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The Conceit of Context

Resituating Domains in Rhetorical Studies

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Edited By Charles E. Morris III and Kendall R. Phillips

This edited volume features essays derived from presentations delivered at the 15th Biennial Public Address Conference held at Syracuse University in October 2016, as well as additional material. The Conceit of Context explores the often invoked—indeed a central term in the history of rhetorical studies—but less often engaged concept of context. In this volume, we center the notion of context as the site of engagement, critique, and imagination, seeking to deepen the critical and political promise of context in the study of public discourse.

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23 A Place Ballet of Resistance (Samantha Senda-Cook)

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Samantha Senda-Cook

“Honestly, if I could tell you one reason why I still live in Omaha, it’s this project.” This quote from the founder of Root Down, a community garden in Omaha, illustrates how urban agriculture1 projects can foster relationships between people and places. In Omaha, as in other cities across the United States, urban agriculture increasingly functions as an answer to problems that community members encounter. For example, Monica White argues, “When members of the community face harsh economic realities, gardening becomes an exercise of political agency and empowerment.”2 Indeed, scholars and activists have found that urban farms have long-term positive and negative consequences such as reshaping material spaces (described by some as “foodscapes”3); counteracting food deserts,4 poor health,5 and slow violence6; and problematically perpetuating a neoliberal agenda.7 Focusing on the potential good, national movements that advocate for urban agriculture have inspired community members in Omaha, such as the founder of Root Down quoted above, to organize key efforts to help their communities. Such practices have transformed material spaces, deeply impacting how those places look and feel.

Rhetorical critics have shown how places serve rhetorical functions such as memorializing and identity development. In doing so, they have attended to what might have otherwise been relegated to context, background of the artifact under examination. However, rhetoricians have advanced an understanding of material rhetoric that demonstrates the power of physical spaces and places. In particular, Carole Blair’s and Greg Dickinson’s work,...

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