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Narrating public policy and identity: the case of SB 1070

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The stories that we tell matter. Public storytelling influences how we think about ourselves and how we treat others. This project explores how Arizona's Support our Law Enforcement and Safe

The stories that we tell matter. Public storytelling influences how we think about ourselves and how we treat others. This project explores how Arizona's Support our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (SB 1070) affected the development of social identities such as citizen, immigrant (documented and undocumented), and public administrator through public storytelling. The question of how a public policy shapes identity development is relatively under-explored in the literature. Critical aspects of feminist and political theory demonstrate that identity is affected by discourses, such as performatives and accounts of oneself. A public policy authorizes public administrators to issue or demand discourses, such as performatives and accounts of oneself, from the individuals they encounter. Moreover, the text of a public policy resembles an account of oneself, delivered on behalf of a fabricated subject. In this project, the structural elements and storytelling techniques of SB 1070 are drawn out through tools derived from the field of narratology. When applied to the text of SB 1070, narratological tools reveal four major organizing principles or plots, all of which center on the identification and punishment of four types of individuals or organizations: (a) employers of undocumented immigrants; (b) transporters/shielders of undocumented immigrants; (c) undocumented immigrants; (d) state and local government agencies or officials that do not fully implement federal immigration law. An analysis of 321 news stories published after SB 1070's passage reveals that some plots resonated more than others with storytellers. The storytelling about SB 1070 also makes visible the policy's power as a discourse to unsettle the identities of citizens, immigrants (documented and undocumented), and public administrators. It also raises concerns about who bears the responsibility for the impact of policies like SB 1070, which have been passed but not implemented, and yet have a tangible impact on the lives of citizens and other residents. These findings suggest that not only can public policy unsettle social identities, but proposes complicated questions about who is responsible for the harm inflicted on others when a public policy is passed.

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Date Created
  • 2014

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Performing ethos in administrative hearings: constructing a credible persona under the Chinese Exclusion Act over time

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Ethos or credibility of a speaker is often defined as the speaker's character (Aristotle). Contemporary scholars however, have contended that ethos lies with the audience because while the speaker may

Ethos or credibility of a speaker is often defined as the speaker's character (Aristotle). Contemporary scholars however, have contended that ethos lies with the audience because while the speaker may efficiently persuade, the audience will decide if it wants to be persuaded (Farrell). Missing from the scholarly conversation is attention to how ethos is performed between speaker and audience under institutional structures that produce inequitable power relations subject to changing political contexts over time. In this dissertation I analyze how ethos is performed that is a function of a specific social and political environment.

My grandfather, Al Foon Lai, was a paper son. As an adult, I learned that paper sons were members of paper families that may or may not actually exist except on paper; furthermore paper immigration was the way many Chinese entered the United States to get around the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943). Grandfather held legal status, but grandfather's name was fictitious and thus his entry to the United States in 1920 was illegal. Today by some authorities he would be classified as an illegal immigrant. As Grandfather's status as a paper son suggest, Grandfather's credibility as someone with the legal prerogative to reside in the U.S. was a dynamic construct that was negotiated in light of the changing cultural norms encoded in shifting immigration policies. Grandfather constructed his ethos "to do persuasion" in administrative hearings mandated under the Chinese Exclusion Act that produced asymmetrical power relations. By asymmetrical power relations I mean the unequal status between the administrator overseeing the hearing and Lai the immigrant. The unequal status was manifest in the techniques and procedures employed by the administrative body empowered to implement the Chinese Exclusion Act and subsequent laws that affected Chinese immigrants. Combining tools from narrative analysis and feminists rhetorical methods I analyze excerpts from Al Foon Lai's transcripts from three administrative hearings between 1926 and 1965. It finds that Grandfather employed narrative strategies that show the nature of negotiating ethos in asymmetrical power situations and the link between the performance of ethos and the political and social context.

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Date Created
  • 2016