actors and their constituents; that is part
of what representation is all about—working separated from, yet for the
sake of, those who cannot be there to do the labor of the polis.
Watching Barbiegate through the inferior technology of locally produced
television—bad lighting in the board room, sound and a two-camera setup
arrayed so as to compile a record of, not involve viewers intimately in, the
events—is to be positioned at a great distance, in a political gallery. The
technologies of local access television are distancing. They do not work with
close-ups; the hard surfaces of the walls give sound a distracting echo; the
breaks, false starts, speech disfluencies, and the shuffle of people to and from
the mikes call attention to the apparatuses of the proceeding itself. What is
created for the audience is a gallery of political performances, to be assessed
as such, because of the cavern yawning between the actors and the audience

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Political Performances in Public Proceedings / 95
watching it. The citizen-spectators are never given a chance to willingly sus-
pend their disbelief.
Viewing at literal and psychological-symbolic distances encourages, I
would argue, a series of different sorts of assessment, similar to those one
might make in an artists’ gallery: of the work, of the institution putting it
on, and of one’s own reaction to the work. Similarly, viewers of Barbiegate
likely assessed substantively and politically the messages of individual speak-
ers, their legitimacy in speaking and their positionality; the school board it-
self as a dually representative body; and their own reactions to questions of
school operations, nondiscrimination as a school policy, the degree to which
Boulder was a community with a proper (however that should be under-
stood) orientation to racism, freedom of speech, and elementary education.
A public proceeding, well done, should produce prudential judgments about
the actors, the institution, the citizens themselves, and the community of
which they are parts.

Audience judgments. I think Barbiegate probably did that. The parental, pro-
fessional, and school board voices that were heard articulated a thought-
fully broad range of issues that aired personal, educational, and communal
concerns. The voices and subsequent positions taken by school board mem-
bers were relevant to school policy, community concerns, and even, I sus-
pect, electoral concerns. So far as the school board was concerned, I would
infer from the letters to the editor that at least some vocal community par-
ents might have liked the board to actually participate directly in the events,
though by simple count the seventy-five signatories on the most formal let-
ter thought its sentiments were proper—again, whatever that meant.
The most interesting assessments for me would be those that citizens
might have made about themselves and their community. The hortatory dis-
courses that Edelman sees as central to so much of political discourse ad-
dressed to constituencies force any reasonably contemplative viewers of
Barbiegate to reflect upon their own personal-social identities, ideas about
race relations, students’ rights within the professionally oriented environ-
ment of public schools, and what they think a community ought to get for
tax levies that pay for the educational system.50
And more in-the-large, Barbiegate should have called upon Boulder to en-
vision or reenvision itself as a community, as a plurality of voices that speak

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96 / Gronbeck
to one another and that build relationships between individuals. Among the
columns, for example, Maria Cote, a features editor for the Daily Camera,
picked up the talk about racism, suggesting it isn’t “child’s play” even as she
reviewed the economic gaps between black and white in the community and
called for much more penetrating approaches to racism and inequality in the
schools.51 Members of the University of Colorado Stereotyping and Preju-
dice Lab pushed multicultural research projects, much like the Thielen girl’s,
as ways of improving ethnic understandings and relations in the schools and
the community.52 Another letter assured Boulder that “silence is not golden
and, in fact, may be a sign that something is wrong.”53 The self-reflexivity
produced by public proceedings can be both individual and communal if only
because the voices that speak are both personally and socially attuned. The
political gallery is a mirror turned on one’s self and one’s collectivity, and
looking into the mirror can be revelatory.54 The Daily Camera’s editorial of
March 1, 2001, summed up the reflexive dimensions of the public proceed-
ing in this way: “But in a town where feel-good community forums are too
often offered up as evidence of ‘progress,’ we think individual vigilance is
the real key. Let’s all take advantage of our own ‘teachable moments,’ when
we default to stereotype or presumption, to deliberately stop and examine
what we feel, and why. Let’s seek out and own our prejudices, not bury our
heads and proclaim some kind of easy, untested purity. Because, in the end,
very few of us are pure enough to do much finger-pointing.”55

The Place of Public Proceedings in Democracies

Returning to our initial definition of a public proceeding—institutional


hearings with audiences composed both of the actual political decision mak-
ers and of citizen-spectators—we now are in a position to deal more con-
cretely with specific characteristics of such a political event.
The hortatory language is a call to political action for both citizens and
their representatives.The citizen-spectator, yes, has been put into subject po-
sitions by the televised literate, aural, and visual discourses of the event and
the technologies that deliver them. But specularity is not all that can or even
should occur in a public proceeding. A political proceeding goes public, one
must assume, for very good reasons. Establishing modes of communication—
scheduling assemblies that call for institutional-citizen interaction—perforce

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Political Performances in Public Proceedings / 97
occasions action. It is little wonder that exhortation is a dominating speech
act in public proceedings and that, following such proceedings, citizens have
come to expect activity in the public and institutional spheres.
Performativity is a central activity of both citizens and their represen-
tatives in public proceedings. What Dwight Conquergood calls “embodied
practice” is key to the operation of such political occasions.56 While letters
and white papers can be written, manifestos issued, documentaries produced
and aired, and e-mails sent from everywhere to everywhere, in public pro-
ceedings political personae are materialized in voices made present through
bodies. While it is televised, the public proceeding is composed of embodied
voices intermingling in mutual presence. Hobbes’s plurality of voices takes
on a tribal character as society’s institutions materially interface with their
members. The rhetorical power infusing such events comes from physical
adjacency of personae whose voices have been officialized, that is, made suit-
able for public negotiation. Those from outside the community, Simmons,
for example, look for ways to give themselves the authority to participate in
the contestation over which frames should control outcomes and dominate
the public conceptions of what the proceeding is all about. The letters to the
editor, the newspaper articles, the Associated Press releases, and such, all
had their place in spreading the news and acting as Publizitat—Habermas’s
notion of gaining publicness or publicity.57 But, it is the physical acting-out of
democratic commitments to public deliberation prior to collective decision
making that marks public proceedings as peculiar activities in the polis.
Because the public proceeding occurs without rigid rules of conduct (un-
like court and legislative proceedings), it serves multiple functions simulta-
neously. Barbiegate, for example, spread information about the project, pub-
licized the ACLU’s and Million Man March’s judgments of the events, forced
public officials to take stands that could be assessed for their rationality,
policy implications, and even value as bases for electoral decisions, and re-
flected on individual and collective visions of important social values—
freedom of speech, professionalized commitments, the degree of racial-
ethnic and economic openness of life in Boulder County and beyond. For
that matter, a range of other issues were discursively stitched into the event:
the achievement gap, the economics of access to the dominant Boulder cul-
ture, quota systems in school composition, the importance of state action
in attacking disparities in the educational system, even a gender issue. Ulti-

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98 / Gronbeck
mately, a public proceeding far exceeds, at least potentially, the generic limi-
tations of Aristotle’s original conception of rhetorical events.The public pro-
ceeding was born in the democratic era, and that shows.
Overall, the public proceeding is an everyday, rhetorical check on insti-
tutional power in a democracy. The original conception of representative
democracies used elections, independent courts, and, in many countries,
petition to give the citizenry access to powerful political institutions. The
tribal and clientele operations of nineteenth-century politics employed pri-
vate relations—the ethnic blocs of some cities, the promise of services for
votes in others—to make relationships between Leaders and the Led even
tighter.58 The public proceeding is a step beyond mere electoral control and
private access, for it includes both a public accounting and a public giving-
of-voice that, while not guaranteeing interaction, provides a forum for ques-
tioning, challenging, reframing, sounding alarm, and mobilizing larger pub-
lics. Therein lies their great promise.

The Other Side of the Coin

And therein, too, lies their danger. Once a proceeding is opened publicly,
there are few checks to public talk. No matter how hard Stan Garnett, board
president, tried to rein in David Thielen the first night, he really could not
do it without Thielen’s willingness finally to sit down. In the open-discussion
portion of a school board meeting, topics are unlimited. The diffusion of is-
sues, the climate of accusation and tests of loyalty/disloyalty that made the
Army-McCarthy hearings so infamous, the ability to grandstand without
responsibility—these are just some of the difficulties that public proceed-
ings can present. They can effectively stop action, as many felt the House and
Senate hearings over the Vietnam War did; diffused talk was allowed to pro-
ceed without forcing the larger governmental bodies to take action in con-
cert with citizen recommendations. Only presidents, not Congress, finally
acted in the early 1970s.
To be sure, uncontrollable democracy can decay into anarchy, but then, it
must be remembered that a public proceeding is not really a judicial or a leg-
islative event. It is multivocal, hortatory, performative, and productive, not
of public policy, but of personal and collective reflexive thoughts about who
individuals and the societies they create are, what they hold to be true and

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Political Performances in Public Proceedings / 99
valuable, and where they want to head next on the journey through cultural
space and time. A public proceeding is a transitional event between states
of being and acting, and therein lies its great value—even for the citizens of
Boulder County in 2001.

NOTES

1. Michael Halloran, “Doing Public Business in Public,” in Form and Genre: Shap-
ing Rhetorical Action, ed. Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson (Wash-
ington, DC: National Communication Association, 1978), 118.
2. Bruce E. Gronbeck, “The Rhetoric of Political Corruption: Sociolinguis-
tic, Dialectical, and Ceremonial Processes,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 64 (1978):
155–72.
3. Kenneth Burke, The Grammar of Motives (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1945),
59–60.
4. Murray Edelman, The Symbolic Uses of Politics (Urbana: University of Illinois
Press, 1964), 134.
5. I use the notion of frames very much as does Shanto Iyengar in Is Anyone Re-
sponsible? How Television Frames Political Issues (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1991).
6. The term social drama is associated with Burke (see Joseph R. Gusfield,
Kenneth Burke on Symbols and Society [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989],
31–32) and is extended fruitfully by sociologist Hugh Daziel Duncan in Symbols in
Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968) and James E. Combs, Dimensions
of Political Drama (Santa Monica, CA: Goodyear, 1980).
7. Such an understanding comes from substituting “rhetoric” for “ideology” in
John Thompson’s theory of discursive power laid out in Ideology and Modern Culture:
Critical Social Theory in the Era of Mass Communication (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univer-
sity Press, 1990).
8. Thomas Hobbes, De cive (1642/1647), chap. 7, sec. 5, http://www.
constitution.org/th/decive.htm.
9. Hobbes, chap. 14, sec. 14.
10. Quoted and elaborated in Hanno Hardt and Slavko Splichal, eds., Ferdinand
Tönnies on Public Opinion, foreword by Gary T. Marx (Latham, MA: Rowman and
Littlefield, 2000), 33–34.
11. Appendix A, E.
12. Appendix A, B.
13. Appendix A, F.

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100 / Gronbeck
14. Ibid.
15. Murray Edelman, Politics as Symbolic Action: Mass Arousal and Quiescence (New
York: Academic Press, 1971), 46.
16. Appendix A, B.
17. Appendix A, D.
18. Appendix A, G.
19. Samuel McCormick, “Earning One’s Inheritance: Rhetorical Criticism,
Everyday Talk, and the Analysis of Public Discourse,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 89
(2003): 109–31.
20. Ibid., 112, 114–17.
21. Appendix A, G.
22. Bruce E. Gronbeck, “Rhetorical Visions of America from the Margins, 1968–
1988,” in Retoriska Frågor:Texter om tal och talare från Quintilianus till Clinton tillägnade
Kurt Johannesson, ed. Christer Åsberg (Stockholm: Norstedts, 1995), 267–81.
23. On “-ist” arguments, see Julia T. Wood and W. Barnett Pearce, “Sexists, Rac-
ists, and Other Classes of Classifiers: Form and Function of ‘. . . ist’ Accusations,”
Quarterly Journal of Speech 66 (1980): 239–50.
24. In the classical doctrine of stasis, which were the procedures devised by the
ancient rhetoricians to organize potential points of clash, of the statiation of argu-
ments, the procedural “state” was the fourth and weakest position to use in engaging
one’s legal opponents. Denial of a charge was the strongest, then redefinition, then
justification. Only if one could not win on those substantive grounds was a proce-
dural argument—“This is the wrong court,” “Improper procedures were followed,”
etc.—used as defense. The classic essay on stasis theory is Otto Alvin Loeb Dieter,
“Stasis,” Communication Monographs 17 (1950): 345–69.
25. Appendix A, M.
26. Such materials were provided to the discussants of this case at the National
Communication Association convention panel. Those materials included seven ar-
ticles and editorials from the Daily Camera, Boulder County’s principal newspaper,
seven letters to the editor of that paper, seven other pieces from the Denver-area
articles, and the text of BVSD’s nondiscrimination policy. See Appendix B for a
listing.
27. Appendix B, no. 14.
28. Appendix B, no. 15.
29. Appendix B, no. 11.
30. Burke, Grammar, 59ff.
31. Appendix A, A, see lines 24–111.
32. It should be noted that David Thielen is a physicist employed in industry.

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Political Performances in Public Proceedings / 101
33. Kenneth Burke, “Literature as Equipment for Living,” in Philosophy of Literary
Form (1941; repr., New York: Prentice-Hall, 1957), 253–62.
34. See Appendix A, L. The outside world—newspapers, letters to the editor—
picked up on the idea of “teachable moment” ironically, for the most part. Bonelli’s
speech was laid against those of Satlow,Thielen, and Golden, the Act I talks, so that it
could be argued that the teachable moment was missed when Ms. Thielen’s project
was pulled out of the exhibit.The ironic analysis began with the Daily Camera colum-
nist Clint Talbott’s piece under the heading “A Science Fair’s Teachable Moment,” ac-
cessed on LexisNexis, March 4, 2001, and available at http://www.thedailycamera.
com/news/talbott/20lclin.html.
35. Someone could argue that Ash’s speech actually was confirmation of School-
master’s assertion that pedagogical control was essential to good education, in
which case it would be assessed more narrowly than I have done so here. I prefer
pairing it with Thielen’s second statement because then it comes as a force engaging
an issue: the degree to which the school system is meeting the expectations of par-
ents (society).
36. Raymond Williams, “Structures of Feeling,” in Marxism and Literature (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1977), esp. 128–35.
37. Ibid., 135–38.
38. John Feteke, “Williams, Raymond,” in The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary
Theory and Criticism, ed. Michael Groden and Martin Kreiswirth (Baltimore, MD:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), available at http://www.press.jhu.edu/
books/hopkins_guide_to_literary_theory/raymond_williams.html, and Alvaro
Pino, “Williams’s Cultural Studies Project, and Grossberg’s Critique: An Explora-
tion,” Cultstud-L, posted August 7, 2000, available at http://www.comm.umn.edu/
~grodman/cultstud/.
39. Williams, “Structures of Feeling,” 129.
40. Ibid., 130.
41. Ibid., 128.
42. Appendix A, K.
43. Appendix A, L.
44. Appendix A, N.
45. Ibid.
46. I am using the terms “comedy” and “romance” similar to the way Northrop
Frye uses them in The Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Uni-
versity Press, 1957), passim.
47. Ibid., 186.
48. I treat specularity at more length in Bruce E. Gronbeck, “The Presidency in

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102 / Gronbeck
the Age of Secondary Orality,” in Beyond the Rhetorical Presidency, ed. Martin J. Med-
hurst (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1996), esp. 37–41.
49. Murray Edelman, Constructing the Political Spectacle (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1988), 1.
50. Again, I use the notion of frames very much as does Iyengar in Is Anyone Re-
sponsible? How Television Frames Political Issues.
51. Appendix B, no. 2.
52. Appendix B, no. 6.
53. Pettigrew, Pettigrew, Garcia, and Ashmore, Appendix B, no. 15.
54. The issue that seemingly received the most public consideration was the non-
discrimination policy. It apparently had come into the school system amid intense
public discussion in 1995 (when it was written) and again in 2000 (when the ACLU
had asked if it were so broad that a student’s speech could be violated). Barbie-
gate, thus, was but one in a series of episodes in a continuing controversy. See Amy
Bounds, “ACLU May Sue BVSD,” Daily Camera, electronically accessed March 4,
2001, and available at http://www.bouldernews.com/news/local/28lshbd.html,
and Monte Whaley, “Anti-Bias Policy Linked to Pulled Science Project,” Denver Post,
February 22, 2001, available at http://www.thielen.com/barbie/news0222f.htm.
55. Appendix B, no. 4.
56. Dwight Conquergood, “Rethinking Ethnography: Towards a Critical Cul-
tural Politics,” Communication Monographs 58 (1991): 179–94, esp. 180.
57. Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An In-
quiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger with the assistance of
Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989).
58. Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward, Why Americans Still Don’t Vote:
And Why Politicians Want It ThatWay, rev. and updated ed. (Boston: Beacon, 2000).

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5
Darkness on the Edge of Town
On the Interface between Communicational
and Racial Ideologies
Darrin Hicks

In the wake of Columbine and other highly publicized school shootings,


school administrators are being held accountable for the lack of civility
among students.1 The motives of the Columbine students who turned on
their classmates were most often explained as the result of living and learn-
ing in a hostile school environment where ridicule and social isolation are
commonplace. The pain caused by student-on-student harassment, often ac-
complished by the name calling, taunting, and bullying attached to messages
of racial and sexual inferiority, is well documented.2 Hence, the Supreme
Court now holds that students who are victims of harassment can recover
damages from school boards if they can show that the harassment under-
mined their educational pursuits and that school personnel expressed indif-
ference to their plight.3 School boards across the country have responded to
this threat of liability and to the media attention surrounding Columbine by
adopting antiharassment and antidiscrimination policies. These policies de-
fine and target unacceptable expression and behavior, in particular any ex-
pression that may be deemed as sexually or racially demeaning. Designed
with the goals of maintaining a civil school environment and fostering an at-
mosphere of mutual respect, these policies are intended to formally disasso-
ciate school personnel from the expressive action of problem students.
The Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) Antidiscrimination Policy that
school officials invoked to justify removing Ms. Thielen’s science fair project

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104 / Hicks
is just such a policy.4 Adopted in 1995 and revised in 2000, the BVSD anti-
discrimination policy is a comprehensive document that does the following:
defines harassing and discriminatory conduct; sets out specific forms of ex-
pression (verbal taunting, name calling, slurs and jokes, and/or displaying
written materials that do the same) and behavior (physical intimidation, de-
stroying property, and excluding from participation) that constitutes a vio-
lation of the policy; establishes the responsibility for all department heads
to institute processes to prohibit discrimination, harassment and violence;
and delineates procedures to resolve conflicts and ensure the accountability
of students and school officials. This policy was applied to Ms. Thielen’s sci-
ence fair project, which school officials interpreted as claiming that many of
Ms. Thielen’s peers at Mesa Elementary felt whites were more beautiful than
blacks and by implication of greater social worth. In his letter to the parents
of Mesa Elementary, Principal Greg Thompson explained his decision to re-
move Ms. Thielen’s research project as the result of complaints by teachers
and parents. He argued that the project was seen as “racially insensitive and
could cause offense to students of color” and that here was a “real potential
for emotional hurt and intellectual confusion.”5 Thus, the project’s display
was a violation of section 4c of the antidiscrimination policy, which reads: “It
is a violation of the nondiscrimination policy if, on District property, in Dis-
trict vehicles, or in connection with any District activity, or event a District
employee or student . . . displays visual or written material with the pur-
pose or, depending on the circumstances and context, effect of demeaning
the race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability,
or religion of any individual or group.”6
In this chapter I contend that the public controversy ignited by the re-
moval of Ms. Thielen’s project was, in essence, a dispute over how to ac-
count for rhetorical effects, namely the effects of both the display itself and
the school’s removal of it. To that end, I explicate how the participants in this
controversy used nascent theories of rhetorical effectivity to account for and
justify their positions as to the display’s effect on its audiences and the conse-
quences of its suppression. They used these theories to negotiate whether or
not the display would have been a means to broaden racism or combat cul-
tural stereotypes and whether its removal was an unjustified act of censor-
ship or necessary to protect the fledging self-esteem of young children. In
particular I focus my energies on how the BVSD policy was invoked by Clare

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 105
Schoolmaster to define the particular form and context of the project’s dis-
play as a source of racial contamination and, thereby, justify the school’s de-
cision to remove Ms. Thielen’s science fair project.
I am especially interested, for two reasons, in the controversy over the
BVSD antidiscrimination policy and its application. First, the BVSD anti-
discrimination policy and its application in this case is a fascinating example
of how communication has emerged as both the object and instrument of
liberal governance. Social ills are increasingly defined in terms of communi-
cative deficits, such as the lack of a deliberative demeanor and the manipula-
tion of communication networks. Concomitantly, the cure for these ills lies
in the calculated reshaping of speech performance and the design and regu-
lation of discursive space, prescriptions often traveling under the signs of de-
liberative democracy and community collaboration. Communication is no
longer understood simply as the transmission of information or as the ve-
hicle for giving effectiveness to the truth, but as the medium within which
the ethical virtues of an autonomous citizenry are formed and fashioned as
the very means of securing the imperatives of democratic government. The
productive power of communication as a cultural policy resides in the for-
mation of citizens who see themselves as speaking subjects willing to regu-
late and transform their communicative behaviors for the purpose of im-
proving their political, economic, cultural, and affective relationships.7
The BVSD policy governs the communicative behaviors of district mem-
bers. It translates discrimination in discursive terms, as the reputational in-
jury incurred by demeaning expression. This translation renders such speech
as a proper object for governance. The policy substantially broadens the
scope of existing speech codes by authorizing any person that perceives an
utterance as demeaning as a potential complainant, whether or not the utter-
ance is directed at or affects him or her, as a potential complainant. In fact,
the BVSD policy uniquely targets discriminatory expression that occurs be-
yond the traditionally assumed communicative context of face-to-face com-
munication in which the speaker clearly intends to demean her or his inter-
locutor.8 And, by prohibiting expression that has the “effect of demeaning
the race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability,
or religion of any individual or group,” even when these effects are not in-
tended and are the product of particular, perhaps even singular, circumstan-
tial and contextual conditions, the BVSD policy significantly redefines the

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106 / Hicks
criteria for evaluating the effects of defamation. The explicit and controver-
sial claim of Clare Schoolmaster’s testimony will focus on those comments
that are not intended to inflict injury nor are perceived to do so by the ad-
dressee, yet that are overheard by third parties and translated into demean-
ing forms of expression. These comments are then circulated in a manner as
to create the conditions for ideological contamination. These contaminated
expressions are prohibited by the policy.
The BVSD nondiscrimination policy is in large part a code of civility. Its
promise to create an atmosphere of mutual respect and care hinges on the
demand that all of those under its jurisdiction become adept at evaluating
the ethical effects of their own and their colleagues’ communicative acts.9
All district staff and students are expected to first regulate their own com-
municative conduct, ensuring that they do not unintentionally demean oth-
ers. But, the policy also becomes the ground by which any student or district
employee can criticize and report another student or staff member who is-
sues demeaning expressions as transgressing the limits of civility constituted
by the policy. The policy, therefore, becomes a standard for evaluating the
ethical effects of communicative action. Each member of the district is po-
tentially a critic. As a critic the member uses the policy to “isolate the moral
character of the implied audience” of the seemingly demeaning expression
and encourages her or him to offer “a moral judgment of the rhetor’s vi-
sion.”10 In short, the policy works as a dialogic instrument of governance that
generates a legion of discourse analysts and rhetorical critics.
But this code does more than express the standards of decorum the dis-
trict hopes to maintain; it is an enforceable policy that justifies censorship
and punishment up to termination and expulsion. Hence, the inherent ten-
sions between civility and freedom of speech are very real in this case. In
the last few years courts are finding that such antidiscrimination policies
may in fact be unconstitutionally overbroad and in effect an attempt to im-
pose viewpoint censorship on political speech.11 Although many of us may
be loath to afford to racially demeaning speech the status of deliberative
rhetoric that the First Amendment clearly protects, the courts have increas-
ingly come to define such speech as intending to communicate political sen-
timent. Moreover, the courts reason it is precisely inasmuch as disparaging
comments directed at an individual’s race, sex, or religion have the poten-
tial to constitute a hostile environment that their political nature is revealed.

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 107
But, most importantly for our purposes, the courts have suggested that the
fatal flaw of such policies is that they fail to establish a method for assessing
the effects of communicative action and, thus, cannot provide a coherent jus-
tification for regulating student and faculty discourse.12
Currently the courts are caught in a doctrinal dilemma when they adju-
dicate on antidiscrimination polices that regulate speech. On the one hand,
there is general acceptance that the school environment is in large part con-
stituted in and through communicative action. But, on the other hand, the
courts fear using such a constitutive model to assess the effects of rhetorical
acts because they cannot envision how such a model would work other than
by rendering an ethical judgment on the content of the discourse. The courts
fear that any claim that a particular utterance helps constitute a hostile school
environment could only be warranted by reading the content of the utter-
ance as falling within a class of expression that has already been deemed as
transgressing the limits of civility defined in the policy itself and thus consti-
tuting evidence of a hostile environment. The policy would, in essence, es-
tablish the parameters of moral and ethical expression that the school district
deemed acceptable and be an instrument for ferreting out and punishing any
expression falling outside these parameters. The policy would then autho-
rize content-based censorship. So, while the courts may be sympathetic to
school districts’ goals of fostering an environment of mutual respect, they
hold that allowing the judgment of effects to be read from the content of the
expression itself would make the policy self-validating. Therefore, the courts
rely on the traditional, instrumentalist account of rhetorical effects: holding
out for causal evidence that the singular act of expression in question was
the material cause of the effects attributed to it.13 Causal evidence for these
effects operationalized as psychological injury, diminished school perfor-
mance, or violence, however, is almost impossible to find. The result is that
courts are faced with the knowledge that the sorts of invidious discrimina-
tion and harassment constituted by demeaning speech cannot be captured
with an instrumentalist model of communication.Yet, those antidiscrimina-
tion policies that target communication practices responsible for the crea-
tion and maintenance of hostile environments cannot be endorsed, because
the constitutive model of effects underwriting these policies, a model often
based on methods of ideological criticism that read utterances for their his-
torical and cultural meaning, cannot pass constitutional muster.

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108 / Hicks
I contend that a detailed reading of Clare Schoolmaster’s testimony re-
veals a possible solution to the courts’ dilemma. Albeit, a solution that may
have considerable costs. Specifically, a close reading of Schoolmaster’s tes-
timony shows that she refuses to read the rhetorical effects of Ms. Thielen’s
display from either its ideological content or its epistemological commit-
ments. Rather, she argues that the potential effect of the display to “broaden
racism” is wholly the result of the interplay of its formal features and the
context of the science fair in which it was displayed. This context is defined
in terms of a purpose-built speech-exchange system for disseminating fac-
tual information. Schoolmaster employs a reading strategy that assesses rhe-
torical effects without reference to the content of the display, the motives of
the participants, or the status of the display as knowledge, but rather assesses
them wholly within the circulatory matrices of the display and the public it
summons. By means of this reading strategy, Schoolmaster can successfully
avoid the dilemma of how to utilize a constitutive account of communication
without endorsing content-based censorship.
This reading strategy, however, is underwritten by two powerful, long-
standing communicational ideologies: the Platonic division between dis-
semination and dialogue and the epidemiological model of communication
as social contagion. These ideologies challenge the dominant liberal inter-
pretations of meaning, persuasion, intention, and rationality in forming and
expressing political beliefs. Therefore, these ideologies, especially the social
contagion thesis, wreak havoc with the traditional justifications for wide free
speech rights in particular, and for the value of public deliberation, generally.
Moreover, the social contagion thesis radically expands the object domain
of governance by defining political agency as the authority to regulate how
messages circulate within the public sphere and by undermining our faith in
critical reflection and voluntary choice in formulating political beliefs, two
commitments at the heart of any theory of public deliberation. Thus, its ap-
plication reveals an inherent tension in the liberal project to govern in and
through dialogue. It is an open question whether this tension opens up space
for inventing new vocabularies and modes of thought for resisting the gov-
ernmentality of dialogue, if one does want to resist it at all. Instead this con-
tradiction between a subjectless propagation of linguistic forms infecting
and, thereby making, human subjects and the phenomenological “I” presup-
posed by accounts of dialogue, may itself become the constitutive force ani-
mating new theories of discursive democracy. The inherent tension between

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 109
social contagion models of communication versus the model of communica-
tion as dialogue may then supplant the tensions between liberty and equality
at the heart of modern nondiscursive theories of democracy.14 While it re-
mains beyond the scope of this essay to attempt an answer to this question, I
would be happy if this case study prompted some reflection upon it.
Here we come to the second reason the application of the BVSD policy
and the controversy it ignited warrants interest: It is a particularly fertile
event for understanding how communicational ideologies shape political
judgment. The doctrinal dilemmas that antidiscrimination polices have cre-
ated for the courts and how these dilemmas are addressed and resolved by
Clare Schoolmaster are intriguing cases of how ideologies of communication
shape the modes of interpretation, the evaluation of evidence, and the justifi-
cations of predictions about the consequences of rhetorical action (and here
I am expanding Judith Irvine’s definition of linguistic ideologies as “the cul-
tural system of ideas about social and linguistic relationships, together with
their loading of moral and political interests” to include those ideas about
public and interpersonal communication as well as linguistic form and func-
tion).15 I am especially interested in explicating how ordinary social actors,
like Clare Schoolmaster and Alvertis Simmons, use communicational ideolo-
gies to invest speech-exchange systems like dialogue and deliberation with
ethical substance. Having done so, they can use them to create standards of
communicational rationality and reasonableness to police their own and oth-
ers’ conduct in deliberative settings.
In the remainder of the chapter, I take an ethnomethodologically inspired
approach to rhetorical criticism to explicate the working logics animating
Schoolmaster’s and Simmons’s evaluations of the social reality constituted by
the display.16 I then explicate the forms of practical reasoning that shape how
they use these evaluations to distribute blame and assign responsibility. I pay
particular attention to the ways that the communicational ideologies under-
writing each of their assessments of the display’s rhetorical effects interface
with racial ideologies and how this interface is used to mark and govern the
affective borders between white and black, between Boulder and Denver.

JUSTIFICATORY GAMES: THE MESA STAFF SPEAK

The February 27, 2001, meeting of the Boulder Valley School Board was not
a hearing; there was no verdict rendered. It was not a debate; there was no

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110 / Hicks
decision made and no one’s arguments were answered. It was not an inquiry;
no facts were found and no problems defined. Nor was it a deliberation;
there was no new policy formulated and no recommendations were made.
Because the decision had been made, the display removed, the apology of-
fered and accepted, and the credit for the science fair project awarded, what
was left to do was offer the participants the opportunity to publicly justify
their positions. In this game of public justification the participants’ goal was
not to convince the others of the rightness of their position and, thereby,
win their adherence.17 Rather, their aim was to display for the public the rea-
sons they made the decisions they did and to make those reasons appear to
be rational and reasonable. These justifications did not need to be true or
compelling, but simply sufficient to cultivate the appearance that they made
the decision in light of the available evidence, to the best of their abilities
and with good intentions. Someone else may have decided differently, but
as long as the public can see that the decision was indeed made in a respon-
sible manner, no more justification is necessary. Participants simply must
show that their decision was one among several appropriate responses to
the demands of the situation (it was rational) and that it was not an abuse of
political power (it was reasonable).18 As long as their reasons appear to be
rational and reasonable, then, the school board can count on the public ac-
cepting the legitimacy of their decision, even if some of them would have
decided differently.
Clare Schoolmaster’s testimony was the first opportunity for those school
officials responsible for removing Ms. Thielen’s project to publicly account
for their decision. Her testimony is the official explication of Principal
Thompson’s claim that the project could be “seen as racially insensitive” and
that it had the potential “for real emotional hurt and intellectual confusion.”
Moreover, it stands as the primary attempt, in the record, by the school to
reframe the event: first, so the decision to remove the display would be seen
as a justifiable breach of the norm to respect freedom of speech, and, second,
so the school board hearing itself could be redefined as an invitation for
members of the public to realign themselves with the relations of authority
preceding the event.
To be considered a successful account—that is, as a justification for the
breach of the student’s rights and the realignment of responsibility needed to
restore the preexisting moral order—Schoolmaster’s testimony had to ac-

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 111
complish three objectives: She needed to justify the decision to remove the
display, showing that it was both a rational and reasonable act. She needed to
establish the propensity for the display to demean the race of students, both
those students present and those who might become the object of harass-
ment if word of the project were circulated, to claim that the display vio-
lated the BVSD nondiscrimination policy. And she needed to reassign blame
for the incident to the appropriate parties, establish who among them has
the authority to speak on racial issues, and show how recognizing the proper
distribution of blame and responsibility could serve as the source of rap-
prochement.19
Clare Schoolmaster had no intention of arguing against David Thielen
or Barry Satlow and Judd Golden from the Boulder County ACLU. As she
states in her opening (lines 376–78) she is there to “clarify the information
concerning the decision to not display the Barbie doll science fair project.”20
To “clarify” implies that she has no intention of altering her position, and that
she has the authority to correct others’ misperceptions of the event. This au-
thority follows from her being the school’s spokesperson. She begins by de-
scribing herself as a teacher at Mesa Elementary, but after a self-initiated re-
pair, immediately upgrades this description to that of staff spokesperson.The
difference between being a teacher who speaks as a representative of the staff
and speaking on behalf of the staff is a crucial one for establishing the foot-
ing necessary to “clarify” the decision. There is always a gap between a repre-
sentative and her or his constituency, and opponents can exploit that gap to
their advantage by raising doubts about the correspondence between what
the representative wants and what her or his constituency actually desires.
As a spokesperson, however, there is no gap between her testimony and
what we are to assume is the feelings of every teacher at Mesa, an assump-
tion she attempts to warrant by taking on the collective voice of “the staff
at Mesa” (lines 375–76) to announce their intention to clarify the decision to
“not display” the project. Note how the phrase “to not display the Barbie doll
science fair project” (lines 377–78)—as opposed to the candidate formula-
tion “the decision to remove the Barbie science fair project”—makes the de-
cision appear as the product of prior deliberation rather than a reaction to
the “offensive” content of the display. This appearance helps render the de-
cision as reasonable, because it does not ground the decision in the subjec-
tive “sensibilities” of the teachers, a standard that has been ruled unconstitu-

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112 / Hicks
tionally overbroad and admonished in the ACLU’s letter and testimony, but
as the product of deliberation over the likely consequences of the display.21
Throughout the rest of her testimony she uses the pronouns “our” and “we”
to continuously enact the collective voice of the staff, with the only excep-
tion being her use of “professional” to modify “we” midspeech (line 411), a
modification that attaches both expertise and a special responsibility for the
welfare of the students as incumbent features of the membership category
“staff,” thereby expanding the scope of their authority. Having established the
moral footing needed to “clarify” the decision, Schoolmaster can now use the
remainder of her testimony to instruct her audience as to why the decision
was warranted by the teacher’s professional judgment and, in fact, was ne-
cessitated by their professional responsibility to care for the student body.22

FORM + CONTEXT = EFFECT: INTERPRETING


SCHOOLMASTER’S CONSTITUTIONAL POSITION

The most fascinating feature of Schoolmaster’s testimony is that she does not
justify the decision to remove the project by addressing the epistemologi-
cal and ontological aspects of the display. She does not claim that the proj-
ect is bad science or that social science projects should not be allowed in the
science fair. She will not attack those absolutist interpretations of the First
Amendment that suggest that the nondiscrimination policy does not pro-
vide adequate legal grounds to remove the project. She will not say that the
claims embedded in the display are incorrect or racist in and of themselves.
Nor does she interpret the display as disclosing the character of the Mesa
students, their parents, or even Boulder itself. In refusing to ground her jus-
tification on epistemological or ontological grounds she completely side-
steps the arguments offered by David Thielen, the ACLU, and the editorials
condemning the decision. Rather, Schoolmaster, uninterested in discern-
ing the motives of Ms. Thielen or her father and seemingly indifferent to the
content of the display and what it means, is concerned with how the form of
the display circulates within the context of the science fair (articulated as a
purpose-built system for distributing the right to speak and disseminate in-
formation) and how this circulation produces unintended and potentially
damaging consequences. Schoolmaster does not perform a reading of the
display’s cultural meaning to uncover its ideological content and use the of-

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 113
fensive nature of that content to justify the decision to take it down. Instead,
she performs a form-sensitive reading of the display and the context of the
science fair to determine the responsibility, and concomitantly the blame,
that each of the parties must take for the social reality created by the circu-
lation of talk about the display, in particular talk that has the potential to de-
mean.
The heart of Schoolmaster’s testimony is seen in lines 387–96: “Our major
concern was the form in which this project would have been displayed. Let-
ting the project stand on its own would not have allowed for a needed dis-
cussion to tackle and address the complex and difficult subject of racism.The
project would have served to even broaden racism if young students took re-
sults at face value or insensitive, ignorant remarks were overheard in pass-
ing.” Here Schoolmaster lays out the primary justification for the decision.
The display would have had the effect of broadening racism if the teachers
would have allowed it in the science fair. In claiming that the display, if al-
lowed to stand, would broaden racism, she is directly orienting to section 4c
of the BVSD policy, which again states: “It is a violation of the nondiscrimi-
nation policy if, on District property, in District vehicles, or in connec-
tion with any District activity, or event a District employee or student . . .
displays visual or written material with the purpose or, depending on the
circumstances and context, effect of demeaning the race, ethnicity, national
origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, or religion of any indi-
vidual or group.” The display is clearly not an act of verbal aggression, thus,
the first prong of the policy, that the display is purposely demeaning, is in-
applicable. The second prong, that the display, given the circumstances and
context, has the effect of demeaning, however, is most definitely applicable
given Schoolmaster’s formulation of the display’s perlocutionary force.
In line 394 Schoolmaster posits a condition that would engender the dis-
play as a device for spreading racism: “if young students took results at face
value.” Here she is claiming that if the students at the fair failed to read the
project’s finding that the majority of the students in Ms. Thielen’s poll find
whites more attractive than African Americans ironically, as it was obviously
intended to be read by Ms. Thielen, they would simply take this finding as
established fact and hold it true for themselves as well. They would not be
able to discern the ad populum fallacy at play in any attempt to generalize the
findings as a social fact. No reasonable person can, Schoolmaster implies, ex-

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114 / Hicks
pect “young students” to posses the discursive competency needed to read
the display in any other way than at “face value,” especially if we assume that
they have yet to be instructed in the realities of white supremacy and its cul-
tural legacy. The elementary school science fair, according to Schoolmaster,
is not the appropriate place to teach that lesson. The classroom is. As she says
in lines 396–402, “We do not fear the topics of prejudice or intolerance. We
ensure these issues are incorporated into the curriculum and are brought
to human scale through literature, discussions of current events, and in our
dealings with the daily conflicts that we have in our classrooms and on the
playground.” It would be easy to read this statement as making an epistemo-
logical claim, that the humanities and social sciences, not the sciences, are
the appropriate disciplines for teaching about the “complex and difficult sub-
ject of racism.” Perhaps she is making just such a claim, but I think a more
useful reading, especially if we are interested in it as a justification for the de-
cision to remove the project, is to place it alongside her claim in line 390 that
it is the form of the display, in particular the fact that display would “stand on
its own,” that concerned the Mesa staff. And, thus, we should interpret her
claim throughout the testimony as concerning the nature of the science fair
and how it limited the available rhetorical forms the display could take.
A typical science fair display, and it is important to note that Ms. Thielen’s
was no exception, takes the form of a poster that sets out the research ques-
tion, or hypothesis, the experiment designed to address the question, the
process of gathering data, and the results and analysis of the data. What it
does not typically do is offer a historical, social, or political genealogy of
the research question or a set of interpretive guidelines for reading the re-
sults and translating them into policy recommendations. We do know that
Ms. Thielen’s project did not do either of these things because David Thielen
and Barry Satlow go to great lengths to assure the audience that this proj-
ect was a model science fair display and, thus, never made any claims about
the meanings or significance of the results. David Thielen defends the proj-
ect by explaining that “Um, the experiment was not derogatory, it was not
racially discriminatory—it’s right there [referring to the actual display he has
set in front of the podium]—did not create racial animosity. And its conclu-
sion is incredibly innocuous.”23 The ACLU letter claimed that any interpre-
tation of the findings that depicted the students as racist could only be the
product of someone “speculatively putting spin on the results.”24 Exactly.

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 115
Schoolmaster never claims that the findings are racist or that they portray
the students at Mesa as unwittingly racist. This is a conclusion that could
only be made if one already knew that using race as the standard of assess-
ing beauty and, thereby, social worth was wrong. This is precisely the back-
ground knowledge that “young students,” according to Schoolmaster, do not
have. Since there is nothing in the display that would impart that knowledge
and, crucially, the form of the science fair display actually prohibits putting
the findings “in human scale,” there is no reason to believe that these “young
students” would treat the fact that their peers use race to assign social worth
as any less “innocuous” than the process by which mold forms on bread or
what happens to white mice when you feed them a diet of junk food. They
are simply facts that will be incorporated as knowledge. If the other partici-
pants were to doubt this line of reasoning, Alvertis Simmons’s, the chairman
of the Denver Committee of the Million Man March speaking in support of
the school’s decision to remove the display, “face value” reading of the dis-
play forcefully performs its validity: “But would you allow your school news-
paper to say that Blacks are less attractive than Whites? Would you? No, you
wouldn’t. So, why would you allow us a project to come into your school
system, a project that says, you got two dolls, one Black, one White? You got
thirty kids. Twenty-four of them, it’s my understanding, said that the White
doll is much prettier than the Black doll. What do you all think the Civil
Rights movement was all about? It was about self-esteem for Black folks and
for minorities.”25
The second way the display could “broaden racism” is if “insensitive, ig-
norant remarks were overheard in passing” (lines 395–96). Where the first
item in the conditional concerned the welfare of innocent children who
were not culturally literate enough to understand the display, this second
item targets those audience members who do understand the display’s in-
tended meaning but choose to disregard it and purposely mistranslate it so
as to transgress community norms of decorum. Schoolmaster is most likely
referring to older students who would turn the display’s findings into a joke
by overstating their significance and overplaying their scientific value. They
would read the display ontologically—that it discloses the essential char-
acter of Mesa students and Boulder residents in general—and, then, use
that reading as a means to ridicule and harass the students of Mesa, the resi-
dents of Boulder, and perhaps even minority students. Schoolmaster may

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116 / Hicks
also be referring to those media outlets that would turn the display, and the
ensuing controversy over whether to allow it or not, into a scandal: A media
heyday in which the Mesa students would be portrayed as young racists and
the Mesa staff as brutal censors. This is certainly Jordana Ash’s, the presi-
dent of the Mesa Parent/Teacher Organization, take: “As some of you may
know, Mesa has received an incredible amount of um harassing and really
disturbing phone-calls and emails from the community, the nation and even
internationally. And this has done some serious damage to the morale of
this incredible school, this award-winning school, and these award-winning
teachers.”26 Schoolmaster, however, is not overly concerned with the char-
acter of these malicious students or irresponsible journalists, but, rather,
with the innocent bystanders who would “overhear” these “insensitive, igno-
rant remarks in passing.” Schoolmaster fears the circulation of remarks about
the display, in the form of jokes, gossip, scandalous stories, and the like, that
may demean the reputation of minority students, or more likely of Mesa
Elementary students and staff. And, perhaps, “broaden racism” by circulating
these “ignorant, insensitive remarks” to vulnerable audiences who would re-
peat these messages to others and, thereby, turn them into racists.

UNCONTROLLABLE CIRCULATION:
THE CHALLENGES OF OVERHEARING

But, what does overhearing entail and why does Schoolmaster claim that
it is so dangerous? Following Emanuel Schegloff, we can identify two as-
pects of what he terms the “overhearer’s problem” that make it clear why.27
First, every act of overhearing exposes the inherent instability of meaning. A
person who overhears a conversation, either catching a snippet of it or per-
haps all of it, without understanding the “what-is-being-talked-about” inde-
pendently of the talk she or he is hearing, will “hear ambiguities in the talk
that are not there for the ratified participants in the conversation.”28 Copar-
ticipants in conversation design their talk so that they can continuously track
what is being talked about and when ambiguity arises they can initiate a re-
pair to restore mutual understanding. The overhearer, however, cannot. He
or she must construct a new context in which the utterance makes sense.
There are, however, no guarantees that this context will be isomorphic with
the context constructed by the ratified participants; in fact, it is likely that

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 117
it will differ in consequential ways. The overhearer must take each snippet
of conversation and imagine a variety of contexts that render it meaningful;
each newly imagined context raising the possibility that the original context
of meaning constructed by the ratified participants could be lost in transla-
tion. If Schoolmaster’s description of the inherent ambiguity of the display
is correct, those students who pass by the display and overhear concerned
teachers and parents discuss its ramifications or those who hear about the
display from media reports will face the same problem that faces every over-
hearer: constructing a context that makes sense of the display. The display,
already severely undercontextualized, is sure to be mistranslated, perhaps
maliciously so.
These fears are not allayed when we consider the second aspect of the
overhearer’s problem, the uncontrollable circulation and citation of the
mistranslated utterance. The utterance can be replayed for countless oth-
ers, picked up and reperformed at different times by otherwise unrelated
people. Moreover, the process of reconstructing possible contexts of inter-
pretation is an activity best done with others. Anyone who has engaged in
trading gossip and circulating rumors understands that much, if not all, of
these activities’ pleasures arise from the communal play of imagining sce-
narios that otherwise might remain hidden or unknown. Gossip, as pointed
out by Vincent Rafael, “is contagious, insinuating itself into other forms of
writing and speech without itself becoming a separate and distinguishable
discourse.”29 Gossip provokes fear because it triggers a potentially “limit-
less series of speculations.” And it is this combination of the “highly specula-
tive with the potentially limitless that lends gossip its scandalous aspect. It
does not know where to stop, nor does it care to. It therefore produces the
opposite effect of pity: suspicion, disrespect and disbelief.”30 Or as Jordana
Ash testified, it can unleash a series of “harassing and disturbing phone calls
and emails” designed to demean the students and staff at Mesa Elemen-
tary.31 Once Ms. Thielen’s display has been translated into a newsworthy
item, it can be disseminated indiscriminately. The media attention, including
the coverage of the school board meeting, has reconfigured the display as a
form of public address. It addresses a public comprised of anyone whose at-
tention is captured by the display’s findings. Since the meanings that can be
ascribed to the project’s conclusions are so indeterminate, the potential for
them to be translated into a sensational form is potentially unlimited. The

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118 / Hicks
display’s message, hence, can no longer be restricted to any particular audi-
ence, such as Ms. Thielen’s fellow students, her parents, her teachers who
are judging the fair, or even her friends and family. The security that comes
with knowing whom the display’s audience is and trusting them to interpret
the findings in a charitable manner is lost. The display, in Michael Warner’s
words, “commits itself in principle to the participation of any stranger” and,
therefore, “puts at risk the concrete world that is its given condition of pos-
sibility.”32
For the participants of the February 27, 2001, BVSD school board meet-
ing, Alvertis Simmons is that stranger, one who is outside of a group but who
has the moral authority necessary to confront it with its failings, as George
Simmel explains.33 From the first lines of his testimony in which he stresses
his long and troublesome journey from Denver to Boulder to his report of
the many phone calls from “African American parents in the Denver com-
munity” who have gotten word of the display and are “very hurt by what
has happened here in Boulder,” Simmons is there to let the members of the
school board and the audience know that news of the project’s display is cir-
culating, that Denver’s African American community feels the project’s dis-
play demeans African American children, and that it is taken as a visible sign
of the racial animosity of the residents of Boulder.34 Simmons’s testimony is
the embodiment of the conditions Schoolmaster posits that would have ren-
dered the display an instrument to “broaden racism.” He validates the first
condition by reading the display at “face value,” a reading that confirms his
suspicion that the residents of Boulder do use race as the basis for assign-
ing social value and that they teach this lesson to their children. And by re-
porting his journey to Boulder with word that news of the display has circu-
lated throughout the area, and that its circulation must be stopped or it will
hurt even more African Americans, he provides evidence that the “insensi-
tive, ignorant remarks” will indeed be “overheard in passing.”
Yet there are crucial differences between Simmons’s and Schoolmaster’s
testimonies. For Simmons, the content of the display is at issue. The project’s
findings are evidence that Boulder is a racist community and that the chil-
dren of Boulder have been socialized to think in racial terms as well. Sim-
mons is, however, not overly concerned about the souls of Boulder’s chil-
dren; he simply wants the teachers and the school board to stop the leakage
of these racist messages into the public sphere so they will no longer hurt the

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 119
self-esteem of Denver’s African American community. Schoolmaster, mean-
while, cannot brand the third-grade class at Mesa Elementary as protoracists
(a conclusion that I am sure she does not believe anyway). Instead, she treats
the display as a well-intentioned but potentially dangerous mistake. Not only
was the form of the display wholly inadequate to frame the findings so they
could provide an important lesson about tolerance and the parents’ need to
interrogate their children’s, and by extension their own, nascent reliance on
racial hierarchies to assign social value, the science fair itself is an inappropri-
ate context for the “needed discussion to tackle and address the complex and
difficult subject of racism.” This is not because racism is an unsuitable topic
for science, or the third grade too soon to discuss the issue of race, but be-
cause the science fair, by its very nature, does not allow for dialogue. The sci-
ence fair is, rather, a site for the dissemination of information, for the broad-
casting of discoveries, but it is not conducive to conversation.

(IM)POSSIBILITY OF DIALOGUE:
THE SCIENCE FAIR AS A COMMUNICATIVE FORUM

Throughout the proceedings, the limitation of the science fair as a forum


for addressing questions of race was a pervasive topic. Schoolmaster closed
her testimony with this claim: “We feel our decision was appropriate given
the ages of our students, the arena of a grade school science fair, and the dis-
trict’s nondiscrimination policy. The project did not belong in the science
fair forum, but the issues it brings up do belong in the classroom, in the
homes of our students” (lines 434–40). Like many categorical descriptions
used in persuasive discourse—by which I mean, the culturally organized de-
scriptive practices through which people classify actors, actions, and event
and, in the process, strategically impute cultural knowledge about motives,
expectations, obligations, and consequences to those actors, actions, and
events—Schoolmaster’s depiction of context is accomplished through a con-
trastive pair: the science fair versus the classroom.35 This disjunctive contrast
was the crux of much of the testimony given at the school board meeting as
well as the editorials written about the event. For example, Rita Davis, a par-
ent at Mesa Elementary, testified that the project did not belong in the sci-
ence fair: “Rather than having it in the science fair, I would rather have seen
it as a parent in the classroom, or at a school assembly, which we have every

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120 / Hicks
week, and we have some wonderful things that the kids do at assemblies.”36
Clint Talbott’s editorial in the Boulder Daily Camera underscored the belief
that a science fair is inherently not a dialogic space. “Later the director of ele-
mentary education argued, ‘a science fair is not the way we choose to discuss
race relations.’ No Kidding. A science fair is not the way we discuss anything.
It is not a discussion. The girl was not propounding a point of view. She con-
ducted a scientific experiment. She reported the results. She displayed ini-
tiative, curiosity and discipline. Just as she was supposed to.”37 Even David
Thielen’s defense of the display oriented to Schoolmaster’s contrast between
the chaotic context of the science fair and the safety of the classroom. “How-
ever we cannot limit discussion about race merely to the sterile controlled
environment of a set lesson in a classroom. We must discuss it in any con-
text. The world is not neat and ordered; it is messy and chaotic and only in
the context of the real world can we address all aspects of the racial issues we
ourselves face today.”38 Each of these accounts describes the classroom and
the science fair, first and foremost, as communicative contexts. Not in the
impoverished terms of the standard treatment of context by rhetorical crit-
ics and discourse analysts, but as an embodied set of procedural norms regu-
lating who has the authority to speak, how they should speak, the types of
knowledge claims that can be heard as authentic and true and, most strenu-
ously, where persons should speak from and to whom.39 As communicative
contexts the science fair and the classroom assign even more power than
who has the right to speak and the obligation to listen and, thus, the partici-
pants describe the science fair and classroom in moral and political terms.
This contextualization strategy is anchored in the medical binaries the par-
ticipants used to describe each context: sterility/contamination, controlled/
uncontrollable, healthy/infected, and sensitive/exposed. Hence, the deci-
sion to display the project in the science fair or to remove it and remand it
to the safe environs of the classroom was presented as a moral and political
choice by each of these participants. The classroom, on the one hand, as a
site of dialogue and discussion becomes a place capable of fostering search-
ing conversations on race. The science fair, on the other hand, is an “arena”
for the dissemination of factual information at best and scandalous gossip
at worst. The classroom is a semiprivate space, coextensive with the home,
and, thus, a “risk-free” environment for these children to examine and ex-
plore their attitudes and behavior, while the science fair is a quasi-public

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 121
“forum”; that is, it is a school-sponsored event that potentially addresses a
public of strangers and, thereby, puts the reputation of the school, the staff,
and the students at risk.
The moral and political agency ascribed to the contexts of the science
fair and classroom—evidenced by the ability to transfigure the display into
either an instrument that “would have even served to broaden racism” if
left standing “on its own,” or “a learning opportunity for the upper grades”
and a “springboard to healthy and honest conversations on racism,” if pre-
sented in a “risk-free atmosphere where the discussion of and sharing of
ideas are common and encouraged practices”—is underwritten by two long-
standing, powerful ideologies of communication: the Platonic division be-
tween dissemination and dialogue and the popular model of communication
as a form of social contagion. The disjunction between the science fair and
the classroom is an instantiation of the Platonic division between writing and
speech, and between dissemination and dialogue. As John Durham Peters ar-
gues, “Plato was haunted by multiplication, a term that ought to be taken in
its double sense of simple copying and sexual reproduction. Whereas oral
speech almost invariably occurs as a singular event shared uniquely by the
parties privy to the discussion, writing allows all manner of strange cou-
pling: the distant influence the near, the dead speak to the living, and the
many read what was intended for the few.”40 Since Plato, dissemination has
been seen as impersonal, asymmetrical, seductive, and unfaithful and dia-
logue as selfless, mutual, reciprocal, and transformative. Dialogue is per-
sonal, concerned with discovering the truth through intersubjective agree-
ment. Dissemination is indiscriminate, concerned with attracting attention
and power. It is this promiscuity of dissemination that Schoolmaster uses to
render the Mesa Elementary science fair as a dangerous site for the propaga-
tion of “insensitive, ignorant remarks.”

CONTAGION: CIRCULATORY MATRICES


AS RHETORICAL AGENTS

But why should we assume that these “insensitive, ignorant remarks” would
have actually increased the number of children who hold racist attitudes?
The promiscuous nature of the science fair may be enough for Schoolmaster
to show that these remarks will circulate widely, and Simmons’s and Ash’s

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122 / Hicks
testimony are presented as evidence that she is correct. But, the propen-
sity for wide circulation does not prove in and of itself that those who “over-
hear” such remarks will be turned into protoracists. Especially if we do not
assume that all of the children of Boulder are “judgmental dopes” who be-
lieve everything they hear.41 Or that they are already racists and the display
simply outed them. Schoolmaster’s claim that the display “would have” actu-
ally had the power to produce the effect of broadening racism (and her use of
the epistemic modal “would have” throughout lines 386–407 signals that she
is certain that these effects “would have” actually transpired) must then be
underwritten by a second linguistic ideology, one capable of explaining the
display’s perlocutionary force in the absence of conscious uptake. In other
words, to satisfy the dictates of the BVSD nondiscrimination policy, which
holds that one must be able to show that the display would have the “effect
of demeaning” the race of some person as the burden of proof for invoking
the policy, Schoolmaster needs access to a model of rhetorical effectivity
that explains how beliefs and attitudes are transmitted and incorporated into
a person’s commitment set without her or his assent. The epidemiological
conceptualization of communication as a form of contagion—ideas and feel-
ings are transmitted from person to person like germs, and, thus, commu-
nication is best modeled as a virus—is her solution (signaled by her formu-
lation of the display’s effects in lines 392–96—the display “would have even
served to broaden racism” if “insensitive, ignorant were overheard in pass-
ing”).42
The social contagion thesis holds that emotions and beliefs spread through
and leap between populations in a process that is more akin to a disease like
the flu than rational choice. The logic of contagion, as explained by Alvin
Goldman, is quite simple.43 First, the carrier exposes her or his condition to
a potential receiver and, second, the receiver catches or contracts the con-
dition. The contraction phase, best illustrated by emotional contagion, can
also be broken down into two discrete steps. First, when the receiver ob-
serves the emotional state of the carrier, most notably through facial expres-
sions, her or his face involuntarily mimics that of the sender. Next these fa-
cial expressions trigger “resonant emotion” in the observer. This multistep
process explains how emotions are communicated from one person to an-
other, or, better, how they are recreated in another person. Belief contagion
works much the same way. When a person makes public her or his beliefs,

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 123
the receiver often naturally comprehends the proposition communicated
and also accepts or believes. This is not always the case, however. As with dis-
eases the receiver may posses “antibodies,” for instance, contrary evidence,
which leads her or him to reject or repel “the invading proposition.” “But ac-
ceptance of a proffered proposition,” Goldman argues, “may be the default
reaction.”44 Hence, the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychology defines contagion
as a form of collective excitement “in which emotions and behavioral pat-
terns spread rapidly and are accepted uncritically by members of a collec-
tive.”45 Contrary to most theories of persuasion, there is no assumption here
that the acceptance or rejection of a belief is a voluntary choice. Common to
all accounts of social contagion, which recently have been studied under the
sign of memetics, is the hypothesis that attitudes, feelings, or behavior are
spread without the recipient perceiving an intentional influence attempt on
the part of the sender. But, importantly, the transmission of a belief is a vol-
untary choice, one a person can be held responsible for.
While the social contagion thesis may be simple, its conclusions are
radical: under certain circumstances mere touch or contact with some so-
ciocultural phenomena is sufficient for social transmission to occur. “The re-
sults of contagion research suggest,” as Paul Marsden, a memetics scholar,
explains, “that just as we do not choose to be infected with, and pass on, bio-
logical contagions, we often behave as if we have little control over the cul-
ture we become infected with and consequently spread.”46 This claim radi-
cally undermines the traditional image of the autonomous human agent
constituted by intentional action and rational judgment. “Whilst we may
like to believe,” Marsden continues, “that we consciously and rationally de-
cide on how to respond to situations, social contagion evidence suggests that
some of the time this is simply not the case. Rather than generating and ‘hav-
ing’ beliefs, emotions and behaviors, social contagion research suggests that,
in some very real sense, those beliefs, emotions and behaviors ‘have’ us.”47
This conclusion plays havoc with the traditional justifications of free speech,
in particular, and democratic public deliberation, in general. Public reason
depends on the assumption that individuals are capable of listening to both
sides of an argument and making rational, or at least pragmatically wise, de-
cisions.48 The social contagion thesis, by locating rhetorical agency in cir-
culatory matrices, or what memeticists term “thought contagions,” rather
than the speaking subject, implies a much more fragmentary, chaotic, and

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124 / Hicks
conflict-ridden account of public decision making than the communal, epis-
temically sensitive, civic-minded Aristotelian account of deliberation under-
writing classic free speech theories, such as John Stuart Mill’s “Marketplace
of Ideas” or Alexander Meiklejohn’s claim that free speech is the cornerstone
of political freedom.49 In the world of social communication described by
the contagion thesis, deliberation becomes a Hobbesian war of each against
all, except that the warriors are not people but viral particles of informa-
tion that constitute their individual hosts and use them as vectors of propaga-
tion.50 The public sphere is not comprised of rational choosers deliberating
over their collective future, but, paraphrasing Dilip Goankar and Elizabeth
Povinelli, a swarm of cosmopolitan forms that act as mobile carriers of cul-
ture populating, cross-pollinating and summoning transnational publics.51
This communicational ideology does substantial work for Schoolmaster.
It provides her an account of rhetorical effectivity that locates the power
of the display to “broaden racism” completely within the interplay be-
tween its form and its circulation in and through public space. She need
not claim that these effects in any way derive from the display’s cultural
meaning—that it sends a symbolic message to which the culture attaches ra-
cial significance—or its epistemological commitments as science, effects on
which both Barry Satlow and David Thielen’s justifications depend—Satlow
in his assertion that the project is a replication of Kenneth Clark’s pioneer-
ing studies and Thielen when he defends the project as an exemplar of the
scientific method.52 If Schoolmaster can claim the perlocutionary effects of
the display do not originate from its “offensive” conclusions (as Alvertis Sim-
mons does) or by virtue of its inappropriate application of social science (as
Angelika Schroeder, a member of the board, argues in her testimony), but
wholly from the interplay of form and context, she can satisfy both the dic-
tates of the nondiscrimination policy and, more importantly, the courts’ de-
mand that the policy avoid viewpoint censorship.53 Furthermore, the social
contagion thesis’s formulation of the constitutive force of communication in
a biological idiom translates the account of reputational injury at the heart
of the BVSD policy, an account the courts reject as insufficiently causal, into
a naturalistic schema of cause and effect that can legitimately circulate under
the law’s auspices.
Schoolmaster can also count on the anxiety provoked by the rhetoric of
contagion to help her establish and maintain the affective border between

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 125
the science fair and the classroom, and by extension the affective border be-
tween Boulder and Denver. Contagion may be described in neutral terms by
memeticists like Marsden, but its usage is always contaminated by its asso-
ciation with deadly diseases and, thus, even the most subtle of its metaphors
can signify danger and mobilize calls to protect the community’s children.
The panics associated with contagious diseases are not proportionate to their
mortality but are, as Margaret Humphreys finds, tied to the sense of self-
containment or integrity that is felt by the body or place that has been in-
fected.54 By breaking the sacrosanct integrity of the classroom and concomi-
tantly the teacher’s ability to control the ideological messages circulating
within the school, the display provoked a great deal of anxiety, as evidenced
by Jordana Ash’s and Rita Davis’s testimony. I will conclude this chapter with
an analysis of how Schoolmaster leveraged this anxiety to assign blame to
the parents and reclaim the authority of professional judgment. But first, we
need to account for the tight interface between the communicational ide-
ology of social contagion and the politics of race.

CONFESSIONS OF A CARRIER:
SOCIAL CONTAGION AND THE POLITICS OF RACE

The reason this communicational ideology plays so well in Schoolmaster’s


testimony stems from the historical articulation of the rhetoric of contagion
to racial politics.This articulation has been especially seductive for those nar-
rating cross-cultural encounters. For centuries the rhetoric of contagion has
been used to marshal blame onto and justify exclusion and violence against
outsiders and outcasts, especially immigrants and minorities.55 The historian
Alan Kraut has coined the term “medical nativism” to mark this practice of
stigmatizing the Other as the source of disease and, therefore, violent exclu-
sion.56 Two new medical discourses of the nineteenth century, bacteriology
and epidemiology, played a crucial role in justifying both physical and intel-
lectual segregation. Particularly so for African Americans, where “blackness”
was equated with filth and disease and the social status of patients influenced
medical decisions about etiology and treatment.57
A fascinating case of rhetorical reappropriation, the communicational
ideology of contagion has come to underwrite much of contemporary anti-
racist politics too. Where medical nativists held blacks were the source of

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126 / Hicks
disease, in the post-civil-rights era antiracist activists and theorists use the
language of contagion to describe the etiology and treatment of racism itself.
Racism is figured as a disease “often unwillingly and unwittingly hosted by
members of the dominant American culture.”58 Charles Lawrence has per-
suasively argued that understanding racism as a disease rather than as a crime
more “accurately describes both its origins and the nature of the injury it in-
flicts.”59 This is because understanding racism as a disease better accounts for
the unconscious nature of our racially discriminatory beliefs and ideas. As
the recipients of a historical and cultural legacy of racial antipathy, Lawrence
contends, “Americans inevitably share many ideas, attitudes and beliefs that
attach significance to an individual’s race and induce negative feelings and
opinions about nonwhites.”60 To the extent that this “cultural belief system
has influenced us all,” he continues, “we are all racists.”61 Yet, because we re-
fuse to recognize the ways that our cultural legacy has shaped our identity
and informs our actions, most of us do not recognize our racism. In other
words, racism “infects almost everyone.”62 Our reluctance to admit that we
are sick leads us to underestimate the pervasiveness and severity of racism
and blinds us to our complicity in its continuation.Which explains why a sig-
nificant amount of racial discrimination is unconsciously motivated. Figuring
racism as a disease usefully separates fault from responsibility. While we can-
not be individually blamed for unconsciously harboring racist attitudes, be-
cause racist messages permeate the dominant culture, we are still respon-
sible for monitoring our thoughts and actions so we do not inadvertently
become carriers of racist ideologies and infect others. Racism is, therefore,
no longer defined as a social problem that affects only its victims but a public
health crisis in which all of us have a responsibility to work toward finding a
remedy for its injustices.
Those who define racism as a disease posit two closely related expla-
nations for the unconscious nature of racially discriminatory attitudes and
behaviors. Each of these explanations is articulated to a model of social
communication as contagion and each is taken up in Schoolmaster’s and Sim-
mons’s testimonies. First, social psychologists focus on the cultivation of un-
conscious racism through the transmission of cultural stereotypes.63 From
cradle to grave people are inundated by images that use white or Eurocentric
standards to define the relative worth of other cultures. Most notably stan-
dards of beauty in the United States are already well defined at an early age,

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 127
some say by three years old, in terms of a blond-haired and blue-eyed image.
These images become an integral aspect of the culture; they are not experi-
enced as explicit lessons, but are embedded in the individual’s tacit knowl-
edge, ordering her or his perception of the world. When a child sees her or
his parents, peers, and other authority figures operating as if these images
were accurate, she or he does not need to be told that African Americans are
not as attractive as whites, for she or he will assume it is so. Of course, this
is precisely what Ms. Thielen’s project confirmed.
An “importationist” theory of contagion animates this explanation of un-
conscious racism. An importationist etiology claims that an external agent
brings diseases into the community, typically through the air or through
physical contact.64 Many popular “carrier narratives”—films like Outbreak
and 28 Days Later, books such as The Hot Zone and The Coming Plague, and
the flood of news reports on West Nile virus, Anthrax, and influenza—are
importationist in character.65 These stories of infection resurface at times
of important cross-cultural contact, such as the European discovery of the
New World, the era of immigration and urbanization in the early twenti-
eth century, and in the twenty-first century the permeability, if not obso-
lescence, of national borders signaled by globalization. Each of these eras,
Priscilla Wald has shown, is populated by stories that play off the anxiety
of the stranger infecting the community with some terrible new disease.66
For cultivation theorists the carrier of unconscious racism is the onslaught
of mediated images into the home. For Clare Schoolmaster it was the pres-
ence of Ms. Thielen’s display within the science fair. As we have seen, it does
not matter that the display was intended to announce the presence of racial
stereotypes and, thereby, was designed as an antidote to unconscious rac-
ism. Because the form of the display meant that its message would have to
be broadcast as a social fact and the context of its circulation entailed that
the composition of the display’s audience was illimitable, the display would
have had the effect of circulating messages of racial superiority despite
Ms. Thielen’s intent. For Schoolmaster, David Thielen’s and Barry Satlow’s
depiction of the display is analogous to the smallpox vaccine; it may in-
oculate some but since the vaccine must carry the very agent it attacks, it
would invariably infect the most vulnerable populations with smallpox, kill-
ing them in the process.
The second explanation of unconscious racism is found in arguments

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128 / Hicks
made by cognitive psychologists that racism is a manifestation of defending
oneself against pangs of guilt by denying or disregarding those desires that
contradict what the individual has been taught is good or right.67 Specifically,
an individual is faced with the conflict between her or his adopted creed of
egalitarian values and the fact that her or his deeds are in large part pur-
chased with other’s suffering. Upon realizing that those accomplishments
are the result of being a member of a privileged class and not simply the
product of her or his unique talents and efforts, she or he will experience a
great deal of cognitive dissonance and anxiety. One method of coping with
this anxiety is to dismiss the racist implications of her or his acts from con-
sciousness, typically through a variety of defense mechanisms such as de-
nial, projection, intellectualization, rationalization, and minimization. The
most common method of dealing with the contradiction between creed and
deed is to become racially apathetic: if asked to account for your racial poli-
tics, express overt support for measures to support equality (but not radical
ones that would require redistribution and, therefore, inequality of oppor-
tunity), but otherwise live your life so as to be relatively unruffled by the in-
equities between whites and people of color. When children see that their
parents can be both supportive of everyone’s equality and for the most part
be undisturbed by the systemic inequalities that mark social life, and more
importantly by their own complicity in this scheme, they will follow suit.
The result is what Judith Skillings and James Dobbins term a “rule of irrele-
vance”:That “data from and about members of target populations, when they
conflict with existing schemata, are irrelevant.”68 Thus, the presence of Na-
tive Americans can be disregarded in accounts of U.S. history, whites can
laugh at jokes that lampoon white privilege told by African American com-
ics, and politicians can ignore the presence of African Americans unless they
are overtly courting the “black vote.” Or in terms of Ms. Thielen’s project, if
asked to choose which doll is “prettiest” and the choice is between two dolls
with identical facial features, body types, and expressions, differing only in
skin and dress color, pick the one wearing the purple dress.
A “miasmist” theory of contagion animates this explanation of unconscious
racism. A miasmist etiology posits that the origin of disease is local, caused
by decaying organic matter releasing poisons into the environment.69 Mias-
mist stories are not nearly as prevalent in popular culture as importation-
ist ones. But, where they do surface is in accounts of disease by colonized

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 129
and oppressed peoples. For instance, in the Philadelphia yellow fever epi-
demic of 1793 there was a vehement debate between importationists and
miasmists (which would continue until Walter Reed established the link be-
tween yellow fever and mosquitoes at the beginning of the twentieth cen-
tury). Importationists, on the one hand, argued that the disease could be
linked to the French settlers who had fled the revolution in Haiti as well as
the several hundred black slaves they brought with them. The miasmists,
on the other, claimed that the outbreak was caused by the effluvia given off
by stagnant waters. The debate between these two camps, as Lisa Lynch ar-
gues, should not be understood simply as a conflict between differing epi-
demiological accounts. Rather, it was a struggle over the moral obligations
that African Americans and whites owed each other in times of medical ca-
tastrophe.70 Enlisted to care for whites suffering from yellow fever—based
on the false assumption that those with black skin were immune from the
disease—African Americans found that they were simultaneously dehuman-
ized and held to a higher standard of self-sacrificing behavior in tracts like
Matthew Carey’s A Short Account of the Malignant Fever Lately Prevalent in Phila-
delphia.71 Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, two former slaves, answered
Carey’s charges in their own A Narrative of the Proceedings of the Black People,
during the Late Awful Calamity in Philadelphia 1793: And a Refutation of Some
Censures,Thrown upon Them In Some Late Publications.72 The Proceedings defended
blacks who aided fever victims, emphasizing their sacrifice and valor. But
more importantly, as John Edgar Wideman demonstrates, the Proceedings
used a miasmistic account of the origins of yellow fever to hold whites, like
Carey, accountable for the sins of slavery.73 Yellow fever was the somatic ef-
fect of slavery; the waters of the city having been desecrated by the sins of
oppression had become poisonous.
Where an importationist account of contagion informs Schoolmaster’s
testimony, a miasmistic account of moral contagion underwrites Alvertis
Simmons’s. The display is a sign of Boulder’s “history of hating black folks,”
a social mutation caused by the lack of diversity. “You don’t even have a
black in this room, other than myself and my organization,” Simmons ex-
claims.74 The display, a product of white guilt, is an attempt to intellectual-
ize the contradictions between Boulder’s reputation as socially progressive
and the reality of its racial and class exclusivity. Or in Simmons’s words, “If
you are gonna say that we’re all equal, then you gotta treat us as equals.You

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130 / Hicks
can’t treat us as less than equal and say one thing in Boulder, and then we sit
back looking at you all and the students are following you al- you all’s ex-
ample. That is why we are angry in Denver.”75 Ms. Thielen’s project is an at-
tempt to relieve the guilt of the contradiction between “creed and deed,” by
“displaying” the sins of Boulder’s children, and by implication the parents
and schools of Boulder, to the offended party. The audience is, thus, consti-
tuted in two camps: the white Mesa students, and by extension the school
and their parents, who have committed the sin of unconscious racism and the
virtual audience of minority children, virtual because there are actually no
African American students enrolled at Mesa, to act as confessors. This con-
fession may be damaging to the staff and students at Mesa because it offers
no apology and no means to correct the wrong. But, for Simmons, the real
harm is that all the display can do is set up the African American commu-
nity in Denver, who stand in for the virtual audience, to be restigmatized.
For Simmons, Ms. Thielen’s project was more than a failed attempt at social
critique; it was the proverbial case of the little girl taking her finger out of
the dam, releasing the sins of Boulder so they could contaminate Denver’s
groundwater with racism. The only cure in a case like this is quarantine: for
the school board to remove the source of contamination, to monitor the stu-
dent body for any residual effects, and to attempt to restore order.

COLLABORATIVE CENSORSHIP:
JUSTIFYING THE SCHOOL’S DECISION

With the display figured as a contaminated object, the school had two op-
tions. They could have removed the display, making sure that its message did
not circulate. Or, if they wanted to try a less restrictive option, they could
have altered the display so that it circulated in a benign form in a safe envi-
ronment, such as an “issue” to be discussed in the prophylactic of the class-
room. This option, as Schoolmaster testifies in lines 378–87, was thwarted
by Ms. Thielen’s parents: “Our decision to pull this project came after ef-
forts to work out alternatives for the dis- project’s display were turned down
abruptly by the parents. We are disappointed common ground and modifica-
tions were not reached with the family in order to display the project. This
could have modeled a more positive way to handle disagreement and per-
haps would have been an excellent lesson in tolerance and compromise be-

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 131
tween people in conflict.” Here Schoolmaster renders the school as the rea-
sonable party. The school was willing to modify the display so that it could
still be shown but in a manner that would have circumvented its demeaning
effects. However, the parents were overzealous. They were unable to take
into consideration the display’s potential effects and willing to force their
own views onto others despite the teacher’s warnings. Hence, they “mod-
eled” the display’s “intolerance” by their own unreasonableness; a failure of
liberal disposition that is directly countered by Schoolmaster’s invocation
and performance of the proper dialogic means to govern such disputes.
The Thielens’ unwillingness to reach “common ground” demonstrated
that they were unable to set aside their principles to take into considera-
tion the welfare of all of the students, including their own daughter. More-
over, their unwillingness to engage in a “healthy and honest conversation”
about the “complex and difficult subject of race” exposed their nondelibera-
tive demeanor and, thus, their irresponsibility as parents. If the Thielens re-
fused to protect the students, the school had to intervene. Thus, the parents’
unwillingness to transform the conflict over the display into a “teachable
moment”—to engage in an act of collaborative censorship so as to pro-
vide an important “civics lesson” for their daughter—became the warrant
for the school to substitute their “professional judgment” for that of the par-
ents.76 “As professionals,” Schoolmaster testifies in lines 411–16, “we made
the decision in the best interests for all our students, staying true to teach-
ing practices that are best for the students’ developmental readiness, their
capacity for understanding, and their ability to transfer their learning to use-
fulness in their lives.” This substitution, Schoolmaster contends, was neces-
sitated by the likelihood that the school would have been held liable, at least
in the public’s eye, for failing to exercise its “professional judgment” to pro-
tect the students: “We also wonder if we had displayed the project in earnest
hopes that no child would be hurt by its impact that outrage would have oc-
curred, questioning our professional judgment and our insensitivity to mi-
nority children. Perhaps the media would have had a heyday with that deci-
sion too” (lines 402–8). School officials, unlike the parents, could not base
their judgment of the display’s effects on “earnest hopes” (and notice how
this phrase renders the parents both naïve and zealous) that its “impact” (the
psychological-cum-physical pain caused by the display) would not be felt.
The teachers, instead, had to base their judgment on what their training and

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132 / Hicks
experience told them would be the potential effects of the display. The par-
ents, hence, are not only irresponsible but incompetent as well. By shifting
the blame onto the parents and reassigning the responsibility for regulating
the circulation of racial messages to the school, Schoolmaster displaced the
concerns over Ms. Thielen’s free speech rights, evidenced by the many times
that those testifying or editorializing commented that this case is not about
free speech at all. Instead, she reconstituted the event as a forum over the
proper limits of school authority: does the school have the authority to con-
trol what was displayed in the science fair; does it have the authority to de-
cide what lessons it would teach about race and when and where it would
teach those lessons; and, most importantly, how could the school, and by ex-
tension the residents of Boulder, dissociate themselves from their own chil-
dren if they expose the contradictions at the heart of their community?77
Now what is left for Schoolmaster to do is reestablish the moral order
that preceded the event. She begins this process by reviewing the extant
channels of communication the Thielens could have used to ensure that the
issue of race was addressed in an appropriate manner, and she reestablishes
the proper relationship between parents and teachers for the future: “Parents
at Mesa can bring concerns and issues to teachers, the principal, or to our
SCDM, which is a SIT committee, a school improvement committee which
sets our goals for our building” (lines 422–26). She then proceeds to model
the very tolerance and commitment to dialogue that she found lacking in the
Thielen’s for the audience: “We hope that the discussions arising from this
project will bring new insights on how to best address these issues surround-
ing racism with children. We will learn from the science fair event and take
the implications seriously and to heart” (lines 426–31). But her shift to the
future tense does more: it is an effort to reconstitute the hearing itself into
a “learning opportunity.” Consistent with the justification game she has been
playing, Schoolmaster is suggesting now that the decision has been “clari-
fied,” the hearing should be transformed into an opportunity for reconcilia-
tion. Deliberation, for Schoolmaster, is not the rigorous process of discus-
sion and public debate the community uses to invent, formulate, evaluate,
and revise the laws and social polices that govern them. This is not the time
and place to debate the meaning and scope of the BVSD nondiscrimination
policy. Nor is it the time and place for a forum on the racial attitudes of the
Mesa students. Those “discussions” will arise after the close of the “hear-
ing” in a context more conducive to learning, a context governed by the

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 133
metapragmatic norms of Socratic dialogue, its insistence on reflexivity, ab-
straction, and intimacy, and its concomitant relations of authority between
pupils and instructor. That is, now that she has publicly justified the decision,
the hearing should become a classroom: safe, secure, private.

CODA

No story of contagion can simply end this way: with the moral order of the
community restored by the investigative work of the epidemiologist and her
or his assurances that the source of contagion has been safely eradicated. No.
Our narrative appetites have been conditioned to hold out for the epilogue,
to wait for the closing shot returning us to the pastoral scene that opened
the film.78 But in this viewing we notice something is wrong, the presence
of a strange, almost imperceptible substance, or perhaps the slight delay in
speech or gesture that reveals that our protagonist or her loved one has been
infected. Or any one of the few variations of this theme, all signaling that
we are not really safe, that the threat of contagion is always lurking, and,
thus, we will need the services of our hero once more. A contagion narrative
without a coda would feel wrong, incomplete.
In the closing moments of the hearing, when the school board members
were trying to assess the meaning and significance of what had just trans-
pired, the conversation moved quickly to the topic of how to get beyond the
event, of “moving forward.” To avoid seeming indifferent to the racial poli-
tics opened up in the preceding testimony, the school board members needed
a topic capable of facilitating the transition from “Barbiegate” to new business
that still allowed them to appear to be sensitive to issues of discrimination.
BVSD board member Teresa Steele found that topic when she suggested that
the difficulty of spending the last two weeks engaged in such painstaking dis-
cussions over the science fair incident could be laid to rest if the committee
chose to focus on the real issue facing the BVSD: the achievement gap be-
tween white and minority students.79 Jean Bonelli quickly agreed, suggest-
ing “that’s what we really need to be doing.”80 And Bill de la Cruz concluded
the hearing by suggesting that since the lessons of “Barbiegate” had been
learned, that the community could now see the event as a “gift” because of
conversations it sparked, the BVSD could get to the real business of eradi-
cating discrimination by supporting the state’s initiative to close the achieve-
ment gap.81

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134 / Hicks
But what is the real difference between this talk of the achievement gap
and Ms. Thielen’s science fair project? Both “display” the presence of racial
inequality and the effects of extreme structural disparity in economic re-
sources and educational opportunity in Boulder. Could it be as simple, and
disheartening, as the fact that Ms. Thielen’s project “displayed” the nascent
racial categorization embedded in the judgment of Boulder’s white children,
a fact of considerable embarrassment to the community, while the achieve-
ment gap “displays” their deep pessimism about the intelligence of minority
children, a belief that researchers have found is so pervasive and taken for
granted even among African Americans it often escapes moral censure when
articulated in educational policy?82 The debate over the achievement gap,
Charles Lawrence claims, is often less about ways to improve educational
opportunities for minorities than it is about beliefs about their intelligence;
a public debate that takes place “before a backdrop of Jim Crow, Minstrel
shows, and a host of historical and contemporary practices and cultural icons
that give the conversation meaning.”83 Lawrence expresses a profound am-
bivalence about this debate when he writes: “But despite the good intentions
and importance of such efforts, I experience a strange mixture of anxiety,
anger, and self-doubt when I listen to the public conversation about the
achievement gap. With each new study, opinion piece, and news article, my
head is being measured again.”84 Surely, this display would be as likely as
Ms. Thielen’s to be read at “face value” by students unable to comprehend
that the complex structural inequalities resulting in the achievement gap
means that minority children are not to blame for their lack of academic
achievement (but here, they would not have to be young, or even students,
to perform this misreading). Furthermore, this “social fact” is as likely to
circulate uncontrollably in the public sphere, finding its way into media re-
ports and, even, academic treatises.85 Yet, this “display” will never be prohib-
ited by the BVSD antidiscrimination policy. It is the virus disguised as the
vaccine.

NOTES

1. For instance, “A Curse of Cliques: There Are Good Reasons to Form Tight-
Knit Groups. But in America’s High Schools They Can Be Harsh,” Time, May 3,
1999, 44.

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 135
2. Anne G. Garrett, Bullying in American Schools: Causes, Prevention, Interventions
(Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003).
3. Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, (97–843), 526 U.S. 629 (1999).
4. Appendix B, no. 21.
5. Cited in “ACLU of Colorado Challenges School Censorship of 8-Year-Old’s
Science Project on Racism,” available at http://www.aclu.org/StudentsRights/
StudentsRights.cfm?ID=7150&c155.
6. Appendix B, no. 21.
7. For a discussion of the link between governmentality and rhetoric, see
Darrin Hicks, “Review of Dialogic Civility in a Cynical Age: Community, Hope, and
Interpersonal Relationships,” Communication Theory 10 (2000): 124–35; and Ronald
Walter Greene, Malthusian Worlds: U.S. Leadership and the Governing of the Population
Crisis (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999), 1–15.
8. For a systematic treatment of the communicative conditions of verbal ag-
gression and hate speech, see Richard Delgado, “Words That Wound: A Tort Action
for Racial Insults, Epithets, and Name Calling,” in Words That Wound: Critical Race
Theory, Assaultive Speech, and the First Amendment, ed. Mari J. Matsuda et al., 89–110
(Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993).
9. For a discussion of codes of civility, see Ronald Arnett and Patricia Arneson,
Dialogic Civility in a Cynical Age: Community, Hope, and Interpersonal Relationships (Al-
bany: State University of New York Press, 1999); and Mark Kingwell, A Civil Tongue:
Justice, Dialogue and The Politics of Pluralism (University Park: Pennsylvania State Uni-
versity Press, 1995).
10. John L. Lucaites, Celeste M. Condit, and Sally Caudhill, Contemporary Rhe-
torical Theory: A Reader (New York: Guilford, 1999), 328.
11. Saxe v. State College Area School District (SCASD), 240 F3d 200 (3d Cir. 2001).
12. Saxe. The Saxe court applies the causal standard for assessing communicative
effects set out in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 US
503 (1969).
13. Working from Harris v. Forklift Systems, 510 US 17 (1993), a sexual harassment
case concerning the effects of sexual jokes and vulgar displays directed at women
in the workplace, the Saxe court argued that for conduct to constitute a hostile en-
vironment it must both: (1) be viewed subjectively as harassment by the victim and
(2) be objectively severe or pervasive enough that a reasonable person would agree
that it is harassment. The court held that the “objective” prong of this inquiry must
be satisfied by looking at the “totality of circumstances,” including the frequency of
discriminatory conduct, whether it is humiliating or merely offensive and whether
it unreasonably interferes with the employee’s job performance. In theory, if a dis-
interested, reasonable (read typical) third party (read judge) can look at the evi-

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136 / Hicks
dence and conclude that he or she would feel harassed by such conduct and that this
feeling of harassment would be sufficient to make working difficult, if not impos-
sible, the court can say that there is objective evidence for harassment having oc-
curred. It is difficult to see why this is an objective test; it simply substitutes the
judge’s account for the victim’s.
Notwithstanding the inherent problems with such a reasonable person, standard
judges are loath to actually perform such a reversal of perspective. In practice, it is
evidence of severe psychological or physical pain resulting from pervasive degrada-
tion measured by an inability to perform on the job that usually counts as “objec-
tive” evidence of harassment or discrimination. In the educational domain this trans-
lates into conduct that systemically undermines the student’s ability to perform in
the classroom or the school’s ability to provide educational programs and activities.
For a discussion and critique of the reasonable person standard, see Darrin Hicks
and Phillip Glenn, “The Pragmatics of Sexual Harassment: Two Devices for Consti-
tuting a Hostile Environment,” in The Lynching of Language: Gender, Politics and Power
in the Hill-Thomas Hearings, ed. Sandra Ragan et al., 218–27 (Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 1996).
14. For a discussion of the constitutive tensions of discursive democracy, see
Darrin Hicks, “The Promise(s) of Deliberative Democracy,” Rhetoric and Public Af-
fairs 5 (2002): 223–60.
15. Judith Irvine, “When Talk Isn’t Cheap: Language and Political Economy,”
American Ethnologist 16 (1989): 255.
16. For a lucid account of how ethnomethodology can be used to read rhetorical
texts, see Michael Lynch and David Bogen, The Spectacle of History: Speech, Text, and
Memory at the Iran-Contra Hearings (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996),
262–88.
17. For a discussion of public justification rituals, see Benjamin Bates, “Ashcroft
among the Senators: Justification, Strategy, and Tactics in the 2001 Attorney General
Confirmation Hearings,” Argumentation and Advocacy 39 (2003): 254–73.
18. For a discussion of how rationality and reasonableness are assessed in po-
litical arguments, see Darrin Hicks, “Reasonableness: Political Not Epistemic,” in
Arguing Communication and Culture, ed. G. Thomas Goodnight, 104–12 (Annandale,
VA: National Communication Association, 2002).
19. For a discussion of the conditions for a successful account, see Jennifer
Coburn-Enquist, “The Logic of Protection and the Strategy of Normalcy: The
(Re)production of Child Sexual Abuse,” in Argument in a Time of Change: Definitions,
Frameworks, and Critiques, ed. James Klumpp, 262–68 (Annandale VA: National Com-
munication Association, 1998).
20. Schoolmaster’s speech is found in its entirety in Appendix A, E. Line num-
bers in the text correspond to those in the appendix.

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 137
21. Appendix A, B.
22. The concept of footing comes from Erving Goffman, Forms of Talk (Phila-
delphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981), 124–59. My application of Goff-
man’s concept is indebted to Gregory Matoesian, Law and the Language of Identity:
Discourse in the William Kennedy Smith Rape Trial (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2001).
23. Appendix A, A.
24. Appendix A, B.
25. Appendix A, G.
26. Appendix A, F.
27. Emanuel Schegloff, “On Some Questions and Ambiguities in Conversation,”
in Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis, ed. J. Maxwell Atkinson
and John Heritage, 50–52 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).
28. Ibid., 50.
29. Vicente L. Rafael, “Your Grief Is Our Gossip: Overseas Filipinos and Other
Spectral Presences,” Public Culture 9 (1997): 290.
30. Ibid.
31. Appendix A, F.
32. Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2002),
113.
33. Georg Simmel, On Individuality and Social Forms (Chicago: University of Chi-
cago Press, 1971), 143–50.
34. Appendix A, G.
35. For a discussion of contrastive pairs, see Matoesian, Law and the Language of
Identity, 55–56.
36. Appendix A, H.
37. Appendix B, no. 1.
38. Appendix A, A.
39. What is important about this strategy, for our purposes, is how it reveals that
context is more than the extratextual phenomena, such as setting, situation, prior
knowledge, or identity that sets parameters on possible interpretations of meaning.
Rather, context, in this case and I would suggest generally, is an analytic category in-
voked by participants in the midst of communicative encounters to set discretionary
limits on what, and therefore whose, acts and utterances can be heard as meaningful
and what modes of association are bestowed with moral authority.That is, context is
a strategic device used by participants to assign meaning and value to one another’s
conduct and, thereby, assign rights to and impose obligations on participants. This
account differs from the traditional treatment of context in the social and human
sciences, in general, and communication studies, in particular. Context in this tradi-
tion is conceptualized as a static container external to and in some cases determina-

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138 / Hicks
tive of the meaning and significance of communicative action. This leads analysts to
oscillate between radically localizing context by reducing it to the text surrounding
a particular utterance and the norms of the particular genre of discourse in which
the communicative act is performed. Or analysts totalize context by equating it
with macrostructural effects such as history, capitalism, patriarchy, and colonialism.
While the expansive definition of context in the standard treatment does have the
advantage of rendering features of the text unnoticed by the participants in the en-
counter visible, it carries with it the concomitant disadvantage of excluding those
features outside the professional interest of the analyst, features that the participants
themselves may find to be crucial for their interactional work. Moreover, the stan-
dard treatment is besieged with analytical problems: how to establish with any de-
gree of precision the context that must be invoked to make sense of the text; agree-
ing on criteria that could establish the relevancy of a description of that context;
and how to account for the relationship between context and rhetorical effects, that
is, how to establish the consequentiality of context. To understand the present case,
as well as to expand the analytic uses of context for rhetoric and discourse analy-
sis more generally, I suggest conceptualizing context as a rhetorical tactic. Thus,
context is an indigenous feature of interaction and invoked by participants, in both
explicit and subtle ways, to govern communicative action. Let’s define context,
then, as those regulatory systems constituted by the methods that participants use
to assign meaning and value to their own and one another’s conduct. Contexts
are constituted from sets of discursive procedures that formulate the qualifications
and conditions that participants use to regulate their interactions. Contexts estab-
lish the qualifications that individuals must possess to be allowed to speak. They set
out how utterances must be performed in order to be heard as conforming to the
standards of decorum. Contexts also provide criteria for hearing utterances as au-
thentic and true and distinguishing those statements from that which is considered
taboo and false. Unlike schemas, frames, and speech events, contexts are not neu-
tral deceptions of interaction. By establishing the officially recognized vocabular-
ies interlocutors can use to press claims, the paradigms of argumentation accepted
as authoritative in adjudicating those claims, the bodily comportments associated
with speech that render it as authentic and convincing, and the political economy
of speaking opportunities, a context shapes the means and opportunities of social
struggle. Hence, the conceptualization and application of context is inherently po-
litical. For an extended discussion of the role of context in critical analysis, see
Darrin Hicks, “The Politics of Talk: A Constitutive Account of Context” (PhD diss.,
Southern Illinois University, 1995).
40. John Durham Peters, Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communica-
tion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 37.

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 139
41. The term comes from Harold Garfinkel, Studies in Ethnomethodology (Engle-
wood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967), 73.
42. For statements of the epidemiological model of communication, see Aaron
Lynch, Thought Contagion: How Beliefs Spread through Society (New York: Basic Books,
1996); Richard Brodie, Virus of the Mind:The New Science of the Meme (Seattle, WA: In-
tegral Press, 1995); and Jack M. Balkin, Cultural Software: A Theory of Ideology (New
Haven, CT:Yale University Press, 2003).
43. Alvin I. Goldman, “Social Routes to Belief and Knowledge,” The Monist 84
(2001): 346–67.
44. Goldman, Social Routes, 356.
45. Cited in Paul Marsden, “Memetics and Social Contagion: Two Sides of the
Same Coin?” Journal of Memetics—Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission 2
(1998), available at http://cfpm.org/jom-emit/1998/vol2/marsden_p.html.
46. Ibid.
47. Ibid.
48. Hicks, Promises, 241–45.
49. John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (New York: Penguin Books, 1975); Alexander
Meiklejohn, Political Freedom: The Constitutional Powers of the People (Hartford CT:
Greenwood Press, 1979).
50. This imagery is drawn from David Charney, “Farwell to an Idea? Ideology in
Legal Theory,” Michigan Law Review 97 (1999): 1596.
51. Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar and Elizabeth A. Povinelli, “Technologies of
Public Forms: Circulation, Transfiguration, Recognition,” Public Culture 15 (2003):
385–97.
52. Appendix A, A and B.
53. Appendix A, M.
54. Margaret Humphries, “No Safe Place: Disease and Panic in American His-
tory,” American Literary History 14 (2002): 845–57.
55. Priscilla Wald, “Imagined Immunities,” in Cultural Studies and Political Theory,
ed. Jodi Dean, 189–208 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000).
56. Alan M. Kraut, Silent Travelers: Germs, Genes, and the “Immigration Menace” (Bal-
timore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994).
57. Harriet Deacon, “Racial Segregation and Medical Discourse in Nineteenth-
Century Cape Town,” Journal of Southern African Studies 22 (1996): 287–308.
58. Charles Lawrence III, “The Id, the Ego, and Unequal Protection: Reckoning
with Unconscious Racism,” Stanford Law Review 39 (1987): 321.
59. Ibid.
60. Ibid., 322.
61. Ibid.

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140 / Hicks
62. Ibid.
63. Judith H. Skillings and James E. Dobbins, “Racism as a Disease: Etiology and
Treatment Implications,” Journal of Counseling and Development 70 (1991): 206–12.
64. My discussion of importationist and miasmatic accounts of contagion and
how these are linked to racial politics is taken from Lisa Lynch, “The Fever Next
Time: The Race of Disease and the Disease of Racism in John Edgar Wideman,”
American Literary History 14 (2002): 776–804.
65. For a discussion of contagion narratives in popular culture, see Wald, “Imag-
ined Immunities,” and Heather Schell, “The Sexist Gene: Science Fiction and the
Germ Theory of History, American Literary History 14 (2002): 805–27. For a dis-
cussion of earlier popular accounts of contagion, see Nancy Tomes, “Epidemic En-
tertainments: Disease and Popular Culture in Early-Twentieth-Century America,”
American Literary History 14 (2002): 625–52.
66. Wald, “Imagined Immunities,” 189–91.
67. Skillings and Dobbins, “Racism as a Disease,” 209–10.
68. Ibid.
69. Lynch, “Fever Next Time,” 780.
70. Ibid.
71. Matthew Carey, A Short Account of the Malignant Fever Lately Prevalent in Phila-
delphia (Philadelphia, 1793).
72. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, A Narrative of the Proceedings of the Black
People, during the Late Awful Calamity in Philadelphia 1793: And a Refutation of Some Cen-
sures,Thrown upon Them in Some Late Publications 1794 (Philadelphia: Eastern National
Park Association, 1993).
73. John Edgar Wideman, Fever and Other Stories (New York: Holt, 1989), 127–61.
74. Appendix A, G.
75. Ibid.
76. The term “teachable moment” is taken from Appendix B, no. 1. For a dis-
cussion of how “professional judgment” is used to assign blame in educational con-
flicts, see Ronald W. Greene and Darrin Hicks, “Judging Parents,” in Judgment Calls:
Rhetoric, Politics, and Indeterminacy, ed. John Sloop and James McDaniel, 196–219
(Boulder CO: Westview Press, 1998).
77. These are the questions at stake in the landmark school expression case
Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 US 260 (1988). Schoolmaster’s testimony
effectively mirrors the Court’s reasoning in Hazelwood.
78. Wald, “Imagined Immunities,” 196–201.
79. Appendix A, K.
80. Appendix A, L.
81. Appendix A, N.

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Darkness on the Edge of Town / 141
82. Charles Lawrence III, “Still Blaming the Victim,” Boston Review 28 (2003): 39.
83. Ibid.
84. Ibid.
85. For instance, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Bell Curve: Intelli-
gence and Class Structure in American Life (New York: Free Press, 1994).

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6
Marking and Shifting
Lines in the Sand
Discursive Moves of Ordinary Democracy
Kathleen Haspel and Karen Tracy
The rhetoric of decline should send up a red flag; for the socially
concerned intellectual, it is as much off-the-rack rhetoric as is a rhetoric
of progress to an ebullient technocrat.
—Michael Schudson1

Ideals and standards formed without regard to the means by which


they are to be achieved and incarnated in flesh are bound to be thin and
wavering.
—John Dewey2

Democracy is on shaky ground, citizens are apathetic and uninvolved, the


quality of public discourse, when it does occur, is abysmal: so goes the re-
frain.3 For the most part, this refrain is conducted in sweeping abstractions
detached from particular people, places, issues, and discursive expressions.4
Our goal in this essay is to consider what we see when we view democracy
from the ground up, through the words of two ordinary citizens, one white,
one black, as each seeks to shape his community’s view of how their public
school system is handling the issue of race. As discourse scholars, we ap-
proach the public meeting with an interest in describing citizens’ methods
of participating in public discourse and in considering what the methods ac-
complish interactionally. How did these two participants manage the chal-
lenges of ordinary democracy?
A distinction is made in studies of language between marked and un-
marked forms, usually of subjects, often of descriptors that modify them.

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Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand / 143
An unmarked form is the shorter taken-for-granted one, whereas marked
forms are longer expressions that make visible how a marked form does
not satisfy some state that is normatively assumed by its unmarked version.
An example of marking is the term “mother” (the unmarked form), that
George Lakoff analyzes so compellingly. Marked forms in common usage in-
clude unwed mother, biological mother, teen mother, stepmother, surrogate
mother, and working mother. Each marked form highlights what is norma-
tively presumed, although not necessarily empirically true, about mothers—
that mothers typically are married and not teens, that they raise the child
rather than just giving birth or loaning their uterus for a fetus’s maturation,
that they stay home to care for the child rather than go to work, and so on.5
What goes unmarked and what must be marked to be comprehensible
provide a window into a culture’s assumptions.6 Applying the notion here,
“ordinary democracy” is the marked form whereas “democracy” is the un-
marked one. In its unmarked form, democracy assumes two features. First,
democracy is an ideal, detached from action, hard to define or observe. Or-
dinary democracy, in contrast, is what people do. It is the face of democracy
in action in places where democracy should be going on. Second, “democ-
racy” tends to assume a national level frame. To talk about democracy is to
focus on presidential politics and congressional actions rather than the ac-
tions of local scenes such as school boards and city councils. Ordinary de-
mocracy is what citizens and officials in local governance groups do when
they confront the tangle of competing concerns that are part of any actual
community meeting. Ordinary democracy is the talk in such groups that ori-
ents to, enacts, appeals to, and, at times, subverts the ideal of democracy.
We begin the chapter by sketching the challenge for ordinary democracy
in the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) board meetings, with particular
attention to the vantage point of members of the public. The analytic heart
of the chapter shows how two ordinary citizens managed effectively three
challenges that inhere in democracy, and especially the American version
of it. From the opening moment of their speeches, both speakers marked
talk about race as a sensitive subject to be taken up in this public context;
we show how the speakers did this. In the next two sections we consider
how the speakers managed tensions between competing concerns—namely,
building unity and respecting differences—and show how they worked to
motivate their public, elected officials, local residents, teachers, parents, and

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144 / Haspel and Tracy
their largely white audience for collective action. These complex and com-
peting goals of democracy, we show, were met by these speakers through
their use of a set of discursive devices—the personal pronoun “we”; deic-
tic place references such as “here”; contrast, repetition, parallel structure,
and lists. These devices were bundled together with cultural commonplaces
and deployed at key moments to move the board and fellow members of
the public to collective sentiment. At the chapter’s end we suggest why dis-
course analysis of ordinary democratic talk is essential if we are to develop a
more functional ideal of democracy.

THE CHALLENGE OF ORDINARY DEMOCRACY


IN BVSD BOARD MEETINGS

In contrast to the egalitarian and deliberative assumption made in many


models of democracy, school board meetings give citizens and officials dif-
ferent participation rights, and the end for participation is often consider-
ably more ambiguous than weighing in on a decision.7 Robert Craig and
Karen Tracy suggest that when citizens speak on issues that are not on the
agenda, as was the case with this science fair controversy, their participation
is best conceived as motivating public sentiment about what issues deserve
deliberative attention on future agendas.8
Participation rights of citizens in BVSD board meetings were quite re-
stricted. Members of the public had two minutes at the start of the meeting
to speak about whatever concerned them. Their concern might be an agenda
item that was up for decision, but it need not be, as was the case with all per-
sons who spoke about the science fair dispute. All public participation was
expected to be concluded within the first hour of the meeting. When citi-
zens spoke they could expect no immediate response, and should another
citizen or board member comment about what they had said, they had no
rebuttal rights.9 In essence, speakers needed to enlist elected officials and
the public (preferably both) to support their view of an issue or set of issues
in a time period that was short, with no particular issue frame surrounding
their talk. Allowing citizens to speak about issues not on the agenda in a very
limited time frame with minimal rights to respond or question, where all
public participation, including people speaking to the agenda, was bundled
at the meeting’s start, can be seen as the board’s attempt to honor its mul-

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Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand / 145
tiple commitments. That is, in seeking to be responsive to a community who
had expressed a preference not to have to wait for hours to speak, to keep
the meetings to lengths not exceeding two to three hours, to avoid hav-
ing a board member unthinkingly imply district commitment to financially
ill-advised or symbolically unfair action, and to provide more talking time
to those with expertise (school attorney) or those who invested significant
time in discussion and researching (a parent committee), the BVSD crafted
a particular multilayered participation format for its meetings. Whether this
meeting format is an optimal one is a difficult assessment; it may not be.
However, BVSD’s meeting structure was a rather typical solution to these
kinds of complex trade-offs. School boards and city councils in communities
around the United States adopt similar sets of rules to make their meetings
doable and defensible. From a citizen’s point of view, then, the task of de-
signing one’s talk so that it succeeded in marshalling sentiments and ready-
ing others for collective action, all within the constraints of the meeting’s
rules, was no small task.
In addition to the ongoing practical challenge of participating in a meet-
ing where one had limited speaking rights is a second, and, perhaps the
most daunting, challenge of ordinary democracy: suitably respecting differ-
ences while building common interests. David Ryfe goes so far as to argue
that, “no public conversation can succeed without a minimal recognition of
shared values.”10 At the same time it is the “valuation of difference,” the need
to live and cooperate with others outside one’s immediate group that is so
crucial to what we mean by democracy.11 Communicative actions that find
fault, criticize, or point out the failure of others make difference clear but
threaten connections with others. Studies of talk in a range of ordinary con-
versational and institutional work sites have found that speakers use a host
of devices to manage this kind of interactional sensitivity. Speakers start off
by saying something positive before they get to the negative, take multiple
conversational steps before they arrive at the big criticism, pause or delay to
show that what they are saying is difficult, allude rather than state directly,
and gloss rather than detail.12 Although this is a public context, speakers,
nonetheless, could be expected to construct critical comments in the de-
layed, circuitous ways that people do in delicate moments of conversation.
The managing of unity and difference is an ever-present challenge in
sites of democracy, but some issues bring it forward in especially powerful

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146 / Haspel and Tracy
ways. In American society issues of race and fair treatment bring it for-
ward especially fast. In Boulder these issues served as prominent facets—
and accelerants—of the science fair controversy.
Our analysis focuses on the comments of two citizens in the February 27,
2001, meeting: David Thielen, a white man and father of the third grader
whose science fair project was removed because of its presumed racially of-
fensive content, and Alvertis Simmons, a black man and leader of the or-
ganizing committee of the Denver Million Man March, who spoke sev-
eral turns later. While they ultimately argue for different kinds of collective
action—Thielen for change and Simmons for no change—they traverse the
same dangerous territory (race relations in their own back yard), appeal to
others through sacred commonplaces, and mark their positions in this site
for ordinary democracy with some of the same discursive devices. We trace
the path that each speaker takes in making their contribution to the public
meeting, marking nodes of common practice and points of departure into
making their distinct cases.

HOW THIELEN AND SIMMONS MARKED


THEIR TALK AS “SENSITIVE”

Thielen and Simmons show talk about race to be a sensitive matter in


American public settings in the very ways that they approach the topic.
Each makes overt and emphatic displays of support for others early on in
their speeches, projecting that potentially nonsupportive, that is, critical,
comments are to come. We are able to hear this projection due to a con-
versational structuring practice whereby positive assessments are typically
produced prior to negative ones and agreement prior to disagreement.13
Thielen and Simmons make use of this practice to structure their essentially
critical contributions in initially affiliative ways.
Thielen shows his support for others through a litany of thanks to various
parties (lines 203–27) before laying out the “two issues” he wants to speak to,
whether his daughter’s “experiment was not science” (line 229) and whether
its conclusions “could upset children” (line 238).14 From there he moves on
to commenting about how science and race are taught to children, and even-
tually to criticizing the latter.
Simmons shows support for others by emphatically asserting his belief in

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Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand / 147
the school board’s cause, “we stand behind you, our African American com-
munity stands behind you.” He then proceeds to deny that this is “a first
amendment issue,” essentially criticizing the position of prior speakers from
the ACLU who claimed it was, and compares the display of the science fair
project to publishing discriminatory remarks in a school’s newspaper.
In taking the time to display support for copresent others and positively
aligning with what other speakers have said in a forum that puts constraints
on their contribution, these speakers demonstrate a concern for laying the
groundwork for a positive reception of their criticisms about how members
speak, teach, and act regarding race. In addition, their comments lead up to
the critical issue of race rather than introducing it immediately, by first di-
recting criticism to other issues raised by previous participants, namely sci-
ence and the first amendment, which may be linked to race, but are men-
tioned as race-neutral issues. In short, each speaker arrives at a criticism
related to race in a stepwise fashion. Notice how they do this.
Thielen uses his critique of others’ claims that the experiment was not
science to move into a consideration of how its conclusions might affect
“people,” “children,” “students,” and “teachers,” and eventually arrives at the
topic of how “people . . . talk with their children about race.” Simmons uses
a critique of the First Amendment argument made by ACLU members who
spoke before him to position himself as a black man and invite considera-
tion of the racist implications of the experiment’s findings. In making these
moves, both speakers show understanding of the fact—as well as reinforce
its social facticity—that in criticizing how others have talked and taught
about race, they are raising a sensitive, potentially divisive issue. This step-
wise way of organizing their speech also displays an assumption that partici-
pating in public discourse needs to be inclusive (or at least not divisive) and
indicates their orientation to democratic principles.

MANAGING UNITY AND DIVISION

Another indication of the speakers’ orientations to inclusiveness are their ef-


forts to point out the failures of members of the audience without pointing
out who in particular is responsible for them. They manage to avoid overt
accusation and its potential to divide by using categorical references such as
“we” and “those who teach children about race.” On their face, these terms

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148 / Haspel and Tracy
appear to include most persons present and, as such, could be seen as unify-
ing devices.Yet, their situated use implicates some categories of people more
than others. In a quite creative fashion, “we” divides the we. From the op-
posite pole, Thielen’s and Simmons’s uses of deictic references to place and
time, particularly their use of “here,” straightforwardly divide categories of
persons.Yet these devices for marking differences among participants in this
public process have built-in ambiguities that soften their effect and mitigate
the threat to unity. Consider how each works.

Use of Inclusive Category References to Divide

In using a reference term, speakers state or imply their membership in one


category (we) and, at the same time, their nonmembership in a contrast cate-
gory (they).We-they terms differ from their singular counterparts (I-you) in
two ways. First, the task of figuring out who the “we” or “they” includes is not
always straightforward. Although the referents for uses of we and they may
be easily inferred, often there is ambiguity. This is especially true for public
occasions in which speakers are expressing contestable opinions about past
or future actions, and the audience includes a variety of people. Besides di-
viding by demographic categories (e.g., race, ethnicity, age, gender, social
class, nationality), public meetings make relevant the categories of actors in-
volved in the scene (e.g., in a school board meeting, the teachers, parents,
children, elected officials, and administrators) as well as categories of people
categorized by their views on the issues that are focal to a meeting (e.g.,
those for and against free speech, those committed to children being able to
do social science projects).
Second, “we” and “they” simultaneously express alignment and affilia-
tion with some people and disaffiliation and nonalignment with others. As
Harvey Sacks has noted, “we” and “they” are special terms: they accomplish
far more than simple anaphoric reference. “We” is among “alternative ways
of doing address” that have “categorical import” so that one can refer to
something one did as if it were done on behalf of others (i.e., members of
an institution or a “with”). Likewise, if a person is a member of a particular
category, for example “college students,” “we” can be used to take owner-
ship of the actions of others (e.g., “We beat USC yesterday”), or to share or

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Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand / 149
shift responsibility for what one did by talking about it as if were done by a
“we” or with another.15
Both Thielen and Simmons employ the categorical reference “we”
throughout their speeches to refer to different sets of people and to do dif-
ferent kinds of work. Thielen initially positions himself as someone speaking
on behalf of his wife and himself. His first few uses of “we” can be heard to
do this (Ex1, lines 1–3). As Thielen approaches the topic of race, he employs
the categorical reference, “a lotta people” (Ex1, lines 9–11), which can be
heard to include the “we” he has been speaking on behalf of as well as others.
In developing a list of claims as to what “a lotta people” have done as a result
of his daughter’s science fair project, Thielen momentarily distances himself
from others. By referring to the people who “need to talk with their children
about race” as “they” (Ex1, line 9), Thielen implies that he and his wife are
not among those who “need” to do this talking. This implication is set in mo-
tion given that the event concerns his daughter’s science fair project about
race. But in his next claim (Ex1, lines 10–11), Thielen refers to “a lotta
people” as “we,” thereby including himself and his wife among those who
“avoid racial issues.” It is this shift in reference that draws our analytical at-
tention. Consider what Thielen said:

Excerpt 116
1 We are not asking for an apology. we are not asking
2 for anything to be done with our daughter’s science
3 experiment. In fact we actually do honestly want to
4 thank the school system for what they did. And if they
5 had left the experiment, two or three children would
6 have been made slightly uneasy, ten or twenty parents
7 and teachers would have been—f-felt uneasy, and
8 remained silent. And that would have been it. (1.2)
9 Instead, this has led to a lotta people realizing they
10 need to talk with their children about race. A lotta
11 people realizing we do avoid racial issues especially
12 the ones that are here and now. (1.0) A lotta people
13 deciding to do something positive to address this
14 difficult issue. So out of something very wrong,

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150 / Haspel and Tracy
15 something very very good happen(ed), and for that we
16 thank Mesa Elementary, we thank the superintendent and
17 the central administration. .hh So what do we want.

To claim that “a lotta of people . . . avoid racial issues” is to make an espe-


cially ambiguous criticism in light of Thielen’s opening remarks (not shown
here) that it was a “wondrous thing” that “a lot of people are now talking
with their children about race.” Thielen softens this criticism by including
himself among the people criticized when he changes the reference term
for “a lotta people” from “they” to “we.” In addition Thielen further redeems
these “people,” by subsequently referring to them as having decided “to do
something positive to address this difficult issue” (Ex1, lines 13–14), and
then offers his coda: “So out of something very wrong, something very very
good happen(ed)” (Ex1, lines 14–15). Finally, his exit from talking critically
is marked by thanking categories of persons that are not all inclusive (the
school and its administration) on behalf of himself and his wife. This shift in
footing, from speaking on behalf of a “we” that includes members of the au-
dience whom he is criticizing (parents and teachers) to speaking on behalf
of a “we” who is addressing the school board and other administrative bod-
ies, demonstrates an orientation to being most inclusive when an accusa-
tion is especially sensitive. In essence, Thielen blurred boundaries between
himself and others in making his most critical claim—that people in general
avoid talking to children about race, and that something needs to be done
about this.
Note that Thielen makes this “we” statement in a context where he has
been institutionally constrained: his daughter was not allowed to present
a project about race. In using the inclusive “we” at this juncture, Thielen
broadens his appeal beyond the decision about the science project. His “we”
addresses all who occupy positions where they would be expected to “talk
with children about race.” In doing so, he unites the many who face a com-
mon problem while criticizing what “we” normally do.
Simmons, too, uses an inclusive “we” when delivering his first and per-
haps most critical, claim about race—that people say one thing but do an-
other when it comes to diversity and equity. In Excerpt 2 we see Simmons
initially using “we” to refer to the “black folks” and “minorities” on whose
behalf he speaks, but as he begins to address and reproach the school board

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Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand / 151
(the very party he vowed support for earlier in his speech), he uses a mo-
mentarily ambiguous “we” (in the contraction “we’re”) before delineating a
boundary between “you” and “us” that partitions the “we” into separate and
unequal parties.

Excerpt 2
1 What do you all think the civil rights movement
2 was all about. I(t) was about self esteem for black
3 folks an for minorities. We believe in ourselves, we
4 know that we feel good about ourselves as a people,
5 you’all hava have an opportunity as a school board to
6 say that if we gonna deal with diversity, if we’re
7 gonna say that we’re all equal, then you gotta treat
8 us as equals. You can’t treat us as less than equal
9 and say one thing h:ere at Boulder and then we sit
10 back lookin at you all and the students are following
11 you all- you all’s example. That is why we’re angry in
12 Denver.

In this segment of his speech, Simmons is initially clear in marking the


boundary between the audience, who is referred to as “you all” (Ex2, line 1),
and those on whose behalf he speaks, a “we” who is variously identified as
“black folks,” “minorities,” and “a people” (Ex2, lines 2–4). But in moving
from talking about the civil rights movement to talking about diversity and
racial equality, Simmons takes on the voice of the school board in announc-
ing the first part of an “if . . . then” statement (“if we gonna deal with di-
versity, if we’re gonna say that we’re all equal”), implicitly including him-
self among the “we” he refers to even while effectively enacting the speech
of the collective members of the school board. But as he delivers the “then”
part of this statement (“then you gotta treat us as equals”), he alters his terms
of reference. This pronominal shift changes the boundaries of inclusion im-
plied by his “we,” so that the party to whom he previously referred as “we” is
effectively partitioned into “you” and “us.” Simmons does this as he delivers
a claim that those whom he is addressing have not treated those on whose
behalf he speaks as equals (Ex2, lines 7–8). He further partitions these fac-
tions, marking the distance, as well as the difference, between them by lo-

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152 / Haspel and Tracy
cating the “you” who have treated the “us” as less than equal “here at Boulder,”
and the latter “in Denver” (see Ex2, lines 9–12 and discussion of these place
references in the next section). In Simmons’s speech, then, his use of a “we”
that includes himself, at least in some ambiguous way, cushions the divisive
power of the “you” that follows. Consider for instance, the emotional tenor
and potential critical impact of his comments if the initial references to “we”
were changed to “you.”

Indexing Place and Time to Divide Cautiously

Stephen Levinson tells us that “place or space deixis concerns the specifica-
tion of locations relative to anchorage points in the speech event” and that
“the importance of locational specifications” can be gauged from the ways in
which speakers refer to objects.17 Thielen and Simmons both make efforts to
bring the issue of racial discrimination and inequity home, that is, to ground
it in a local context by their use of the deictic marker, “here.” By stressing
the location or source of the trouble as “here in Boulder” (Simmons) and
“here and now” (Thielen), these speakers bind the trouble to a specific spa-
tial and temporal domain. In so doing, they narrow the range of possible
culpable parties to a specific local population, dividing the world into those
who are responsible and those who are not. Yet when it comes to pointing
out who, specifically, is responsible for limiting discussions of race with chil-
dren (Thielen’s criticism) or teaching children to discriminate by race (Sim-
mons’s criticism), both speakers’ deictic references leave unsaid who is in-
cluded in the “here.” Their use of these place terms puts recipients into the
position of inferring that a rather broad criticism is being targeted at the
particular category in which they are incumbent, even if membership in this
category is relatively limited. Consider how each speaker uses deictic refer-
ences to subtly (and cautiously) mark differences between them and their
audience so as to direct their criticism to the latter domain after suggesting
that they are all in this together.18
Thielen asserts that “we can not limit discussions about race . . . to the
sterile controlled environment of a set lesson in a classroom” and claims that
“the racial issues we ourselves face today” can only be addressed “in the con-
text of the real world” (see Excerpt 3).

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Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand / 153
Excerpt 3
1 race remains a huge issue in this country and clearly
2 one that is very difficult to talk about. However we
3 can not limit discussions about race merely to the
4 sterile controlled environment ·hhh of a set lesson in
5 a classroom. ·h We must discuss it whenever it arises
6 in any context. The world is not neat and ordered. It
7 is messy, and chaotic and only in the context of the
8 real world can we address a:ll ·h aspects of the
9 racial issues we ourselves face today

Thielen’s reference to a “lesson in a classroom” carries the implication


that teachers have failed to fully address racial issues even while he names
no agent of this communication in the classroom. In contrast, he suggests
that race is best taught about in the “context of the real world,” a vague ref-
erence to place, but one that makes sense merely as an auspicious alterna-
tive to what is being taught in the classroom. Note, too, that Thielen includes
himself among those who are responsible for what is taught about race in the
classroom and elsewhere by his use of “we” throughout this segment of his
speech.
Thielen’s call for a shift in venue further suggests that lessons about race
might be better taught outside of the classroom, perhaps by persons other
than teachers. Having laid this critical groundwork, Thielen moves on to
more pointed, albeit still cautious criticism.
Moments later, upon learning that his time is running out, Thielen an-
nounces that he is skipping to “the biggie” of his speech. He then moves into
making recommendations that have criticism of teaching methods embed-
ded in them, yet refrains from pointing fingers specifically at the teachers
at Mesa.

Excerpt 4
1 I’m gonna skip through the rest of this and hit to the
2 hh (3.0) >the biggie.< ·hh h U:m ·hh we can only de’uce
3 this by discussing racial issues that exist here and
4 now, and I think that is the crux of this

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154 / Haspel and Tracy
5 disagreement. Not just history, not just the
6 holocaust and the civil rights struggle that happened
7 in the past and were done by other people. who were
8 ba::d, but what is happening he:re and no:w. not just
9 in prepan- planned lesson plans, but as it comes up
10 everywhere because the pre:planned lesson plans are not
11 sufficient. .hh This is the hard fight we have to make

Here Thielen uses references to time and place (“here and now” and
“everywhere”) to offer an alternative to teaching about past racial issues
in the classroom. It is noteworthy that he couples this rather vague recom-
mendation with what is arguably his most directly critical claim that pre-
planned lesson plans are not sufficient. While this claim clearly asserts a
failure, the failure is formulated as one of limitation, not overt wrongdoing,
which leaves the agents of these failed actions unnamed. This formulation of
blame implies that those who create lesson plans are responsible for limited
and insufficient discussions of race yet ultimately leaves it to the audience to
infer who the responsible parties are, effectively relieving Thielen of the task
of pointing them out.
In his speech to the school board meeting, Simmons is seen to use place
references in somewhat less overtly critical ways than Theilen does, at least
initially. Yet Simmons’s references point to specific places, Denver and
Boulder, and grow more pointed in their criticism as he builds his case. He
uses “here” to specify that while he shares the same discursive space with his
audience, at least for the moment, his position is that of an outsider rela-
tive to Boulder. This position is erected throughout a series of six refer-
ences to “Boulder,” three of which are coupled with “here” (see Excerpt 5),
so that what the people in Boulder are responsible for is only made clear at
the speech’s end. Consider the six instances in the order they appeared in his
speech and their cumulatively critical orientation.

Excerpt 5
(Lines 471–74)19 Good afternoon, good evenin (1.8) um (1.0) hh it’s a long
drive up to Boulder, almost dinn’t get here, couldn’t find my way, y’all
had no signs to tell us where we’re to go what’s up with that? ((audience
laughter))

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Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand / 155
(Lines 480–84) I’ve got several phone calls from African American parents in
the Denver community and I don’t know if Boulder knows about us but uh
we are very hurt by what has happen(ed) here in Boulder.
(Lines 512–17) You can’t treat us as less than equal and say one thing here at
Boulder and then we sit back lookin at you all, and the students are follow-
ing you all- you all’s example. That is why we’re angry in Denver.
(Lines 517–20) We’re saying that we going to monitor what’s going on up
here in Boulder. I just brought one person with me but w’will come
back
(Lines 529–33) And Boulder lastly as I con- as I close you know you all have
a history of hatin black folks you don’t even have a black in this room other
than myself an- and my organization.

Although the “here” used by Simmons in “here in/at Boulder” locates him
in the same space as the Boulder residents he addresses, at least for the du-
ration of his participation in the meeting, his orientation to Boulder and the
very identity of Boulder shift and change across these references, so that
these references to place can be heard to cautiously divide and critique those
present. In his first mention of Boulder, Simmons can be heard to simply re-
fer to it as a place, although one that was not simple for him to find, which
he notes in an ironically cheerful complaint. By his second mention, Boulder
is referred to as a population, characterized as a thinking being capable of
hurting a separate population, an “us” in Denver on whose behalf Simmons
speaks. It is here that Simmons begins to draw a distinction between his po-
sition and that of the people he addresses, despite his use of “here” in his next
mention of Boulder, which locates him in the same discursive space as his
audience.
By the fourth time Simmons mentions Boulder (Ex5, lines 512–17), how-
ever, Simmons locates himself at a distant and somewhat asymmetrical po-
sition relative to Boulder. In this instance, Boulder is addressed as a “you”
held in somewhat elevated regard, who has treated an “us” less than equal,
and to whom students look as an “example.” But in making his fifth reference
to Boulder (Ex5, lines 517–20), Simmons begins to shift this asymmetry. In
this instance, he describes the actions of a “we” on whose behalf he speaks
as “monitor[ing] what’s going on up here.” This description lends agency to
this “we” and shifts their position to a more evaluative one. As Simmons ap-

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156 / Haspel and Tracy
proaches the end of his speech, he refers once more to Boulder (Ex5, lines
529–33), this time addressing his audience directly as locates them within a
racist historical context. In addressing them in this way, Simmons finally lo-
cates himself as a complete outsider and effects an even greater shift in asym-
metry as he scolds them for their lack of diversity.
Note, however, how Simmons characterizes the object of Boulder’s ha-
tred as “black folks” (not “us”). In so doing, he uses a category sufficiently
broad to include himself, yet sufficiently impersonal so as to minimize im-
plications of personal accusation, effectively softening the criticism he deliv-
ers. The criticism is further diffused by his referencing Boulder’s racism as a
“history,” allowing for the possibility that they might not currently be racist.
These various shifts in his position and his relationship to others demonstrate
an effort on Simmons’s part to divide his audience with caution and criticize
them without being openly divisive.
These speakers’ efforts to ground the discussion temporally and geo-
graphically through their use of deictic references (i.e., “here”) operate in
two ways. First, they appear to provide the speakers with a means of align-
ing themselves with their audience, however marginally or provisionally,
while making critical distinctions between themselves and groups within the
audience. In attributing failure to teach children about race in a relevant or
nondiscriminatory manner to persons who occupy certain positions and lo-
cations, these speakers zero in on domains of blame, but never specifically
target individuals. In Thielen’s speech, the target of his criticism is those who
teach children about race in contexts that are removed from the “here and
now.” He subsequently specifies the location of his criticism as the “sterile en-
vironment of the classroom” and the “preplanned lesson plans” that govern
it, but never points out who is responsible for the failure to teach children
about race “here,” “now,” and “everywhere” it “comes up”—he does not have
to—for his use of temporal and spatial references creates a context within
which the audience can infer who is responsible. In Simmons’s speech, the
use of place references also provides him with a means of implicating a cate-
gory of persons within his audience without directly accusing anyone. Sim-
mons also implies that it is those who teach children about race, or at least
those who have taught the student who authored the controversial science
fair project, who have failed. Yet he does so by raising questions as to the
source of the student’s learning, and formulates this source as a place. Posi-

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Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand / 157
tioning them in the immediate proximity of references to Boulder, Simmons
creates a context of blame directed at Boulderites, yet leaves it up to Boulder
residents to implicate themselves.
Indexes of place and time, then, were used to separate the speakers from
others who were implicated as doing wrong even while situating them all
in the same discursive space. That is, by virtue of their categorical breadth,
these devices divided “the public” while diffusing responsibility. In that sense
their dividing function was accomplished with care, giving attention to lim-
iting damage. This cautious means of being divisive could best be described
as drawing and then shifting the dividing lines between the speakers and
those on whose behalf they speak, on the one hand, and those they address,
on the other.

INVITING COLLECTIVE SENTIMENT AND ACTION

Researchers of narrative discourse have considered what it takes for speak-


ers to “make a point,” or get their audiences to understand the “upshot” of
what they are telling them, noting that a point need not be explicitly stated.
The upshot of a story may be implicated throughout the telling of a story by
the use of descriptive features and organizational devices. John A. Robinson,
in fact, claims that a narrative without an explicitly stated point is an “invita-
tion to cooperative problem-solving.”20 While different from conversational
storytelling, the discourse examined here shows public speakers inviting
their audience to participate in formulating the upshot of their arguments.
By bundling ideologically rich content within contrasts, repetition, paral-
lel structure, and lists, Simmons and Theilen make these ostensibly mono-
logic speeches into dialogic contributions to the meeting that invite affirm-
ing assent.21

Contrast

Discourse analyses of political speeches have found that contrast, one of


the most basic rhetorical devices, embodies two elements that are essential
to generating positive audience response: emphasis and completion-point
projection.22 In Thielen’s and Simmons’s contributions to the BVSD public
meeting of February 27, contrast is produced through prosody (contrastive

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158 / Haspel and Tracy
stress) as well as structurally (contrastive structure) to package each man’s
criticism and deliver it in a way that manages to emphasize where he stands
without explicitly stating how his stance differs from those of others.
By emphasizing a particular word, utterance, idea, or action, contrastive
stress foregrounds difference. An explicit use of contrastive stress is found
in Thielen’s claim, “some have said this experiment was not science. It is.”
(lines 229–30); a more complex, implicit form of contrast is used when he
speaks about race. In Excerpt 1, for example, he claims that the controversy
over his daughter’s science fair project has led to “a lotta people realizing we
do avoid racial issues <especially the ones that are here and now.” In this in-
stance, contrastive stress is used to mark the verb “do,” implying the oppo-
site: that it is assumed that people do not avoid talk of racial issues. The eli-
sion of “do not” in this claim and the use of stress on “do” put the audience
in the position of inferring the criticism: people claim that they do not avoid
discussing racial issues with children, but they do.
Thielen and Simmons also used structural contrast in which a bipar-
tite (and sometime tripartite) format is used to juxtapose their criticism of
what had (or had not) been done with what should be done. Often a struc-
tural contrast will be marked by conjunctions such as “but” or contrastive
forms such as “not just . . . but.” One particular advantage of using these
contrastive forms is that speakers can project the second part of the contrast
without stating it. Even if it is vaguely formulated, audience members can
infer the upshot of the contrast. Thielen, for example, uses a series of con-
trastive statements of the “not just . . . but” form to criticize ways in which
race has been discussed (see Excerpt 4). Notice how vaguely formulated the
alternatives he mentions in the contrasts’ second parts are—“what is hap-
pening here and now” and “as it comes up everywhere.”
The contrast posed between his claims of failure (the “not just” clauses)
and the correctives he proposes (the “but” clauses) is made apparent through
the repetition of particular elements of these utterances, most notably re-
current lexical items (“not,” “just,” and “but”), and semantic features (e.g.,
the deictics “here,” “now,” “everywhere”). As is evident from this case, con-
trast is often built from a complex of redundant features of discourse.
According to John Heritage and David Greatbatch, contrasts “mobilize
audience response” if they are composed of first and second parts that are
rhythmically balanced and contain similarities of length, content, and gram-
matical structure.”23 The “not just . . . but” and “if . . . then” formats em-

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Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand / 159
ployed by Thielen and Simmons do this. In repeating their formulations of
what others have said and done within these contrastive formats, they are
able to cast negative evaluation on others’ talk and actions, project what
should be done, and yet cast their proposals in a positive light. But while the
contrastive forms used by Thielen and Simmons demonstrate efforts to em-
phasize and project, they differ from the contrastive devices observed by
Heritage and Greatbatch in two ways.
First, Thielen’s and Simmons’s contrasts juxtapose action descriptions
rather than position statements. Rather than posing a contrast between ideo-
logical positions, they draw a distinction between what has been done (dis-
cussing racial issues set in the past, saying that all are equal/preaching diver-
sity) and what has yet to be done (discuss racial issues situated in the here and
now, treat all as equals). Second, in projecting actions that should be taken,
they use vague terms and figurative expressions that invite audience mem-
bers to take action rather than direct them to show approval or disapproval
of a speaker’s position.24 Although the second part of their contrasts issue
directives, the actions that these directives recommend are formulated in
broad and idiomatic terms that require listeners to figure out what needs to
be done and to infer that they are among the parties responsible for doing
something about the named failures.
What these contrasts preserve is the ability to criticize others without ac-
cusing them of wrongdoing outright. Thielen’s and Simmons’s use of con-
trast points to the effort that is being made by each of them to present
his position and recommendations in the best possible light while implic-
itly casting a negative evaluation on the positions and actions taken by oth-
ers. What makes contrast especially persuasive is its ability to emphasize a
speaker’s position twice, first in the “negative” (by claiming what it is not),
then in the positive, by asserting what it is.25 This valuable feature of con-
trast may account for its widespread use in criticizing opponents’ positions
in political oratory.26 In addition, contrastively formulated criticisms that
are subtle and invitational (i.e., somewhat ambiguous) are likely to elicit
cheering and other positive responses from audiences, whereas criticisms
that are delivered straightforwardly or with derision often elicit booing and
other negative reactions.27 In a study that examined how people talk about
race in several contexts, Teun van Dijk suggests that subtle contrast may pro-
vide a speaker with a means to make negative assessments about another
race without being evaluated as racist or unreasonable for doing so.28 Thus

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160 / Haspel and Tracy
talk that sounds equivocal or syntactically awkward may be heard to display
equanimity and face concerns.
Thielen’s and Simmons’s use of contrast demonstrates their concerns for
minimizing the potential divisiveness of their remarks and for having their
remarks be received positively. Simply put, the use of an invitational con-
trastive format is a discursive move that helps citizens effectively manage
unity and difference, while also moving an audience toward particular sen-
timents.

Bundling Repetition, Parallel Structure, and Lists with Ideological


Invocation

In an analysis of the most famous speeches given by Dr. Martin Luther


King Jr. (his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech) and the Reverend Jesse Jackson
(his 1988 speech to the Democratic National Convention), Deborah Tannen
shows how unique combinations of repetition and variation call attention to
key terms and evoke emotional responses from their audiences.29 Among
the techniques used by both Jackson and King was parallelism. Parallelisms
are typically found at speech moments where an orator is summing up, reca-
pitulating, or driving home a point. Both Thielen and Simmons employ this
rhetorical device to bring their speeches to a close, but both speakers also
bundle it with list construction, a device that has been described as a “major
weapon in the armory of public speakers.”30 Like contrast, lists have recur-
rent, recognizable formats that lend them projectability. Lists are used to en-
gage recipients to draw inferences and formulate upshots, but unlike con-
trast, which appears to be indigenous to specialized adversarial discourses
(e.g., legal, journalistic, racist), the three-part list occurs in interpersonal,
as well as public and institutional, contexts. Audiences of all types are fa-
miliar with three-part lists; people know they should listen for third items
even if they are not provided. In the public context, third items, whether or
not they are explicitly stated, are used to generate a favorable response from
audience members, to move them emotionally, and to avoid offense.31 But
moving people to action is not merely a matter of what discourse devices are
used; it also depends on argument content. What substantive claim are the
devices advancing? Yoking devices to beliefs that are ideologically dominant
is likely to work better than yoking them to fringe beliefs.

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Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand / 161
At any historical moment, certain beliefs in a society will be common-
place, regarded as transparently reasonable or morally right. Invoking posi-
tive sentiment is more likely when speakers can line up what they are saying
with one of these commonplaces. This rhetorical task, however, has chal-
lenges, as principles that are seen as commonsensical are usually formu-
lated so abstractly that it is not obvious what specific actions or other be-
liefs are entailed by the commonplace.32 In addition, as Michael Billig and
his colleagues have shown, most commonsense beliefs have equally plausible
contrary commonsense beliefs.33 For instance, the belief that everyone de-
serves an equal say in important decisions is held alongside of a belief that
decisions should draw on expertise rather than ignorance. Explicit articula-
tion of one commonplace can, therefore, bring a contrary one to mind. For
this reason, evoking a commonplace rather than asserting it directly is often
particularly persuasive. Such a move draws on the emotional power of the
commonplace without making it a focus of logical argument. Both Simmons
and Thielen used lists, parallel structure, and repetition, and yoked these de-
vices to a position that evoked (but did not argue explicitly) for a common-
place American belief.
Simmons’s move toward closure (Excerpt 6) comes with use of a con-
trastive conjunction (“but”) to mark a departure from his overtly critical re-
marks (about Boulder’s racist history and lack of racial diversity) and a move
toward affirming, directing, and appealing to his audience. Simmons’s appeal
to select members of the audience is explicitly marked by his “please school
board” (Ex6, line 2), but what drives his appeal are the lists of three that fol-
low (marked in bold in Excerpts 6 and 7), directives that imply that despite
its racist past, Boulder is on the road to redemption.

Excerpt 6
1 But this issue is very important so as I close
2 I wanta say please school board do not change your position do
3 not be afraid of the ACLU. Sta:nd firm. We’re watchin.
4 The community is watchin the minority community is
5 watchin. I believe you all are doin the right thing,
6 and please we- you have our support. So I wanted to
7 say that and I’ll stand back and listen to other
8 comments. Thank you

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162 / Haspel and Tracy
What constitutes the appeal and gives it force is a combination of devices,
which are repeated. In his first list, Simmons employs a parallel construction
in making repeated use of “do not” in the first two of the three imperative
statements that comprise this list of three. The negative formulation of the
first two imperatives projects that a directive specifying what to do is forth-
coming.Then, Simmons issues a third imperative statement that can be heard
to complete this list of three (“Stand firm”). His placement of a stressed im-
perative in exactly the same syntactic location in each utterance allows us to
hear his third imperative statement as the list’s culmination. But more than
this, this appeal resonates with other discourses, both an immediate one
(what Simmons said earlier in the speech) and a larger ideological discourse
that circulates in American society.
First, this list of two negatively formulated and parallel-structured im-
perative statements followed by a directive echoes an earlier moment in
Simmons’s speech.

Excerpt 7
We want t’ say to the school board we stand behind you, our African Ameri-
can community stands behind you, do not shuffle. Do not go back-
wards. Keep your faith. We believe you are right on this issue.

In this instance, as in the list of imperatives employed in closing his speech,


Simmons stresses that the school board should hold their position, stand
firmly by their convictions, move forward on them, and have faith that they
are doing the right thing. In making this argument using the words he does,
Simmons’s speech evokes the discourse of the civil rights movement, and
particularly the words of reverends Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King.
Compare, for example, Simmons’s appeal to those made by Jackson and
King in the closing moments of their most famous speeches. Notice how
both speakers stress standing firm, keeping faith, and looking, if not moving,
forward to a better, more racially cooperative, future.

Jesse Jackson. “Don’t you surrender. Suffering breeds character, character


breeds faith. In the end faith will not disappoint.You must not surrender.You
may or may not get there but just know that you’re qualified. And you hold

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Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand / 163
on, and hold out. We must never surrender. America will get better and
better.”34

Martin Luther King. “This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With
this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of
hope.With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our
nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be
able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail to-
gether, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one
day.”35
More recently, in a television talk show discussion of the fortieth anniversary
of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Representative John E. Lewis, a Demo-
crat from Georgia and longtime civil rights advocate, also invoked the dis-
course of the civil rights movement, formulating it into a three-part list, in
responding to a caller’s claim that the legacy of King’s mission is not being
carried through by black leaders today.

John H. Lewis “We’re not going back. We’re not going to stand still. We’re
going to continue our agenda.”36
These examples suggest that Simmons’s final appeal to the school board au-
dience sought to invoke the relevance of a larger, morally taken-for-granted,
ideological frame. Across time and contexts, the civil rights frame assumes
that faith in the fight for equity, integrity in the face of adversity, and for-
ward movement is what is happening; if not, corrective action needs to hap-
pen immediately. In invoking this frame with an audience that is likely to
have some familiarity with it—educators, and educated and politically pro-
gressive citizens—Simmons serves to legitimize his position, and by exten-
sion that of the school board, by occupying a moral high ground only impli-
cated earlier (see Ex5 discussion), which is now recognizable as a position
on par with those taken by great civil rights leaders and orators. In conclud-
ing with the list of three “do not change your position/do not be afraid of
the ACLU./Sta:nd firm,” Simmons is able to wed emotion to motivation to
involve his audience ideologically as well as emotionally, and through these
discursive moves, obligate them to act.
Thielen also closes his speech by bundling parallelism in a three-part list

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164 / Haspel and Tracy
with an action appeal that taps into a powerful commonplace. Excerpt 8 fol-
lows directly on the heels of Excerpt 4.

Excerpt 8
This is the hard fight we have to make. Studies have shown that children start
discuss- making distinctions about race at age three and if we make this sub-
ject taboo, it means that they make their decisions on their own without our
guidance. We talk to our children about drugs, we talk to them about sex.
We should also be talking to them about race. Our society has been stuck on
this issue of race for the last thirty y(h)ears, since nineteen seventy. And per-
haps our children can show us a way out of that. Thank you very much.

Thielen repeats the same subject-verb-object clause (“we” + “talk to” +


“children”) with only slight variation, giving his list of three a marked par-
allel structure. The third item in this list is distinguished from the others as
a description of action to be taken, rather than actions already being taken by
parents. The “also” provides an important link between the first two items
and the third one and highlights the imperative for talking to children about
race by implying that while the other two subjects (drugs and sex) are talked
about regularly, this one (race) is not. While it is not news at this point that
what Thielen wants his audience to do is talk to children about race, what
he does here is new. He delivers this point he has been making throughout
his speech in a more imperative manner than before, yet he includes him-
self among those who should heed this imperative, potentially softening its
illocutionary force. In sum, like Simmons, Thielen packages his point in a
parallel-structured, three-part list that invokes a larger American discourse
about a powerful commonplace.
By linking talk about race to talk about drugs and sex,Thielen casts race as
a matter as socially and biologically threatening as the other two. While talk-
ing to children about drugs and sex may not be something that parents want
to do or feel comfortable doing, it is something that they should be doing,
according to Thielen’s appeal and others like it. TV and radio public service
announcements routinely tell parents that they have this responsibility. The
Web site of the National Institute on Drug Abuse Prevention, for instance,
describes their TV public service announcements as messages that are de-

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Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand / 165
signed to “encourage parents to talk to their children about the dangers of
drugs.”37 Other public service health campaigns also endorse “talking to kids”
as a method of preventing their engagement in activities that could be harm-
ful to them. A recent public service announcement from the American Can-
cer Society advises: “Talk to your kids about the risks of smoking—and, re-
member, kids learn by example.”38 The uncontested nature of these “talk to
your children” messages suggests that talk as good is part of a common ide-
ology of parenthood in the United States, as well as of caretaking roles more
generally. These kinds of messages put parents, and we would add teachers,
into a position of knowledge and moral authority over their children. But
they also carry with them the suggestion that adults who fail to talk to kids
about these subjects are responsible for what kids do when they act wrongly,
and that if kids act on information from sources other than their parents or
teachers, they are at risk. In linking to this ideology but not arguing for it
explicitly, Thielen suggests that his audience has a profound moral obligation
to heed his directive.
At the same time, including race in the “talk-to-your-kids ideology” ex-
poses dangling threads that could lead to Thielen’s argument unraveling. We
suggested that teachers are included among the adults who should talk to
kids. Although we believe this to be true, it is clearly parents who are the
focal targets of these announcements. Perhaps race, like sex and drugs, is a
matter primarily for talk at home? And yet Thielen suggests it is the children
who will be teaching the parents when he offers, in closing, that they “can
show us a way out of that.” A second thread in this public service frame is its
implication that parents are equipped to talk to kids and that talking is what
will lead kids to act well. These implications seem especially questionable in
matters of race where gaps between what’s said and done are particularly
common (as both Thielen and Simmons point out). Third, the message side-
steps a counter commonsense ideology: With young children, it is reason-
able and right that some topics be discussed generally or not at all. Last, but
certainly not least serious, in equating racial ignorance with ills that come
from children engaging in sex or taking drugs, Thielen places race within a
discourse of risk. And while it may seem rather bizarre to equate race with
health risks, race has long been talked about in terms of risk and biological
threat.39 Nevertheless, for Thielen to align his directive with a well-known

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166 / Haspel and Tracy
fear appeal is to call audience members’ attention to the severity of the mat-
ter at hand, and to suggest to them that they, as parents, are ultimately re-
sponsible for arming their children with knowledge to fight such risks.
In sum, Thielen packages a taken-for-granted ideology (that talk, particu-
larly talking with kids, is good) with a discourse commonplace (the fear ap-
peal) in repetition, parallel structure, contrast, and a three-part list to gar-
ner support for his position that parents and teachers should talk more (and
more appropriately) about race with children. Like Simmons, Thielen in-
vokes an ideological framework within a rhetorical structure that allows
him to occupy a higher moral ground relative to those in the audience, yet
one that invites them to follow his lead by tapping into commonsense beliefs
(that we should treat everyone equally and do what we say) after pointing
out his audience’s failure to do what they say. While they partition and ad-
dress slightly different factions of the audience (Thielen appeals primarily to
parents while Simmons appeals primarily to school personnel), these speak-
ers use an array of tactics that amount to a strategy to engage, unite, and mo-
tivate their listeners. Both men show us, through what they say and how they
say it, that speech is, can be, and should be action—democratic action.

CONCLUSIONS

In this chapter we analyzed the words of two ordinary citizens as they spoke
about a controversial decision involving race and fairness in their commu-
nity school board meeting. Each speaker sought to show that his concerns
were not mere self-interest, but involved matters of the common good. In
speaking in this public setting within their restricted few minutes, each man
worked to persuade elected officials, the public attending the meeting, and
the larger public attentive to the meeting, that the district had a serious
problem that deserved thought, talk, and future action. Both citizens de-
signed their talk to marshal public sentiment and incline the BVSD delibera-
tive body toward future action.Through the details of both citizens’ talk, they
pursued their goals while navigating the unity-diversity tension that exists in
all sites of democratic talk. Each took strong positions without disrespecting
others, expressed their stances on perceived wrongdoings without stomping
on others, and built positive sentiment in a scene of dissension.
By using fairly simple discursive devices (ambiguous, ambivalent, and

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Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand / 167
figurative references and descriptions) and fairly common rhetorical strate-
gies (contrasts, lists, and commonplaces) these speakers managed to traverse
a complex, dangerous (to some even threatening) territory: the minefield of
talking about race in America. In a country founded on principles of equity,
fairness, and respect, race has existed as the single issue that threatens to ex-
plode these very principles. Yet talking about race is vital to the perpetua-
tion of democracy. According to Cornel West, “the lens of race becomes in-
dispensable in our attempt to understand, preserve, and expand America’s
democratic experiment.”40 Thielen and Simmons showed us, through the
ways they organized their speeches, that they recognized the stakes. In select-
ing discourse devices that enabled them to carefully approach, step through,
and rally others around principles for future talk about race, they showed us
that seemingly peripatetic speech can have a recognizable, reasonable, and
strategic order to it. Their talk was an inventive way to deal with the ten-
sions of managing and respecting difference while building common inter-
ests by making use of available means of persuasion-references to shared and
known-in-common places, histories, values, and concerns.
The means for talking about and dealing with problems that cause tensions
can be found in recurrent modes of discourse, Kenneth Burke has argued.41
Thielen’s and Simmons’s recurrent use of shifting references to person and
place and inference-inviting structures offers examples of how to talk about
race and its endemic tensions publicly and constructively, that is, with a co-
orientation to the public and the social, to place and face.While they may ap-
pear to be overly cautious in their footing, they at least traverse boundaries
that others circumvent, perhaps because they can. Consider that, on rare oc-
casions when situations call for or enable public “dialogues” on race (such as
those during the first Clinton administration and after the brutal racially mo-
tivated killing of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas), they are usually led by experts
(professional journalists and politicians). In this situation, it is two ordinary
citizens who have lived in the trenches of race matters—Simmons, daily,
Theilen, temporarily—who direct the discourse. Beverly Sauer reminds us
that “the deliberation of questions of policy and value” can benefit from an
“approach that draws upon the knowledge and understanding of lay audi-
ences,” especially in making judgments about risk.42
In seeking to understand democracy from the ground up, to give it flesh,
and to tie it to communicative actions, we have looked at the available means

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168 / Haspel and Tracy
of persuasion in the details of Theielen’s and Simmons’s talk, displaying our
philosophical stripes as pragmatists. We believe, as John Dewey argued, that
the meaning of democracy is to be found in instances of its situated practice.
As democracy is a talk-saturated practice, this requires that we study what
people say in democracy’s bread and butter sites. Doing so offers a solution
to a problem raised by Sauer, who asks, “How do we discover the means of
persuasion that are not recorded in writing, inscribed in textual practices,
and authorized as conventional within the disciplines and institutions we
choose to study?”43 We study the talk of ordinary citizens.
In highlighting the ability of ordinary citizen speakers to use common
modes of discourse for uncommon ends (to talk critically yet inclusively
about race), our analysis resists the chorus about decline prevalent in so
many current studies of democracy and public life. Ordinary democracy,
and the talk that enacts it, is quite remarkable. From as far back as James
Madison’s Federalist Papers and John Dewey’s The Public and Its Problems to
Richard Sennett’s The Fall of Public Man and Benjamin Barber’s Strong Democ-
racy, theorists have recognized the role of talk in managing factions and indi-
vidual interests that threaten achievement of a common public good. When
the democratic body is ailing, it is interaction that brings it back to life, but
not just any interaction will do.What is needed, as Dewey noted is, “conjoint
and interacting behavior.”44
This particular meeting moment was an especially sensitive one: citizens
were arguing about what should count as reasonable communicative con-
duct: How should persons in their community be conducting themselves
with others as they talked about race? In a public situation focused on this
topic, no adult’s expression is free from evaluation. How a person spoke
about race was relevant to the issue of how race in general ought to be talked
about. It is no surprise, then, that both speakers used nondivisive discourse
strategies to assert potentially contentious positions.
In this school board meeting much was at stake: speakers had ongoing
relationships with those they addressed. To present themselves as reasonable
members of their community—adults who were concerned about the well-
being of children—these speakers needed to engage in conjoint behavior
even as they criticized the actions of some among them. In arguing for the
importance of talking to children about race and keeping up the fight against

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Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand / 169
unfairness, each was an effective “citizen critic,”45 speaking from an ethos
of common concern, even as other individualized and competing concerns
were made evident in their talk.46 In sum, the speeches of these two citizens
to the Boulder Valley School District board meeting show just how extraor-
dinary the practice of ordinary democracy can be.
So what can we, as citizens and communicators, learn from Thielen and
Simmons? First, we see firsthand how discursive devices can be used as tac-
tics for managing social relationships while functioning as part of a larger
strategy for supporting or calling for changes in public policies. The devices
that Thielen and Simmons used to talk publicly about race, in a culture that
prefers not to talk about it, especially in public,47 provide us with inclusive
and invitational methods of partitioning and criticizing an audience.
Second, they show us that, as Thielen put it, “the system works.” In spite
of limitations on time, location, and relevance, this public forum provides
opportunities for the invisible and the unspeakable to be seen and heard.
The parent behind the scenes of the science fair project that was pulled from
public view gets to talk about race with those who silenced his daughter. A
local civil rights activist lets it be known that black people were offended
and affected by the science fair project, that the actions of one community
regarding race has consequences for those of another community beyond
their borders. Both men’s actions through speech show us that the talk of
civil rights is not a thing of the past; it is “here and now,” and the “struggle” to
practice what our democratic values preach continues.
Third, these speakers engage us to think differently about eloquence.
They show us that one can manage competing individual and public con-
cerns with sophisticated discursive moves, even if one’s execution of them is
not polished or especially fluent. The pragmatic and microanalytic perspec-
tive taken here allows hesitation, shifting references, and awkward syntax to
be seen as signs of a speaker’s adaptation to audience and situation, rather
than a display of cognitive dissonance or communicative incompetence, as
others might argue. While Thielen and Simmons may not be expert partici-
pants in this forum, they have the “street creds” of those who have lay ex-
perience communicating about race and the sophistication to talk about it
under egalitarian, nonracist, and anti-intellectual cultural constraints. The
fact that they adapt to the situation and adjust to others is good; the fact that

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170 / Haspel and Tracy
they do so with some disfluency is, in our view, expressive and interactive,
and therefore eloquent. As Michael Osborn reminds us, the interactive na-
ture of rhetoric has long been recognized in the use of devices that extend
the boundaries of the text “beyond the speech” and “within the audience.”48
Those who manage to reach beyond speech into the audience, Osborn says,
are eloquent.49
Finally, that these speakers come off as ambivalent in their affiliations and
possibly unclear about where they stand on these issues regarding race is un-
derstandable, perhaps even encouraging, if we consider the competing, con-
flictual, and divisive terms in which race is conceptualized and discussed
in American culture. Rona Tamiko Halualani and her colleagues found that
their interviewees “frequently used the terms ‘racial lines,’ ‘conflicts’ and
‘entrenched lines’ to connote their concern” that talk about race “build[s]
up . . . walls” between people, socially and politically.50 In their contribu-
tions to a public dialogue (of sorts) on race, Thielen and Simmons divide
their audience along lines of communicative practices of communicating
about race, as one might draw a “line in the sand,” as we have heard hawk-
ish politicians characterize ultimatums of diplomacy-or-conflict proffered
to enemies. Thielen and Simmons, however, are not that black and white in
their approach. They show themselves to be diplomats with a little “d,” tak-
ing positions on both individual concerns (that we talk about race and stay
the course in fighting racism) and one overarching concern (that we do what
we say and “back our words with convictions”). They do so in ways that mark
what they are doing as sensitive (potentially contentious) yet blur distinc-
tions and soften differences between them and their audience, so that their
alignments were not readily apparent, nor apparently, entrenched.
In the land of public discourse we live in today, occupied by us-versus-
them ideological imperialists, where public figures who do not make it clear
which side they stand on are accused of flip-flopping, the approach taken
by Thielen and Simmons is refreshing and encouraging. They show us that a
space can be created in public discourse for talking about race on relatively
noncompetitive and nonconflictual grounds, where doing so need not be
likened to playing a card or calling someone a name. Not doing so would
be even worse; for to avoid the issue and pretend that race, racism, and the
fight for civil rights no longer exist would keep white privilege intact and in-

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Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand / 171
visible and leave democracy an unmarked and unattainable ideal, removed
from the talk of ordinary citizens.

NOTES

1. Michael Schudson, The Good Citizen (New York: Free Press, 1998), 301.
2. John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (New York: Henry Holt, 1927), 141.
3. We would like to thank Michael Lacey for helpful comments on earlier ver-
sions of this chapter.
4. For a review of how discourse in public meetings has been characterized, see
Karen Tracy and Aaron Dimock, “Meetings: Discursive Sites for Building and Frag-
menting Community,” in Communication Yearbook 28, ed. Pamela Kalbfleisch, 127–
65 (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004). Although theorists vary in the de-
gree to which they see serious trouble in citizenship and democratic talk, many
argue that there is a problem. See Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone:The Collapse and Re-
vival of American Community (New York: Touchstone, 2000). Also see James Bohman,
Public Deliberation: Pluralism, Complexity, and Democracy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,
2000); John Gastil, “Undemocratic Discourse: A Review of Theory and Research
on Political Discourse,” Discourse and Society 3 (1992): 5–27; and Darrin Hicks, “The
Promise(s) of Deliberative Democracy,” Rhetoric and Public Affairs 5 (2002): 223–
60. In Nina Eliasoph’s ethnographic study of several different kinds of community
groups, she argues that the state of public talk is impoverished. See Avoiding Poli-
tics: How Americans Produce Apathy in Everyday Life (Cambridge: Cambridge Univer-
sity Press, 1998).
5. A discussion of marking can be found in Stephen C. Levinson, Pragmatics
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 307. The analysis of mother terms
is to be found in George Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Re-
veal about the Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 74–76. A discus-
sion of this example may also be found in Karen Tracy, Everyday Talk: Building and Re-
flecting Identities (New York: Guilford, 2002), 178.
6. Consider, for example, how descriptors are used to mark minority members
of certain occupational categories, such as “male nurse,” “female firefighter.”
7. See Bohman, Public Deliberation, and Hicks, “The Promise(s),” for examples
of normative models.
8. Robert T. Craig and Karen Tracy, “The ‘Issue’ in Argumentation Theory and
Practice,” in Proceedings of the Fifth Conference of the International Society for the Study of
Argumentation, ed. Frans H. van Eemeren et al. (Amsterdam: Sic Sat, 2003), 217.

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172 / Haspel and Tracy
9. This description is based on observation of BVSD meetings between 1996
and 1999 and at selected meetings since then that the second author has carried
out. Other studies based on analyses of these meetings include Karen Tracy, “The
Usefulness of Platitudes in Arguments about Conduct,” in Proceedings of the Fourth
International Conference of the International Society for the Study of Argumentation, ed.
Frans H. van Eemeren et al., 709–803 (Amsterdam: Sic Sat, 1999); Karen Tracy
and Catherine Ashcraft, “Crafting Polices about Controversial Values: How Word-
ing Disputes Manage a Group Dilemma,” Journal of Applied Communication Research
29 (2001): 297–316; Karen Tracy and Heidi Muller, “Diagnosing a School Board’s
Interactional Trouble: Theorizing Problem Formulation,” Communication Theory 11
(2001): 84–104; Karen Tracy and Christina Standerfer, “Selecting a School Superin-
tendent: Sensitivities in Group Deliberation” in Group Communication in Context: Stud-
ies of Natural Groups, ed. Lawrence Frey, 109–34 (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum,
2003). Currently underway is a book examining the 1996–99 time period, titled
Ordinary Democracy:Troubles and Triumphs in School Board Meetings (Albany: State Uni-
versity of New York Press).
10. David M. Ryfe, “The Practice of Deliberative Democracy: A Study of 16 De-
liberative Organizations,” Political Communication 19 (2002): 369.
11. For the phrase “valuation of difference,” see Gerard Hauser and Chantal
Benoit-Barne, “Reflections on Rhetoric, Deliberative Democracy, Civil Society, and
Trust,” Rhetoric and Public Affairs 5 (2002): 261–75.
12. For studies of these discourse practices, see Anita Pomerantz, “Agreeing
and Disagreeing with Assessments: Some Features of Preferred/Dispreferred Turn
Shapes,” in Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis, ed. J. Maxwell
Atkinson and John Heritage, 57–101 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1984); Anita Pomerantz, “Giving a Source or Basis: The Practice in Conversation
of Telling ‘How I Know,’” Journal of Pragmatics 8 (1984): 607–25; Kathleen Haspel,
“Not Just ‘Hot Air’: Talk of Personal Experience on News Talk Radio as Collabora-
tive and Critical Engagement in the Public Sphere” (PhD diss., Rutgers, The State
University of New Jersey, 2001).
13. Pomerantz, “Agreeing,” 57–101.
14. Line numbers without an excerpt identified refer to the speeches in Appen-
dix A: David Thielen (Speaker C) and Alvertis Simmons (Speaker G). For the short
sections of these speeches that were retranscribed and brought in to the chapter,
references include the Excerpt number and line numbers, with line number begin-
ning at 1 (e.g., Ex6, lines 3–4).
15. For a discussion of membership categories, see Harvey Sacks, Lectures on Con-
versation (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1992), 570–71; for a discussion of “with,” see

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Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand / 173
Jenny Mandelbaum, “Assigning Responsibility in Conversational Storytelling: The
Interactional Construction of Reality,” Text 11 (1993): 441–80.
16. We have retranscribed the exchange in the appendix to capture more par-
ticularities of talk. Transcription symbols are a simplified version of those used in
conversation analysis. Punctuation reflects intonation: a period is a falling intona-
tion, a question mark is a marked rise and a comma indicates a listing or continuing
intonation. Underlining indicates stress; parentheses containing a period (.) indi-
cate pauses of .2 seconds or less; parentheses containing numbers (2.4) indicate the
length of a silence in tenths of seconds; .hhh indicates hearable in-breaths whereas
a series of hhh without a period indicate outbreaths. A fuller explanation of these
symbols can be found in Atkinson and Heritage, Structures of Social Action, ix–xvi.
Boldface type is used in excerpts to draw attention to segments commented on in
the analysis.
17. Levinson, Pragmatics, 79.
18. By “cautious” here, we draw on Paul Drew and John Heritage’s character-
ization of neutral (or at least not overtly critical), equivocal, “innocent,” or “un-
motivated” ways of speaking in institutional interaction. See Paul Drew and John
Heritage, “Analyzing Talk at Work: An Introduction,” in Talk at Work: Interaction in
Institutional Settings, ed. Paul Drew and John Heritage, 45–47 (Cambridge: Cam-
bridge University Press, 1992).
19. Line numbers refer to those in Appendix A (Speaker G).
20. John A. Robinson, “Personal Narratives Reconsidered,” Journal of American
Folklore 94 (1981): 58–85.
21. For discussions of narrative, see Jenny Mandelbaum, “Assigning Responsi-
bility in Conversational Storytelling: The Interactional Construction of Reality,” Text
11 (1993): 441–80; for an analysis of rhetorical devices in public discourse, see John
Heritage and David Greatbatch, “Generating Applause: A Study of Rhetoric and Re-
sponse at Party Political Conferences,” American Journal of Sociology 92 (1986): 110–
57; and Ian Hutchby, “Rhetorical Strategies in Audience Participation Debates on
Radio and TV,” Research on Language and Social Interaction 32 (1999): 243–67.
22. J. Maxwell Atkinson, Our Masters’ Voices: The Language and Body Language of
Politics (London: Methuen, 1984).
23. Heritage and Greatbatch, “Generating Applause,” 124.
24. For a discussion of the invitational function of figurative and idiomatic ex-
pressions, see Paul Drew and Elizabeth Holt, “Complainable Matters: The Use of
Idiomatic Expressions in Making Complaints,” Social Problems 35 (1988): 398–417.
25. Heritage and Greatbatch, “Generating Applause,” 122.
26. Atkinson, Our Masters’Voices, 73–77.

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174 / Haspel and Tracy
27. Steven Clayman, “Booing:The Anatomy of a Disaffiliative Response,” American
Sociological Review 58 (1993): 110–30.
28. See, for example, Teun van Dijk, “Discourse and the Denial of Racism,” Dis-
course and Society 3 (1992): 87–118.
29. For a discussion of involvement strategies in discourse, see Deborah Tannen,
Talking Voices: Repetition, Dialogue, and Imagery in Conversational Discourse (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1989), esp. 175–78.
30. Heritage and Greatbatch, “Generating Applause,” 125.
31. See Gail Jefferson, “List Construction as a Task and Resource,” in Interaction
Competence: Studies in Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis, ed. George Psathas,
63–92 (Washington, DC: University Press of America).
32. Herbert McClosky illustrates this point, showing that the vast majority of
Americans believe in freedom of speech, but many of them also regard it as rea-
sonable to censor unpopular sentiments. See “Consensus and Ideology in American
Politics,” American Political Science Review 58 (1968): 361–82.
33. Michael Billig, Arguing and Thinking: A Rhetorical Approach to Social Psychology
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987); Michael Billig, Susan Condor,
Derek Edwards, Mike Gane, David Middleton, and Alan Radley, Ideological Dilem-
mas (London: Sage, 1988).
34. Jesse L. Jackson, address delivered to the Democratic National Convention,
Atlanta, Georgia (July 19, 1988), available at http://www.americanrhetoric.com/
speeches/jessejackson1988dnc.htm.
35. Martin Luther King, “I Have a Dream” address delivered at the March on
Washington for Jobs and Freedom (August 28, 1963), available at http://www.
mlkonline.net/.
36. Washington Journal, C-SPAN, August 23, 2003.
37. Available at http://drugabuse.gov/drugpages/PSAs.html.
38. Available at http://www.radiospace.com/acspsa.htm.
39. Kent Goshorn and Oscar H. Gandy point out that “most attempts to com-
municate risk . . . to the general public inevitably, if inadvertently convey particular
assumptions about: what is valued, what would constitute desirable outcomes,
who is responsible, who is acting, and who is acted upon, as well as the existence
and attractiveness of alternative courses of action.” See “Race, Risk, and Responsi-
bility: Editorial Constraint in the Framing of Inequality,” Journal of Communication 45
(Spring 1995): 136. Ashley Montagu documents long-standing beliefs of racial im-
purity and biological threat in Man’s Most Dangerous Myth:The Fallacy of Race, 6th ed.
(Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 1997).
40. Cornel West, Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight against Imperialism (New
York: Penguin, 2004), 14.

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Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand / 175
41. Barry Brummett makes this claim in proposing the social and cultural func-
tionality of representative anecdotes found in public mediated discourse. See
“Burke’s Representative Anecdote as a Method of Media Criticism,” Critical Studies
in Mass Communication 1 (1984): 161.
42. Beverly Sauer, The Rhetoric of Risk: Technical Documentation in Hazardous Envi-
ronments (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2003).
43. Sauer, Rhetoric of Risk, 6.
44. Dewey, Public and Its Problems, 23.
45. See Rosa A. Eberly, Citizen Critics: Literary Public Spheres (Urbana: University
of Illinois Press, 2000), 19–25.
46. On speakers’ orientation to multiple concerns, see Jenny Mandelbaum and
Anita Pomerantz, “What Drives Social Action?” in Understanding Face-to-Face Inter-
action: Issues Linking Goals and Discourse, ed. Karen Tracy (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence
Erlbaum, 1991); and Karen Tracy and Sarah J. Tracy, “Rudeness at 911: Reconceptu-
alizing Face and Face Attack,” Human Communication Research 25 (1998): 225–51.
47. This “preference” is implied and displayed in the indirect and stepwise orga-
nization of Thielen’s and Simmons’s contributions to this public discourse. In more
private venues, this preference is stated explicitly. See, for example, Philomena Es-
sed, Understanding Everyday Racism: An Interdisciplinary Theory (Newbury Park, CA:
Sage, 1991); and Rona Tamiko Halualani, Deanna L. Fassett, Jennifer Huynh Thi Anh
Morrison, and Patrick Shaou-Whea Dodge, “Between the Structural and the Per-
sonal: Situated Sense-Makings of Race,” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 3
(2006): 70–93.
48. Michael Osborn, “In Defense of Broad Mythic Criticism,” Communication
Studies 41 (1990): 121–27.
49. He tells a story of personal experience to illustrate his point. “I was supposed
to be simply introduced to a large, predominantly African American audience but
not to speak. The atmosphere seemed cordial and receptive, so when I was intro-
duced as the enemy of all the local hate symbols, I simply stood to rising applause,
smiled, gave a Black Power signal, and yelled ‘Right on.’ That was all I needed to do,
and I was never more eloquent, despite the speeches that Michael Calvin McGee
wrote for me” (Osborn, “In Defense of Broad Mythic Criticism,” 126).
50. Halualani et al., “Between the Structural and the Personal,” 84.

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7
Chairing Democracy
Psychology, Time, and Negotiating
the Institution
Jonathan Potter and Alexa Hepburn

If ordinary democracy is conducted in everyday settings such as school board


meetings, then it will be important to understand how that democracy is
conducted in its specifics. That is, we will need to understand the way de-
mocracy is sustained in, and embodied in, particular settings and procedures
and how, in turn, these settings and procedures become live. In this essay we
will pick up a set of themes—time and control, authority and resistance,
prejudice and passion—and follow them through the intricate practices that
make up interaction in that setting and constitute its nature. We will con-
sider democracy and its management as something practically conducted,
often using delicate and indirect means. It is something rich and complicated
that requires close attention to understand. Democracy is not something
that is simply switched on by invoking a procedure—it is something that can
be sustained and subverted in a collective often-dilemmatic manner. In this
chapter we will illustrate this moment-by-moment sustenance and subver-
sion with a particular example.
Throughout, we will focus on how what is said and what is described is
relevant (hearably if not intentionally) to the ongoing action. In this democ-
racy the different actors are making their world at the same time as they act
within it, constituting what is right and wrong, and reworking the very pro-
cedures for making those decisions from the inside. Its analysis is micro-

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Chairing Democracy / 177
scopic, but not as a contrast to the more macro; rather, it is microscopic as
it aims to capture the level of detail and organization that the parties them-
selves demonstrably find relevant. Such detail does not live within broader
structures like an ant colony in a tank; it is a part of the constitution of that
broader structure.
Our argument and analysis will draw on discursive psychology, which in
turn draws on conversation analysis, some strands of discourse analysis, and
some strands of work on rhetoric.1 Discursive psychology is radically con-
structionist, treating the mental and social worlds as objects that are de-
scribed and invoked in the course of particular practices.2 It focuses on the
way participants in any setting are confronted by issues of psychology, social
organization, and other features of context. Instead of attempting to pro-
duce a social science specification of the nature of psychology, social orga-
nization, or context, these things are considered primarily in terms of their
significance for participants. In particular, how are psychology, social orga-
nization, and context produced within particular sequences of interaction as
parts of particular practices? Democracy here is not an object presupposed
by the parties; it is something live and contingent, something still to be ac-
complished. The level of analysis offered here is designed to catch that ac-
complishment in its moments of production.
A set of materials, such as the one associated with “Barbiegate,” provides
the basis for exploring the many different analytic and theoretical threads
found throughout this book. In this case, we will restrict ourselves in two
ways. First, we will focus just on the school board meeting of February 13.
Tempting though it is to consider the later speeches and the various media
constructions of this event, we will try and show how much is pertinently
addressed in just this opening material. Second, we will highlight only a
small set of themes relevant to the issues in this volume. We will not at-
tempt to produce analytic closure, but rather follow through some relevant
threads. For this analysis we have used a transcription scheme developed
by Gail Jefferson.3 The style of analysis that we are attempting requires this
level of transcript; it captures features that are demonstrably consequential
in interaction and yet are unavailable in the more conventional “playscript”
that is often used by analysts. We hope that the virtues of using a transcript
of this richness will become apparent.4

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178 / Potter and Hepburn
ACTIONS AND ORGANIZATIONS— A MANUAL
FOR CHAIRING

What kind of thing is the social organization of a school board? How does it
sustain democratic processes—giving a space for different voices, moderat-
ing debate, and providing an environment for arguing a case? Whatever else
it is, this social organization is something built, managed, undermined, and
enforced in the local setting. Part of this is undoubtedly managed and sup-
ported by the physical layout of the meeting, with the board president sitting
behind a raised desk at the front of a room and the speakers from the floor
speaking from behind a podium and addressing the president with the audi-
ence behind them. The issue of how to describe participants over the course
of analysis is a rich and complicated one, raising fundamental issues around
analysts’ versus participants’ understandings. Indeed, this is itself an issue
of democracy. Whose characterizations of events should prevail? Should we
as social researchers offer a technical specification or should we attempt
to work with the categories and displayed understandings in the material?
Thus, although we have used the descriptive category “chair” rather than
“president”—as this reflects a conventional understanding of the business
conducted by this actor in this interaction—it is important to avoid doing
analysis by fiat simply in the selection of categories. Here the category chair
will be treated as provisional and subject to further respecification.5
The physical features of the scene are supplemented by the technological
features. Both president and speaker are provided microphones built into the
furniture (i.e., a table for the president and the podium for the presenter).
This underscores who the significant speakers are by, for example, making
their speech clearly audible over background audience noise.
Inspection of the videotape shows that this is a well-attended event. Most
of the chairs are full—the room feels busy. People appear to be listening at-
tentively. It is a live democratic scene—speeches are being made to an audi-
ence both present and virtually present via the television transmission.
One of the themes in discourse work, particularly that associated with
figures like Michael Billig and Derek Edwards in the United Kingdom, is the
centrality of dilemmas to the operation of social institutions. In the work of
Billig and his colleagues on ideological dilemmas, they note that institutions
are often characterized by dilemmas over, for example, control and freedom,

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Chairing Democracy / 179
regulation and spontaneity, and formality and informality.6 Rather than see
these dilemmas as problems to be solved, they suggest that they provide re-
sources for sustaining the smooth running of institutions.Take education, for
instance. It is common to distinguish two kinds of educational ideology. A
“traditional” ideology focuses on learning set outcomes and following rules;
a “progressive” ideology focuses on developing pupils’ own potential and
helping them come to their own understanding of the world. Although these
two seem opposed, work in this tradition by Derek Edwards and Neil Mer-
cer highlights the way these two ideologies are simultaneously drawn on as
teachers manage classes and encourage pupils to reach particular outcomes.7
As Alexa Hepburn shows, what appear to be tensions and problems between
ideologies in the abstract can be flexible resources in practice.8
Let us follow up these ideas with the materials. We will focus first on
the introductory remarks from the chair. Analysis may seem micro or even
trivial at the time—but we are after the lived specifics of how this institution
and its democratic process is a subtle accomplishment, not always designed
for transparency. The videotape starts during the chair’s opening remarks,
which include points about procedure—what should happen in what way
and in what order. The structuring of what goes on here is not being treated
as something that will happen automatically. Instead, various procedural fea-
tures are described. Note that this does not mean the complete “institution”
of the school board is to be described by the chair beforehand. There are
likely to be a wide range of taken-for-granted things brought to the situa-
tion (about how interaction works, about what kinds of things are likely to
go on at meetings and so on). The task of describing all that would be indefi-
nite and counterproductive. Those things that are described may be so be-
cause they specify things that are either unique or unpredictable; or they may
be described because they have been areas of difficulty in the past, or are ex-
pected to be areas of difficulty on this occasion.
When we consider how this introduction is done, we observe a number of
interesting features. Take the chair’s very first words:

Extract 1: The rule


1 Chair: . . . any: issue you wan’ to:.
2 (0.5)
3 Chair: u:m (0.1) we only have a coupla ground

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180 / Potter and Hepburn
4 ru:les:, the first and the most important
5 i:s (0.6) er:: that you have to: um (1.0)
6 s:tart and complete your: comments within
7 two minutes.

First, note the delivery of these opening words. Already we can see features
that suggest the management of dilemmas of control in this institutional
talk. Apart from the reflexive content of the talk on how the interaction will
proceed, note the delivery, with its pauses and ers and ums. These occur
most strikingly in line 5, prior to the delivery of the “first and most impor-
tant” rule, suggesting some kind of caution or trouble with the delivery of
that rule. Note also that the articulation of particular words contrasts with
formal elocution: “wan’ to” (line 1) rather than “want to,” “coupla” (line 2)
rather than “couple of,” or, more formal still, “two.” These features have been
found, for example, in the openings of market research focus groups, and
they contrast with degree-awarding speeches and other formal and ceremo-
nial occasions that do not have the same emphasis on shared involvement.9
The hesitancy and the informality work against hearing the ground rule
about time limits as authoritarian and impersonal.

LAUGHTER AND AUTHORITY

A further element that contributes to the management of the dilemmas sur-


rounding control can be seen in the next selection, which continues seam-
lessly from the previous one.

Extract 2: The joke


1 Chair: (0.8) 5Sa:ndy how’r we doin’ on our: (0.3)
2 on our TIMEr tech- (0.1) tech nology.
3 (0.7)
4 Chair: Good.= I noticed at the ]delivered
5 la:st one that er (0.4) .hhh ]in
6 the: EGG timer was just not quite ]“smiley
7 as precise as we needed. ]voice”
8 (0.5)

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Chairing Democracy / 181
9 Chair: [ (I) s(h)e(h)nse, ]
10 Various: [((Quiet laughter))]
11 (0.3)
12 Chair: Some people
13 would get about forty
14 five seconds and o’r people
15 get (0.2) four or five minutes.
16 [cos of the way those things work so.]
17 Various: [ ((Laughter)) ]
18 [ (0.6) ]
19 Various: [((Quiet laughter and mumbling))]
20 Chair: Ah: thanks: er: ]probably to
21 an we appreciate that, (0.6) ]Sandy

One of the things that Claudia Puchta and Jonathan Potter noted in the
way market research moderators opened focus groups was that they often
used laughter.10 Laughter does not have to involve the more elaborate jok-
ing that goes on here, but can be part of managing delicate actions. For in-
stance, Gail Jefferson, Harvey Sacks, and Emanuel Schegloff describe the
way that laughter can be used in the pursuit of intimacy, and Jefferson shows
how laughter can serve as a display of making light of one’s troubles by a
troubles teller.11 Hence laughter and humor can be used to “soften” trou-
bling or critical actions.
First note the way here the chair addresses Sandy by her first name (a fea-
ture of informal interaction) and using the folksy and inclusive “how’r we
doin” (not “how are we doing,” “how are you doing,” or “is the timer work-
ing?”) when asking about “our timer technology” (again the inclusive “our”).
This sets up the ironic, indeed bathetic contrast between the “timer tech-
nology” and the “egg timer.” The contrast is underscored in the delivery and
intonation—“TIMEr” is emphasized with increased volume, while “tech-
(0.1) technology” is stumbled over somewhat and given some emphasis (line
2). Similarly the “EGG timer” is emphasized by increased volume (line 6).
The second element of the contrast is also delivered in a “smiley voice” that,
combined with the volume increases, sounds as if the speaker is on the edge
of laughing. This hearably cues its nonserious nature and perhaps encour-

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182 / Potter and Hepburn
ages the laughter that follows in line 10. More extended laughter follows the
playful unpacking of “not quite as precise as we needed” following the con-
trast with forty-five seconds to four or five minutes in lines 13 through 15.
The point about this ironic and humorous construction here is that it
manages the chair’s emphasis on improved accuracy in timekeeping (in com-
parison to previous sessions). The tensions between control and democratic
participation are softened. Control is stressed, yet the authority that goes
along with that is softened.
We see the chair doing further work with this dilemma in the next sec-
tion, which again follows directly from the previous one.

Extract 3: The disclaimer and the rule


1 Chair: U:M: (0.8) s:o
2 I 5am gonna try duh- e-
3 (0.2) I-I don’ wann
4 a be er- (0.2) er: (.) a 5ty7rant up here
5 but please try to keep your comments to
6 two minutes:, (.) er we do have a lodda
7 speakers tonight, (0.1) .hhh (0.1)
8 an’ I am required by board policy to finish
9 a11 the speaker:s (0.4) er within an hou:r.
10 (0.1)
11 Chair: Which I think we can do,
12 5if everybody (0.1)
13 .hh (0.1) u:m (0.1) abides by the rules.
14 (0.3)

Notice on line 2, where the chair’s initial utterance emphasized his own role
in performing some action “I 5am gonna try duh-”—most probably “try to
keep everyone to time” is repaired. The disclaimer “I don’t wanna be er-
(0.2) er: (.) 5ty7rant up here” (lines 3–4) follows this self-repair. By repair-
ing his prior utterance, the chair attends to the potential for his actions to be
heard as (over)controlling, and this is managed with the disclaimer.
By way of contrast, one thing that happens at the start of focus groups,
where a similar issue of control is being managed, is that the moderators say
what the focus group is not (a test, like a school, somewhere where there are

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Chairing Democracy / 183
right or wrong answers).That is, the relevant and troubling alternative is dis-
claimed. This is precisely what happens with the chair’s disclaimer. Tyranny
is highlighted as a relevant problem category where rules are being imposed;
that is what is not going on here.
Hence the self-repair, plus the disclaimer, attend to the potential for the
chair’s/the board’s actions to be heard as (over)controlling. Note also that
after the disclaimer the rule is phrased in terms of a request with an em-
phasis on politeness—“please try to keep your comments to two minutes:,”
(lines 5–6) as a further contrast to the initial repaired utterance in line 2,
which emphasized the chair’s role more starkly.

RULES AND PRACTICES

Let us stand back for a moment and consider the broader issue of rules
and practices. The picture of rules constraining practices in a clear-cut way
has been criticized by Ludwig Wittgenstein, who has highlighted the open-
ended relation between rule and action.12 Rules often require further inter-
pretative work to decide whether any particular novel case will fall within
their purview. This kind of theme has been developed in ethnomethodologi-
cal thinking by Harold Garfinkel and others who have highlighted the practi-
cal and ad hoc way in which individual actions are brought into line with, or
shown to break, particular rules.13
Another line of work has focused on the use of rule formulations in prac-
tical settings. For example, Mick Roffe studied a situation in which social
workers were making assessments of parents whose children had been taken
into care because of sexual or physical abuse.14 One of the problems for
these social workers is in sustaining a stance of partnership with their clients
when they appear to be making consequential and often negative judgments
about them. These assessment sessions are often fraught and emotional. So-
cial workers often make decisions that are strongly contested by the parents.
In this situation it is hard to sustain a stance of partnership. Roffe found that
social workers would frequently draw on the rules to manage this problem.
They would construct themselves as more sympathetic and supportive of the
family yet, reluctantly and unfortunately, constrained by the rules. The rules
in this form became an available resource for managing a dilemma around
control and partnership.

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184 / Potter and Hepburn
Now let’s return to extract 3 and consider what happens after the chair’s
disclaimer. He offers a further reflexive formulation of this organization’s
rules.The chair makes a separation between himself and board policy. Rather
than acting as an agent of authority, administering it to others like some be-
nign Judge Dredd, he is himself constrained by it: “I am required by board
policy to finish a11 the speaker:s (0.4) er within an hou:r.” (lines 8–9). Like
Roffe’s social workers he separates the constraining action of the “board
policy” rules from his own goals or desires—the emphasis on “am required”
counters the possibility that he may have a free hand in this. Although he
does not explicitly say that he would like speakers to take longer, the explicit
separation makes available such a possibility.
There is another important element to the chair’s construction of rules.
Directly after his request that speakers must finish within two minutes he of-
fers the description “we do have a lodda speakers tonight” (lines 6–7). In this
interactional slot this description is hearable as an account for finishing within
two minutes. Such a timescale will not only be practical (giving everyone
time) but will also be fair (giving everyone a voice). Put another way, dis-
agreeing with such a request, for example, by bidding for extra time, might
undermine this fairness—a basic democratic principle. It is striking that
even when considering the discourse of fascists or those arguing against eth-
nic advancement, resources stressing practicality and fairness are commonly
employed.15 This point is further underlined by the chair with his conditional
on lines 11–13: “which I think we can do [finish within an hour] 5if every-
body (0.1) .hh (0.1) u:m (0.1) abides by the rules.” Note the display of hesi-
tancy before the delivery of “abides by the rules,” again orienting to being
heard as (over)controlling, and also note that this utterance provides an en-
vironment in which someone wishing to press something different may be
heard as wishing for special treatment at the expense of others and/or an ex-
tension of the length of the meeting.

TIME, RULES, AND RESISTANCE

The chair’s work does not necessarily ensure that the time rule is followed.
It may set up an environment in which deviation is tricky, but people have a
wide range of resources for resisting the imposition of strictures of this kind.

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Chairing Democracy / 185
One of the points of our analysis of the specifics of this interaction is to catch
the construction of constraints and the resistance to those constraints. More-
over, we can see the parties’ construction of versions of the process as demo-
cratic or authoritarian. We will consider the start and end of David Thielen’s
contribution to the interaction. This extract, again, follows on from the pre-
vious one.

Extract 4: The minutes


1 Chair: So:: er lemme call you up here
2 five at a time¿
3 (0.2) .hh a:nd um (1.1) now we’ll get 5started.
4 First of all David Thi:elen, (0.1) then John
5 Ketling, (0.6) Esme Patterson, (0.7) Kate Morley,
6 (0.1) and Lauren Heger.
7 (2.9)
8 Chair: Come on up.
9 (9.1)
10 Chair: S’alright.
11 (1.3)
12 (I’m sorry one)
13 (2.5)
14 ((inaudible))
15 (0.3) DT arranges
16 DT ˚Five minutes˚ notes
17 a:nd- >so I didn’t-< (1.2)
18 I planned for five
19 minutes and I’m sorry so I:’m gonna looks up
20 have to I guess (0.3) at chair
21 rush through this.
22 (0.3)
23 Chair: Well I’11 be gennle.
24 (.)
25 Chair: Bu:t* ah: (0.1) .hh (0.2) >ah w- i-<
26 it’s been two minutes for quite a
27 whi:le so do the best

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186 / Potter and Hepburn
28 you ca:n to: er (0.5)
29 stick to that.
30 (0.7)

There is a range of interesting features of this stretch of interaction. Let us


focus in particular on some features of the exchange between David Thielen
(henceforth DT) and the chair.
The earliest thing that DT can be heard saying on the audio is “five min-
utes” (line 16). It is quiet, but that is probably because he was moving into
range of the microphone. Most likely he has started to say “I planned for
five minutes” and then repeats himself (lines 18–19) when it becomes clear
that people cannot properly hear. He continues, saying that he will be forced
to “rush through” his speech (he shuffles through the notes while saying
this). This is constructed in a way that manages a couple of things simulta-
neously.
First, note the way DT constructs the hurried nature of his speech as a
product, not just of his own preparation of five minutes worth of material,
but also of the time rule (“I planned for five minutes and I’m sorry so I:’m
gonna have to I guess (0.3) rush through this.” lines 19–21). In particular
note the finessed way the constraint from the rule is constructed—“so I’m
gonna have to I guess rush through this.” What the “I guess” does is present
the link between the rule and effect on his speech as something contingent.
It projects the possibility of new information or actions changing the state of
affairs. In effect it places the chair in the position of being able to undo the
problem or of sustaining the rule with its negative consequences. Note the
way DT looks at the chair through lines 19–20—this highlights his poten-
tial relevance as a next speaker. So although DT begins with an apology, he
is subtly attributing the problem elsewhere. It is not simply his fault but the
fault of the school board’s autocratic time rule. He does not say he is being
unfairly treated, but it is one way of hearing what he is saying.
Inexplicit though DT’s actions are, the chair shows that he understands
them. That is, he orients to the responsibility that is being placed on his own
actions by suggesting that those actions will be “gennle” (line 23). This soft-
ening is combined with both a reassertion of the rule and the statement that
the rule has been in place for “quite a while.” This picks up and counters
the implication that DT is being treated unfairly, or specifically denied what

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Chairing Democracy / 187
anyone could expect in these meetings, or what he personally could reason-
ably expect, in terms of time. Again, in terms of dilemmas of control and
cooperation the chair manages this by both the soft construction of his con-
trol (gentle) and the reassertion of the rule as long-standing. More broadly,
DT and the chair negotiate the nature and legitimacy of these institutional
arrangements as they unfold. This is not an abstract and theoretical negotia-
tion over participation and democracy, and how it can be sustained or de-
nied, but a locally managed, rhetorically situated negotiation, located in the
practical politics of everyday life.

PSYCHOLOGY, PERCEPTION, AND TIME

So far we have noted in passing the role of a range of “psychological” cate-


gories and attributes—planning, being sorry, guessing, being gentle. We
have tried to make explicit some of the practices they play a role in. One of
the things that discursive psychology has focused on is the way that psycho-
logical categories are oriented to actions. Some of this work has looked at
the use of psychological predicates and ascriptions.16 Other work has looked
at more indirect psychological orientations and issues. For example, Charles
Goodwin has done a number of studies of seeing as parts of practices such as
air traffic control and oceanography.17
In the current materials we can consider the chair’s practical display of
“hearing” in the context of the continued negotiation of the rules of time-
keeping and, more broadly, the distribution of voice that is central to demo-
cratic participation.The timer goes off precisely two minutes and one second
after the start of DT’s speech (this two minutes does not include the negotia-
tion about time). The timer is relatively quiet, but clearly audible on the re-
cording (at the start of line 1). At the point at which the timer goes off the
video pans away from a poster that DT has placed in front of his podium and
back onto DT’s face. This suggests that the camera operator is orienting to
the timer.

Extract 5: The timer


1 DT: .H+hh (0.3) we bemoa:n the lack of ]+ signs mark duration
of digital
2 children going in to ]alarm

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188 / Potter and Hepburn
3 science. Especially
+
4 women and minorities.= ]+camera
5 Chair: =Is- is that- (0.2) the timer? ]pans
6 (0.4) ]from
7 Chair: Kay (0.1) u:m: (0.3) TAKE about ]poster
8 another thirty seconds ˚Mr Thielen.˚ ]to DT
9 (2.6)

Note here the delay between the timer sounding and the chair’s display of
hearing. The chair has waited until what conversation analysts would call
the end of DT’s turn construction unit before showing that he has heard the
timer.18 That is, he waits for a place where orderly speaker transition be-
tween turns could occur. This does four things.
First, it is less invasive than cutting in when the timer goes off, so it avoids
an overly intrusive interruption. Note, though, that there is good interac-
tional evidence that the chair expects DT to continue, despite the intona-
tional and syntactic evidence that this part of the utterance is completed.
It is often a feature of this kind of public speaking that closing and con-
tinuing intonation plus pauses are retained, despite the lack of formal need
for them—perhaps it makes speeches sound more interestingly conversa-
tional.19 That said, no doubt DT can also hear the timer, and may be ex-
pecting to be interrupted. In any event, the chair comes in notably early (line
5), heading off any possible continuation that DT might produce.
The second thing that the chair’s question does—“Is- is that- (0.2) the
timer?” (line 5)—is that it allows DT the opportunity to orient to the timer
himself, either more or less explicitly, for example, by answering the ques-
tion. There is no evidence that he does this, although we can’t see him at this
stage. He does not note the timer’s noise verbally, and he certainly does not
stop when it is first audible in line 1.
The third thing to note is that the chair presents himself as respond-
ing to the timer, but does so in a casual and flexible way. This flexibility
is underlined by the concession of “about another thirty seconds” (lines
7–8)—the imprecision of “about” suggests one who is not overly constrained
by the timer rule. This relates to the fourth point about the indirectness of
the chair’s actions. Rather than saying “your time has run out” or “you must
stop” his voiced display of possibly not hearing the timer (“is that the timer?”)

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Chairing Democracy / 189
both allows DT the opportunity to police himself and produces the chair as
someone not using the timer in a rigid and autocratic manner.
Standing back again, the two parties have continued their delicate and in-
direct negotiation of the rules concerning time. The chair has continued to
manage the dilemmas of authority and democratic participation with in-
direct and conciliatory moves.Yet DT’s resistance has earned him more time
and, maybe, further helped display himself as a victim of school board ac-
tions.
Let us consider a final part of the sequence to see how this negotiation
over time and authority plays out. Here when the chair clears his throat on
line 3, DT has been speaking for two minutes and fifty-six seconds from the
start of his speech. Of course, a throat clearing could just be a throat clear-
ing (just as within psychoanalytic therapy a cigar may sometimes just be a
cigar), but its clear audibility suggests that it has been done for the micro-
phone. And such throat clearing is a conventional way of drawing attention
to something.

Extract 6: The drift


1 DT: Where you have clearly violated her ri:ghts
2 to free speech: (.) this [ is what I w’s ]
3 Chair: [((clears throat))]
4 DT: to:ld by: >an attorney with the American
5 civil liberties union,< .HHH[ H a ]nd
6 Chair: [Okay tha-]
7 DT: you clearly violated her civil rights because she
8 was (0.1) u:m (0.3) this was done because of*
9 race.
10 Chair: We- (.) we get [your ] drift mi-
11 DT: [(and)] ]DT raises hand
12 Chair: mister thielen: (0.3) thanks very much.
13 (0.3)
14 DT: Um (0.2) I (0.2) am sorry that to the boa:rd
15 >issues this serious are< not worth (0.9) ]cocks head
16 a couple more minutes.= ]walks away
17 Chair: We:11 a number of us have spent quite a bit
18 of time on the phone with you Mr Thielen. ]camera to chair

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190 / Potter and Hepburn
19 but (0.3) ANYway why’n’t you take ]chair points
20 (0.5) er the poster board with you. ]at poster
21 JOHN KETTling? ]grasps mug

In this extract we can see the chair making three increasingly explicit at-
tempts to bring DT to a close. The first in line 3 is the throat clearing that we
have already noted. The second is in line 6. The chair says “okay.” This is
close to the transition relevant place after “union” where DT is rushing
through and doing an in-breath with extra volume, both displaying his claim
to continue holding the floor. By saying “okay tha—,” a receipting turn, the
chair is reflexively constituting DT as having completed. Nevertheless DT
produces what he says next as a continuation (constituting the chair as in-
terrupting rather than receipting). This occasions a third and most explicitly
terminal turn (lines 10–12).
The chair’s turn is hearably critical. How does it achieve this? Part of what
is going on can be understood from the sequential order of things—after the
accusatory turns at the end of DT’s speech (lines 7–9) it is hard not to hear
the chair as having a slot for a rebuttal or account. Put another way, the ac-
cusatory turn generates an environment where all the parties (DT, the other
people there, the local TV viewers, and us as overhearing analysts) are likely
to inspect whatever comes next for its role in rebutting, accounting and so
on. Furthermore, we can speculate that the chair is indirectly admonishing
DT for going on too long, perhaps trying to get more than his democratic
due. He does not directly respond to the material in DT’s final turns, but
makes a more general response. His formulation “drift” may indicate that the
details are unimportant. Moreover, as an idiom it does not require specifica-
tion of what the meaning or purpose of DT’s speech is that has been “got.” It
does not show a specific understanding that might be contested.
This extract, and the sequence as a whole, ends with a pair of turns that
escalate the dispute even further. DT may be responding to the critical na-
ture of the chair’s turn. He expresses disappointment (“I am sorry that to
the boa:rd >issues this serious are< not worth,” lines 14–15). This is com-
bined with a construction of what has produced the disappointment. This
construction is contrastive—the seriousness of the issues (line 15) is set
against the very small value placed on them by the board (“not worth (0.9)
a couple more minutes.” lines 15–16). One of the central themes in discur-

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Chairing Democracy / 191
sive psychology is the way constructions of mind and constructions of reality
are produced to sustain particular actions, and how the one plays off against
the other.20 This is a compact example of this in action. By constructing his
mental state as “sorry,” he builds the solidity of what is generating that mental
state—the actions of the board forcing him to curtail his speech. DT’s “psy-
chological” response supports the seriousness of the board’s flawed response;
the harsh nature of the response provides a warrant for his psychological re-
sponse. Each plays off against the other. DT here produces the board as arro-
gant and presents himself as undermined and excluded. This subtly reworks
the institutional procedures as strategic and pernicious rather than generic.
Its legitimacy becomes a sham.
At this point the chair does something interesting. Let us stand back a
bit before considering it. There has been a lot of dispute in discourse stud-
ies about the nature of context, and how it should be analyzed.21 Many is-
sues here are not easily resolved, and depend on the broader aims of the re-
search. Nevertheless a conversation analytic and discursive psychological
approach urges caution about claiming the relevance of contextual particu-
lars without a careful analysis of how such particulars are oriented to, or
how they become relevant, in interaction. One way of being cautious like
this is to consider context as an issue for participants. What contextual fea-
tures are invoked or constructed in the course of interaction? This is, of
course, pervasive. Throughout his speech, for example, DT is working on a
version of the relevant context for his actions. He constructs a version of his
daughter’s science project, the nature of prejudice, the nature and history of
science, and so on.
What is notable on this occasion is that in response to DT’s criticism of
the board, the chair constructs a fragment of context. He describes time
spent on the phone to DT by board members (“us”) prior to the meeting.
This does two things. First it claims that DT has been given time and has
been taken seriously. Second, it implies that the chair has been acting prop-
erly by not revealing this until it becomes relevant to DT’s criticism.
It is worth noting the detailed construction of the chair’s claim. A range
of work in ethnostatistics and quantification rhetoric has started to outline
some of the ways in which quantification is produced to rhetorical effect.22
While DT’s claim is a minimizing one with its “couple more minutes,” the
Chair’s “number of us” (line 17, note the emphasis on number) and “quite a

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192 / Potter and Hepburn
bit of time” (lines 17–18) is both vague and at the same time maximizing. The
power of vagueness of this kind is that it makes the claims hard to contest.23
More broadly, the different versions on offer paint different visions of DT’s
involvement with the democratic process, emphasizing that he has been ei-
ther indulged or frozen out.

PASSION AND PREJUDICE

Up to now we have focused on struggles over the operation of the institu-


tion of the school board and the legitimacy, or not, of its actions. We will
now move to another set of themes that are right at the heart of democratic
processes and are played out in their specifics in this material. This involves a
practical management of issues of race and prejudice, political correctness,
and truth. Again, rather than attempt, as analysts, to define the nature of
these things beforehand, we will consider the ways in which they arise in the
interaction as both topic and issue for the participants themselves. We will
start with DT’s speech after he has described his daughter’s experiment with
the black and white Barbie dolls.

Extract 7: The racism


1 DT: Ur:m (0.3) 5an-e-an it’s 7nod a terribly
2 surprising result an in my view nod a
3 terr-er not necerally a racist one either.
4 .Hhh um (.) the experiment was not derogatory,
5 it was not raciall(hh)y discr(hh)iminary,
6 (0.3) discriminatory, iit’s right there,
7 did not create racial animos- (0.2) animosity. .hh
8 (0.3)
9 DT: And it’s conclusion was incredibly inno:cuous.
10 (0.6)

After describing what he calls the result of the experiment, DT goes on to


gloss it in a number of ways. Several features are notable about these glosses.
First note that the first 5 descriptions are negatives. It is not:

1. a terribly surprising result;


2. necessarily racist;

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Chairing Democracy / 193
3. derogatory;
4. racially discriminatory;
5. it did not create racial animosity.

Billig has highlighted the way such negative constructions orient to rhe-
torical alternatives.24 Indeed, they provide a way of bringing into analytic
visibility what DT himself treats as the relevant rhetorical context. The de-
nials counter the possibility that the experiment will be seen as surprising,
racist, derogatory, and creating animosity. The list seems repetitive, but this
may be because DT is repairing a delivery problem early in the list. In lines
2–3 he glosses the experiment as “in my view nod a ter-er not necessarily a
racist one.” We can note three features of this gloss.
First, the gloss is constructed as a “view,” implicating possible alterna-
tives.25 This might be seen as a relatively weak counter, although it might re-
flect already existing disagreements. Second, there is an important repair
here. DT was probably on the way to saying “nod a terribly racist one.” This
might well have seemed to concede some degree of racism? Indeed, racism
is often treated as something that is bad in all its degrees.26 Describing some-
thing as “not terribly racist” might seem to be trivializing precisely the deli-
cate issue at the center of the debate. Third, the repaired version “not nec-
essarily a racist one” also seems to have rhetorical problems. It seems to
concede that the experiment could have been racist. This is trouble for DT’s
general case that his daughter’s experiment should have been displayed. If it
could have been racist, then that alone might be good reason for not show-
ing it. We can speculate that the trouble may be a consequence of DT editing
down a longer prepared speech. It is perhaps notable that just at this point he
looks down at the podium where his notes are (line 2).
This trouble may occasion the extended and repetitive list here. The repe-
titions clean up the earlier points. Rather than being not terribly or necessarily
racist the experiment is now simply not derogatory, not racially discrimina-
tory and did not create racial animosity. It has been worth considering the
way this listing develops, as it would be tempting from an abstract rhetorical
point of view to treat it as simply a persuasive repetition. From our perspec-
tive, the rhetorical organization is located in the unfolding of the interaction;
we can see at least part of this repetition as an ongoing local management of
problems caused by delivery difficulties.
Note also the way this list is started and ended with a downgrading of the

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194 / Potter and Hepburn
significance of the experiment—not “terribly surprising” (lines 1–2), “in-
credibly innocuous” (line 9). This complements the denial of racism by treat-
ing the object of the controversy as harmless and predictable.
The issue of racism is central here. Is the experiment racist? Does it pro-
mote racism? These are the kinds of considerations that might lead it to be
pulled from the school science fair. And they are the sorts of reasons that
might be offered to justify such an action. It is not surprising that DT returns
to it in various more or less oblique ways in the course of his speech. Let us
consider three more examples, two briefly and one in detail.

1. Galileo

DT draws a strong parallel between what happened to his daughter and what
happened to Galileo. This extract comes from the middle of his speech after
a section on the nature of science.

Extract 8: The censorship


1 DT: if certain >results are censored< it i:s (.) not
2 science. it cannot be science.
3 (0.4)
4 DT: .Hh (0.3) what ha:ppened was (0.2) s- (0.1) e-
5 >identical to what happened to Galileo when he was>
6 excommunicated from the Catholic church for proving
7 that Jupiter’s moo:ns revolved around Jupiter not
8 the Earth

We do not want to make much of this, but note the way that the image of
Galileo suggests the discovery of facts that counter prevailing orthodoxies.
Galileo is the neutral scientist reporting what he has found, yet the Catholic
Church is too blinkered to accept it. The implication of prejudice is neatly
turned around and directed at the authorities. More broadly, and pertinently
to the topic of democracy, the analogy that DT develops here builds his case
that the school board has acted in a bigoted as opposed to open-minded
fashion.
DT presses the parallel strongly—what happened in the school was iden-
tical to what happened to Galileo. However, note the variation between the

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Chairing Democracy / 195
Galileo example and his earlier gloss on his daughter’s experiment as unsur-
prising and innocuous. Descriptions of this kind are built for their local in-
teractional environment. The job is a bit different for this extract and the
previous one. Both are designed to do the local work, not to stand as abstract
arguments that will work anywhere. Variability of this kind is a useful cue to
the activities being done.27 Such variation is apparent to us as analysts as we
can disrupt time to place side by side different sections of talk—it is much
harder for participants to recover.

2. Women and Minorities

A second example appears in DT’s speech just before the timer goes off.

Extract 9: The women and minorities


1 DT: .Hhh (0.3) we bemoa:n the lack of
2 *children going in to ]sound of digital alarm
3 science. especially women and ]camera pans
4 DT: minorities.= ]from poster to DT
5 Chair: =Is- is that- (0.2) the timer?

DT does not get to finish this point because of the interruption. How-
ever, its trajectory is clear. It is part of a general construction of the nature
of science and the activities of the school board that presents his daughter as
a victim. It is not surprising that women and minorities do not go into sci-
ence if school boards act in the way they have. There is both an implication
of hypocrisy—this concern is of the kind that the school board might have—
and an implicit alignment with groups who care about the representation of
women and minorities. Again, it works to discount ideas that he might be
racist, or the science experiment was racist.

3. Passion and Racism

The third example is far different. We are going to pay particular attention
to both the content and the psychological display that goes along with it.
This extract comes from the extra time that DT has earned after the timer
has gone off.

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196 / Potter and Hepburn
Extract 10: The kids
1 DT: I’m sorry this was so: wrong in so ]counts on
fingers
2 many ways. .Hhh (0.4) it was censorship ]shakes head
3 pl(h)ain and si(h)mp(h)le. Hh (.) .hh was
4 this ap5propriate for elementary schoo:1, ]turns page
5 (0.2).h >e5lementary kids as young
6 kindergartners in> ~Se(h)lma Alabama
7 marched u(h)p~ (0.1) .HHH ]raises head
8 ~ag(h)ainst 5wh(h)ite police officers with
9 [german shepherds] and fire hoses~.
10 Chair: [((clears throat)) ]
11 (0.5)
12 DT: And yet (.) we cannot ask (0.3) our children of
13 the sa:me age (.) .hh to address (0.2) or be
14 willing to be expo:sed to (.) racial issues
15 here

There is much complexity here. Let us just note some elements of the way
the argument is put together before moving on to consider its management
of issues of race. The logic of the argument here is that “kids” as young as his
daughter have taken part in important and consequential protests against
racism, so it is reasonable for “children of the same age” to consider such is-
sues. It counters one argument that may be, and may have been, directed
against him.
We are more interested in features of DT’s delivery. As we have noted,
one of the characteristics of our approach is to consider the way both fea-
tures of “the world” and “mind” are constructed simultaneously as parts of
actions, and the way one kind of construction can play off against the other.
So far we have considered the use of terms that display psychological states
and dispositions—planned, sorry, guess, gentle—as well as displays of hear-
ing. In this example we can see displays of emotion.
Emotions have typically been treated in psychological research as semi-
physiological states that happen to the actor. They leak out and eat away
at the rationality of actions.28 However, researchers in the discourse tra-
dition have developed a very different image. Instead of emotion as some-

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Chairing Democracy / 197
thing underlying discourse, and subverting its rationality, it is something de-
scribed, managed and made accountable in discourse. Emotion is invoked,
described, displayed for the purposes of actions.29 Derek Edwards has devel-
oped this line of thinking.30 For example, Abigail Locke and Edwards consid-
ered the way Bill Clinton’s emotion descriptions in his grand jury testimony
help him build particular actions, and help construct a version of himself as
caring, responsible, and sincere rather than mendacious and exploitative.31
Alexa Hepburn has extended this work by considering the way crying de-
velops in telephone interaction, paying particular attention to its different
elements.32 She notes that crying has a number of elements, often seen in dif-
ferent phases. These include whispering, sniffs and pitch changes, aspiration,
wobbly voice, and full scale sobbing, as well as apologies from callers. If we
consider extract 10 we can see elements of crying in DT’s speech. Note the
loud inspiration (intake of breath) on line 2. This combines with his “sorry”
(line 1).We have already noted his use of this expression of both apology and
disappointment. Here it works alongside extrematizing formulations—“so:
wrong in so many ways” (lines 1–2) that display the speaker’s investment in
his claims.33 Further aspiration is interpolated inside the terms “plain” and
“simple” in line 3.
Richard Buttny has highlighted the way emotion claims and ascriptions
are often bound up with moral issues.34 Speakers construct anger and upset
as parts of complaints and justifications. In this case DT uses his display of
emotion to present his criticism of censorship as morally lived. The crying
features become more pronounced as he develops the analogy with elemen-
tary kids in Selma, Alabama.The strongly built image of the children protest-
ing with the white police, dogs, and fire hoses is accompanied by the wobbly
voice (lines 6–7, 8–9), loud inspiration (line 7), and interpolated aspiration
(line 8). DT is here forcefully managing issues of his own potential racism by
providing such a strong display of psychological investment and alignment.
These are not just abstract analogies to him but powerfully felt feelings—
powerful enough to lead a grown man to cry (or at least show elements of
crying) in a public place.
None of this is to suggest that DT is being inauthentic or strategic. Our
analysis is not designed to address those concerns (although they may be-
come live for participants, of course); it considers the practical way in which
he manages the potentially problematic question of his own racism or lack of

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198 / Potter and Hepburn
racism. His talk is organized and psychologically realized in a range of ways
to show he is against racism. In terms of ordinary democracy, by siding him-
self with the civil rights protesters DT again presents himself as a victim of
an attack on democracy and its associated freedom of expression.

PSYCHOLOGY, INSTITUTION, AND INTERACTION

In our analysis we have tried to show how the particularity of what is going
on, with all the specifics of sequence, intonation, and so on, is fundamental
to the analysis. The style of analysis used here treats rhetoric as central, but
focuses on rhetoric as something located and developed within particular
settings. This has involved working with the video record and a high-quality
transcript. Such a transcript might seem to be unnecessarily complex, posi-
tivist even. Yet it is important to remember that the playscript that is often
favored by analysts of rhetoric and interaction is itself highly convention-
alized, and is threaded through with its own often-inexplicit assumptions
about interaction and how it operates. The aim is not to reduce rhetoric to
microinteraction (although it might seem like that at times). One of the fea-
tures of work in this tradition is that it disrupts the familiar micro-macro
distinction as well as the distinctions between action and structure and be-
tween psychology and institution. The aim is to see rhetoric as something
that is brought alive in activities, and developed for particular audiences and
for particular tasks. Both the richness and the complexity of this goal is seen
by how much we have shown going on in a few components of just one part
of the Barbiegate materials. The analysis is just the start of the journey but al-
ready points to some themes that may be central to ordinary democracy.
What we have tried to do is show how issues of democracy and psy-
chology are lived in the fine detail of these materials. Neither of these things
is being treated in the analysis as a preexisting given; each is drawn on and
reworked in interaction. In terms of classic sociological debates over the pri-
macy of agency and structure, these things become practical issues for the
participants as they reassert the structure and manage their own agency. Psy-
chology here is something to be accomplished. Can the chair maintain con-
trol and reassert institutional procedures without being treated as tyran-
nical or authoritarian? Can David Thielen develop his critique of the school

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Chairing Democracy / 199
board’s actions with respect to his daughter’s project without being treated
as racist or reactionary? To understand what democracy is here—how par-
ticipation is supported, managed, and constrained—we have had to pay at-
tention to these concrete practices.

NOTES

1. For discursive psychology, see Derek Edwards, Discourse and Cognition


(London: Sage, 1997); Derek Edwards and Jonathan Potter, Discursive Psychology
(London: Sage, 1992); and Derek Edwards and Jonathan Potter, “Discursive Psy-
chology,” in Alec McHoul and Mark Rapley, How to Analyse Talk in Institutional Settings:
A Casebook of Methods (London: Continuum, 2001). For an introduction to conver-
sation analysis, see Ian Hutchby and Robin Wooffitt, Conversation Analysis: Principles,
Practices, and Applications (Cambridge: Polity, 1998). A discussion about the strands
of discourse analysis that have influenced discursive psychology can be found in sev-
eral essays by Jonathan Potter, including, “Discourse Analysis,” in Handbook of Data
Analysis, ed. Melissa Hardy and Alan Bryman (London: Sage, 2003); and “Discourse
Analysis as a Way of Analyzing Naturally Occurring Talk,” in Qualitative Analysis: Is-
sues of Theory and Method, 2nd ed., ed. David Silverman (London: Sage, 2004). See
Michael Billig, Ideologies and Beliefs (London: Sage, 1992); and Michael Billig, Ar-
guing and Thinking: A Rhetorical Approach to Social Psychology, 2nd ed. (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1996) for background on discursive psychology’s rhe-
torical roots.
2. Derek Edwards, Malcolm Ashmore, and Jonathan Potter, “Death and Furni-
ture: The Rhetoric, Politics, and Theology of Bottom Line Arguments against Rela-
tivism,” History of the Human Sciences 8 (1995): 25–49; Jonathan Potter, Representing
Reality: Discourse Rhetoric and Social Construction (London: Sage, 1996).
3. For example, see Gail Jefferson, “An Exercise in the Transcription and Analysis
of Laughter,” in Handbook of Discourse Analysis, vol. 3, ed. Teun van Dijk (London: Aca-
demic Press, 1985). The transcription symbols used include:

[] Square brackets mark the start and the end of overlapping speech.
57 Vertical arrows precede marked pitch movement.
Underlining Signals speaker’s emphasis.
CAPITALS Mark speech that is obviously louder than surrounding speech.
˚I know it,˚ Raised circles (“degree” signs) enclose obviously quieter speech.
(0.8) Numbers in round brackets measure pauses longer than 0.2 seconds.

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200 / Potter and Hepburn
(.) A hearable pause of less than 0.1 second.
(a lot) Parenthesis indicates transcriber uncertainty.
((text)) Double parenthesis—additional comments from the transcriber.
t* Asterisks following consonant “hardens” the sound.
oh::: Colons show degrees of elongation of the prior sound; the more
colons, the more elongation.
hhh Aspiration (out-breaths); proportionally as for colons.
.hhh Inspiration (in-breaths).
Ye:ah, Commas mark weak rising intonation, as used sometimes in
enunciating lists.
Ye:ah. Periods (stops) mark falling, stopping intonation, regardless of
grammar.
? Question marks signal question intonation, regardless of grammar.
>< Enclosed speech is produced noticeably quicker than the surround-
ing talk.
<> Enclosed speech is produced noticeably slower than the surround-
ing talk.
= Equals signs mark the immediate latching of successive stretches of
talk, with no interval.
~Alabama~ Wobbly voice—enclosed by tildes.
k(hh)ay Aspiration in speech—an “h” represents aspiration: in parenthesis
indicates a sharper more plosive sound.
hhhelp Outside parenthesis indicates a softer more breathy sound.

4. The full transcript used here is available at www-staff.lboro.ac.uk/~ssjap/


index.htm.
5. Rodney D. Watson, “Some General Reflections on ‘Categorization’ and ‘Se-
quence’ in the Analysis of Conversation,” in Culture in Action: Studies in Membership
Categorization Analysis, ed. Stephen Hester and Peter Eglin, (Washington DC: Inter-
national Institute for Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis and University
Press of America, 1997).
6. Michael Billig, Susan Condor, Derek Edwards, Mike Gane, Dave Middle-
ton, and Alan Radley, Ideological Dilemmas: A Social Psychology of Everyday Thinking
(London: Sage, 1988).
7. Derek Edwards and Neil Mercer, Common Knowledge: The Development of Un-
derstanding in the Classroom (London: Routledge, 1987).
8. Alexa Hepburn, An Introduction to Critical Social Psychology (London: Sage,
2003).
9. For a discussion of focus groups, see Claudia Puchta and Jonathan Potter,

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Chairing Democracy / 201
Focus Group Practice (London: Sage 2003). Analysis of ceremonial occasions can be
found in J. Maxwell Atkinson, Our Masters’Voices: The Language and Body Language of
Politics (London: Methuen, 1984).
10. Puchta and Potter, Focus Group Practice.
11. See Gail Jefferson, “On the Organisation of Laughter in Talk about Troubles,”
in Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis, ed. J. Maxwell Atkinson
and John Heritage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984); and Gail Jef-
ferson, Harvey Sacks, and Emanuel Schegloff, “Notes on Laughter in Pursuit of In-
timacy,” in Talk and Social Organisation, ed. Graham Button and John R. E. Lee, 152–
205 (Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters, 1987).
12. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 2nd ed., trans. Gertrude
E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell, 1958).
13. Harold Garfinkel, Studies in Ethnomethodology (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-
Hall, 1967).
14. Mick Roffe, “The Social Organisation of Social Work” (PhD diss., Loughbor-
ough University, 1996).
15. Micahel Billig, Fascists: A Social PsychologicalView of the National Front (London:
Academic Press, 1978); Margaret Wetherell and Jonathan Potter, Mapping the Lan-
guage of Racism: Discourse and the Legitimation of Exploitation (New York: Harvester
Wheatsheaf, 1992).
16. Derek Edwards and Jonathan Potter, “Discursive Psychology, Mental States,
and Descriptions,” in Conversation and Cognition, ed. Hedwig te Molder and Jonathan
Potter, 241–59 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
17. See, for example, Charles Goodwin and Marjorie H. Goodwin “Contested
Vision: The Discursive Constitution of Rodney King,” in The Construction of Pro-
fessional Discourse, ed. Britt-Louse Gunnarsson, Per Linnell, and Bebgt Nordberg
(London: Longman, 1997).
18. Harvey Sacks, Emanuel Schegloff, and Gail Jefferson, “A Simplest System-
atics for the Organization of Turn-Taking for Conversation,” Language 50 (1974):
696–735.
19. J. Maxwell Atkinson, “Understanding Formality: Notes on the Categoriza-
tion and Production of ‘Formal’ Interaction,” British Journal of Sociology 33 (1982):
86–117.
20. Edwards and Potter, Discursive Psychology.
21. Michael Billig, “Whose Terms? Whose Ordinariness? Rhetoric and Ideology
in Conversation Analysis,” Discourse and Society 10 (1999): 543–58; Emanuel Scheg-
loff, “Whose Text? Whose Context?” Discourse and Society 8 (1997): 165–87; Emanuel
Schegloff, “Reply to Wetherell,” Discourse and Society 9 (1998): 413–16; Emanuel
Schegloff, “‘Schegloff’s Texts’ as ‘Billig’s Data’: A Critical Reply,” Discourse and So-

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202 / Potter and Hepburn
ciety 10 (1999): 558–72; Margaret Wetherell, “Positioning and Interpretative Reper-
toires: Conversation Analysis and Post-Structuralism in Dialogue,” Discourse and So-
ciety 9 (1998): 387–412.
22. See Robert P. Gephart, Ethnostatistics: Qualitative Foundations for Quantitative
Research (London: Sage, 1988). For discussions of how quantification is used rhe-
torically, see Donald McCloskey, The Rhetoric of Economics (Brighton: Wheatsheaf,
1985); Potter, Representing Reality; and Jonathan Potter, Margaret Wetherell, and
Andrew Chitty, “Quantification Rhetoric—Cancer on Television,” Discourse and So-
ciety 2 (1991): 333–65.
23. Potter, Representing Reality.
24. Billig, Arguing and Thinking.
25. Michael Billig, “The Argumentative Nature of Holding Strong Views: A Case
Study,” European Journal of Social Psychology 19 (1989): 203–23.
26. Wetherell and Potter, Mapping the Language of Racism.
27. Potter, “Discourse Analysis.”
28. Joseph P. Forgas and Gordon H. Bower, “Mood Effects on Person-Perception
Judgment,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 53 (1987): 53–60.
29. Richard Buttny, Social Accountability in Communication (London: Sage, 1993);
Rom Harré, ed., The Social Construction of Emotions (Oxford: Blackwell 1986).
30. Edwards, Discourse and Cognition; Derek Edwards, “Emotion Discourse,” Cul-
ture and Psychology 5 (1999): 271–91.
31. Abigail Locke and Derek Edwards, “Bill and Monica: Memory, Emotion, and
Normativity in Clinton’s Grand Jury Testimony,” British Journal of Social Psychology 42
(2003): 239–56.
32. Alexa Hepburn, “Crying: Notes on Description, Transcription, and Inter-
action,” Research on Language and Social Interaction 37 (2004): 251–90.
33. Edwards, “Emotion Discourse.”
34. Buttny, Social Accountability in Communication.

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iii
After Words

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8
Understanding Ordinary
Democracy
The Intersection of Discourse
and Rhetorical Analysis
Mark Aakhus

If ordinary democracy is something people do, then how do they do it? The
authors in this volume answer this question by dealing with the details of de-
mocracy. They do not retreat to abstraction coupled with convenient hypo-
thetical examples. There is no maudlin wallowing in cases that prove either
the death or reawakening of democratic action. Instead, each chapter ren-
ders ordinary democracy analyzable. What we gain from this rendering is in-
sight into the talking, participation-structuring, and agenda-setting practices
of ordinary democracy—the practices that shape the content and direction
of democratic action. Just how the authors accomplish this rendering of or-
dinary democracy is my focus in this chapter. Thus, if ordinary democracy is
something people do, then how do we analyze it?
This volume on ordinary democracy provides a unique vantage point from
which to see what happens when practitioners of rhetorical and discourse
analysis do their work. The reader of this volume is presented with two im-
portant opportunities. One is to engage the insights offered by the expert
practitioners; the other is to see the choices the expert practitioners make
in producing their expert judgments. This is an important vantage point for
learning how to do something new like investigating ordinary democracy. It
is something like getting the chance to watch as several interior designers are
given the same old house on which to work their charms or several thera-
pists are given the same patient on which to work their magic. A significant

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206 / Aakhus
contribution of this volume, due to its design, is that it allows us a glimpse of
the authors’ analytic work in action and, to some degree, in interaction with
other practitioners. Thus, it seems sensible to begin this reflective chapter by
asking, “what’s going on in this volume?”
This volume is a meeting of sorts. The ostensible purpose of this virtual
gathering, and its design, is to test the commonplace that ordinary democ-
racy, which is taken to be the heartbeat of democratic society, is dead or at
least in a terminal state. It is a gathering of expert practitioners of rhetorical
and discourse analysis who engage in a postmortem inquiry on a case of or-
dinary democracy. Each participant takes an extended turn reporting a di-
agnosis of the “Barbiegate” case from which conclusions are drawn about the
case and insights about ordinary democracy are put forward.
The starting points for this meeting are three presumptions: (1) that or-
dinary marks terrain familiar to the discourse analyst, while democracy marks
off territory familiar to the rhetorician; (2) that reflecting on ordinary democ-
racy is vital to understanding the faculty of civic judgment in contemporary
society; and (3) that ordinary democracy is a practice that neither discourse
analysis (DA) nor rhetorical analysis (RA), as fields of communication ex-
pertise, have adequately addressed on their own. Given these starting points,
the volume pursues the question: What would happen if practitioners of DA
and RA are allowed to engage a case of ordinary democracy and each other?
While the virtual gathering could have become a clash of perspectives aimed
at resolving who brings more to the table for understanding ordinary de-
mocracy, it did not develop in that way. What is evident in the contribu-
tions to this gathering is a collective attempt to make sense of democracy in
contemporary society and a commitment to showing how, using either RA
or DA, such sense-making could be accomplished. The conclusions drawn
about Barbiegate and ordinary democracy are interesting and varied but
equally interesting are the ways in which these expert practitioners draw
their conclusions and formulate their contributions to this inquiry on ordi-
nary democracy.
What is going on in this meeting appears to have less to do with explor-
ing the differences between rhetorical and discourse analysis and much more
to do with bringing these forms of analysis to bear on the phenomenon of
ordinary democracy. The outcome is a more discourse-oriented rhetorical
analysis and a more rhetorically oriented discourse analysis. These points are

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Understanding Ordinary Democracy / 207
developed by first articulating the analytic work performed by the authors to
identify themes in conducting research on ordinary democracy: What is go-
ing on in terms of professional analytic practice? Second, this chapter reflects
on the intersection of RA and DA present in this volume, especially as this
relates to developing methods to address the puzzle of ordinary democracy:
What is going on at the intersection of discourse and rhetorical analysis?

WHAT’S GOING ON IN TERMS OF PROFESSIONAL


ANALYTIC PRACTICE?

The volume presents five approaches for making sense of the Barbiegate
situation and the broader phenomenon of ordinary democracy. Each ap-
proach is a specific solution to the analytic problem of diagnosing the puzzles
of ordinary democracy in the given case. What is going on in this volume can
be answered by reconstructing from each chapter the analytic work each ex-
pert performed in diagnosing the case of Barbiegate and commenting on or-
dinary democracy. Only so much can be understood based on the final prod-
uct of their work, but given that each author was working from the same
corpus of data, it is possible to make some distinctions about the analytic
focus, the selection of evidence, the choice of tools, the analytic reconstruc-
tion of the evidence, the conclusions drawn, and the warrants for those con-
clusions. The differences are rendered in table 8.1.
The authors’ approaches to analyzing the case are not entirely different
from one another even though grounded in distinct traditions. Two overlaps
are evident in the analytic work performed: (1) The role of dilemmas and
micropractices in analysis and (2) the creative crossing of the DA-RA bound-
ary. The overlap reflected in these themes is not taken to mean that DA and
RA are more alike than may be ordinarily assumed but that analysts starting
from different traditions have converged on some common strategies for di-
agnosing a case of ordinary democracy.

The Role of Dilemmas and Micropractices in Analyzing a Case of


Ordinary Democracy

The chapters by Simons, Potter and Hepburn, and Haspel and Tracy focus
on the dilemmas participants faced when participating in the Barbiegate

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Table 8.1 Analytic work performed by authors
Analytic Foci Evidence Tools/Mode of Analytic Conclusions about O.D. Warrants
Selected Analysis Reconstruction

Simons Contradictions The record of Identi¤ed Analytic Barbiegate exists because Credibility of the
& Dilemmas texts anomalous/ Propositions Boulder is vulnerable to author – as evident in
immoral ways of not living up to its own the modi¤cation of his
talking values own values
Gronbeck Hybrid Genre Speeches by all Identi¤ed socio- Framing & Social Public proceedings gener- The analysis is made
the parties linguistic maneu- dramas ate personal and collective public in the writing
vers re®exive thoughts about of the chapter and the
identity, truth, and direc- audience has access to
tion – not policy. the primary materials
Hicks Essential 2 speeches Identi¤ed accounts Nascent, native Communication is an Public Analysis &
Dispute and practical rea- theories of rhe- object and instrument of Accessible Primary
soning torical effectivity liberal governance. Materials
Haspel & Dilemmas of 2 speeches from Identi¤ed micro- Functions of Ordinary democracy is Public Analysis &
Tracy interaction meeting & 2 practices (e.g., micro-practices in evident in the way citizens Accessible Primary
historically reference, con- managing multiple use common modes of Materials

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important trast, repetition, demands of setting discourse for uncommon
speeches lists) ends
Potter & Dilemmas of Meeting chair’s Conversation Micro-practices Understanding O.D. in- Public Analysis &
Hepburn interaction opening com- Analytic Transcrip- for managing the volves attention to Accessible Primary
ments tion dilemma of au- concrete practices Materials

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thority and
participation

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Understanding Ordinary Democracy / 209
event. Using this approach, these authors articulate features of the situation
toward which participants’ actions orient and not just features that caught
the attention of the analyst. For example, Simons discusses how the ideals
that draw people together in the Boulder community also divide them. Si-
mons’s analysis highlights how the actions of the participants are organized
by the contradictory nature of their common sense and that the strategies
for practical reasoning about an issue like Barbiegate are embedded in the
social-cultural-political context of the Boulder community. Potter and Hep-
burn select a much smaller slice of the event to analyze but nonetheless draw
upon the dilemma between authority and participation in democratic par-
ticipation. They are able to show how the contradictions embedded in the
idea of democratic participation are realized and managed in the smallest
details of the interaction, and thus the dilemma plays a role in the organi-
zation of interaction. Haspel and Tracy work the ground between Simons
and Potter and Hepburn by identifying dilemmas that arise between build-
ing unity and respecting difference when talking about race. They are able
to show how basic design features of two speeches manage the multiple de-
mands of the setting.
The chapters by Gronbeck, Haspel and Tracy, and Potter and Hepburn
focus on specific uses of language as methods of participation. Each shows
how language use contributes to shaping the interaction participants’ ex-
periences. Gronbeck’s attention to sociolinguistic maneuvers, for example,
shows how participants frame the controversy and produce the social drama
of Barbiegate. Potter and Hepburn’s attention to the details of interaction
shows how participants continuously maintain the interactional context of
a public meeting and the opportunities and constraints that arise from that.
Haspel and Tracy’s attention to the way speakers design their speeches shows
how participants make race a discussable topic even though it can be a diffi-
cult topic to discuss.
The use of dilemmas and micropractices in the analysis of Barbiegate
points to a general strategy for examining cases of ordinary democracy.
From the discourse analysis perspective, such an approach has merit. The
use of dilemmas, for instance, is an approach that grounds the commentary
in the context of the actions of the participants. The analyst can be expected
to show how the dilemmas identified are relevant to the actions participants
produce. There is then the basis for a procedure by which others can judge

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210 / Aakhus
the quality of the analysis. Likewise, a focus on the micropractices involves a
commitment to detailed description of what transpired in an encounter. This
results in a record of the event and the analytic reconstruction performed
by the analyst. Again, this provides means by which others can judge the ve-
racity of the analysis.
In addition to these methodological concerns, the use of dilemmas and
micropractices to orient analysis has at least two additional benefits. It draws
attention to how everyday rhetoric is not just about appeals and explicit rea-
soning grounded in the manipulation of the symbolic realm but how persua-
sion in everyday life is bound up in the way people attempt to shape struc-
tures for next possible actions. Rhetoric—in the classic sense of finding the
available means of persuasion—is built into the way people talk and design
their actions in a particular setting.

The Creative Crossing of the DA-RA Boundary

Another theme in this volume is found in the way some of the authors crea-
tively cross the boundary between DA and RA. For example, Gronbeck de-
scribes sociolinguistic maneuvers as a way to unpack the shaping of the event
experienced. This approach retains the quality of rhetorical analysis while
drawing upon the type of analytic move typically found in discourse analysis.
There are two other cases of an interesting blending of discourse and rhe-
torical analysis. The first is by Haspel and Tracy. They use a DA orientation
and methods in a manner that delivers what looks like traditional speech
criticism. They even draw parallels to the rhetorical devices used in famous
speeches dealing with race and the devices everyday orators use in the public
meeting to talk about race. This creative analytic move not only preserves
their discourse analytic grounding while delving into rhetoric, it also shows
how everyday rhetoric and grand rhetoric potentially derive from the same
fount of linguistic resources and interactional dilemmas. The second creative
crossing is by Hicks. His analysis makes rhetoric a topic rather than an ex-
planation. This nifty move involves explicating what makes each speech per-
suasive, a traditional rhetorical analysis, while showing that the resources for
invention and persuasiveness come from native theories of communication,
a type of analysis that can be found in discourse analysis. The creative cross-

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Understanding Ordinary Democracy / 211
ings show how researchers can venture into the territory of others to make
interesting analytic points.

WHAT’S GOING ON AT THE INTERSECTION OF


DISCOURSE AND RHETORICAL ANALYSIS?

The intersection of rhetorical and discourse analysis in this volume does


not proceed from broad, sweeping generalizations about rhetorical and dis-
course analysis but from particular acts of doing such analysis on the par-
ticular phenomenon of ordinary democracy. Ordinary democracy is an in-
triguing object of reflection—an object of reflection constructed in the act
of producing this volume. The previous section highlights how rhetorical and
discourse analysts handle part of the task of reflecting on ordinary democ-
racy. Each contributor embraced the task by applying the analytic skill each
has mastered in rhetorical and discourse analysis. The result is an articula-
tion of ordinary democracy and a set of solutions for analyzing ordinary de-
mocracy. These solutions share important commonalities despite the differ-
ing disciplinary orientations of the analysts. Yet, there is more going on at
this intersection of rhetorical and discourse analysis because ordinary de-
mocracy presents an intellectual and methodological puzzle for those inter-
ested in understanding it.
McDaniel and Gronbeck begin identifying the puzzle when they point out
that understanding ordinary democracy is an inquiry into the civic judgment
that happens in the actions of ordinary citizens assessing their own political
interests and moving others toward specific decisions. Such inquiry is no
easy task because civic judgment “is not either entirely subjective or objec-
tive, an operation of mind or matter, but something of both.”1 Unfortunately,
many have simply missed this interesting character of ordinary democracy
by assuming that big is better, while others cannot bear to dirty their hands
on the mundane, ordinary social interactions constituting ordinary democ-
racy for fear of missing something big. Yet, the seemingly small manifests
something bigger—that is, how are the material aspects of interaction and
structure coupled with the ideal aspects of democratic action? Indeed, two
of the major theorists of discourse and society, Michel Foucault and Jürgen
Habermas, emphasize one aspect over the other. McDaniel and Gronbeck

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see this gap between Foucault and Habermas as a theoretical puzzle to be
embraced, not a theoretical impasse to be avoided. As they point out, in or-
dinary democracy there is an interesting mix of the materiality of action and
ideals for action: “civic judgment operates within social structures marked
by uneven distributions of power or cultural capital” and “citizens routinely
violate norms of ideal speech situations that might make better worlds.”2
Thus, the opportunity in attending to the everyday and the ordinary is the
chance to see “how ordinary democracy depends on citizens inventively ne-
gotiating power asymmetries and developing norms in action.”3 It turns out
that everyday people manage, in one way or another, what many have other-
wise treated as a theoretical impasse. An important challenge for research on
ordinary democracy lies in responding to ordinary democracy’s puzzle with
methodological approaches that do not gloss either the normative or mate-
rial aspects of structure and interaction.
The response proposed by McDaniel and Gronbeck is a simple but wise
move: “illuminate signs of the vernacular intelligence with which ordinary
social actors perform at times extraordinary things with language.”4 They
propose a turn toward better description of rhetorical practice as found in
ordinary circumstances. The analysis chapters heed this call and in so doing
turn rhetorical analysis toward matters of language and social interaction
more generally and discourse analysis in particular.5 In the 2005 Handbook
of Language and Social Interaction, five traditions are identified: (1) discourse
analysis, (2) ethnography of communication, (3) conversation analysis, (4)
language and social psychology, and (5) language pragmatics.
The turn toward matters of language and social interaction is evident in
several ways as each author attempts, in one way or another, to articulate di-
lemmas and practices of ordinary democracy. First, the speeches are not ex-
amined simply as texts but as rhetorical moves bound up in a rich social and
local context; such matters are typically addressed in the ethnography of
communication. Second, as typically addressed in conversation analysis and
ethnomethodology, the analyses in this volume are sensitive to the interac-
tional underpinnings of persuasion and how the speeches, as well as other in-
teractional moves, are both shaped by the local context and shape the local
context of speech making. Third, the rhetorical exigencies of the Barbiegate
situation are not treated by the analysts as given but as constructed in the
way the participants display their orientation toward the situation and one

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Understanding Ordinary Democracy / 213
another in their language choices; such matters are typically addressed in
language and social psychology and discourse analysis. Finally, the analyses,
at least to some degree, show or assume that the participants in Barbiegate
orient toward expectations about what constitutes a valid contribution to
the event and that the participants use those expectations when formulat-
ing their own contributions. Such matters are typically addressed in lan-
guage pragmatics. Each of these subareas of language and social interaction
has methodologies linking the empirical and the theoretical.
The turn toward matters of language and social interaction in this volume
is suggestive about the possible relationships between RA and DA for under-
standing everyday rhetoric and ordinary democracy. McDaniel and Gron-
beck’s call for closer attention to ordinary democracy’s puzzles invites bet-
ter description of what happens in everyday rhetoric. Indeed, it may seem
that the obvious reason to align RA and DA is that DA, and its related tra-
ditions in language and social interaction, provide strong methodology for
describing and analyzing the uses of language in context. However, unifying
RA and DA for this reason does not appear to be what happens in this vol-
ume, as the distinctiveness of these approaches is used to advance under-
standing of ordinary democracy. McDaniel and Gronbeck’s call for closer
attention to ordinary democracy also introduces a normative dimension.
This is expressed in their asking for better understanding of “vernacular
intelligence”: issues of what is good, what is smart, and what happens in
everyday rhetorical situations when ordinary people do extraordinary things
with their language. It may seem that aligning DA with RA in this volume,
then, is a subtle attempt to unify the two areas by supplying DA with the rich
normative-critical tradition available in RA. However, this does not appear
to be happening in this volume.
Rather than presuming that any unification of RA with DA is needed or
wanted, this volume simply calls for RA to bring into focus the ordinary,
while DA should bring into focus the rhetorical.6 A good example of sharp-
ening the focus of RA and DA in the spirit of this volume is found in Scott
Jacobs’s development of “ethno-rhetoric.” Ethno-rhetoric is an approach
that brings discourse analysis to the examination of rhetoric as practiced in
everyday life. In so doing, Jacobs problematizes the language theories under-
pinning classical versions of rhetorical criticism and puts forward an alterna-
tive that achieves rhetorical criticism but does so from a discourse analytic

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base.7 There is little doubt, then, that RA and DA can be brought into a pro-
ductive relationship. Yet, what that relationship can be for understanding a
phenomenon like ordinary democracy requires further attention.
Understanding ordinary democracy is neither a descriptive nor a
normative-critical enterprise; it is somehow both. To treat ordinary democ-
racy with purer and purer forms of normative-critical or descriptive theory
and research probably misses something important, along the lines of what
McDaniel and Gronbeck argue. Something else may be needed for the task
at hand. Recent developments in DA have emphasized a reflective stance to-
ward the relationship between normative and descriptive commitments in-
volved when investigating a communicative practice, such as those associ-
ated with ordinary democracy and everyday rhetoric. One well-developed
approach is action implicative discourse analysis, and another is an emerging dis-
course design approach. Both approaches emerged within DA, both are reflec-
tive about descriptive and normative commitments in research, and both
draw inspiration from Robert Craig’s position that Communication is a prac-
tical discipline.
The goal of inquiry in a practical discipline is to cultivate practice, which
stands in contrast to empirical science inquiry that produces descriptions
and explanations of empirical phenomena.8 Research in a practical disci-
pline is not simply concerned with a theory’s application to practice but
for the theory’s consequence for practice—that is, such research should
not just ask “How do people behave?” but “If people understand this theory,
how will they then behave?”9 Thus, a research endeavor should be a reflec-
tive endeavor that attends to its potential for altering practice, even though
such consequences might be unintended by-products. For example, persua-
sion research might be seen as an objective analysis of the cause-effect rela-
tionship between message strategies and persuasive outcomes. One practical
outcome of such an endeavor is the production of a technology of influence
that shifts attention and shapes practice away from critical ideals of ratio-
nal discussion.10 The drift in collective attention to a phenomenon over time
coupled with the way research tools and procedures constrain and enable
research ought to be objects of collective reflection within any research en-
terprise.
The study of ordinary democracy and civic judgment might be effec-

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Understanding Ordinary Democracy / 215
tively understood as inquiry aimed at cultivating practice, such as the ver-
nacular intelligence involved in everyday rhetoric that rises to the demands
of everyday settings. Action-implicative discourse analysis and discourse de-
sign are approaches in the mode of practical theory that are suited to the
puzzles ordinary democracy presents.
Action-implicative discourse analysis is a methodological approach that
extends the idea of practical theory. It “takes communicative practices as its
central focus and seeks to describe the problems and dilemmas of practices,
the conversational moves within practices that reveal and manage problems,
and the situated ideals that participants in practices have about good con-
duct.”11 By doing this, action-implicative discourse analysis generates ma-
terials for active, productive reflection on the conduct of a communicative
practice. As such, it is both a descriptive and a critical-normative enter-
prise.12 It is important to recognize that action-implicative discourse analysis
does not apply external, abstract normative models but instead articulates
the situated ideals relevant to the participants engaged in the practice. Thus,
this discourse analytic approach can improve practice because it fosters in-
vention of new techniques for a practice, a reframing of the problems of the
practice, and brings new norms to bear on a practice.
Discourse design draws attention to how deliberately designed discourse
systems shape or otherwise discipline interaction.13 The procedures and
technologies people invent to support human interaction and reasoning,
such as meeting agendas, rules of conduct, and information technologies,
provide ways to shape, condition, and discipline interaction and commu-
nication. Technologies and procedures are understood to be communica-
tive solutions designed, crafted, or engineered to make idealized forms of
communication possible in less than ideal conditions. As such, procedures
and technologies are hypotheses about how communication works and how
it ought to work. The task of discourse design is to articulate the assump-
tions about communication intentionally (and unintentionally) built into
procedures and technologies for communication; to examine the “problem-
solving validity”—that is, how a design solves the problems people face—
and the “intersubjective validity”—how a design resonates with normal pat-
terns of communication;14 and to invent new procedures and technologies
to realize forms of interactivity not previously conceived or understood to

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216 / Aakhus
be possible.15 Discourse design draws upon theories of language and social
interaction, in particular, for models to understand and create designs for
discourse.

CONCLUSION

This volume has less to do with figuring out the differences between rhe-
torical and discourse analysis and more to do with developing an approach
to understanding ordinary democracy that draws upon the resources of
rhetorical and discourse analysis. The act of creating this volume brings to-
gether theoretical and methodological materials that, while stemming from
different traditions, when combined provide theoretical and methodological
grounding for further attempts to examine the role of rhetoric and dis-
course in constituting and regulating democratic action. This is in part due
to the design of the volume, which helps highlight the process and prod-
uct of the work by practitioners rather than merely highlighting their con-
ventional identity as discourse or rhetorical analysts. The opportunity for
understanding the intersection of rhetorical and discourse analysis begins
not from broad, sweeping generalizations about these two different enter-
prises but from particular acts of doing such analysis. The result is a more
discourse-oriented rhetorical analysis and a more rhetorically oriented dis-
course analysis.

NOTES

1. See James P. McDaniel and Bruce Gronbeck, chapter 2 this volume.


2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. A more extensive discussion of the state of the art in the area of language
and social interaction, in general, and discourse analysis, in particular, can be found
in Kristine Fitch and Robert Sanders, Handbook of Language and Social Interaction
(Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 2004) and in Karen Tracy and Kathleen Haspel,
“Language and Social Interaction: Its Institutional Identity, Intellectual Landscape,
and Discipline-Shifting Agenda,” Journal of Communication 54 (2004): 788–817.
6. Scott Jacobs, “The Rhetoric of Witnessing and Heckling: A Case Study in
Ethnorhetoric” (PhD diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1982).

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Understanding Ordinary Democracy / 217
7. One of the insights Jacobs presents is that classic modes of rhetorical criti-
cism, such as genre analysis and dramatism, either assume or are often conducted in
a manner that presupposes that meaning is objectively evident in the text of a speech
and that people in rhetorical situations share a common understanding of the situa-
tion. The ethnorhetorical approach is an alternative to the objectivist stance that is
often taken up in the conduct of rhetorical criticism. The approach draws on theo-
ries and methods in language and social interaction to bring ordinary communi-
cators’ perspectives about rhetorical situations into the act of speech criticism.
8. Robert T. Craig, “Communication as a Practical Discipline,” in Rethinking
Communication, vol. 1, Paradigm Issues, ed. Brenda Dervin, Larry Grossberg, Barbara
O’Keefe, and Ellen Wartella, 97–122 (Beverley Hills, CA: Sage, 1989); Robert T.
Craig, “Communication Theory as a Field,” Communication Theory 9 (1999): 119–61.
9. Robert T. Craig, “Galilean Rhetoric and Practical Theory,” Communication
Monographs 50 (1983): 395–412.
10. Craig, “Galilean Rhetoric.”
11. Karen Tracy and Kathleen Haspel, “Language and Social Interaction: Its In-
stitutional Identity, Intellectual Landscape, and Discipline-Shifting Agenda,” Journal
of Communication 54 (2004): 788–817; see also Karen Tracy, “Reconstructing Com-
municative Practice: Action-Implicative Discourse Analysis,” in Handbook of Language
and Social Interaction, ed. Fitch and Sanders, 301–22.
12. For examples, see Robert Craig and Karen Tracy, “Grounded Practical
Theory: The Case of Intellectual Discussion,” Communication Theory 5 (1995): 248–
72; Karen Tracy and Catherine Ashcraft, “Crafting Policies about Controversial
Values: How Wording Disputes Manage a Group Dilemma,” Journal of Applied Com-
munication Research 29 (2001): 297–316.
13. Mark Aakhus and Sally Jackson, “Technology, Interaction, and Design,” in
Handbook of Language and Social Interaction, ed. Fitch and Sanders, 411–36.
14. These two forms of validity for procedures are discussed by Frans van Eeme-
ren, Rob Grootendorst, Sally Jackson, and Scott Jacobs, eds., Reconstructing Argu-
mentative Discourse (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1993).
15. For examples of discourse design research, see Sally Jackson, “Disputation
by Design,” Argumentation 12 (1998): 183–98; Mark Aakhus, “Science Court: A Case
Study in Designing Discourse to Manage Policy Controversy,” Knowledge,Technology,
and Policy 12 (1999): 20–37; Harry Weger and Mark Aakhus, “Arguing in Internet
Chat Rooms: Argumentative Adaptations to Chat Room Design and Some Conse-
quences for Public Deliberation at a Distance,” Argumentation and Advocacy 40 (Sum-
mer 2003): 23–38.

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9
Amateur Hour
Knowing What to Love in Ordinary Democracy
Robert Hariman

Five minutes—and I didn’t—I planned for five minutes, and I’m sorry.
So I’m going to have to—I guess rush through this . . .

Um, . . . that’s the two minutes I take it? Oh, I’m sorry, OK. Uh,
uh . . .

I am a teacher at ele—Mesa Elementary, . . . We are disappointed


common ground and modifications were not reached with the family
in order to display the project. This could have modeled a more posi-
tive way to handle disagreement and perhaps would have been an ex-
cellent lesson in tolerance and compromise . . .

So I’d just like to take this time to tell you that we support our staff,
we love our teachers. And I think they do an incredible job each and
every day, . . .

I just brought one person with me, but we will come back. We’re not
afraid of the ACLU. ACLU, that wi- that threat you made, we are not
afraid of that.

Hi.

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Amateur Hour / 219
Read it and weep. The leading advocate, a man defending his own child, the
man so motivated that he is the first one signed up to speak, carefully pre-
pares a speech for over twice the allotted speaking time. Other speakers
also run up against that limit for the simple reason that they are rambling.
And why the limit: isn’t it a patently artificial rule that makes public dis-
cussion fragmented, disjointed, and obviously subordinate to governmental
procedure? Not surprisingly, the teachers’ representative mouths a bureau-
cratic prose, demeans the public hearing, and uses the language of toler-
ance and compromise to slam the parent for not knuckling under in pri-
vate. The model parent still talks like a teenage cheerleader as she invokes
school spirit to wish away all error and all conflict. Another speaker who
feels threatened responds by making a counterthreat. Not to worry, as he’s
already told the crowd that he’s from outside the relevant jurisdiction. And
through it all, speakers backtrack, digress, and otherwise stumble through
their speeches, which are, to say the least, not memorable. Worse yet, the
speakers seem only dimly aware, if at all, of their lack of eloquence, perhaps
because everyone is exceedingly anxious to pay homage to the god of social
acceptance.
No wonder the sophists could make a killing writing speeches for those
citizens who had to defend themselves in democracy’s first public hearings.1
At least the Greeks knew that they needed help. I doubt there was a run to
the public speaking classroom before or after Barbiegate, while the protago-
nist has proudly memorialized the event at his personal Web site.2 Perhaps
Plato and other aristocratic critics are right: democracy is ugly, a race to the
bottom that rewards pandering, conformity, and stupidity.
One way or another many readers are likely to be thinking, “Hey. Way too
harsh.” Speaking ill of ordinary people in a democratic society invites social
censure. That reaction is part of the problem, and those who support ordi-
nary democracy seem to be in the role of the cheerleader. We love our citi-
zens, who are just incredible, no matter what, and who don’t deserve any
criticism because that will hurt their morale. Support the little people, sup-
port the troops, it’s all the same. And a sure reaction in a democratic so-
ciety.
So it is that the study of ordinary democracy is at war with itself. On the
one hand, the intention is to identify and celebrate the distinctive character
of democracy as it is actually practiced to sustain and improve local commu-

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220 / Hariman
nities. On the other hand, by focusing on the raw particularity of what or-
dinary citizens actually say in a local setting, the inquiry shreds the illusions
that sustain democracy as a political ideal. One studies ordinary democracy
out of a love of democracy, and one finds little that is loveable. The choice
seems to be between delusion and cynicism. Many scholars of democratic
politics choose cynicism. To their credit, those committed to understanding
ordinary democracy resist that option. The question remains whether they
have to be deluded to do so.

WHAT’S UP

Let me put my cards on the table. This afterword is also a diatribe, and one
written because I am committed to grassroots, ordinary, participatory de-
mocracy. The United States and much of the rest of the world need not less
but more democratic speech by ordinary people in local settings. This fine
volume provides important intellectual work toward understanding, valu-
ing, and sustaining that practice.The volume’s structure might suggest a con-
cluding discussion of the relative merits of discourse analysis and rhetorical
criticism, but the subject of ordinary democracy is too important to be re-
duced to a study in method.
One might ask what the fuss is about. Because the United States is a large,
pluralistic society, and because liberal-democratic institutions allow any
topic to become a subject of public discussion, and because different topics
activate varied interests, discourses, and audiences, democratic speech fol-
lows no one standard. In addition, democratic debate occurs in multiple fo-
rums. These include federal, state, and local legislatures; federal, state, and
county courts; electoral campaigns and elections at every level; the press in
its many forms ranging from newscasts to letters to the editor; small scale
institutional settings such as church boards and garden clubs; discussions
among co-workers and neighbors; blogs and other Internet forums; and so
on. No one should try to tailor a single set of norms to cover this wide and
complex discursive field, so why not leave questions of judgment to those
involved in each setting? In fact, recognizing the plurality of settings, topics,
interests, and constituencies should take some of the pressure off of the or-
dinary democracy project. One need not assume that the citizen action in
the local setting is the only authentic democratic practice, or that things have

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Amateur Hour / 221
to be done very well there if democracy writ large is to be legitimate. Per-
haps there could be a compromise: if the other authors in this volume will
grant that the local setting is just one among many, I’ll forget about criti-
cizing what happens there. After all, it’s a big country, and the little folks are
muddling through well enough in respect to constraints not faced elsewhere,
so what’s the big deal?
My response includes a couple of intuitive reactions, an analytical claim,
and a normative argument. One intuition, which could be completely mis-
placed, is that the Barbiegate hearing reflects a weird distortion in mass-elite
relations in the United States. Because of American egalitarianism in so-
cial relations and a corresponding aversion to slick speech, rhetorical level-
ing is a proven basis for identification. Thus, roughness in speaking can be-
come the surest form of manipulation. So, this reaction is at some level blue
state ressentiment regarding George W. Bush, but the concern is not merely
that another fox has gotten into the chicken coop. As standards for public
speech decline, elites benefit while ordinary people lose yet another form
of political agency. If elites are allowed to speak poorly, they simultaneously
become less accountable and more appealing; as ordinary people uncon-
sciously adopt those standards, they become more easily manipulated and
less persuasive.
A second intuition is that a basic problem shared by both the practice and
the academic study of democracy is that knowledge begets cynicism.3 One
need not believe in nondemocratic regimes to obey, work within, or direct
them. Indeed, cynicism has survival value. Democracy, however, depends on
some level of commitment to and sacrifice for democratic values and proce-
dures.4 Cynicism still has survival value, but it also can hollow out civic life.
James McDaniel and Bruce Gronbeck are among those who are correct in
pointing out that the cynical view of American politics depends in part on a
hierarchy of scale that undergirds much of the social sciences.5 Little people
don’t match up well against institutions, capital, and historical forces, while
polling and other empirical methods are well suited to discover ignorance,
inconsistency, and other deficits.6 It does not follow, however, that careful at-
tention to small things will restore one’s faith in democracy. What does fol-
low is that the local setting becomes a test case.7 Will the people say what
needs to be said? Will the state listen? Too often, it seems, the smart money
is elsewhere.

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222 / Hariman
The analytical claim I want to advance is that liberal-democratic public
speech works by stitching together distinctively public and social identi-
ties. This claim builds on the achievement of this volume about ordinary de-
mocracy. The question taken up in this volume is to what extent democ-
racy works at the local level as a process of communication. At least two
basic questions arise: First, are the speakers in the public hearing doing the
ground-level political work of voicing experience, crafting consensus, moti-
vating collective action, and maintaining civic accountability and legitimacy?
Second, are they attending to other tasks or enacting other forms of com-
municative action that also prove to be important to sustaining democracy as
a local, reasonable, equitable, and shared practice? One contribution of the
volume is that it suggests that the second question requires serious consid-
eration: that is, if one starts with a close reading of the actual public speech
of ordinary citizens negotiating controversy in a local setting, then democ-
racy may prove to be something other than it was thought to be. One might
find neither the mythic ideal of the New England town meeting nor a de-
luded public appealing to distant institutions.
The individual chapters of The Prettier Doll: Rhetoric, Discourse, and Or-
dinary Democracy are devoted largely to demonstrating how actually exist-
ing democratic speech is doing important civic work despite lacking most
of the qualities of deliberative discussion or public oratory. They do a good
job of identifying a number of discursive maneuvers that are undertaken
to negotiate controversy and maintain civility. The book succeeds at dem-
onstrating that textual analysis can reveal how ordinary speech is a rough,
messy, complicated, intelligent, artful, and effective medium for democratic
discussion. One programmatic conclusion—which was the initial assump-
tion, of course—is that understanding, appreciating, and improving demo-
cratic participation is impeded by both the rationality standards of delibera-
tive democracy theorists and classical rhetoric’s ideal of eloquence. Instead,
one should discern what democracy actually is when it is done well by or-
dinary people in local settings, and then do whatever is needed to support
them as they do that. I hope to add something to this argument by claim-
ing that democracy depends on crafting in speech and writing a distinc-
tive form of consciousness that is simultaneously—and often awkwardly and
even contradictorily—public and social. Furthermore, only by admitting to
the tensions within this hybrid subjectivity can one fully explicate public ad-

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Amateur Hour / 223
dress and understand crucial choice points for determining more and less
successful articulations of ordinary democracy.
This task of seeing how to negotiate often-conflicting social and public
demands in civic speech leads directly to normative judgments about the
better and the worse. My normative argument presumes that ordinary de-
mocracy includes anxiety about speaking in public, occasional debate about
the standards of public speech, and a range of judgments that are entangled
with these conditions. One reaction is censoriousness, an option used by but
not limited to social elites, lower-middle-class respectability guardians, and
the grammarians who are always among us. Another reaction is to endorse
pervasive leveling or the abandonment of explicit standards in the name of
democratic inclusion. This is often a genuinely progressive move. If it is al-
ways used, however, it leads to misrecognition of and an actual loss of power
within ordinary democracy. Rather than wishing away anxieties that will not
and should not go away, I believe it is better to keep debate about the stan-
dards of public speech a part of democratic practice. Professionals do it all
the time, so why shouldn’t amateurs be allowed the same social capital? In
fact, ordinary people regularly participate in highly sophisticated artistic dis-
cussions and judgments in every other part of life, including music, sports,
food, and every hobby one can imagine. The same should be true for the art
of democracy.
Let me be perfectly clear: Most of us most of the time, myself included,
do no better than the speakers in the hearing. And that’s OK, most of the
time. As Benjamin Barber has said, “democracy is government for, by and of
the flawed and the fallible.”8 As he goes on to say, “paradoxically, its strength
lies in its acknowledgement of weakness and its adequacy derives from its
recognition of insufficiency. That very insufficiency, because it is shared, be-
comes the basis (if not exactly the foundation) for our equality.” Such are the
normative and psychological conditions of ordinary, participatory democ-
racy. But this is not the whole story. One should not assume that ordinary
people are merely underappreciated rather than actually “below the political
poverty line,” not to mention lacking other forms of social capital while be-
ing tired, stressed out, frustrated, and generally overwhelmed.9 Of course,
one must understand how some standards are unfair to those who are strug-
gling to be citizens against the odds. To give up on eloquence, however, is to
give up on them.

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224 / Hariman
The easy choices are cynicism and romanticism. The people are an em-
barrassment or the people are the salt of the earth. Either position allows
righteous indignation, whether against the people or against those who fault
them. Although I have acted indignant (and will again), my objective is to
mark out a middle ground: Ordinary democracy exhibits both bad and good
features of democratic life, and “we” collectively and individually would be
better off if citizens could speak more effectively more often, and we will
be worse off if they do not. Therefore, an honest appreciation of democratic
citizenship necessarily commits one to making judgments—with others—
about the quality of public speech.10 There is no one standard, but there are
good reasons to argue with one another about whether specific speakers are
better or worse, inappropriate or effective, sophistical or eloquent. A vital
democratic society will be one that argues about the standards of public
speech, works out the right standards for specific settings, and learns from
both embarrassing and innovative performances.
The same is true of any art. If someone says that he doesn’t care what
he eats, we might conclude that he is easy to get along with but not that he
should be in charge of dinner. If someone says that she doesn’t care what she
drives, we might applaud her freedom from American commercialism but
we won’t expect good advice when we are shopping for a car. If someone
says he doesn’t know a lot about art but knows what he likes, we would be
mistaken to conclude that he is stupid or unappreciative, but we would know
that he doesn’t care a great deal about art. There is a relationship between
attentiveness and care, and to care about democracy is to care whether and
how citizens speak. If they are careless with their speech, they are being care-
less with their citizenship.
Citizenship is not just compliance with the laws and the observance of civic
duties such as military service, jury duty, and voting. Democratic citizenship
is a way of life, one that includes how we dress, how we drive, how we look
at one another and watch out for one another, and how we speak.11 That is
why ordinary democracy is important as both a practice and a test case. It
also is why I am not endorsing comprehensive reform, strict rules, or self-
censorship. Democratic speech will always be subject to accusations that
it is too “loose,” excessive, or rhetorical, for the unavoidable reason that
it is grounded in the informal negotiations of everyday life and optimized
through public performance. At the same time, ignoring such concerns is to

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Amateur Hour / 225
assume that everything is fine and that self-scrutiny is not needed, while it
misses an opportunity for recommitting oneself to democratic values.

LEVELERS AND WEAVERS

The aesthetic virtues and vices of ordinary democracy point to a common


problem, which is the profoundly unsettled relationship between social iden-
tity and political identity in a modern, liberal democratic society.The propo-
nents of ordinary democracy define the project’s focus on embodied inter-
action against the self-abstraction of the autonomous liberal subject, but the
fact is that any citizen is both an “unencumbered self ” in a “procedural re-
public” and somebody encumbered with a host of obligations and desires
formed by membership, not always voluntary, in social groups.12 Everyone
is at once a member of a res publica and a societas, a modern state defined by
the rule of law and a web of personal associations defined by custom, and
none of these terms captures the range of differences.
One sign of the tension between these two powerful forms of self-
constitution is that social and political theory often succeeds by providing
a powerful articulation of one principle at the expense of the other. Some
promote the autonomy of political freedom and public deliberation. Thus,
Hannah Arendt defends the polis against the rise of the social in modern
capitalist societies, and Jürgen Habermas insists on bracketing social sta-
tus as a precondition of public communication. Others feature the totality
of the social in modern societies as something that transforms the produc-
tion of power while eliminating conventional political agency. Louis Althus-
ser’s ideological state apparatus and Michel Foucault’s disciplinary mecha-
nisms are forms of social domination that leave little reason to invest in
public speech. Interestingly, Habermas maintains a commitment to small-
scale sociality in the bourgeois family and the conversational locales of civil
society, and Arendt celebrates small-scale political interaction, while each
fears large-scale social forces such as the reorganization of labor and the de-
velopment of the modern mass media. Likewise, Althusser and Foucault
provide powerful methods for explication of the micropolitics of ordinary
interaction in routine settings, but they recover political agency primarily as
resistance to otherwise totalizing structures of domination. In none of these
accounts of modern political communication is there an appreciation of how

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226 / Hariman
public and social authority are continually being stitched together in ordi-
nary speech in order to create communicative action.
As the transcript and textual analyses in this volume demonstrate, both
the beauty and the ugliness of ordinary democracy issue from precisely this
condition of modern political discourse: from having to weave together so-
cial membership and citizenship. To speak as an ordinary person in a local
setting, one has to speak simultaneously as two subjects to two audiences.
People have to speak as both citizens and neighbors, and speak to both their
neighbors and the public. Communicative artistry in this situation has to
be something different from (though not exclusive of ) either deft strate-
gic maneuvering or beautiful evocation of common values. Artistic speech
also will make self-abstraction and institutional procedures habitable, and
translate the rule of law into a way of living together. Even this summary is
too simple, however. As the authors of the essays in this volume make clear,
there are many potential conflicts between and within civic norms and social
membership. It is difficult enough to negotiate those differences in private.
Doing so in public before others who embody the differences is more diffi-
cult yet. Doing so to obtain their agreement on a controversial matter can
become an exceedingly complex task. By attending to how they speak, one
can begin to identify some of the artistic norms that have developed to man-
age the problem of being simultaneously social and civic.
The speakers in Barbiegate are not uniformly skillful, but they each suc-
ceed well enough at the first task of speaking, which is to establish that one
can speak in that setting. (There are occasions when speakers are treated
as incompetent, alien, dangerous, crazy, and so forth.) As they do so, they
demonstrate a paradox of American life, which is that artlessness is an im-
portant form of artistry.13 Informality is the dominant form. So it is that by
far the most uniform characteristic of the speeches in Barbiegate is their su-
perficial artlessness. No one seems even to aspire to eloquence, while the
speech is relentlessly plain, common, halting, and rambling. On the surface,
it seems that no one can be accused of talking down to people or claiming
higher social authority; nor is anyone saying anything that would lead oth-
ers to conclude they are too high up the social ladder to be a member of
the community. The irony is that Boulder is a university town and that most
of the speakers are well educated, including several PhDs, helps make the

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Amateur Hour / 227
point.When speakers draw on their expertise, they also clothe it in common
speech. Note, for example, Angelika Schroeder:

And if I understand it correctly and I think I was part of approving it, it


relates to the natural sciences. However, having done a dissertation in
the social sciences, I will not say that it’s not science. But I will say that
it is different, it is more complex. And one of the greatest criticisms of
social science research is that there are variables that affect the results
that haven’t been included in the discussion or that haven’t been mea-
sured. So it’s very complicated stuff. And I don’t um see that it could
possibly be effectively directed at an elementary level.

Schroeder artfully brackets her upward move of appealing to expert au-


thority and demonstrating her command of social scientific methodological
discourse with downward moves back to the presumed low level of her
audience. First, she qualifies her understanding and memory—and isn’t it
odd that she only “thinks” she approved a policy pertaining to the contro-
versial decision? Second, she summarizes the higher discourse as “compli-
cated stuff,” just what one might say if concluding one did not and could
not understand it. When she then moves from the general point to the spe-
cific case, she hesitates when selecting the verb. The choice of “see” is rela-
tively weak when opposed to, say, “know,” but seeing is something that ordi-
nary people do.
This is but one example of a comprehensive informality that is a discourse
of social leveling. Demarcations of class and other hierarchies are present,
but they have to be translated through the norms of social informality. As
the speakers inhabit and maneuver within that discourse, they meet the first
condition of intelligibility and acceptance in American public speech: per-
forming equality.
Artful artlessness can be categorized as one version of Aristotle’s dictum
that the persuader should always hide the artistry of the speech, but there is
more to it. For one thing, Aristotle was wrong on that point: not all artistry
should be hidden all the time. More important, discursive adaptation is a
complicated social process that is largely outside of the speakers’ awareness.
It also reflects a complex structure of taken-for-granted beliefs and practices

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228 / Hariman
about public speech, including a fear of demagogy, a myth of the common
tongue, and near-complete deficits in training and practice. Most impor-
tant, however, it is the first means by which speakers negotiate the paradox
of speaking well in an egalitarian society. It is a self-limiting aesthetic if there
ever was one, but it also has its own form of productive power. At the least,
prior social status is bracketed (somewhat); more important, disadvantaged
people and groups can draw on their own experience as sources of inven-
tion rather than always having to imitate a higher form for which they would
have inadequate training.
This comprehensive artlessness is only part of the distinctive artfulness
of ordinary democracy. Some concomitants are obvious: for example, the
speakers all appear as amateurs rather than professionals. (For a clear sense
of contrast, witness Richard Clark’s presentation in the public hearing of the
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, May 24,
2004.) Even the professionals who speak, such as the two ACLU lawyers,
are very informal while also taking pains to establish their personal relation-
ships with those in the community. The amateurishness of their diction be-
speaks a second sense of amateur: one who is speaking out of love, that is,
out of a desire for mutuality rather than to use another in one’s self-interest.
Gorgias and Plato enshrined love as a metaphor for persuasion, and it may be
that speech in ordinary democracy is repeatedly directed to perform an ideal
mutuality. Again, there has to be a performative contradiction, for in a de-
mocracy the ideal can only be realized in obviously imperfect forms.
Mutuality is the central ideal informing the Barbiegate speeches and
therefore the end defining the artistic means. As the essays in this volume
demonstrate, the forum, for all of its failings as a setting for deliberation,
demonstrates a dynamic constitution of consensus and community through
persistent coordination between others. This is done amid controversy, and
so civic speech becomes a tearing and repairing of the social fabric to both
maintain and improve that complex network of interaction and identity.
Because the individual chapters demonstrate significant elements of the
remarkable range of tactical inventiveness of the Barbiegate speakers and the
complexity they are managing, I won’t belabor those points. I will empha-
size, however, that there can be differences between the strategic and tac-
tical registers of ordinary speech. The tactical maneuvering seems largely to
be directed to the social context: reflexive awareness of how the embodied

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Amateur Hour / 229
speaker is likely to be perceived, habitual gestures of orientation toward the
audience, sensitive selection of words when potential controversy or mis-
understanding is likely, and so on.14 As the discourse analyses make clear, at-
tention to the hesitations in the discourse alone provides a map of many of
the hot spots in American society, race not least among them. By contrast,
the strategic designs in Barbiegate are harder to identify, in part because the
speakers are less organized and more inconsistent at the level of proposi-
tional argument about matters of policy.
This difference between the two registers reflects the tension between
state and society; they don’t fit together seamlessly (and rightly so, as that
would be a totalitarian relationship), and they carry different forms of
agency. The speaker can do little to change the law in two minutes, while
one can seriously damage oneself or other members of the local commu-
nity in that time. Likewise, the audience responds to the law largely through
compliance, while their contribution to maintaining social cohesion can be
much more active in face-to-face settings.The gap between strategic and tac-
tical speech requires different approaches to aesthetic judgment. If viewed
from a strategic, top-down approach, the Barbiegate speakers don’t do well,
in part because the norms of traditional eloquence assume a speaker’s seam-
less command of all parts of the speaking situation in a coordinated man-
ner. Thus, eloquence often is equivalent to grand strategy in military theory,
whereas the Barbiegate speakers are in a situation akin to getting through
the day.
Controversy is invigorating at the strategic level, in part because the so-
cial friction has already been highly contained through socialization into the
institutional setting with its roles, procedures, and authority, all of which
protect the participants from messy conflations of public and private life. In
a tactical encounter, controversy is frightening because it is potentially hurt-
ful. Conflict automatically sets off defensive reactions (some of which are
aggressive), rigidifies social boundaries, and threatens to spread quickly be-
yond the immediate situation and so cause additional damage. Speakers in
an open meeting in a local community are acutely aware of their vulnera-
bility. They are wise to suggest as much, for those who appear incapable of
being sensitive to social pressure are defined as outsiders who should not be
allowed to be persuasive. (The trial of Socrates provides a notable example
of this reaction.) It is precisely because of this social pressure that cour-

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230 / Hariman
age should be the highest value of civic speech, and why it is seen so rarely.
Strong stands are taken much more easily in print than in person.
Thus, civic speech needs and supplies both courageous defiance of so-
cial conformity and continual maintenance of social cohesion. We see some
of the first virtue and a great deal of the second in the hour-long hearing.
All of the speakers have to supply some of each, as it takes some gumption
simply to speak at all. Most are perhaps excessively attentive to maintaining
cohesion by suppressing controversy, something that seems to be endemic
to any public criticism of the schools in small-town America. Even so, how-
ever, the hearing is perhaps “good enough” civic speech in that the energy de-
voted to social cohesiveness is typically expended in conjunction with speak-
ing within civic roles to discuss matters of educational policy. Even Jordana
Ash manages to sketch out positions on the deliberative process, the social
studies curriculum, and the quality and mission of the schools. Not bad for
someone who begins by saying “Hello, . . . I don’t have any prepared notes
here tonight,” and who “just wanted to thank” the school personnel for the
“incredible job” they do. Ash, who could have spoken much more authorita-
tively in her role as “President of the uh Mesa Parent/Teacher Organization,
PTO,” provides one extreme of how any speaker has to speak in a local set-
ting. The speech of ordinary democracy will always be a rough amalgam of
two forms of identity, each of which has its own complexity as well.Whether
official or vernacular, public or private, institutional or neighborly, the spe-
cific articulations are all variations on a fundamental binary of political and
the social identity that is characteristic of modern civil societies.

THE DOWN SIDE

That’s the good news. If the Barbiegate speakers are demonstrating a certain
level of rhetorical competence, then there are still good reasons to have se-
rious reservations about the character and effectiveness of ordinary democ-
racy. Four problems need to be highlighted: bad speech, the authoritarian
format, institutional sovereignty, and social tyranny.When these factors con-
verge in a public hearing, it is highly unlikely either that the better argu-
ments will prevail or that those present will receive the “democratic educa-
tion” that citizens need if they are to do more than obey and complain.
Someone has to say it: the Barbiegate speeches are awful. The speakers

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Amateur Hour / 231
stumble and stutter. They tack back and forth without moving forward. They
discuss complex issues with the diction, syntax, ideas, and organization—
but without the wit—of face-to-face conversation. In the words of the board
vice president Bill de la Cruz:

So that’s my piece on that whole arena. And as far as the achieving- the
achievement gap um I’m really supportive of that to look forward to
talking about that. And last week we were at a press conference with
the governor and the attorney general. It was mostly a, a- what do I call
it- a dog and pony show but it was, it was um bipartisan we had both
um Representative Dean and Senator Mansanaka there. And they’re
putting together a resolution to take uh to the legislature that would
basically state that they’re gonna put closing the achievement gap as
one of their highlights of education reform. And they’re pretty sure
it’ll pass. Of course, it’s a resolution, it has no teeth. It just says, yes we
think this is a really good idea. So, so that’s- that’ll be the next steps
that we’ll see. But I think the positive there again is that the discussion
is all the way up at that level, . . . And, but I think it’s in line a lot with
what we’re doing. So, uh that’s it. So thank you.

De la Cruz has many virtues as a speaker and political leader, but this speech
is a disaster, from basic grammar to the sad irony that, as pointed out by
Darrin Hicks, he closes by perpetuating the racial stereotyping that the ad-
ministration invoked to justify censorship of the third-grade girl’s science
fair project. Along the way he stutters, rambles, blows smoke, and otherwise
dumbs down everything he touches. Moreover, every virtue one might at-
tribute to him—including an artful artlessness—could be achieved through
far more articulate speech.
Now, I also could argue that de la Cruz’s speech is the best of the bunch,
and so he provides an additional distinction that should inform judgment. I
would not commend a speaker who gave beautiful expression to bigotry or
used the powers of speech to humiliate those already weak and in need. Like-
wise there can be great beauty as someone struggles to voice their experi-
ence on behalf of tolerance, justice, and care for others. This is rarely easy to
do, and to be effective it has to be done in a manner that can overcome re-
sistance to the message. Some of the time, de la Cruz meets this standard.

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232 / Hariman
Thus, his performance is representative for many of us: trying to do the right
thing while meeting contradictory demands, all of them legitimate, while
lacking the education, experience, or time to do it smoothly.
Just as there is no one setting for democracy, there is no one standard
within any setting. One must, as it were, love the sinner yet hate the sin.
These include sins of omission. One problem of the Barbiegate speeches is
that they also could have done work that was not done at this hearing. This
is the biggest problem of bad speech. One can always play the relativist and
say the people are welcome to talk as they like, but one also has to recognize
that every discursive norm is both productive and restrictive in very specific
ways. The cognitive problem of inarticulateness is that so little can be said
that needs to be said in order not only to deliberate well but also to create
more tolerant, vital, and enriching social interaction.
There is a political problem as well. A low level of articulateness does not
help the common people; quite the contrary, it aids entrenched power, par-
ticularly in a democratic society. As James Bohman has said, “not to consider
differences in public capacities endorses the inegalitarian consequences of
egalitarian procedures and practices.”15 In order to maintain power, all the
school board has to do is appear to be “just folks” who are vaguely respon-
sive to community sentiment, and that is exactly what de la Cruz does. Thus,
the first problem feeds the second, which is that the school board hearing
has an authoritarian format. This is a tricky problem: as Kathleen Haspel and
Karen Tracy describe clearly, the procedural rules are the result of a com-
plex set of contradictory demands, each of which reflect some application of
either the civic norm of equality or reasonable requirements for careful de-
liberation. Moreover, they can suffice for public debate.16 So they are demo-
cratic rules, but the result, in fact, is extreme constriction of democratic
speech. This is evident in several senses. Two minutes is not enough time to
develop extended arguments based on sufficient evidence. Because there is
not enough time to question others and no opportunity to speak again in
response to criticism, there is very little accountability or a clear basis for
comparing claims and speakers directly. The one-hour rule is a joke, albeit
one we have to admit to making on ourselves, for who today does have time
for three-hour meetings or meetings on successive nights? The 1960s are
over, two-worker families are tapped out, and the lack of time for demo-
cratic speech is a social fact. Like all the other rules for the hearing, it also

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Amateur Hour / 233
is a fact that maintains board power. Indeed, the more speech allowed, the
more likely it would be that additional information about the schools would
be made public, board members’ lack of knowledge of the system they su-
pervise would become evident, alternative policies would become plausible,
and so forth. Not to worry, the rules ensure that information flow remains
restricted while asymmetrical power relations remain intact. Like public ac-
cess television coverage of city council meetings, such publicity helps the
public obtain a smidgen of institutional accountability but at the cost of ac-
cepting a poor substitute for what could be more robust practices of partici-
pation.
The political importance of the restrictions on public speech in the hear-
ing is underscored by the fact that the board members are exempt. They
speak last and at length. No two-minute rule for them. No chance of be-
ing contradicted by a citizen. Although discourse analysts demonstrate how
much institutions depend on their repeated discursive enactment in ordi-
nary speech, it also is true that such speech is already highly structured by in-
stitutional roles, procedures, and habits. The speech reproduces the institu-
tion, which reproduces the speech, and so on. This need not be a chicken or
egg dilemma, but rather a practical question of where the bias toward agency
lies in the particular case. The fact that the board speakers need do so little
to voice their institutional roles suggests that their institutional authority is
already taken for granted.
Indeed, the bureaucratic institution is sovereign. Parents have very little
control over school policy, which is protected from democratic control, in
part, by a densely layered system of administration, state and federal statutes
and funding requirements, and professional certification agencies staffed by
administrators and teachers. You don’t have to be a blue voter in a red state
to see that there is much value in this system, but any celebration of ordinary
democracy should also be tempered by a clear-eyed acknowledgment that
democratic participation and decision making has a highly delimited role
in what is an important and all too typical example of state administration.
Much of the time any potential abuse of power is constrained by a number
of factors, including internal checks and balances, a large number of highly
dedicated personnel, and over-extension and under-funding. Some of the
time, however, mistakes are made and not dealt with justly.
The sovereignty of the school system is constructed discursively through-

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234 / Hariman
out the hearing, from the rules of engagement to specific speech acts to
the procedural and other system barriers between public discussion and
institutional practice. The location, seating arrangement, administration of
the meeting, rules for speaking, dress, and everything else in the setting
construct a uniform homology of institutional authority. That authority is
aesthetically egalitarian from start to finish, but it also maintains a clear
asymmetry in respect to all matters of procedure, policy formation, and im-
plementation. A look at the videotape of David Thielen’s first speech is in-
structive in this regard: The board president sits in a swivel chair at a table,
has both a bottle of water and a cup of coffee, holds a document, wears a suit
coat and tie, and looks down on the citizens assembled before him. Thielen
stands at a lectern that is too small for him, has only what he was able to
carry to that provisional space, is dressed informally, and looks up at the
board. The speaker stands between the audience, who is sitting on stack-
able chairs or milling around behind him, and the board, underscoring his
identity as a citizen; the president sits with the wall at his back, underscoring
his role as representative of the educational system.
This asymmetry is reproduced in the discourse of the hearing. The co-
orientation that is celebrated in a number of the chapters follows from the
initial condition. For example, board members have to “dress down” in
their speech while speakers strive to “speak up” to the board by introduc-
ing higher-order discourses that should mandate board accountability. As
Jonathan Potter and Alexa Hepburn point out, there is a great deal of very
skillful, “delicate and indirect” negotiations between the chair and the speak-
ers, in part due to the chair’s tacit recognition that he has to construct his au-
thority through speech that is both institutional and socially responsive. True
enough, but as they also point out, the speeches include a harsh struggle for
legitimacy on each side, and one that ends up with the chair having the last
word. And what a finish it is: “Well a number of us have spent quite a bit of
time on the phone with you Mr. Thielen but at any rate, why don’t you take
the poster board with you? John Kettering.” This is a classic administrative
put-down. The claimant is revealed to have already exhausted the adminis-
trator’s patience, the most important resource in the system, while having
received his time in private, the most important locale in the system. The
claimant is not aggrieved but rather quarrelsome and stiff-necked. Those
who spoke with him were not people having to fulfill their chosen respon-

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Amateur Hour / 235
sibilities, but rather long-suffering administrators who are simply trying to
keep the system, like the meeting, running as it should, and who are not
above threatening that additional disclosures of the client’s private irksome-
ness might be necessary to meet those objectives. The dismissal that fol-
lows involves three cuts: “at any rate” signals that regardless of the merit of
the complaint, institutional procedure is sovereign; referring to the poster
marks the provisional position of the citizen speaker while also suggesting
(again) that his case is an impediment to the proper operation of the system;
with the abrupt segue to calling of the next speaker, Thielen is history. Like
a truant student, he has been dismissed.
This sovereignty is not only performed but also relied on more tacitly.
Here I refer to the several references in the speeches to how discussions of
racial prejudice and similarly controversial topics should occur or would oc-
cur or already have occurred in the schools in a properly supervised and
pedagogically effective manner. Perhaps the Boulder school system is radi-
cally different in this regard from those I have known, although the Barbie-
gate case argues against that conclusion. If it is not atypical, then these claims
are sheer nonsense to anyone who has had any experience with American
elementary and secondary education. There are exceptions: I can name two
absolutely outstanding social studies teachers in my children’s high school
experience, and only one of those teachers was punished by the administra-
tion for his good work. It is telling that in the Barbiegate speeches the ref-
erences to settings other than the science fair are always made to justify the
censorship or avoid public debate. They always involve moving the discus-
sion of prejudice back into a more tightly controlled school setting where
the administration and teachers are in charge and the public cannot speak.
No one provides evidence that vital discussions have actually occurred, nor
does anyone challenge David Thielen’s claim that discussion would not have
happened without the controversy created inadvertently by the censorship.
It is also telling that the science fair was not held the following year.17 Thus,
the discourse of Barbiegate suggests how public speech and citizen education
can be curtailed by relatively sovereign local institutions even as they main-
tain the guise of democratic participation to legitimate themselves. This sov-
ereignty is created and maintained through discourse, and it is in principle
revisable at every step of the long march through the institution, but taking
seriously the relationship between institutions and public speech requires at

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236 / Hariman
some point recognizing how discursive constitution can operate in tandem
with a complex set of relatively autonomous practices wherein people have
the power to not change. That power can be both good and bad for demo-
cratic life, depending on the issue and the source of the external pressure,
but it should not be forgotten by those immersed in textual analysis.
Sovereignty need not be tyranny, and in Barbiegate we find that else-
where. As McDaniel and Gronbeck point out, ordinary democracy often
operates under the radar of theorists of either deliberation or governmen-
tality.18 Ordinary democracy is a highly situated, embodied, interactive dis-
course that creates something quite different from either the self-abstraction
of the liberal subject or the totalizing internalization of a regime of instru-
mentality. In place of either individual autonomy or architectural determi-
nation, one finds local places, real time, performative improvisation, and
social knowledge. Likewise, a number of the chapters in this book demon-
strate how the hearing functions to reweave the social fabric that had been
torn by public controversy, and how the interactions within the meeting
constructed multiple bases for articulating both individual agency and social
trust. All true, and also good and beautiful. If there is hope for democracy,
surely it resides here.
That hope will not be realized until one faces a problem that is endemic to
the conditions being celebrated. The authors of this volume do not give suf-
ficient recognition to the enormous pressure of social acceptance and con-
formity in small societies. Alexis de Tocqueville placed this fact at the center
of his analysis of American democracy, but it is easily forgotten in the rela-
tively cosmopolitan world of the university. The speakers in the hearing had
not forgotten, however. From the explicitly social first words, to the many
small self-deprecations and apologies, to the careful zoning of the sayable
and the unsayable that occurs across the hour, the speakers are acutely sensi-
tive to social acceptance. As usual, the marginal speaker, Alvertis Simmons,
the self-identified black man who had driven up from Denver, recognizes
the stakes most explicitly. “I almost didn’t get here, couldn’t find my way.
Y’all had no signs to tell us where to go. What’s up with that?” In a stroke,
Simmons identifies the tacit restriction to social membership.19 Why post
signs when strangers are not wanted? Why think of signs when one is already
thinking in terms of those who live among one another? What is technically

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Amateur Hour / 237
a public meeting, open to anyone, is also a meeting circumscribed by tacit
social membership.
Simmons sees in the absence of signage the borders that the locals as-
sume but can’t see. He is well aware of the fact that he is twice an outsider
in white Boulder, and that this embodied status is not going to be bracketed,
and that he has to manage it discursively, and that he can also use it as a means
for persuasion. He is not going to enforce the norms of social membership,
of course; that job is left to the women in the room.20 Jordana Ash doesn’t
need “prepared notes,” for she is not really there to engage in public speech;
instead, she is reasserting the primacy of the social over the public realm.
What is the most salient aspect of the public controversy and especially its
circulation in the public media? “. . . an incredible amount of um harassing
and really disturbing phone calls and e-mails from the community, the na-
tion, and actually even internationally.” What might be taken as indirect evi-
dence that one had violated a norm of public speech and democratic edu-
cation is figured as an attack by outsiders on the private spaces of the local
community. And its gravest result is “serious damage to the morale of this
incredible school.” Morale is a completely social phenomenon and one that
can generate easily from false perceptions. My point is that a question of
public policy is being displaced by a quality of social interaction, not that
morale should not be taken seriously. What is equally telling is that Ash’s re-
port on the phone calls and their effect on morale is entirely insider’s knowl-
edge, something not available publicly prior to her speech. Other women
continue down this road. Clare Schoolmaster socially censures the Thielen
family, spreads the fear of social contagion (as Darrin Hicks demonstrates),
and appeals to norms of propriety while zoning racial controversy out of
public discourse. Teresa Steele picks up the theme of external threat while
celebrating a social network. Jean Bonelli defends the Mesa teachers’ refusal
to speak to the public media and faults the adults who addressed the contro-
versy for failing in an in loco parentis responsibility that makes sense only
in a village rather than a civic space. And the effect on the teachers’ morale
probably has gotten worse, as they now have been “crucified.”
As Tocqueville recognized, the self-identified individual is never a self-
sustaining individual, and the possibility of always needing others who need
not recognize you produces enormous anxiety at the heart of the democratic

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project.21 One of the great advantages provided by public media and insti-
tutions is that they provide some distance—although not escape—from this
condition, but it returns with a vengeance in the local setting. When a syn-
dicated columnist writes for the national media, she doesn’t have to worry
about her child not being invited on a trip that another mother is organizing,
or being shut out of information about teachers or doctors or merchants or
informal summer sports organizations, or what the banker will think and
whether the family business will suffer, or what her mother-in-law will say
to whom. When one speaks at a local hearing, these and many similar con-
cerns have to be on one’s mind. To put it bluntly, small towns are celebrated
as the authentic havens of democracy primarily by those who do not live in
them.

THE BACKSTORY

The achievement of ordinary democracy is that it works at all. Citizens come


together in good faith to resolve a conflict peaceably, to do so in a way that
grants respect to each equally before the law and one another, and to sus-
tain themselves as a community organized in a condition of liberty and ac-
cording to collective deliberation regarding the distribution of common re-
sources. They do so while saddled with degraded speech and the low social
capital and poor education it reflects, an authoritarian format for civic dis-
cussion that has developed out of the complex contradictions and organi-
zational achievements of their own society, institutions that despite their
public funding are only obliquely accountable to public reason, and powerful
social pressure to remain silent to preserve social cohesion.
The texts and analyses in this volume demonstrate how well speakers
succeeded in a particular case at overcoming these and other obstacles to
citizen participation in democratic governance. One question that remains
is whether their participation worked well enough to contribute to its be-
ing a sustainable practice. More to the point, does the hearing serve well as
a forum for democratic education? Again, the source for the question is Toc-
queville, who argued that political associations provided “free schools, where
all the members of the community go to learn the general theory of asso-
ciation.”22 By placing citizens into forums where they could listen and speak
on public issues, they would acquire the skills, norms, and commitment re-

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Amateur Hour / 239
quired for vital democratic government. I doubt that many of the citizens in
the Boulder audience had also spent time recently in a union hall or public
speaking club, although a few may have been at interest group meetings
sponsored by environmental and other progressive organizations. Because of
the decline in many forms of civic and political association, the public hear-
ing assumes greater importance as a form of democratic education.23 And
that is the problem. The combination of egalitarian norms (which are good
to have) and professionally staffed schools (which are good to have) and bu-
reaucratically organized government (which is good to have) and rooted
communities with rich social networks (which are good to have) conspires
to produce a simulacrum of democratic speech.
To be fair, one has to recognize how the critique of ordinary democracy
always depends in part on methodological distortion. McDaniel and Gron-
beck have pointed out how distortions occur due to differences in scale:
from structural and other grand theoretical perspectives, one misses the
great deal of political work being done in the details of discursive inter-
action. It is not enough to think small, however. The perspectives taken in
this volume also make the hearing appear worse than it might be. The most
significant distortion is one that I have relied on extensively: a transcript of
oral speech makes it appear worse than it sounds to those who are the imme-
diate audience. The reader cannot help applying the standards of print pro-
duction; as a result, the transcript highlights “mistakes” that often are not no-
ticed in face-to-face interaction or are not mistakes at all but rather acts of
social adjustment. Oral and written usage follow different linguistic rules,
and transcription of actual speech makes it easy to apply the wrong criteria.
In addition, the transcription excludes intonation, cadence, and other per-
formative information that is vital to oral discourse. Personality, emotional
tonality, flow, and many other factors are evident in the several registers of
oral performance but often do not transcribe into print.
This loss of information is compounded by focusing on the forum alone
rather than also documenting prior and subsequent behavior in the school
system. Without that information, one is disposed to see the hearing as a
spectacle rather than as a mode of action. By focusing exclusively on the
forum, the often-extensive negotiations that occur before and after such
hearings are not recorded. The subsequent negotiations are particularly im-
portant in respect to both the general social dynamic of saving face and how

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it plays out in specific institution-society relationships. (More than once I
have seen a university administrator tell an outsider that a complaint cannot
be addressed directly, only subsequently to tell others in the institution that
changes must be made.) There is an important sense in which democratic
practices are self-validating performative speech acts, but to assume that is
the most important result of the hearing begs serious questions about dis-
cursive efficacy and institutional legitimacy.
The problem, however, cannot be solved simply by doing more—widening
the scope of the research, interviewing people, and so on. The study of or-
dinary democracy runs up against two problems in the human sciences. The
first is locating agency in a complex, liberal-democratic society. The second
is the “impossible conundrum of a ‘science of the concrete.’”24 These prob-
lems ought to be taken more seriously than often is the case, and it is to the
credit of this volume that it brings them to the fore.The project also suggests
several themes that might direct further attention to these problems. The
strengths of the project include its focus on the particularity of civic iden-
tity, the association of rhetorical competence with social interaction, and at-
tention to micro-macro relationships in modern polity.
The focus on particularity has a number of important implications. First,
it allows citizenship to become closely integrated into other forms of life.
Precisely because the setting is local, the speech has to be situated locally,
and people cannot help but be many things at once and see one another ac-
cordingly: as citizens and parents and neighbors, and as people of different
classes, races, regions, and religions. Second, it is through the specific fu-
sions of multiple forms of identity, particularly as they are accomplished in
the minute adjustments of ordinary discourse (and not through more costly
mechanisms of eating together, sharing wealth, etc.), that discrete cultures
of democratic practice emerge. The model of deliberative practice turns out
to be the specific culture of the upper-middle-class Northern Protestant,
while democracy has as well who knows how many varieties of Southern
Baptist locality, Midwestern agrarian community, Western independent as-
sociationism, West Coast populist individualism, urban ethnic precinct net-
works, and on and on. This is not news to politicians or novelists, but it re-
mains to be fully explored in the human sciences. To understand how local
democracy works communicatively, one must see how it involves weaving

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Amateur Hour / 241
together governmental and social imperatives, local and more abstract obli-
gations, into workable forms of identity and practical activity.
Through intuitive and occasionally reflexive attention to styles of speech
and interaction all humans are able to speak in multiple languages, dis-
courses, voices, and registers. Code switching between languages is the most
obvious form of something speakers in a modern society do all the time:
shift back and forth between multiple discourses, each of which is experi-
enced much of the time only in fragments. This polyvocality is an essential
and unmarked requirement for reading a newspaper, for example. The tran-
scripts of ordinary democracy reveal that this code switching occurs and that
it is itself something that has to be marked and managed at times as part of
a larger process of social coorientation. Thus, rhetorical skill in situated dis-
course has to include an ability to fit other, more etic discourses into a social
setting. This is more than a study in technique. If examined further, I believe
one might discover an important dimension of the distinctive subjectivity of
public speech. To do so, it is not enough to apply the concept of decorum
in broad strokes, but rather to identify exactly how speech is being used to
move in and out of more and less formal discourses while also renegotiat-
ing relationships with multiple interlocutors. As this is accomplished, a form
of agency emerges: the speaker acquires the ability to persuade by demon-
strating that he or she, and the audience, can inhabit a particular discourse
or set of discourses. One task of ordinary democracy is continually to renew
citizens’ sense that they rightly, comfortably live within the institutions, pro-
cedures, and language of government. That this is enough sometimes allows
manipulation and deferral; it also can be the means by which democracy is
made and remade out of nothing more than people speaking together.
As citizens create a Creole language of impersonal and social discourses
to identify with and perhaps exercise control over institutions, they have to
live in both the local setting and a larger society.Thus, micro-macro relation-
ships are important. It is not enough to see either large forces and struc-
tures or the particular negotiations that occur in local settings. One must
identify how the larger modality operates in the local setting, both as a de-
termining factor and as a source of invention. Speakers are constrained by
laws, and they appeal to laws; they speak in their own words, and they imi-
tate those in the media; they draw on local knowledge, and they defer to au-

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242 / Hariman
thorities they have never met; they speak as neighbors and southerners and
Americans and eBay shoppers, and they appeal to a shared history and the
Bible and the Constitution and the Corps of Engineers water supply report.
Thus, a full account of ordinary democracy must integrate the focus on the
particularity of the local setting with study of the public media. Currently,
one finds at one extreme a focus on broad circulation and “stranger relation-
ality,” and, at the other extreme, minute tactical negotiation between specific
individuals. Note, for example, how media coverage of the Barbiegate deci-
sion receives little attention in this volume, despite being essential to the ex-
istence of the controversy and criticized in some of the speeches at the hear-
ing. One can’t do everything at once, of course, and the volume addresses a
huge imbalance in the other direction, but the fact remains that the study of
democracy still needs to work out a strong account of the relationship be-
tween two quite different conceptions of public discourse. Habermas’s cou-
pling of publicity and coffee shop conversation is the best-known attempt
at doing so, and one that doesn’t come close to accounting for either actual
speech or small-scale governmental practices such as the public hearing. The
task remaining is to see not only how speakers negotiate their relationships
with one another, but also how they work out relationships between the lo-
cal setting and larger frames of reference and obligation.

EXTRAORDINARY DEMOCRACY

It is odd and perhaps symptomatic of the demands of democratic speech that


Aristotle could not think of a name for the distinctive virtue of finding the
right balance between social demand and civic autonomy. As Danielle Allen
summarizes this virtue, it is the ability to conduct oneself with propriety to-
ward others. For citizens to behave accordingly, they have to avoid acting like
acquiescent people who accept everything in order to offend no one, and
they have to avoid acting like domineering people who will make any and all
demands without regard for others. “The central virtue of citizenship, then,
is a midway point between acquiescence and domination.”25 This ethical vir-
tue without a name is both a rhetorical and a civic imperative: necessary for
persuasion among equals, and for keeping civic life free of tyranny. The pre-
cise midpoint between the two extremes will be constantly shifting.
Tocqueville saw that American democracy succeeded because it became

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Amateur Hour / 243
a way of life. That life included attachments to small things, common opin-
ions, and popular arts, and it is the only life capable of providing freedom,
dignity, and security for all. For democracy to sustain itself, it has to be con-
tinually renewed at the local level, for that is where “laws” and “manners” are
brought into closest contact with one another. Without that close, continual,
reciprocal readjustment of official procedures and social experience, law
and society will diverge. The result eventually can be increasingly repressive
or ineffective policies and the profound schism between public and private
identity that is inevitable in authoritarian systems. Without ordinary democ-
racy, eventually there will be no democracy at all.
This is the point at which the study of ordinary democracy, participatory
democracy, deliberative democracy, citizen competence, political emotions,
the rhetorical republic, and all other “postliberal” theoretical projects inter-
sect. As James Bohman has argued, “The proper criterion for deliberative
democracy is equality of effective social freedom.” For that freedom to be ef-
fective, it must be “communicative freedom,” which is the capability to per-
suade and to judge others’ attempts at persuasion.26 Many of these critics of
liberal governmentality can agree on the remedial measures that are neces-
sary, not least in institutional procedures and educational practices. (They
disagree on what changes would be sufficient, and on much more as well,
but that can be set aside for now.) Yet we cannot rely only on institutional
change. As the discourse theorists point out, the norms, standards, and roles
for civic participation are reconstructed daily in ordinary conversation and
similarly situated forms of civic speech. Social inequality and socially en-
forced deficits in communicative freedom are always at issue. Empowering
ordinary people requires not only understanding what they are doing when
they speak, but also recognizing how they could be doing better and doing
more. Whether committed to understanding existing discourse or to ad-
vancing the ideal of public deliberation, one has to move beyond celebrating
social intelligence or public reason alone. Instead, one must see how they
work against one another, how they can work together, and how they are
brought together in moments of democratic eloquence.
It is important to see the beauty in ordinary democracy. To do that hon-
estly, one has to acknowledge how ugly it can be. There then are two addi-
tional steps that need to be taken. First, one must see and discard the aes-
thetic norms that lead to misrecognition in order to maintain some other

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244 / Hariman
system—typically, an aristocratic or other elite regime, certain academic
cultures not excluded. Second, one must admit to what could be better on
its own terms. Barbiegate provides many examples of speech that could have
been better while still being within the range of ordinary citizens doing the
mundane work of living together. Consider, for example, how much the
Barbiegate speeches were disembodied and generic rather than rich evoca-
tions of personal experience in a shared locale.27 Think of how much of the
controversy was not said, not clarified, and not resolved. Think of how little
was changed, and of how little was done to transform listeners from indi-
viduals into a democratic public. Little attention was given to one another’s
arguments, little recognition of the problems faced on each side, and not
much was done to delineate a new policy or a new basis for trust. There was
no concision, no wit, no moving reminder of our ideals, no powerful tes-
timony to the harm that had been done, no well-organized deliberative ar-
gument, no evocation of a common life. The sacrifice of a child’s feelings,
which perhaps could be justified in respect to the greater good of other chil-
dren, was never acknowledged or explained. No individual was given his or
her due, and the many who spoke as “I” did not become a “we.” Procedures
were upheld, speeches were made, civil relationships were maintained, but
people did not reason together, justice was not done, Word was not born.
I have argued that ordinary democracy has a difficult task that justifies
a commitment to eloquence. The task is that ordinary people must speak
in a manner that can weave together strong norms of public accountability
with the deep sociality of everyday life. The more that ordinary speakers
and audiences share the skills and standards of good public speech, the more
likely this task can be accomplished without having to turn power over to
elites and nondemocratic institutions. Those promoting ordinary democracy
rightly resist both the self-abstraction of the autonomous liberal self and the
social amnesia of some theories of public deliberation.28 They also should re-
flect on their susceptibility to the charm of the banal, and recognize that as
important as it is to allow all to speak, it is not enough to say whatever one
says.
Nor is it enough to find fault. We must recognize that a commitment to
ordinary democracy has to include work on several levels. The schools have
to be improved to educate all students in the fundamentals of citizenship.
Currently, they do not. They do a good job at inadvertently making most

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Amateur Hour / 245
students dislike an authoritarian institution, but that is not something to be
proud of. Forums for public speech in material and virtual spaces need to
be expanded and made more accessible. One could start by restoring public
spaces within malls, which are beneficiaries of huge tax breaks and massive
infrastructure investment by local governments. There also is need for atti-
tudinal change of the sort I am recommending. As celebrity chef Emeril La-
gasse says, we need to “kick it up a notch.” Better speech would be more fun,
and this would help ordinary people care more about and expect more from
civic institutions. It also would make it harder for some to disregard demo-
cratic principles. Ordinary citizens already lack money, status, organization,
media, authority, time, and expertise. Much of the time, speech is all they’ve
got. Used poorly, it proves to be another trap, leading to further alienation.
It is worth noting how Kenneth Cmiel concludes Democratic Eloquence:The
Fight over Popular Speech in Nineteenth-Century America:

The colloquial was connected to new forms of ritual interaction stress-


ing friendliness over formality as a source of politeness. This is emi-
nently democratic decorum, one that I love. Nothing is more ridicu-
lous than those periodic efforts to undermine the egalitarian force of
the colloquial by evoking more formal deportment. . . . But what is so
comfortable in face-to-face behavior is problematic when extended to
civic forms of public speech. . . . Far from trying to contribute to civic
discussion, it has characteristically tried to evade it by placing undue
emphasis on soothing conciliation. . . . The colloquial in public oratory
has dulled critical faculties instead of exercising them.29

A democratic society requires democratic arts, and the art of public


speaking in ordinary democracy has to be finely attuned to social leveling
and still capable of raising everyone to become our better selves.30 There is
no greater beauty than when ordinary people rise up and speak to create a
democratic community acting on behalf of justice and the common welfare.
Such speech is not possible unless one accepts that government should be in
the hands of ordinary people who will spend most of their time stumbling
through their own language from one mundane task to the next. That may be
enough, but it does not thereby become good enough. If we are to continue
to be a people, we should expect more of ourselves.

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NOTES

1. Technically, the Barbiegate forum was not a hearing, which should refer to
a public deliberation focused on a specific decision that has yet to be made. The
Boulder hearing was open to speeches on multiple topics and the board made no of-
ficial decision. The term “hearing” still is apt, however: The forum existed primarily
so that citizens could be heard; the citizens themselves focused primarily on one
topic; the board chose to not act on the prior decision by the administration and in
word and deed largely endorsed that decision; by attending only to speeches per-
taining to that decision and by editing the transcript accordingly, this volume has
represented the event as a hearing.
2. The Barbie Science Fair Project is available at http://www.barbiesciencefair.
info/. This use of new media for self-promotion is something the Greeks would
have admired.
3. Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason, trans. Michael Eldred (Minne-
apolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).
4. On the importance of both sacrifice and public speech, see Danielle S. Allen,
Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2004).
5. Work in political theory includes exponents of participatory democracy,
citizen competence, as well as reconsiderations of the role of emotion in political
judgment. Several of these perspectives are discussed in George E. Marcus and
Russell L. Hanson, eds., Reconsidering the Democratic Public (University Park: Penn-
sylvania State University Press, 1993), a volume that, like The Prettier Doll: Rhetoric,
Discourse, and Ordinary Democracy, “signals a deep dissatisfaction with previous de-
scriptions of the general public’s incapacity for democratic politics” (1) and recog-
nizes that “the skills required of citizens are manifestly not those identified by re-
searchers who stress the capacity for abstract thinking and ideological consistency”
(15).The specific and vital contribution of The Prettier Doll: Rhetoric, Discourse, and Or-
dinary Democracy is that those skills include social and rhetorical competencies that
can only be identified through close analysis of the transcripts and texts of civic par-
ticipation in local settings. See also Stephen L. Elkin and Karol Edward Soltan, eds.,
Citizen Competence and Democratic Institutions (University Park: Pennsylvania State
University Press, 1999).
6. This is not the full story on polling. A good start on that is Susan Herbst,
NumberedVoices: How Opinion Polling Has Shaped American Politics (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1995).
7. Although democratic norms of transparency, accountability, representation,
and equity may apply—and work somewhat differently—in the public media, elec-

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Amateur Hour / 247
toral process, and federal institutions, they derive their legitimacy in part from their
connection to the local setting. The democratic state depends not only on the myth
that it is but a town meeting writ large but also on an economy of circulation be-
tween system and locale. First, the experiences of both individual persons and spe-
cific groups and communities are supposed to be able to be transmitted upward to
the legislatures and the courts for distributive, retributive, or protective action by
the state. Second, large-scale actions such as federal antidiscrimination statutes are
supposed to be transferred down into the smallest locality and incorporated into
law and manners. Likewise, the experience of working with those and all other laws
is supposed to cycle back upward for administrative, judicial, and legislative adjust-
ment of the laws.
8. Benjamin R. Barber, “Misreading Democracy,” in Demokratia: A Conversation on
Democracies, Ancient and Modern, ed. Josiah Ober and Charles Hendrick (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1996), 373.
9. James Bohman, “Deliberative Democracy and Effective Social Freedom,” in
Deliberative Democracy: Essays on Reason and Politics, ed. James Bohman and William
Rehg (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997), 332ff.
10. I have argued elsewhere that careful attention to political experience re-
quires that one take seriously the aesthetic dimension of all communicative action.
If one is to learn to love ordinary democracy, and to understand democratic speech
as a way of knowing the world and living with others, then there is need to con-
sider which aesthetic standards are appropriate to and advantageous for its practice.
There is need to acknowledge poor performance, although not to discredit democ-
racy or to excuse the failure, but instead identify the institutional and attitudinal ob-
stacles that prevent citizens from having richer interactions, stronger deliberation,
and greater rhetorical power. Robert Hariman, Political Style: The Artistry of Power
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).
11. Allen, Talking to Strangers, provides a strong account of the importance of
habits of ordinary social interaction in the experience of citizenship, as well as a case
for more attentive and caring civic relationships that are realized in part through
verbs of seeing (e.g., 9–12 and 167).
12. Michael Sandel, “The Unencumbered Self and the Procedural Republic,” Po-
litical Theory 12 (1984): 81–96.
13. Artful artlessness is not limited to the contemporary period or mainstream
speech. Plain speech has long been a stylistic standard for truthfulness, while sub-
altern speakers have used their supposed lack of cultivation as a resource for self-
assertion. Note how Frederick Douglass appeals to both assumptions at once in his
lyceum lecture “The Races”: “I am as you know from the slave plantation—a bad
School. I bring no pleasing arts to grace my speech and win applause. I come only to

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248 / Hariman
speak for the simple truth.” My point rests on a couple of distinctions that Douglass
would have recognized: it is one thing to use these figures well and another to use
them poorly, and it is one thing to use them intentionally and another to be trapped
in them.
14. Erving Goffman identified many such maneuvers. See, for example, Frame
Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (New York: Harper Colophon,
1974).
15. Bohman, “Deliberative Democracy and Effective Social Freedom,” 324.
16. I have seen high-quality citizen advocacy in settings with similar procedures
and demographic profiles to the Boulder hearing. And, for all the justified criticism
of televised presidential debates, it is clear that a fair amount can be said in two
minutes if the speaker is well prepared. So it is that the talk shows don’t allow their
“guests” even that much time.
17. Reported at The Barbie Science Fair Project, http://www.barbiesciencefair.
info/.
18. Deliberation theorists are likely to contest this claim. For a recent forum
within rhetorical studies on the promise and limits of deliberative theory, see the
Special Issue on Deliberative Democracy, Rhetoric and Public Affairs 5 (2002).
19. Extended analysis of Simmons’s speech is provided by Samuel McCormick,
“Earning One’s Inheritance: Rhetorical Criticism, Everyday Talk, and the Analysis of
Public Discourse,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 89 (2003): 109–31.
20. The gendered character of these examples may be coincidental, but it reflects
a traditional solution to the problem of managing the relationship between public
life and social life. That division of labor is not (and should not be) a stable option in
modern democracies, however. Since social and public identities can no longer be
managed via a gendered division of labor (and back-channel circuits of communica-
tion between men and women), the problem has to be dealt with by every speaker
through artful speech.
21. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol. 2, trans. Henry Reeve, rev.
Francis Bowen, ed. Phillips Bradley (NewYork:Vintage, 1990). For example: “When
the inhabitant of a democratic country compares himself individually with all those
about him, he feels with pride that he is the equal of any one of them; but when he
comes to survey the totality of his fellows and to place himself in contrast with so
huge a body, he is instantly overwhelmed by the sense of his own insignificance and
weakness” (p. 10, book 1, chap. 2).
22. Ibid., 116 (book 2, chap. 7). Tocqueville’s analysis applies most directly to
nineteenth-century civic organizations and political parties but more widely as
well.

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Amateur Hour / 249
23. Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone:The Collapse and Revival of American Commu-
nity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001).
24. Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell,
1990), 33.
25. Allen, Talking with Strangers, 121.
26. Bohman, “Deliberative Democracy and Effective Social Freedom,” 337.
Bohman can’t be used to represent all deliberation theorists on all issues, but he
is a leading scholar of public deliberation, and his capability thesis brings delibera-
tive theory close to my argument. Bohman’s focus on capability is undertaken with
a clear sense of purpose: “Capability analyses of political equality show that these
problems could spell the end of democracy itself ” (346). Reading Bohman and oth-
ers such as Amartya Sen also should make it clear that discussing the social and rhe-
torical deficits of ordinary people can be done not to demean them but rather to
sustain actually existing democracies and to advance realization of the democratic
ideal.
27. To see how classical oratory could be attuned to the spirit of place—that
is, to the social and cultural codes structuring audience comprehension—see Ann
Vasaly, Representations: Images of the World in Ciceronian Oratory (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1993).
28. This middle ground provides a basis for additional scholarly alliances. See,
for example, Benedetto Fontana, Gary J. Nederman, and Gary Remer, Talking De-
mocracy: Historical Perspectives on Rhetoric and Democracy (University Park: Pennsyl-
vania State University Press, 2004).
29. Kenneth Cmiel, Democratic Eloquence:The Fight over Popular Speech in Nineteenth-
Century America (New York: William Morrow, 1990), 259. Cmiel uses a typology of
colloquial, plain, and expert discourses, but applies this criticism to both colloquial
and plain speech as he argues that overvaluing those forms has harmed democratic
participation and handed power and legitimacy to technocracy.
30. Similar standards, among others, should apply to scholarly essays, and I
probably have failed on both counts. Not for want of help, however, and so Angela
Ray, Keith Topper, and Karen Tracy should be recognized for their good editorial
suggestions.

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Appendix A

TRANSCRIPTS OF BVSD SPEECHES

Included are transcripts of the fourteen speeches of the citizen present-


ers and the board members. As a set, the speeches run a little more than an
hour in length. Included are: (1) David Thielen’s initial speech during the
public commentary time at the board meeting on February 13, 2001, (2)
Thielen’s follow-up comments at the February 27, 2001 board meeting and
the comments from representatives of six groups who also spoke about the
science fair during the public participation phase of the meeting, and (3) re-
marks during the “board communications” phase of the meeting from each
of six board members present at the February 27 meeting. Readers may view
videotapes of the speeches by going to http://comm.colorado.edu/rdod.
Transcripts were created from a videotape of the public broadcast and
reflect how people spoke: repetitions and restarts, uhs and ums, and other
hearable sounds are included along with people’s words. These oral features
of talk were available to meeting listeners; they affected participants’ and
viewers’ senses of what speakers meant, and provided additional informa-
tion for building persuasive interpretations. These transcripts are more de-
tailed than most rhetoricians use, and less detailed than what many discourse
analysts use. In seeking to balance the goal of making the speeches acces-

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252 / Appendix A
sible and easy to read, with the goal of providing transcripts sufficiently de-
tailed for different analytic purposes, we opted for this intermediate level of
transcription detail. Some chapters have retranscribed sections of speeches
in more detail where doing so tied to an analytic point authors were devel-
oping.
It is important to note that citizen and board commentaries were fitted
into the regular structure of BVSD board meetings. That is, the agenda did
not include the science fair as a decision issue, nor was this occasion a public
hearing about the science fair.

CONTENTS

February 13, 2001 BVSD Meeting

President Stan Garnett explains rules for public participation in the meeting
and David Thielen comes to the podium to claim the first speaking slot.

A. Chair’s opening comment and David Transcript Lines 1–111


Thielen’s (Father of Mesa Student) initial
speech

February 27, 2001 BVSD Meeting

Superintendent Garcia begins the meeting by presenting awards and then


gives a district statement about the science fair. The public broadcast sta-
tion incurred technical difficulties during Garcia’s speech so his comments
were not audible to the viewing public. Difficulties were corrected by the
end of his comments. Then vice president, Bill de la Cruz, explained public
participation and citizens began lining up in groups of four to five to speak.
Only comments from the citizens speaking to the science fair controversy
are transcribed. At the conclusion of public participation, vice president de
la Cruz invited board members to begin “board communications,” the phase
of the meeting where board members speak about any topic that is not on
the agenda.

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Transcripts of BVSD Speeches / 253
Speaker ID, Name, and Affiliation Transcript Line
Numbers
B: Barry Satlow, ACLU Chair Lines 112–94
C: David Thielen, Father of Mesa Student Lines 195–333
D: Judd Golden, ACLU Rep Lines 334–73
E: Clare Schoolmaster, Mesa Teacher Rep Lines 374–440
F: Jordana Ash, Mesa PTO President Lines 441–70
G: Alvertis Simmons, Million Man March Rep Lines 471–542
H: Rita Davis, Mesa Parent Lines 543–66

I: Janusz Okolowicz, Board Member Lines 567–725


J: Julie Phillips, Board Member Lines 726–71
K: Teresa Steele, Board Member Lines 772–842
L: Jean Bonelli, Board Member Lines 843–91
M: Angelika Schroeder, Board Member Lines 892–1015
N: Bill de la Cruz, Board VP Lines 1016–225

A: CHAIR’S OPENING COMMENTS AND DAVID THIELEN


(February 13, 2001)
Chair
1 . . . any: issue you want to um we only have a couple
2 of ground rules. The first and the most important
3 is er that you have to um start and complete
4 your: comments within two minutes, um Sa:ndy
5 how’re we doin on our- on our timer tech-
6 technology. (pause) Good. I noticed at the last
7 one that er the egg timer was just not quite as
8 precise as we needed. (laughter from audience)
9 Some people would get about forty-five seconds
10 and other people get four or five minutes ’cause
11 of the way those things work so (more laughter).
12 Ah thanks: er an we appreciate that um so I am
13 gonna try duh- e- I- I don’ wanna be er- er- a
14 tyrant up here but please try to keep your

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254 / Appendix A
15 comments to two minutes. Er we do have a lot of
16 speakers tonight and I am required by board
17 policy to finish all the speakers er within an
18 hour. Which I think we can do, if everybody um
19 abides by the rules. So er let me call you up
20 here five at a time and um now we’ll get started.
21 First of all David Thielen, then John Ketling,
22 Esme Patterson, Kate Morley, and Lauren Heger.
23 (pause) Come on up.

David Theilen
24 Five minutes- and I didn’t- I planned for five
25 minutes, and I’m sorry. So I’m going to have to-
26 I guess rush through this. [Pres: Well, I’ll be
27 gentle, but uh i- it’s been two minutes for quite
28 a while so do the best you can to uh stick to
29 that.] Um, my daughter did a science fair
30 experiment like many others. Her science fair
31 experiment was she took two Barbies, one black
32 and one white, asked fifteen adults which one was
33 prettier, switched the dresses, asked an
34 additional fifteen adults which was prettier. The
35 Barbie with the purple dress was the prettier
36 dress among the adults. She then did the same
37 thing with two sets of fifteen kids at her
38 elementary school. In the first classroom, all
39 fifteen chose the white Barbie. In the second
40 classroom, nine of the fifteen chose the white
41 Barbie. Um and i- it’s not a terribly surprising
42 result, and in my view not a terrib- not
43 necessarily a racist one either. Um, the
44 experiment was not derogatory, it was not
45 racially discriminary- discriminatory- it’s right
46 there- did not create racial an- animosity. And
47 its conclusion was incredibly innocuous. What I’m
48 gonna cover is the reaction of the school which

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Transcripts of BVSD Speeches / 255
49 was the antithesis of science. It’s censorship.
50 It’s sweeping racial inj- issues under the rug.
51 It’s a violation of your own strategic plan. And
52 it opens the district up to extremely serious
53 legal liability. What the school board does with
54 this is extremely important. The kids know what
55 has happened and as a very strong lesson has been
56 imparted to them. The teacher-administrator
57 network knows what has happened, and they know
58 can do- can and will do this in the future if
59 they can. And imagine the devastation to a child,
60 eight years old, in third grade, who thought
61 they’d done an outstanding job on science fair
62 and was then told it was so terrible it had to be
63 removed. Science is setting a hypothesis, testing
64 it, and publishing the results regardless of what
65 those results are. If certain subjects are off
66 limits, if certain results are censored, it is
67 not science. It cannot be science. What happened
68 was ex- identical to what happened to Galileo
69 when he was excommunicated from the Catholic
70 church for proving that Jupiter’s moons revolved
71 around Jupiter not the Earth. The experiment was
72 clearly removed because of the result. And one
73 administrator in the district actually offered to
74 consider allowing it to go back up there if the
75 results and conclusion were reworded. This met
76 the science fair guidelines. There’s nothing in
77 the guidelines that says no research can be done
78 on race. There’s nothing in the guidelines that
79 says results must be politically correct. We
80 bemoan the lack of children going into science,
81 especially women and minorities [Pres: Is that
82 the timer? OK. Um take about another thirty
83 seconds Mr. Thielen.] I’m sorry this was so wrong
84 in so many ways. It was censorship plain and

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256 / Appendix A
85 simple. Was this appropriate for elementary
86 school? Elementary kids as young as
87 kindergartners in Selma, Alabama marched out
88 against white police officers with German
89 shepherds and fire hoses. And yet we cannot ask
90 our children of the same age to address or be
91 willing to be exposed to racial issues here after
92 those kinds of things went on. This was sweeping
93 it under the rug not cause the children were
94 uncomfortable with it but because the adults in
95 an all white staffed elementary school. This
96 violates six out of the thirty bullets in your
97 strategic plan beliefs behind it. That’s twenty
98 percent of them. And this has opened up the
99 school district to serious legal liability where
100 you have clearly violated her rights to free
101 speech, this is what I was told by an attorney
102 with the American Civil Liberties Union, and-
103 [Pres: OK-thank-] you clearly violated her civil
104 rights because she was um this was done because
105 of race and [Pres: w- we get your drift Mr.
106 Thielen. Thanks very much.] Um I am sorry that to
107 the board issues this serious are not worth a
108 couple more minutes. [Pres: Well a number of us
109 have spent quite a bit of time on the phone with
110 you Mr. Thielen but at any rate, why don’t you
111 take the poster board with you? John Kettering]

February 27, 2001 BVSD Meeting Part I: Public Commentary


B: Barry Satlow, ACLU
112 Good evening. My name is Barry Satlow. I’m chair
113 of the Boulder County ACLU. And, um, I know some
114 of you, but I haven’t had an opportunity to be
115 here and speak before you before. Uh, the ACLU’s
116 very concerned about the- the prohibition of this
117 project, of the display of this science fair

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Transcripts of BVSD Speeches / 257
118 project. Um, basically you had a little girl who
119 went out and and did a science— a social science
120 project and then was told she couldn’t display
121 it. And, um, we haven’t heard anything about um
122 imminent fear of disruption or fear of imminent
123 disruption of education or um of rioting or a
124 history of that sort of thing in the school. Of
125 racist incidents at Mesa Elementary, or anything
126 of that that sort. As we understand it this was
127 pulled entirely because it was thought it would
128 make minority children uncomfortable. And for all
129 we know, because it might make majority parents
130 and children feel uncomfortable that it was
131 getting shown at all. Um uh it- it’s ironic that
132 this experiment was suppressed- I’m sorry, I have
133 a letter for all of you, and I am referring
134 slightly to it, and I should have passed it out.
135 I know some of them were faxed to you, but I
136 apologize, let me, um, pass them out, make sure
137 you’ve got good copies. Uh it’s ironic that this
138 experiment was suppressed by the school in the
139 name of protection of the rights of th- members
140 of minority groups. Because freedom of speech has
141 historically been a bulwark for minority groups
142 and viewpoints against the tyranny of the
143 majority. It’s been a bulwark for those speaking
144 truth to power and seeking to persuade the
145 majority of its error. Um when we defend the
146 rights, and the ACLU fre- sometimes does,
147 frequently does, defend the rights of Nazis, or
148 Communists, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, or any other
149 unpopular group, we defend and secure rights that
150 the rest of us use the next day or the next year
151 or ten years later. Rights that that we defended
152 years before were used in the- in the Civil
153 Rights Movement. And um the First Amendment is

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258 / Appendix A
154 based on the idea that that different viewpoints
155 can contend, that if falsehood is stated, that
156 truth will come up and will defeat it. And, we
157 have to believe that, that’s what it’s, that’s
158 what it’s based on, that’s what this country is
159 founded on. Um it’s especially ironic that the
160 experiment that was performed by this little
161 third grade girl mimicked without her knowing it
162 the pioneering work by great psychologist and
163 social scientist Kenneth Bancroft Clark. And, his
164 research on the self-image of black children
165 played a pivotal role in the 1954 case of Brown
166 versus Board of Education which ended legal
167 segregation of public schools and began the
168 dismantling. Just began it, but the dismantling
169 of separate but equal public education in the
170 United States. And, uh C. B. N. Woodward points out
171 in the Strange Career of Jim Crow that we were
172 for awhile on the same path as South Africa, and
173 this really put us on a different path. And I’m
174 glad to see South Africa ((small laugh)) has gone
175 on a different path in the last few years, but,
176 um. And, Dr. Clark did similar studies, he did
177 them mostly with black children, but uh with
178 black and white dolls. And um we’ve consistently
179 fought racial discrimination in public schools.
180 We accept the goals of the of the
181 nondiscrimination policy. We accept what I take
182 to be the policy itself, which is actually very
183 short, but not the regulations to enforce them.
184 And, we warned, and Mr. Golden will speak later,
185 he was, he’s been here before, we warned when-
186 when these were revised, that they would, that
187 they would- ((bell rings)) that’s the two minutes
188 I take it? Oh, I’m sorry, OK. Uh, uh I’ll let
189 I’ll let Judd take over, I’m sorry. Uh it’s in

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Transcripts of BVSD Speeches / 259
190 the letter, and thank you, and we hope you will
191 change your regulations. We hope you will make
192 clear that even under these regulations as they
193 are this kind of thing will not happen again.
194 And, that you will-

C: David Thielen, Father of Mesa Student


195 Um, just to confirm, my wife gave me her two
196 minutes also, which gives me [Vice Pres:Yes]
197 four minutes. OK. Um, my daughter did a wondrous
198 thing. Because of her science experiment a lot of
199 people are now talking with their children about
200 race. [Vice Pres: Mr. Thielen could you speak
201 more directly into the mike? Thanks ] OK, I’m
202 sorry. I’m proud of her, I respect her, and I
203 thank her. First of all, I’d like to take this
204 opportunity to say thank you to a number of
205 people. First, thanks to the community for their
206 support. The magnitude of that support, which has
207 been absolutely incredible, has renewed our faith
208 in humanity and has made this a positive
209 experience for our daughter. I want to thank the
210 faculty and staff of Mesa Elementary, which has
211 remained a nurturing and supportive environment
212 for our daughter even in the midst of this
213 controversy. Being wrong on this issue does not
214 make them bad people. The faculty and staff at
215 Mesa are and remain dedicated, caring educators.
216 I want to give thanks to James Madison and our
217 other founding fathers. The system works. And,
218 thanks to the media for covering this event in a
219 reasonable and even-handed manner. Their coverage
220 was comprehensive and balanced. Thanks to the
221 ACLU for putting in a great deal of time
222 answering our questions and explaining why this
223 action is most likely illegal. And finally, a

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260 / Appendix A
224 huge thanks to MEAC. There’s just- there’s not
225 enough time and words to describe all the- all of
226 the ways I would like to thank ’em for all the
227 things they’ve done. I first want to speak to two
228 issues that have recently been raised. First,
229 some have said this experiment was not science.
230 It is. Several psychology professors have said it
231 would be acceptable as a freshman research
232 project in college. My major at CU was physics
233 and mathematics. It followed the protocols. It
234 had a hypothesis. It had data gathering. It
235 reached conclusions of a reasonable base in that
236 data gathering. The conclusions were just
237 uncomfortable to people. Second, people have
238 claimed that this could upset children.Yes, it
239 could. Field day upsets those that are not
240 athletic. Multiplication competitions have
241 students failing them in tears. To prepare our
242 children for the world schools must and they do,
243 prepare our children to handle things that upset
244 them. If they did not, our children would be
245 totally unprepared for life. What would we like
246 to see happen? During the past two weeks, a great
247 deal has transpired. And our feelings on what
248 needs to happen has changed some. We are not
249 asking for an apology. We are not asking for
250 anything to be done with our daughter’s science
251 experiment. In fact, we actually do honestly want
252 to thank the school system for what they did. If-
253 if they had left the experiment, two or three
254 children would have been made slightly uneasy.
255 Ten or twenty parents and teachers would have
256 bee- felt uneasy. And remained silent. And that
257 would have been it. Instead, this has led to a
258 lot of people realizing they need to talk with
259 their children about race. A lot of people

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Transcripts of BVSD Speeches / 261
260 realizing we do avoid racial issues especially
261 the ones that are here and now. A lot of people
262 deciding to do something positive to address this
263 difficult issue. So out of something very wrong,
264 something very very good happened. And for that,
265 we thank Mesa Elementary. We thank the
266 superintendent and the central administration. So
267 what do we want? I’m sorry, this thing with my
268 glasses, when it’s close it’s disconcerting.
269 First, we feel that solutions to the issues
270 brought up by this situation need to be decided
271 by the school board, not the central
272 administration. These are political questions
273 that need to be decided by the elected
274 representatives of our community. Second, the
275 school board should take a strong stand that they
276 enthusiastically support our children’s
277 constitutional right to free speech. How can we
278 teach our children to treasure the constitution
279 if at the same time the district is losing a
280 battle in court due to those abrogation of those
281 same rights. Children understand hypocrisy all
282 too well. Third, rumor has it and Dr. Garcia
283 seemed to confirm it, that the district is
284 considering disallowing social and behavioral
285 science experiments and requi- will require
286 detailed description of all experiments. This is
287 wrong. True- is that my two or four minute? I
288 have about another minute. Could I please speak
289 to this? [VP: OK just go ahead and be timely] OK
290 thank you. True discoveries come from unfettered
291 scientific inquiry. The present system is good,
292 and the board should take a strong stand to leave
293 it as it is. Please do not pervert the very idea
294 of what science is. We continue our request to
295 the school board to state th- uh experiments of

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262 / Appendix A
296 this nature should be encouraged and removed-
297 should be encouraged and not removed. Fourth,
298 race remains a huge issue in this country and
299 clearly one that is very difficult to talk about.
300 However, we cannot limit discussion about race
301 merely to the sterile controlled environment of a
302 set lesson in a classroom. We must discuss it
303 whenever it arises in any context. The world is
304 not neat and ordered. It is messy and chaotic and
305 only in the context of the real world can we
306 address all aspects of the racial issues we
307 ourselves face today. We as a society always talk
308 about how important it is to encourage our young
309 people to be free thinkers and how to question
310 everything. But this situation is an example of
311 when it comes to backing our words with
312 convictions, we falter. I’m going to skip through
313 the rest of this and hit to the- the biggie. Um
314 we can only do this by discussing racial issues
315 that exist here and now, and I think that is the
316 crux of this disagreement. Not just history. Not
317 just the Holocaust and the civil rights struggle
318 that happened in the past and were done by other
319 people who were bad. But, what is happening here
320 and now, not just in prepanned- planned lesson
321 plans but as it comes up everywhere because the
322 preplanned lesson plans are not sufficient. This
323 is the hard fight we have to make. Studies have
324 shown that children start disc- making
325 distinctions about race at age three. And if we
326 make this subject taboo, it means they make their
327 decisions on their own without our guidance. We
328 talk to our children about drugs. We talk to them
329 about sex. We should also be talking to them
330 about race. Our society has been stuck on the
331 issue of race for the last thirty years, since

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Transcripts of BVSD Speeches / 263
332 1970. And perhaps our children can show us a way
333 out of that. Thank you very much.

D: Judd Golden, ACLU


334 Good evening members of the board. Um, I’m also
335 going to talk about where the ACLU is coming from
336 on this issue and follow up on what uh Barry
337 Satlow said. As um the board will recall and Dick
338 Bump will recall, we spent a lot of time when
339 last summer, the board considered the amendments
340 to their nondiscrimination policy. We opposed
341 that policy, we negotiated with um Mr. Bump, with
342 Pam Duran, and we did come up with some
343 suggestions that were incorporated. But, what we
344 said, and I will repeat those words, what we said
345 to the board is that this does not mean that we
346 approve of these regulations if they are used as
347 a basis to punish protected First Amendment
348 speech or expression alone. We hope that imf-
349 important First Amendment and free expression
350 rights of district students and employees will
351 not be limited by unreasonable interpretations of
352 these regulations. We will need to see how these
353 regulations are enforced and interpreted to see
354 how it will work in the real world. Well, this
355 inci- incident points out that hypersensitive
356 people will misinterpret these regulations
357 because they are unnecessarily overbroad. What we
358 would like to do is to work again with district
359 staff and attorneys to come up with a way to
360 again revise these regulations so this kind of
361 incident will not occur. The courts have recently
362 spoken very clearly in other jurisdictions saying
363 that regulations like this cannot withstand First
364 Amendment scrutiny. We want to be sure that this
365 district incorporates the kinds of changes that

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264 / Appendix A
366 will make sure that we don’t have to resort to
367 the kinds of things that people did in State
368 College, Pennsylvania, which was litigation to
369 try to make sure that their rights of free
370 expression would be respected. So, we’re ready to
371 work with you, we are available, so uh we just
372 are ready to um make things work right this time.
373 Thank you very much.

E: Clare Schoolmaster, Mesa Teacher


374 I am a teacher at ele- Mesa Elementary, and I am
375 speaking on behalf of the staff. The staff at
376 Mesa Elementary wants to clarify the information
377 concerning the decision to not display the Barbie
378 doll science fair project. Our decision to pull
379 this project came after efforts to work out
380 alternatives for the dis- project’s display were
381 turned down abruptly by the parents. We are
382 disappointed common ground and modifications were
383 not reached with the family in order to display
384 the project. This could have modeled a more
385 positive way to handle disagreement and perhaps
386 would have been an excellent lesson in tolerance
387 and compromise between people in conflict. Our
388 major concern was the form in which this project
389 would have been displayed. Letting the project
390 stand on its own would not have allowed for a
391 needed discussion to tackle and address the
392 complex and difficult subject of racism. The
393 project would have served to even broaden racism
394 if young students took results at face value or
395 insensitive, ignorant remarks were overheard in
396 passing. We do not fear the topic of prejudice or
397 intolerance. We ensure these issues are
398 incorporated in the curriculum and are brought to
399 human scale through literature, discussions of

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400 current events, and in our dealings with the
401 daily conflicts that we have in our classroom and
402 on the playground. We also wonder if we had
403 displayed the project in earnest hopes that no
404 child would be hurt by its impact that outrage
405 would have occurred, questioning our professional
406 judgment and our insensitivity to the minority
407 children. Perhaps the media would have had a
408 heyday with that decision too. This project
409 brings with it much controversy. It carries the
410 issues of sensitivity to race and the freedom of
411 speech. As professionals we made the decision in
412 the best interest for all our students, staying
413 true to teaching practices that are best for
414 students’ developmental readiness, their capacity
415 for understanding, and their ability to transfer
416 their learning to usefulness in their lives. The
417 project would be a learning opportunity for the
418 upper grades. It could serve as a springboard to
419 healthy and honest conversations on racism. But
420 only if it is presented in a risk-free atmosphere
421 where discussion and the sharing of ideas are
422 common and encouraged practices. Parents at Mesa
423 can bring concerns and issues to teachers, the
424 principal, or to our SCDM, which is a SIT
425 committee, a school improvement committee which
426 sets our goals for our building. We hope that the
427 discussions arising from this project will bring
428 new insights on how to best address these issues
429 surrounding res- racism with children. We will
430 learn from the science fair event and take the
431 implications seriously and to heart. We must say,
432 however, that there is clearly more than one
433 viewpoint, on whether the project should have
434 been displayed, and we feel our decision was
435 appropriate given the ages of our students, the

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266 / Appendix A
436 arena of a grade school science fair, and the
437 district’s nondiscrimination policy. The project
438 did not belong in the science fair forum, but the
439 issues it brings up do belong in the classroom
440 and the homes of our students. Thank you.

F: Jordana Ash, Mesa PTO President


441 Hello, I’m Jordana Ash, the president of the uh
442 Mesa Parent/Teacher Organization, PTO. And, I
443 don’t have prepared notes here tonight, but I
444 just wanted to thank the school board, thank Dr.
445 Garcia, and thank the particularly the staff at
446 Mesa, but first to thank the members here for
447 taking this issue seriously, for listening to our
448 staff, and our teachers, to try to come to some
449 uh understanding of the implications and the
450 seriousness of this topic. Um in particular here
451 tonight I’d like to thank Dr. Garcia for coming
452 to our school and looking at our curriculum,
453 looking at the ways in which our teachers day in
454 and day out are addressing these issues and
455 certainly not um ru- hiding from them or sweeping
456 them under the rug as has been implied. As some
457 of you may know, Mesa has um received an
458 incredible amount of um harassing and really
459 disturbing phone calls and e-mails from the
460 community, the nation, and actually even
461 internationally. And that has done some serious
462 damage to the morale of this incredible school,
463 this award winning school, these award-winning
464 teachers. So, I’d just like to take this time to
465 tell you that we support our staff, we love our
466 teachers. And think that they do an incredible
467 job each and every day, making these difficult
468 decisions about how to teach our children to look

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469 at the world around them and learn from it. Thank
470 you.

G: Alvertis Simmons, Million Man March


471 Good afternoon- good evening. Um it’s a long
472 drive up to Boulder. I almost didn’t get here,
473 couldn’t find my way.Y’all had no signs to tell
474 us where to go. What’s up with that? Let me uh uh
475 begin by saying my name is Alvertis Simmons, I’m
476 the executive director of the local organizing
477 committee of the Million Man March in Denver. Uh
478 many of you all have heard of us, and those who
479 haven’t will be hearing of us because we are um
480 taking this issue very serious. I’ve got several
481 phone calls from African American parents in the
482 Denver community and um I don’t know if Boulder
483 knows about us, but um we are very hurt by what
484 has happened here in Boulder. Um the question
485 becomes, how can a- and we’re not angry with that
486 little girl, that young lady, we’re not angry
487 with her at all. Because som- she had to learn
488 that from somebody or from somewhere. We want to
489 say to the school board we stand behind you. Our
490 African American community stands behind you. Do
491 not shuffle. Do not go backwards. Keep your
492 faith. We believe you are right on this issue.
493 This is not about First Amendment, this is not a
494 First Amendment issue. I’ll be the first one to
495 stand up as a black man and say we stand by the
496 First Amendment. But would you allow your school
497 newspaper to say that blacks uh are less
498 attractive than whites? Would you? No, you
499 wouldn’t. So, why would you allow us a project to
500 come into your school system, a project that
501 says, you got two dolls, one black, one white.

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268 / Appendix A
502 You got thirty kids. Twenty-four of them. It’s my
503 understanding, said that the white doll is much
504 prettier than the black doll. What do you all
505 think the civil rights movement was all about? It
506 was about self-esteem for black folks and for
507 minorities. We believe in ourselves. We know that
508 we feel good about ourselves as a people.You all
509 have uh- have an opportunity as a school board,
510 to say that if we’re going to deal with
511 diversity, if we’re gonna say that we’re all
512 equal, then you gotta treat us as equals.You
513 can’t treat us as less than equal and say one
514 thing here at Boulder, and then we sitting back
515 looking at you all and the students are following
516 you al- you all’s example. That is why we are
517 angry in Denver. We’re saying that we gonna
518 monitor what’s going on up here in Boulder. I
519 just brought one person with me, but we will come
520 back. And we will do what we have to do. We’re
521 not afraid of the ACLU. ACLU, that wi- that
522 threat you made, we not afraid of that. We know
523 that we can stand by, as a group of people, we
524 will stand together and say racism has to stop no
525 matter what color it is, no matter who it’s by,
526 but we cannot sit back and allow you to teach our
527 kids this kind of intolerance. And, again, we’re
528 not angry with that young girl. But I’ll tell
529 you, where did she learn that behavior from? And,
530 Boulder, lastly, as I c- as I close, you know you
531 all have a history of hating black folks.You
532 don’t even have a black in this room, other than
533 myself and and my organization. So what does that
534 tell us? But this issue is very important, so as
535 I close I want to say, please school board do not
536 change your position. Do not be afraid of the
537 ACLU, stand firm. We’re watching. The community

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538 is watching. The minority community is watching.
539 I believe you all are doing the right thing and
540 please we- you have our support. So, I wanted to
541 say that, and I’ll stand back and listen to other
542 comments. Thank you.

H: Rita Davis: Mesa Parent


543 Hi. I’m Rita Davis, I’m a Mesa Elementary School
544 parent, and I wanted to come in tonight and say
545 thank you to Dr. Garcia. I think that your report
546 and your outline of the situation was very clear
547 and accurate. I wish that the Daily Camera had
548 been a little more accurate with their reports.
549 Um I also wish that the staff at school was able
550 to address some of the questions and the media
551 attention at the time of the incident. I think
552 that the staff felt that they couldn’t say
553 anything um to some of the newspaper people that
554 might have set things straight from the
555 beginning. Um, I also don’t think that this is a
556 freedom of speech issue. I think that um the
557 project was given the opportunity to be discussed
558 and that was deny- that was um rejected. Rather
559 than having it in the science fair, I would
560 rather have seen it as a parent in the classroom,
561 or at a school assembly, which we have every
562 week. And we have some wonderful things that the
563 kids all do at the assemblies. So, I would like
564 to just say that I agree with the school board,
565 and um I thank you for standing behind our
566 teachers who I think made a good decision.

February 27, 2001 BVDS Meeting (Board Members’ Comments)


I: Janusz Okolowicz
567 Well, I’m very pleased that people are agreeing
568 with school board, but we’ve never discussed this

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270 / Appendix A
569 issue, so I don’t know what you are agreeing
570 with. All right, now, I would like to make few
571 comments, I hope my first and last ones about the
572 Barbiegate. It is spreading around claiming more
573 victims on all sides by the minute. How to stop
574 it? There are two sides to it. And, what- please
575 take my remarks the way they are said. I am not
576 trying to blame anybody. I am not trying to deny
577 anybody anything. I am in the fullest support, I
578 take no second place to anybody in supporting our
579 policy, antidiscrimination policy. I was behind
580 it in ’95 when we passed it. I just want to look
581 at two sides of the story. One is the child. The
582 other side are the adults. First, the child. The
583 third-grader, Ms. Thielen, designed and executed
584 the science fair project about how do we perceive
585 Barbie dolls, based upon their color or on their
586 dress. She received different information from
587 adults who perhaps were lying, or perhaps
588 were interested in lavender dress, and she had
589 different results coming from students. The
590 freedom of inquiry is as essential to science as
591 the freedom of speech is essential to a free
592 society. And, I was born in society which was not
593 free. I lived in Nazi Germany. I lived in
594 Communist- I was put in a concentration
595 camp. I know discrimination or prejudice.
596 Believe me, when I was doing my science
597 Projects in school, I was limited to what
598 I could study, and I knew that there were
599 things I cannot touch. So obviously we
600 were not free. Scientific theorists are
601 born as heresies and die as superstitions
602 How? Because the observable facts are the
603 cornerstones of any theory. Becau- it stands as
604 long as the facts support it. The science fair
605 parameters are and should, and I agree here with

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606 Dr. Garcia that we should look at our policies.
607 There are some Supreme Court cases, I’m sure some
608 of my colleagues will bring, which describe what
609 we can do, how we can limit legitimate
610 pedagogical concerns, how to quote one of their
611 opinions, how we can prohibit the use of vulgar
612 and offensive terms in public interest. We need
613 to look at this. But this was not the case. The
614 project should be discussed by teachers before
615 the re- the results will always surprise us. Even
616 if we set parameters, children, free children
617 will always surprise us with something which we
618 did not expect, and I don’t want to speculate
619 where it comes from, they have ideas. Then, we
620 should and could discuss it, and I do have full
621 confidence in teachers at Mesa that they could
622 have discussed this with the students after the
623 fact. I trust our teachers that they will do it
624 in a sensitive way, maximizing the learning,
625 because we can learn a great deal out of this
626 project. However, we looked at those data, we can
627 discuss it and we can get what we want which is
628 congruent with our nondiscrimination policy. I
629 assure you of this. Science projects and their
630 discussions improve the understanding of
631 scientific approach. And by the end of high
632 school, we expect that most of our students who
633 participated will understand complexity of the
634 scientific approach. But, not first time around.
635 In the third grade, however, Ms. Thielen asked
636 the question, performed observations, wrote about
637 it, did all she could. Therefore, from her point
638 of view, she deserves what she was promised, i.
639 e., the science fair certificate, and I’m happy
640 she received it, and the display of he- of her
641 project. Well, I think right now, denying this

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272 / Appendix A
642 display is pretty ridiculous because during last
643 board meeting, her project was presented here in
644 living color on television, and whole county of
645 Boulder wa- was able to observe this project. So,
646 denying display of this project right now really
647 does not make any sense for whatever reasons.
648 After seeing this project after last board
649 meeting, I, and I am speaking for myself, none of
650 my colleagues are involved, personally apologize
651 to her and her parents for the turmoil we put
652 them through. Because we made promises we did not
653 keep. And one should keep promises to little
654 girls.You know schools are about little girls.
655 Not about our administration, school board, blunt
656 desks, thrones on which we are sitting. They are
657 about little girls. If we look at little girl,
658 what do we do to her? Now, it doesn’t mean that
659 we adults are not at fault. It’s saying that in
660 Boulder Valley, sensitivity is the only
661 commandment, that is a commandment, thou shall be
662 sensitive to replace all the other commandments.
663 But sensitivity does- doesn’t have a standard, it
664 is in the eye of beholder. Therefore, all kinds
665 of fine, upstanding people, and we hear all of
666 them around, feel incensed feel- try to show that
667 they are also sensitive to something else. And,
668 we have the real orgy of sensitivity. Why? Why is
669 it taking us so long? Why are we quoting our
670 policies to prove the obvious wrong to little
671 child? Because in her mind this is wrong.
672 Whatever we however we’re interpreted this is
673 wrong. And, why- why are we forgetting this
674 little child at the beginning and getting-and
675 having all kinds of more and more difficult
676 things? As I said before, our anti-discrimination
677 policy is wholeheartedly supported by, I am on

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678 the third board in a row, I don’t know one board
679 member who does not support it whole heartedly.
680 We want to get rid of racism. We are trying to do
681 everything against all kinds of discriminations.
682 The problem is, and this is before Dr. Garcia,
683 that’s why I am making those comments because
684 this was indeed- we were discussing regulations
685 to the policy. Policy is fine, and we should not
686 touch it. We were discussing regulations last
687 spring. We were rewriting regulations. And, after
688 extensive work, regulations are generally very
689 good with two exceptions. First, I did not think
690 that the Board of Education should vote on
691 regulations. I think we should delegate
692 regulations to superintendent and administrators
693 to write. And to check it that they are all
694 legal. So I did not believe that we should vote
695 on it. And when we voted on it, I think to show
696 how sensitive we are again, I did not vote for
697 those regulations. For two reasons. And looking
698 at my notes from last year, my two concerns were
699 that we were limiting freedom of speech. And I
700 was concerned with protecting even obnoxious
701 speech of our employees. I was concerned that
702 teacher who is doing thorough job in the
703 classroom may have to present all kinds of points
704 of view, some of them obnoxious. Academic
705 integrity will require to present different
706 points of view before you discuss them with
707 students. I was afraid that our regulations are
708 limiting this freedom. And also I mentioned that
709 I was afraid they will be limiting science fair
710 projects. Well, we did. At the time, everybody
711 says, oh no, no, no, you are always worrying
712 about something. This is never going to happen in
713 our fine and upstanding district, everybody will—

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274 / Appendix A
714 will take care that we do not abridge anybody’s
715 freedom of speech. Therefore, the only thing we
716 have to do is to delegate it, to rewrite the
717 regulations, not the policy which is fine, and
718 not all regulations, just the one part when there
719 is a really serious problem with how we allow our
720 employees and our students to exercise their
721 freedom of speech. And where can we restrict it?
722 Because out of their restrictions to freedom of
723 speech, I mentioned some. But the study of Barbie
724 dolls, how we perceive them, does not rise to the
725 level of yelling fire in a crowded movie theater.

J: Julie Phillips
726 Um this Sunday I had the opportunity to um speak
727 about Amendment 23 to the Universalist-Unitarian
728 Universalist Fellowship. And afterwards um I
729 spoke with a woman named Kari Muldi who talked to
730 me a little bit about um the St. Paul schools and
731 how they handled choice and diversity there. And,
732 I was really intrigued by what I heard, and so I
733 just wanted to share it with all of you. Uh,
734 their entire school district in St. Paul is
735 basically choice, um. When parents start
736 kindergarten, they pick whatever school they want
737 to go to, and they apply to it, but they have a
738 very interesting policy that governs this which
739 is that every school in their district which is a
740 school of choice, which is all of them, has to
741 reflect the diversity in their district. And in
742 St. Paul, I think that’s um fifty-one percent,
743 this is sort of a- fifty-one percent minority and
744 forty-nine percent white, which is sort of a joke
745 because it would be um it’s not a minority when
746 there’s fifty-one percent. But, basically what it
747 means is that every single school in the district

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748 has to refect- reflect the demographics. And, if
749 we apply that to Boulder, what they do is um for
750 example, they have a gifted and talented high
751 school. And they have to maintain that every kid
752 has to take a test and they have to be gifted and
753 talented. But, they cannot have more students of
754 one race or another to throw off the demographic
755 balance. So um let’s say they have a cap of five
756 hundred, they have to, you know, they have to
757 have two hundred and fifty-five um students of
758 color or else they can’t have as many students
759 as- as they’re allotted. And I thought that was a
760 really interesting way to have it. It’s
761 absolutely fair. And if more students of color
762 apply than the fifty-one percent would allow then
763 they have a lottery. And similarly if more white
764 students apply than their number of fair slots,
765 they have a lottery for them. It’s absolutely
766 fair, and every school in their district reflects
767 the demographics of their school district. I
768 thought that was a really interesting way to
769 handle choice and to handle the issue of
770 diversity. And so I just wanted to share that
771 with everybody.

K: Teresa Steele
772 First I find it um difficult at times because the
773 past seven weeks in our district have been rough
774 that we are focusing so much on a science fair
775 project. Um I would like to offer my condolences
776 to Timo Sandoval and his family and his friends.
777 He was accidentally shot um Thursday night in a
778 target shooting um area in Lyons, Colorado. He’s
779 was a Centaurus High School student, also a
780 student who uh played a lot of sports with my
781 high school kids and um my kids’ father also was

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276 / Appendix A
782 one of his volunteer coaches for many, many
783 years. So, I want to offer condolences and um
784 it’s just a difficult time for the kids in the
785 family right now that are struggling with these
786 issues. Which brings me to all this attention on
787 a science fair project when we have a lot of kids
788 hurting out there. We have a lot of kids with
789 special needs that aren’t being addressed, and
790 yet we have national media attention because our
791 administrators and teachers looked at a policy of
792 nondiscrimination that at first I did question.
793 I did think the science fair project should
794 have been displayed and have since changed my
795 mind. Um they did the right thing, and they need
796 our support. And I just want them to know that
797 they- they do have that. It’s not that I have an
798 issue with a child doing a science fair project,
799 and I you know, but I do think we have to look at
800 making sure nothing we do in our schools where we
801 have an absolute responsibility to have a safe
802 environment for every one of our students that
803 that has to continue to stand. Um as far as what
804 we do district wide or what individually I just
805 wanted to say every year um I work with the
806 reading to end racism, reading to kids in
807 schools, talking about this difficult issue. We-
808 I start it with a story about a person being
809 mistreated because of their race or because of
810 their religious beliefs and it goes into a
811 discussion on what is happening in their
812 classroom. And I’ve done this in Lafayette in the
813 schools there where we do have more diversity
814 than other parts of the district. And so, I do
815 believe that it’s everywhere our kids see it
816 every day, but discussions happen every day. And
817 we have to continue to support those discussions

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818 in an appropriate manner. Um last I’d like to
819 make a request of this board in looking at the
820 different needs of our students. And, if i- if
821 we’re going to support all of our students, if
822 we’re gonna end discrimination, we have to look
823 at the achievement gap. And we keep talking about
824 it so I’m making a formal request that we have a
825 work session immediately before budgets get put
826 forth to say where are our priorities? What are
827 we gonna do for our kids in need that are
828 struggling learners? Um I received from Columbine
829 Elementary today some graphs. And in 1991, they
830 had fourteen percent English second language
831 learners- students and thirty-four percent free
832 and reduced lunch. They now have fifty-nine
833 percent ESL students and sixty-three percent on
834 free and reduced lunch. We’re losing ground
835 without giving them more resources. So, I think
836 we need an honest discussion quickly on what the
837 plan is and look at all the options, short-term,
838 long-term, what can we do knowing wer- we will
839 eventually get more money with Amendment 23. And
840 t- to take responsibility for what we have said
841 that we care about these kids now let’s put the
842 money where it’d do the most good. Thanks.

L: Jean Bonelli
843 Um I’d like to go next because I very much agree
844 with what Teresa said about um focusing on the
845 achievement gap. And that—that’s what we really
846 need to be doing and I too would like to urge us
847 to have a work session uh right away to talk
848 about resources that will be applied toward um
849 reducing that achievement gap. If we want to uh
850 really deal with issues of nondiscrimination and
851 equity for all, we need to be working with the

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278 / Appendix A
852 achievement gap, issues in our district. I also
853 think that we’ve heard a lot about um the
854 teachable moment and uh Mesa teachers were
855 criticized in the media for not using the
856 teachable moment, but I’m sorry I think that’s
857 exactly what they were trying to do. Because they
858 understood immediately that this was a teachable
859 moment and if they could get the adults together
860 to talk about it as well as the kids. And come to
861 some resolution about how a subject like this
862 could be presented in a community, rather than
863 just throwing it out there without uh having any
864 real discussion about it. That perhaps they could
865 keep some children from being deeply hurt. They
866 were very concerned about the credibility of the
867 teachable moment. And for that they were
868 vilified. And I’m very sorry that happened to our
869 Mesa teachers. Because I think that they were
870 trying to honor all children in- in what they
871 tried to do. And so what did we adults do?
872 Instead of listening to what the teachers were
873 saying about kids could be hurt here, let’s get
874 together and talk about how we can talk about
875 things like this without kids being hurt. We
876 adults tal- turned it into a philosophical
877 discussion about free speech and
878 nondiscrimination and our policies, and we missed
879 the point that the Mesa teachers knew right away.
880 It was about children. And it was about a
881 community of children and how do we talk about
882 these things appropriately and not have some
883 people’s self-esteem and image of themselves
884 tremendously hurt. That’s what they were
885 concerned about. And for that, they just got
886 crucified. And for that I’m really sorry, that
887 that happened. I think the community that

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888 teachers in that school were trying to do the
889 right thing. And I applaud you for that. I’m
890 sorry for the way it turned out. I hope we will
891 continue the discussions.

M: Angelika Schroeder
892 Um, regarding the uh Barbiegate, I would like to
893 at this point move forward. I agree with the
894 superintendent that we should evaluate our
895 science fair policy. I am very surprised that the
896 science fair policy is not designed as a support
897 for our science curriculum. It’s what I always
898 thought it was, that it was directly related to
899 the science curriculum that we delivered to our
900 children. And if I understand it correctly and I
901 think I was a part of approving it, it relates to
902 the natural sciences. However, having done a
903 dissertation in the social sciences, I will not
904 say that it’s not science. But I will say that it
905 is different, it is more complex. One of the most
906 difficult issues about social science research is
907 how to control for different variables. And one
908 of the greatest criticisms of social science
909 research is that there are variables that affect
910 the results that haven’t been included in the
911 discussion or that haven’t been measured. So it’s
912 very complicated stuff. And I don’t um see that
913 it could possibly be effectively directed at an
914 elementary level. If it is, it ought to be done
915 by the social science teachers. And it ought to
916 be under um a lot of guidance. Analogous to that
917 particular issue, whether- whether research is
918 carried on in the natural sciences or in the
919 social sciences, at the university level no
920 student, no professor, no researcher is free to
921 design and- and carry out a research project

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922 which uses human subjects without first
923 submitting it to a review by a committee that
924 evaluates that research subject to a set of
925 protocols that are necessary. I cannot tell you
926 what those protocols are cause I’ve forgotten
927 that pleasant experience. In any case, there are
928 some rules that must be followed. And it’s very
929 important when you’re doing research with human
930 subjects that that research be carried out in an
931 appropriate manner. I believe we’re at real risk
932 if we let our students engage in research using
933 su- human subjects, using questionnaires, without
934 some understanding what those parameters should
935 be. So, I’m not suggesting that we eliminate
936 that, but I suggest we study tha- um, what those
937 protocols are and ensure that we can also ensure
938 them for our students. They’re designed to be a
939 safety- safety net. Um in terms of our
940 discrimination policy, I would um appreciate an
941 update from counsel not today but at some point.
942 What- what the um whether our rules do meet what
943 we believed they did, that they were
944 constitutional, that they did not infringe on
945 free speech etcetera. I’d like to just have a
946 very brief update in light of what has occurred
947 in this particular incidence. I’ve heard from
948 some of the folks at Mesa, some of the teachers
949 at Mesa, that perhaps we could improve the
950 guidelines and help write them in such a way that
951 they provide better guidance. And I’ve thought
952 about that. At this point, every teacher at least
953 six, every administrator, who looked at our
954 policy came to the same conclusion. And that
955 leads me to believe that maybe our guidelines are
956 just fine. But I’d like another pass at that to
957 see if we can, if there’s some way we can clarify

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958 it for them. They all came to the same
959 conclusion. I guess there was a comfort level
960 that was lost, and if we could improve that it
961 might be helpful. Two other areas about which I
962 have um comments or concerns. There have been
963 some concerns under the open enrollment process
964 from some parents at schools where, focus schools
965 where demand was insufficient for another round
966 or another group of students. And I um would like
967 us next year to explain to open enrollment
968 families that when you have a choice system and
969 an open enrollment system, it’s a demand system.
970 It’s very similar to going to college and signing
971 up for courses. And it can happen that if there
972 are en- not enough students signing up for a
973 class, the class is canceled. And we ha- sort of
974 had that come into play this time around. And I’d
975 like t- for us to be very thoughtful about how we
976 can explain that to parents because I think
977 there’s a feeling that central administration is
978 making an effort to eliminate certain programs.
979 The elimin- if there are eliminations of
980 programs, it’s because there’s not enough kids
981 signing up for them. And we need to be able
982 communicate that in an effective manner to folks.
983 If it’s a demand driven system, we run into that
984 problem. I have been disappointed when courses
985 haven’t been offered because not a kid- not
986 enough people were interested in- in them. I was.
987 But that is going to be a consequence of the
988 system that we’re providing. My last concern
989 relates to a number of calls I’ve had just in the
990 last couple of days regarding the uh class
991 schedule, I believe just at the high schools, in
992 which students have had to mi- I’m sorry, classes
993 have been canceled in order to allow for CSAP

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282 / Appendix A
994 test administration. So some students are not
995 there so that the teachers can administer the
996 tests. The concerns, I- I think people are
997 understanding the situation. They’re up- parents
998 are upset about it but I’ve- I think I’ve been
999 able to direct them to the legislature because
1000 they’re the ones that set this up. This wasn’t
1001 something that we wanted to design. I’m guessing
1002 that because all our high schools are of a
1003 different size, they all have different
1004 schedules. My concern at this point is I’d like
1005 to know how parents were informed about the
1006 alternative schedule because they’re- I’ve had
1007 some unhappy calls. And it might be that next
1008 year we can improve that particular process. I’m
1009 not really talking about babysitters, but there’s
1010 sort of something analogous to keeping track of
1011 your high schooler. And there’s some frustrated
1012 parents out there. So if I cou- if I could have
1013 an understanding of how we were able to
1014 disseminate that information. We might talk about
1015 an alternative. Thanks.

N: Bill de la Cruz: Board Vice President


1016 Thanks, Angelika. Um I would like to make a few
1017 comments on the last couple of weeks. Um I agree
1018 with my colleagues about looking at the science
1019 fair protocol and- and also going through the
1020 regulations. I think based on the regulations
1021 that we have and the way they’re worded that what
1022 was done was proper and in the best interest. I
1023 think it could have been a little more sensitive
1024 to all of the people involved. However, that’s
1025 not something I’m going to dwell on because it’s
1026 really time to move forward um from this point.
1027 And I would not want to blanketly eliminate

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1028 social science projects from the elementary level
1029 because I think that is an opportunity to really
1030 begin that discussion and that it it is indeed
1031 appropriate for elementary school children. I
1032 started that discussion with my children when
1033 they were about two years old. Because they are a
1034 minority population and it’s important for them
1035 to understand um not to fear, but to understand
1036