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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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  • 2014