A Rhetorical Analysis of: "Globalization, Culture, and Neighborhood Change . . ."
by Diana Aubourg

From the student: I chose to critique this article because of my interest in urban affairs as well as the "implicit and explicit political discourse engaged in by the author..." It is easy to get consumed in the ideas, concepts and jargon of academic articles, without considering the use of rhetorical analysis to provide a different perspective. To whom the author is speaking, how credible the author is, what the political implications of the discourse being engaged are, why this article was written. These are a few of the questions I attempted to explore in this critique in order to push the issues espoused in this article beyond the safe theoretical space of academia and instead, connect them to the social realities that prompted the author to write the article.

From the teacher: Diana wrote this analysis of Mele for a short unit in Studio 4 (The Expert Writer at Work), spent reviewing principles of rhetoric and applying them to expert texts. Although she was working from a set of categories for rhetorical analysis, represented by her section titles, Aubourg's piece goes beyond description and commentary to show how rhetorical analysis can function as critical reading, as she critiques Mele from the vantage point of her own interests, political position, and expertise in urban studies.

Summary

The author discusses the globalization of the production, distribution, and consumption of culture, and its impact on the identity of locale and neighborhood. In many instances, local cultural forms, such as music and art, are appropriated for international consumer markets by multinational corporations. Mele uses the community of the Lower East Side, New York, as a basis for his analysis of the effects of global appropriation on urban communities.

Historically, development in neighborhoods has resulted in a struggle between entrepreneurial efforts to capitalize on the changing political economy of cities and the continued resistance of working-class residents threatened with a loss of community. Place1 entrepreneurs have always sought to eradicate both the physical and the sociocultural vestiges of neighborhood's immigrant, and working class environments. Since the 1960's, residents of the Lower East Side have resisted gentrification, displacement, and the "yuppification" of their neighborhood with well-organized community initiatives. Graffiti has urged the mugging of yuppies, and residents have demonstrated and boycotted upscale boutiques and groceries.

However, today, communities like the Lower East Side are presented with a different challenge. Instead of wanting to change the neighborhoods and displace residents, developers are finding new ways to exploit these communities. Corporations and developers efforts to reinvent neighborhoods now involve appropriating, packaging, and marketing the identity of marginalized communities as a means of accumulating profits in the local real estate market. The symbolic culture of politically and economically disenfranchised social groups who live in the marginalized zones of the inner city is encouraged, cultivated, and ultimately appropriated for the global market-place culture. Of interest to many cultural theorists is the fact that such symbols of urban culture have migrated beyond these places of origin. They are televised world-wide on MTV and merchandised in chain outlets in suburban shopping malls across continents.

The use of rap music and what is defined as "hip-hop" culture, in particular, is a prime example of cultural expropriation for national and global marketplace culture. Rap music was born out of the ghettos of the South Bronx, New York, and created by black and Latino youth in the late 1970's and early 1980's. When it first appeared on the music scene, it was marginalized and considered "ghetto music" of no cultural worth or value. As its popularity grew and the marketing of the music became more profitable for record companies, the identity linked to "ghetto culture" became legitimized in contemporary popular culture. MTV, which refused to play rap videos prior to this boom, added two rap video shows to its programming. These videos, which often contained images of inner city ghettos, poverty, and violence, were televised world-wide through MTV.

Contemporary fashion increasingly mirrored the clothes worn by rap artists in videos. Rap artists were recruited to endorse products such as Nike, McDonald's, and Coca Cola. Rap music developed a fan base in London, Germany, Japan and Brazil that not only listened to the music but appropriated its culture and ultimately the niches of its ghetto origins as well.

The multinational corporate production, distribution, and marketing of subcultural forms transform them into consumption niches. Safe, sanitized, imitations of not only the cultural forms, but also their places of origin, are served up for worldwide consumption. This recent form of neighborhood reinvention challenges the efficacy of established notions of resistance to neighborhood change.

Mele argues that the emerging global cultural economy creates new opportunities for place entrepreneurs to exploit and capitalize off of these urban neighborhoods. This, in turn, creates new challenges to the traditional means of local resistance for residents and community groups.

Purpose

The purpose of Mele's text is to discuss the globalization of urban space and its impact on local communities. Mele introduces the concept of urban space (the physical environment and the cultural identity of residents) and its increasing global marketability. He attempts to inform the reader of urban issues and discusses concepts such as the global expropriation of community identity, and the role of multinational corporations in "reinventing" communities. This text was also written to provide an analysis of the symbolic nature of community identity and the exploitation of this symbolism by "outsiders" (those who have no social connection to these communities).

Audience

Although the audience is not directly identified, one can assume it consists primarily of the author's peers in academia and social science research, and possibly those interested in the areas of urban studies or urban planning. The language, jargon, and format of the text implies a sophisticated audience, versed in the field of urban space studies. It is mainly a discourse of a scholar addressing other scholars in the field of urban studies.

What is interesting about this text is that the nature of the writing excludes the "community" or "neighborhood" (which in this case is the Lower East Side in New York) as an audience, even though the author is writing about this particular community. The assumptions in this text are that the reader (or audience) is familiar with the concepts of "urban space," globalization, and cultural symbolism. These terms are academic in nature and most likely not a part of the everyday discourse of Lower East Side residents. So, while the author is discussing exclusion in the text by making reference to the marginalization of urban communities, he is also excluding these same marginalized communities.

These factors illustrate the social relationships among the author, the audience, and the subjects of the text. Given the nature of the text, there is clearly a class- based, cultural, and possibly economic relationship between author and the audience who is situated in academia. One can assume that scholars in this field have gone through similar socialization processes, share the same literacies, and are part of the same discourse community, whereas the subjects (Lower East Side residents) share the symbolic local culture and are described as occupying a lower position on the social stratum. As a result, they are positioned differently in the text.

Ethos and Credibility

The author represents himself as a scholar in the field of urban studies, as well as, an advocate for the community (or types of communities) that he is discussing. He emphasizes the roles of these urban communities in resisting gentrification and the exploits of multinational corporations, and lauds their efforts to maintain their identity. He also suggests throughout the text that these globalization efforts are opportunities for communities like the Lower East Side to galvanize continued community resistance. He clearly sees himself as a "friend" of the people, an ally who understands their situation and supports their efforts. Although the author refrains from using the first person singular pronoun, his feelings and views about this subject are communicated throughout the text in its content and form.

The author establishes credibility in several ways. The reader can assume that his scholarship is sound because he is published in a scholarly review, Urban Affairs, which is one of the leading and most widely read reviews in urban studies. The text is also extensively footnoted, which indicates that the discussion is supported and informed by other texts written by scholars in the field. Most importantly, however, the author establishes credibility by showing a familiarity and knowledge of the Lower East Side culture and community. The first sentence of his introduction begins with, "On any given street corner on any given day . . ." and follows with a vivid description of the Lower East Side and its residents. In this introduction, the author not only provides the reader with a picture of the community he will be discussing throughout the text, but he also lets the reader know that he has, at the very least, walked the streets of the Lower East Side.

Context

The publication of the article in Urban Affairs sets the context for the author's discussion of globalization, culture, and neighborhood. It also sets the context for the use of the information provided in the text. While the issues discussed are real and continue to exist today, it is difficult to look at the writing of this text as more than an intellectual practice. Although the last sentence of the article states ". . . it [globalization] does create new opportunities for grass roots resistance," one may not interpret this statement as a call for action.

If this article were published in a leftist, anti-capitalist journal, the context would have been very different. The author's critique of multinational corporations and developers could be viewed as criticism of the entire capitalist system. The contention between corporations and the communities discussed in the article, given this context, would immediately be interpreted as the never-ending class struggle capitalism produces. In addition, grass roots resistance would have ultimately meant resisting capitalism's hegemony.

Politics of Discourse

The most important rhetorical function is the implicit and explicit political discourse engaged by the author. The text illustrates the complex social relationship of academia, Big Business, and the public (which in the text are represented as the author, multinational corporations, and the Lower East Side Community). Historically, liberal academia has played the role of the "defender" or "advocate" of distressed communities against the evils of Big Business. In all of this, often the communities in question are rendered powerless and voiceless. Although these communities are the subjects of the debate, they are excluded from the academic discourse community (leaving them voiceless) and exploited by corporations (leaving them powerless). The textual representation of these issues is a reflection of the way these issues are played out in society.


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