Cultural Studies Adjunct: John Louis Lucaites

I study the relationship between rhetoric (by which I mean roughly the “sociality of language”) and liberal-democratic public culture.  I am especially interested in the ways in which a variety of rhetorical practices (argument, advertising, photojournalism, various forms of public art including museums and memorials, etc.) are central to the production, maintenance, and critique of civic public culture.  My first book, Crafting Equality: America’s Anglo-African Word (U. of Chicago, 1993) developed a rhetorical history of the usage and transformations in the word “equality” in U.S. public discourse from the time from the time of the American revolution to the mid-1980s with a focus on the role that African-American orators, journalists, ministers, pamphleteers, activists, etc. played in affecting shifts in meaning in the term.  My most recent book, No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy develops a detailed rhetorical history of nine iconic photographs (Migrant Mother, Times Square Kiss, Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, Accidental Napalm, etc.) as they contribute to public memory.  The book also advances the argument that photojournalism functions as an important and productive mode of public art and memory that underwrites liberal-democratic public culture—for good and for ill.  The critical project here develops the claim that from the early part of the 20th century to the present photojournalism has been complicit in affecting a shift from a liberal-democracy (where the accent was on a sense of social collectivism) to a liberal-democracy(where the accent is on a sense of acquisitive individuals, i.e., consumers).  My current project continues to work at the intersection of rhetoric, visuality, and civic culture in a project titled Seeing and Beings Seen As A Citizen, and examines a wide range of ways in which photojournalism operates as a technology of citizenship that functions in part to display models of citizenship and to school viewers in how to “see” themselves as citizens, even as it opens up spaces for the political agency necessary to a productive liberal-democratic public culture. This project is advanced on a daily basis at the blog: www.nocaptionneeded.com .

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