Edited with an introduction by Jeffrey R. Di Leo and Uppinder Mehan

Capital at the Brink: Overcoming the Destructive Legacies of Neoliberalism

    I. Race, Violence, and Politics I. Race, Violence, and Politics > 4. Rhetorical Assemblages: Scales of Neoliberal Ideology

    4. Rhetorical Assemblages: Scales of Neoliberal Ideology

    This spring in Texas, Rep. Debbie Riddle proposed House Bill 2012, which sought to fine or imprison [1] employers who “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly hire” undocumented immigrants. It was not these stipulations that caught media attention, however. It was the exemption Rep. Riddle wrote into the Bill, which stated that employers hiring undocumented workers were in violation of state law “unless they were hiring a maid, a lawn care worker, or another houseworker.” [2] Many supporters of the bill said the exemption was necessary, especially in Texas, because as Democratic Rep. Aaron Pena told CNN: [3] “‘With things as they are today, her bill will see a large segment of the Texas population in prison’ if it passes without the exception.” [4] And others saw the exemption as a necessary intervention where the continued hiring of undocumented domestic workers helps sustain the Texas economy.

    No matter how the bill was reported or discussed, one thing became glaringly apparent: In Texas there are two kinds of labor and two kinds of employers—public and private. And the private employers and employees (regardless of their immigration status) should not be held to the same rules as those considered public work sites (e.g. construction sites, corporate workplaces, any workplace that is not a home). [5] The differentiation between sites of labor tells a narrative about Texas’ commitment to private interest in lieu of state-wide mandates, practices, or laws. The private citizen and his/her home are central to both the ideologies and economic policies that structure Texas life. And it is because of these policies that Texas becomes an excellent site to discuss how aspects of privatization—a feature central to the economic and political practices of neoliberalism—begin to tell stories about who we “other” and who we exempt in order to define ourselves as discreet communities—Texans, Americans, Homeowners.

    It is this need to define ourselves against “others”—Immigrants, Corporate Employers—that allows for neoliberalism to create a culture in which there is the image of a coherent, imagined community, at the same time as the political power and economy of that state is becoming more and more diffuse due to open trade agreements, offshoring of labor and goods, and global monetary exchange. In the example above, immigrants are both defined as outside the nation, but inside the Texas economy. Thus, they become both outsiders and insiders in a sense, but they function rhetorically to allow Texas citizens to define themselves as both distinctly American—those who want to protect their economy and borders from immigrant labor and bodies—but also distinctly Texan—those who see their private homes as different and above all separate from public and public economy. Therefore, the rhetoric of House Bill 2012 makes particularly visible the complexities and conjunctures of neoliberal culture and economics. The bill is not merely a site where immigrants are “others” in order for nations to deny their economically porous borders. Instead, immigrants are those “Other-others” [6] but they are also “others” who to protect the private economies and comfort of white citizens must be accepted, protected, and brought into the state’s borders in order to reify the cultural and economic status quo.

    In Strange Encounters, Sara Ahmed talks about the role of the “other” and the “other-other” as two sides of neoliberal nation building in western countries. She talks of how others are the people who those in the nation can “save” or show “benevolence” to by allowing them into the economy and culture of the nation, thus allowing the nation to become multi-cultural. The “other-other” (on the other hand) is the one who cannot be interpellated into culture. It must be expelled, sent away, deported in order for the nation to define and imagine itself, its borders, and its citizenry. According to Ahmed, both “others” and “other-others” are central to determining a national identity—much like an imagined community [7] once was—in the wake of neoliberal shifts in economic policy and political exchange. Now, instead of relying solely on common assumptions of economic frameworks, politically inscribed borders or identities, other bodies—both foreign and domestic—work as key means to define nationhood.

    I agree with Ahmed in so much as I see the construction of the “other” and/or the “other-other” working across multiple scales. It is not just a national phenomenon, but it is a neoliberal cultural one wherein the “other” and/or the “other-other” can be employed at multiple scales—the individual (it’s about my maid, my gardener, and my nanny), the local, the national, the international, in order to create a sense of community. But in addition to the mere construction of community, othering also allows for something more insidious. It allows for a masking of the economic and ideological practices which drive neoliberalism at all scales. By creating a range of others as the catalyst for our identity, the material conditions that produce and influence daily lives are occluded. Instead, the focus is placed on the narrative of those others, what they have done, what they may do, and not on the reality of state power and the economic choices that influence us all.

    This paper will attempt to disrupt the “othering” of neoliberal rhetoric by looking at two sites in which it was employed—Houston, TX post-hurricane Ike and a US national anti-immigration campaign 2004. Both of these sites employ “others” and/or “other-others” to define a community during a time of perceived jeopardy. And both of these sites of othering occlude the material conditions of neoliberal culture, which I argue, produce said jeopardy. By assembling these narratives in such a way, I am striving to create a counter narrative wherein the other can be seen not as a tool of neoliberal culture, but rather a symptom from which we can begin to analyze its material conditions and rhetorical deployments.

    No Zoning?!: How Hurricane Ike (De)Mystified De-Regulation

    12 September 2008 Hurricane Ike blew through Houston, TX and the outlying areas. There was not quite as much rainfall as predicted because the hurricane lost momentum upon hitting land and ended up a high category two in ferocity, instead of the predicted category four that had been circling the gulf. However, even at a high category two, Ike managed to down trees, rip through roofs, flood neighborhoods, and leave the entire Houston metropolitan area literally powerless.

    And it is the reality of and discussions surrounding the month long power-outage that I now want to focus on. And in order to do so, there are a few facts about civic life in Houston that must be made clear. The first is that the city of Houston like the rest of the state of Texas has a strong pro-business governmental orientation. From the lack of city wide zoning (meaning that property can be developed for business or residential anywhere in the city—we won’t get into deed restrictions at this point in order to keep this discussion moving) to the lack of personal, business, and state income tax, Houston is invested in business and private property rather than social services or municipal investment.

    Seeing that as the political context of Houston and Texas at large, it is not surprising that Houston was an exemplar of Texas’ Energy Deregulation which had begun statewide in 2002. And even though there were some critiques of the rising costs of power associated with the privatization of power services, especially in Houston, [8] during the spring and summer of 2008 the citizens of Houston were in the process of choosing their power delivery companies which were, of course, separate from the power grid company. By the time Ike hit in early September, Houstonians had made their choices and had signed up with particular power companies that they thought would bring the best price—and none of these companies were directly connected to Center Point energy, the company who delivered the power to the delivery companies, who then delivered them to the homes of the millions of residents in Houston.

    This move is not rare, and it is merely an example of neoliberal economics wherein prices, ethics, and customer service are guaranteed through competition. Two of the main beliefs in the neoliberal economic model are: the market will regulate itself and competition will insure fair if not low pricing. Sounds good, yes? Well, in the case of post Ike Houston, the good quickly became the ugly when it took over one month to restore power to the whole of the city. During which time, there was seemingly no rhyme or reason as to who got power restored when. No, Houston was no repeat of Katrina in that the wealthy neighborhoods were just as likely to be without power for the duration as those neighborhoods known as the “poor” or lower class ones. The ethnic demographics of the neighborhoods had little to do with it. Instead, most citizens of Houston saw the power-out as an inconvenience, but one that was fair [9] —just like the market.

    The local news coverage of the outage, however, did not focus on the parallels between market logic and the city’s loss of power. Instead, the power problems were discussed, charted, and reported to be due to the unique nature of Houston’s topography and the lack of knowledge and/or ability to understand and overcome the very Houston-ness of Houston. For example, a story that circulated between all three of the local news stations followed out-of-state electrical service workers who had been called in to help restore power to Houston. The reporter would follow them down manholes into sewer like walk ways, up electrical poles as they opened breaker boxes, and around fallen trees as they attempted to clear pathways for trucks and other service vehicles. The conversations between the workers and the news reporters always produced the same three memes: 1) Houston’s heat is like nothing they had ever experienced; 2) Houston is full of large bugs which fly at you while you are working; and 3) Houston does not have a clear map of its grid, like other cities, so it is difficult to systematically restore power. Each of these narratives provided a chuckle to the news anchors, and allowed for some levity about how non-Houstonians just don’t get Houston.

    One could argue that these faux-human interest stories served as a way for uncomfortable and frustrated Houstonians to begin to bond over the trials and tribulations of their collective fate. I, however, see this rhetoric as a function of the neoliberal economics (and the deregulation) responsible for the lengthy return of Houston’s power. The use of out-of-state workers as the main conduits of information on the progress of the restoration allows for those gems above to serve as the reasons why power hasn’t been returned in a more timely fashion. It is not that the system is flawed, although you could argue that the lack of a map of the grid of Houston does nod to that conclusion. But rather it is the fact that there are “others” who cannot handle what Houston has to offer (the heat, bugs, quirky electrical grid). The use of the “other” [10] is a trend in both media and legislation to shift focus from the failures of power, and place the failures of a system on a group of people who do not belong. I have argued in other work that nationally you see this in anti-immigration and anti-LGBT discourses, [11] but I also argue that here, in a much more benign way, you can see it focused on those workers who came from Montana, Arizona, and California to help restore power here in Houston. They just could not do it fast enough because they aren’t part of this unique community.

    Jasbir Puar argues that rhetoric is not only used to produce intensities or feelings, but it is used interchangeably to create an assemblage of “othering” that requires totalizing governmental and occasionally coercive means of protection. She draws upon post 9/11 rhetorics of terror demonstrate how “other-others” are mobilized by amalgamating features and histories together so as to create “assembled” threats. Puar defines “the assemblage”:

    As a series of dispersed but mutually implicated networks, draw together enunciation and dissolution, causality and effect. As opposed to an intersectional model of identity, which presumes components—race, class, gender, sexuality, nation, age, religion—are separable analytics and can thus be disassembled, an assemblage is more attuned to interwoven forces that merge and dissipate time, space, and body against linearity, coherency, and permanency. [12]

    Again, in this rhetorical construction history and identity are both palimpsestic [13] and scrambled, which leads to a critique of the ways in which language represents figures and bodies as discrete and individual. The assemblage works to produce contradictory identities and affective figures that are both mobilized in the name of governmental threat and protection.

    According to Manuel DeLanda, [14] the theory of assemblage joins together the discursive, material, and organic through interactions and reconceptualizations of how we understand our most basic biological and social interactions. We assemble meaning by placing words, phrases, and sentences together (or in my case scenes from the city of Houston) to create meaning, we must also attend to how these words, phrases, and sentences are territorialized and coded or decoded, or as Rebecca Dingo would say networked, [15] throughout their exchange. And each exchange can be scaled from the minute (discursive assemblages at the sentence level, or organic at the atomic level) to the global (assemblages of territorial nation states or biological viruses that grow and adapt other organisms and cells in their wake).

    Even within this scene, the assemblage appears in multiple scales—as a rhetorical structure—the development of an “outside worker”; as a spatial organization schema—the focus on “no zoning” and the subsequent seeming lack of city planning; and the economic “free-market”—the commitment and implementation of deregulation. The scaling from rhetorical construction, to city planning, to economic policy represents how flexible the assemblage is within rhetorical and critical theory. And they reveal that the assemblage is both discursive and material, as well.

    No Zoning and deregulation are both easily translated into Deluezian assemblage theory because after all, per Deleuze, assemblages are just wholes characterized by relations of exteriority. And when a city is deregulated or marked by unrestrained growth, the only way to find meaning is by how the external buildings relate to one another once they are put in place. You cannot look to city plans, corporate schemes, and/or national ideology. Instead, you are forced to assemble some kind of reading of Houston from the exteriority—how the buildings, the power grid, the people fit together, move around one another. In other words, Houston is a prime city to be read through assemblage theory. Rhetorical Assemblage, however, can be a little more complicated. Therefore, I will give a grounded example of how the figure of the “outsider” of the “other” has been assembled in neoliberal economic and political contexts as a way to define who “belongs” within a particular community, and who must be excluded.

    Rhetorical Assemblage, Danger of Othering

    In her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein puts forward a productive framework for understanding the collusion between political and economic systems in neoliberal globalization. She discusses how a more appropriate name for what is often called neoconservative or neoliberal economics—practices that “erase the boundaries between Big Government and Big Business”—is “corporatist.” [16] Klein seeks to present to the US public the fallacy that democracy and the free-market are one and the same. Klein claims that the key characteristic of the shift to free-market, laissez-faire (what I am calling neoliberal, even though Klein would argue that this is not a sufficient definition) [17] corporatist economics is that of shock. She cites the theories of Milton Friedman and the students of the Economics department of the University of Chicago as central to this strategy, and she documents how Friedman’s belief in “freedom through capitalism” was embraced across the globe from Pinochet’s Chile to Thatcher’s Britain and Reagan’s US According to Klein, Freidman’s claim is that if nations took advantage of the state of shock surrounding disasters and catastrophic events, they would more readily pass through legislation to end the Keynesian welfare state once and for all.

    Klein’s articulation of the consequences of shock is not only descriptive of the economic and political exigency of shock. Instead, she also claims that one of the most important characteristics of shock is the way in which it makes people feel. And it is from that space of feeling that people are persuaded to action. It is not merely rational or persuasive rhetoric that prompts change or apathy in the body politic, but rather it is through a rhetorically and materially produced state of feeling—fear, confusion, anger, disassociation—that the body politic is prompted to seek solace in the government’s rhetoric and policies. [18]

    Brian Massumi’s description of fear reads strikingly similarly to Klein’s reading of Friedman. [19] Instead of focusing on figures and the rhetorical production of shock, he looks at the production of “threats” to show how fear becomes removed from its initial event referent, combined with other memories of fear, and then reassembled to new events with an increased magnitude of fear that is not directly proportional or even applicable to the event at hand. [20] The reactions and associations created because of this imperceptible joining of discrete events of fear are central to the development and deployment of the rhetoric of neoliberalism. It is the deployment of threat to incite fear that Massumi sees as a critical feature in the rhetoric of neoliberal geopolitics. And because threats are often multifarious, insidious, and non-containable, they become even more threatening when they are amalgamations of combined (if not disassociated) referents.

    Here is an example of the coupling of threats: On December 8, 2006 the Los Angeles, California chapter of Solidarity.org, a pro-immigrant rights group, received a hateful voice mail message. It was from a woman who was later discovered to be from the Arizona chapter of the anti-immigrant group gainusa.org. The woman who identified herself in additional emails to the group as “Laura,” attempted to challenge the rhetoric of the immigrant rights movement by reiterating that those who enter the US without appropriate papers are in fact “illegal aliens” and not immigrants of any kind. She states:

    You are not immigrants. You are illegal aliens. That is the correct immigration term for sneaks, cheats, and liars. People who sneak into our country; spit on our laws; steal our peoples’ identification. That’s what you are. You are criminals. Immigrants apply to come to this country. Then they comply with all kinds of requirements like background checks and health checks. And then they get on line and they wait like human beings. Not like crud cheats and liars like illegal aliens. [pause] You will be deported. Stop manipulating our words. Stop trying to manipulate our people. If we go to your country you know that that is a felony. In Mexico it’s a felony. And in most other countries it’s a felony. Stop trying to take advantage of our laws. Murderers are human beings also, but they’re still murderers. Rapists and thieves are still are [sic] human beings, but they are still rapists and thieves. And you people are illegal aliens [hang up]. [21]

    There are several things going on in “Laura’s” statement. First of all, Laura recognizes the rhetorical moves of the immigrant rights movement to use the term “undocumented immigrants” instead of “illegal aliens.” This is an important move in the rhetorical construction of who is crossing the border and how we can begin to think of them. By using the term undocumented instead of illegal and immigrant instead of alien, the immigrant rights movement is attempting to shift the immigration debate from one centered on felonious actions (illegal) by unidentifiable people (aliens) to one of the bureaucratic status (undocumented) of a definable group of people (immigrants). But for “Laura,” that rhetorical move is one of manipulation and lies. What is evident from Laura’s comment and its intended audience is that the immigration debate is one where language and word choice are critical components for both sides of the debate.

    But “Laura’s” comment also reveals some key assumptions about who immigrates into our country and what they are really doing here. First of all, according to “Laura” these people are “sneaks, cheats, and liars” who “sneak into our country; spit on our laws; and steal our peoples’ identification.” And much like “murderers, rapists, and thieves” “illegal aliens” may be human beings, but ultimately they are defined as “illegal aliens.” By including multiple types of criminals together—thieves, murderers, sexual predators, and illegal immigrants—who do not really have anything to do with one another, Laura is creating an “assemblage of threat”—whose characteristics are then attached to “illegal aliens.” Her move to compile different criminal identities, and then associate those characteristics with one particular type of criminal is a move, which I will discuss at length later in this chapter, toward assemblage—wherein the characteristics of figures are removed from the original identities associated with the figures and combined to create an all pervasive or uber-threatening criminal.

    Laura’s message demonstrates, however crudely, the ways in which assemblage operates by creating associations of threats through mere mention, no matter how faulty the connection between these identities. Part of the work of the assemblage is to demonstrate how the threat in question, in this case the “illegal alien” is not only dangerous because of its own associations, but instead, it is far more dangerous because of its association with other more violent criminals. Therefore, an assemblage is a means with which to heighten the affective intensity surrounding the discussions of threat, and Laura’s statement works to do just that. Laura is showing the severity of the threat posed to the US by undocumented immigrants. This echoes her earlier sentiments that “illegal aliens” are “sneaks, cheats, and liars”—all characteristics of successful thievery—and that there are documented cases of the severity of their crime—identity theft of presumably law abiding citizens.

    Laura’s accusation of thievery, however, is not centered on the notion that “illegal aliens” actually steal anything, although there is an implicit connection to the idea that not “getting on line” is in some way a stealing of privilege that is not theirs to take. Instead, their crime is based solely on their immigration status. Laura invokes Mexico’s immigration law to support her claim, and discusses how even though HR 4437 may not have passed, “illegal aliens” are felons, and they (the undocumented immigrants) should know this because their presumed home country has the same law. The connection Laura makes to Mexican immigration policy functions to not only show how the US is a more benevolent country than Mexico—presumably because even though immigrants are indeed felons according to Mexican law—but to also show that those entering this country should not expect special treatment because they would not extend the same in their own country.

    Additionally, this move to link immigrants to Mexico reveals an assumption that “illegal aliens” come from Mexico. Laura’s statement does not only criminalize “illegal aliens” but links them directly with a specific national population. This move racializes the immigration debate, and even though “Laura” never specifically calls “illegal immigrants” Mexicans, her nod to Mexican immigration law prefaced by “if we go to your country” (emphasis mine) makes a clear case that for “Laura” the “illegal immigrant” problem in this country is coming from a specific place (Mexico) and can be attributed to a specific population (Mexicans). For “Laura” not only are undocumented immigrants felons, but they are Mexican, as well. And even when the rhetoric does not specifically link the two, much like “Laura’s” rhetoric it creates associations through contiguity—naming legal immigrants in the same paragraph as particular countries, naming illegal immigrants criminals by printing information about thieves and rapists in the same paragraph.

    Both media and governmental rhetorical outlets have made immigrant bodies into “other-others” that serve as cautionary tales of what to avoid, who to fear, and who is outside the norm of citizenship. Having been made into “other-others, immigrants are evacuated of any human characteristics and turned into things from which citizens need protection. Laura’s rhetoric also demonstrates these “other-others” are assembled—drawing on the traces of previous historical usages. Furthermore, with the eroding of government infrastructures of the Post-Fordist neoliberal world and the development of uber-security forces such as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), these “other-others” are place together under the same umbrella of surveillance. This material connection allows for an assembling of threats within the cultural imaginary which in turn allows for what I have coined “rhetorical assemblage,” wherein the threatening characteristics of one group become applied to another through proximity, not through causality, analogy, or logic.

    It is the both/and nature of the assemblage that makes it so dangerous. It draws on seemingly commonplace historical associations (i.e. Mexican immigrant), and then brings several of those together to create new associations that are not created through metaphor or analogy, but rather are created through contiguity. It is through the rhetorical means of placing brands next to one another in a chapter or a sentence without creating direct analogy or presenting the connections in any clear way that defines the assemblage in our “neoliberal kairotic moment.” [22]

    Within this moment, clearly identifiable threats are no longer the norm. Instead, the rhetoric surrounding protection and threat works to create an ever present, unidentifiable, yet strangely familiar, series of threats. And the discussion of these threats uses affective intensity and identification to help citizens recognize just how much they need protection. The shift toward assemblage—creating multivalanced threat through contiguity, much like Laura, creates a different type of political rhetoric—what I am calling the rhetoric of terror. These threats create new circumstances for law enforcement which impacts citizens and non-citizens alike.

    Houston, TX: An Exemplar Neoliberal City

    The establishment of the “other” can be seen functioning in the media around issues of national crisis: presidential elections, economic downturns, and in the case of Houston (although there was coverage of the devastation in Galveston, TX)—a “powerless” city. The stakes of a power out versus an economic collapse are obviously less, and therefore, the story did not carry. However, the presence of “others” still served a distinct purpose for the Houston area. In fact, there was little national coverage of post-Ike Houston largely because the Monday after the storm, Wall Street collapsed sending the entire country into an economic tailspin. Therefore, there was no need to follow a regional story about a city that appeared to be purely victimized by the weather, even if the local press saw it otherwise.

    Even though the discussions of out-of-state workers do not carry the potential stereotypes and material harm we find in the othering of LGBT and immigrant bodies, I see this discussion of other-ness as indicative or symptomatic of neoliberal discourse. The naming of outsiders as a cause for the delay in power restoration to Houston masks several very real reasons that caused the power to remain out in many parts of Houston for over one month. The first is the presence of deregulation in Houston. The power companies who delivered electricity to residences and business were only responsible for the delivery of that power—not the infrastructure that supplied the power. In other words, due to deregulation and the separation of power companies into multiple private entities, power in Houston comes into a home or office via one company, but is supplied to that company’s wires which start close to said building by Center Point energy. Now Center Point does not deliver power, but it does manage the infrastructure that supplies power from the plants into the city, suburbs, and even unincorporated areas of Houston. So, if your home is without power, it could be the delivery service (which could be one of 20 plus companies) or it could be Center Point that is to blame. However, you will not know who to contact because your neighbor may have power, but that has to do with their personal choices of their power delivery and/or what portion of Center Point’s grid they are on. And yes, the grid is a mess largely because of the lack of zoning laws in Houston along with its unrestrained growth. The power infrastructure is a huge maze and no single company holds the map.

    Let me break for a moment here to state clearly that Houston lost power because of hurricane Ike, but it remained without power for over one month because of deregulation and its commitment to neoliberal economics. And the power out was seemingly ruled by nothing more than the market—not some ideological, racist, or classist beliefs about whose power should be restored first. Now, by no means is that entirely true. Houston is an incredibly segregated city, but it is all done through defacto-segregation (schools are almost exclusively African-American, or Caucasian, or South East Asian not because they are segregated, but because Houston does not want to pay for bussing, and therefore, according to the Houston Independent School District—schools districting is done through economics not census). [23] However, many believe that this adherence to economics in all of its decisions is a way for Houston to remain racially neutral in its politics. Even liberals to whom I presented my reading of the post-Ike power-out always felt a little proud when confronted with the fact that post-Ike was not post-Katrina because the issues in Houston did not only effect lower class African American neighborhoods, but they effected everyone in Houston—equally or seemingly rationally.

    In The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy, David Eng discusses the logic of colorblindness. He states that:

    [A] politics of colorblindness willfully refuses to acknowledge the increasing socio-economic disparities that mark our society, while also refusing to see these disparities as anything other than the just distribution of inequality to those who are unwilling to participate in the so called level playing field of the neoliberal market. [24]

    If we follow this logic through, those in Houston who live in “depressed socio-economic” areas are not participating fully in the neoliberal economic system of the city. It is choice, laziness, or individual circumstance that prevents them from reaching a better economic station. In other words, for Eng, colorblindness is another version of the myth of meritocracy—the belief that anyone can work hard enough and have the same opportunities as anyone else. And if someone is disadvantaged it is because of their own faults or missed attempts at improvement.

    These beliefs support and mobilize the rhetoric of equality, and that rhetoric continues to allow us to construct “others” who are exceptions—people who may need a little help to become citizens, gain better economic footing, but ultimately will face a “choice.” The either become a part of the neoliberal economic system of the city, or “other-others” those who will never participate fully in the neoliberal economy, and thus must be expelled from the state. “Othering” and equality work in tandem to produce a rhetoric that masks the material effects of any given choice or crisis, so much so, that said effects appear to be equal across the board.

    Now, I am not arguing that Houston is the only place where this can happen. Jenny Edbauer in her work on rhetorical ecologies shows how the local rhetoric in Austin—a much smaller and more liberal Texas town—circulates by “moving across the same social field and within shared structures of feeling.” [25] Edbauer draws on Raymond Williams’ notion of “structures of feeling,” [26] a term Williams defines as “difficult” but “concerned with meanings and values as they are actively lived and felt, and the relations between these and formal or systemic beliefs are in practice variable (including historically variable), over a range from formal assent with private dissent to the more nuanced interaction between selected and interpreted beliefs and acted and justified experiences. An alternative definition would be structures of experience.[27]

    The presence of the “other” and “other-other,” as well as the invocation of equality, work to create a public experience all the while maintaining the private nature of experience. This seemingly contradictory move to make experience both public and private mirrors even the most basic spatial conditions of neoliberalism—the mall, the freeway, and the promenade are all public private spaces. The rhetorical moves within Williams’ structures of feeling are quite in line with the economic and political beliefs of neoliberalism. Therefore, neoliberalism can name anything as a value or meaning, “freedom” or “equality” for example, as long as it fits with current beliefs. So the “others” who helped to restore power were not “bad” because they didn’t know Houston. Instead, their lack of knowledge became a way for Houstonians to share a momentary feeling of pride in their uniqueness—which by extension makes the month long power-outage part of our uniqueness, as well. After all, it was the most equanimous hurricane and post-power-outage the world had seen.

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    • _____. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2007.
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    • Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.
    • Wingard, Jennifer. Branding Bodies: Rhetorically Assembling the Nation State. Boston: Lexington Press, forthcoming.


    1. The penalties proposed are up to a $10,000 fine and/or 2 years in state prison.return to text
    2. Mariano Castillo, “Texas Immigration Bill has Big Exception,” CNN.com (1 March 2011). http://articles.cnn.com/2011-03-01/politics/texas.immigration.bill_1_immigration-bill-unauthorized-immigrants-issue-of-illegal-immigration?_s=PM:POLITICS return to text
    3. Ibid. return to text
    4. The appearance of the terms “exemption” and “exception” are both notable. Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998) and Jasbir Puar and Amit Rai, “Monster, Terrorist, Fag: The War on Terrorism and the Production of Docile Patriots,” Social Text 72, 20.3 (Fall 2002): 117-148, both discuss current forms of state sovereignty based in the development of exceptions—who is recognized as a citizen, who must be expelled or imprisoned. Within this short news story, it appears the Representatives within the state of Texas see threats to the economy and citizenry of Texas defined by exception, as well.return to text
    5. This division of labor is also quite gendered. It is defining the reproductive labor of the home which has been scripted and defined as “feminine labor” (Maria Mies, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale [New York: Zed, 1986]) as outside the dominant public economy of the state. Although there is a recognition that the monetary exchange provided to this labor is within the realm of the state economy, the bodies that perform the labor, the domestic workers, are not seen coded as threat, like their productive economy counter parts—factory and/or corporate workers.return to text
    6. Sara Ahmed, Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality (New York: Routledge, 2000), defines other-others as those who cannot be interpellated into society, therefore, they must be expelled.return to text
    7. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflection on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983), wrote that citizens imagined commonalities of nations through symbolism, hegemony, and constructed memories. In other words, the culture of nations are not inherently stable or produced through shared experience. return to text
    8. Tom Fowler and Janet Elliott, “Many call energy deregulation in Texas a failure,” Houston Chronicle (6 October 2007). http://www.chron.com/business/article/Many-call-energy-deregulation-in-Texas-a-failure-1824046.php return to text
    9. Or perhaps even “cruel but fair.”return to text
    10. Ahmed’s intelligible foreign body—and these out-of-state workers certainly fit that definition. They are different enough to help a community define itself, but not so different as to need to be expelled.return to text
    11. Jennifer Wingard, Branding Bodies: Rhetorically Assembling the Nation State (Boston: Lexington Press, forthcoming).return to text
    12. Jasbir K. Puar, “Queer Times, Queer Assemblages,” Social Text 23.3-4, 84-85 (November 2005): 121-139, p. 127-128. Jasbir K. Puar, “Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007).return to text
    13. A palimpsestic reading, according to M. Jacqui Alexander (Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditation of Feminisms, Sexual Politics, Memory, and The Sacred [Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005]), who works to define ideology as inflected and mobile in her book Pedagogies of Crossing, allows scholars to begin to view ideological practice as unbounded by history and nation. It is a shift necessary for understanding ideology as transnational in its very conception. Alexander defines the transnational not only spatially but also temporally. She asserts that our current state ideologies are not developments from historical moments, but rather they are carried throughout time shifting and mutating (but not becoming wholly different) in particular circumstances. She uses the term “ideological traffic“ to reveal the ways in which the same ideologies can be seen functioning in historical spaces, as well as current ones.return to text
    14. Manuel DeLanda, New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity (New York: Continuum, 2006).return to text
    15. Rebecca Dingo, Networking Arguments: Rhetoric, Transnational Feminism, and Public Policy Writing (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, forthcoming). In her forthcoming book, Dingo discusses how rhetoric is formed through neoliberal linkages that cross both global and economic borders. She examines policy and NGO public exchanges to demonstrate how neoliberal culture has created conditions for changes in rhetorical practice. return to text
    16. Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Picador, 2008), p. 15.return to text
    17. Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine. Klein argues that the term neoliberal economics is too vague and does not specify who benefits from and whose interests are served by our current governmental economic protocols. She believes that corporatist economics is more descriptive of the true nature of the economic system in place today. I, however, decline to take on Klein’s terminology because I feel that corporatist economics only grants definition to the power base that benefits from the economic system and can easily occlude those who are positioned to serve as material labor for the corporate system. What becomes interesting is the ways in which contiguous reasoning, which I am examining as particular to the assemblage in this chapter, function not only in association with identities and individual threat. Think of the Bush administration’s reasoning for invading Iraq. It was not based in logic or the demonstration of fact, but rather it was the repetition of the meme that Saddam Huessin was involved with Al-Qaeda. And even now when this has been proven inaccurate, there are some who still hold on to this tenuous connection to justify our presence in Iraq.return to text
    18. The greatest irony here is that during times of “shock” the public returns to the social contract in the hopes that their civil liberties will be protected and honored by their government. Yet it is that very moment that the government is using the public’s desire for protection to erode those civil liberties and the social contract upon which they have come to rely. A strong example of this exchange is post-9/11 America and the development of the Patriot Act. The legislation was “sold” to the American public as necessary to protect them. All the while it stripped them of many basic civil liberties in the name of that protection.return to text
    19. Brian Massumi, “Fear (The Spectrum Said),” Positions 13.1 (2005): 31-48.return to text
    20. This is how the justification for the invasion of Iraq 2003 was created.return to text
    21. Lee Siu Hin, “12/8: Very Serious Hate-E-Mail/Call/Threat Against Immigrant Solidarity Network,” Immigrant Solidarity Group, immigrantsolidarity.org, December 8 2006. http://www.immigrantsolidarity.org/Campaigns/Minutemen2006.htm return to text
    22. J. Blake Scott, “Kairos as Indeterminate Risk Management: The Pharmaceutical Industry’s Response to Bioterrorism,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 92 (2006): 115-143. Scott’s notion of “neoliberal kairotic exigency” is one of movement, circulation, and affect in which a rhetor (or rhetorical scholar for that matter) cannot classify and/or know all the conditions of rhetorical practice, and therefore, cannot fully control the rhetoric. return to text
    23. Defacto and dejure segregation are, however, forms of racial segregation—they merely rely on economics or political districting as the structuring force instead of ideology. What they do not allow for (or admit to) is that most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods have deep ties to racially structured political pasts, such as segregation and immigration statutes. Therefore, even the most seemingly “fair” economic plan contains remnants of racial ideology.return to text
    24. David Eng, The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy (Raleigh, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), p. 5.return to text
    25. Jenny Edbauer, “Unframing Models of Public Distribution: From Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies,” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 35.4 (Fall 2005): 5-24, (op. cit) p. 20.return to text
    26. Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977).return to text
    27. Ibid., p. 132 (emphasis in original).return to text