Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations

Title

Neoliberalism and the Rhetoric of School Closure in Latina/o Detroit

Date of Award

2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Media and Communication

First Advisor

Alberto Gonzalez (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Christopher Frey (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

John Dowd (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Ellen Gorsevski (Committee Member)

Abstract

In February 2012, Emergency Manager Roy Roberts announced the closure of Southwestern High School in the City of Detroit. I argue in this dissertation that the rhetorical discourses used by policymakers to justify the school closure represent a neoliberal restructuring of the urban environment and social relations in the city, particularly for Latina/o Detroit. Applying the critical methodologies of ideology rhetorical criticism and a dialectical approach to culture, I analyze the ideological mystification of three neoliberal logics—crisis, instrumental rationality, and innovation—in education and urban policy texts in relation to the cultural sensibilities and experiences of the Latina/o community in Southwest Detroit. Critique of the rhetorical features of these neoliberal logics reveals mystification of neoliberalism is not only a matter of inducing audience cooperation, but also enforcement that there is no alternative to the current arrangement of education politics. Situated within an urban crisis situation, a neoliberal public vocabulary confines the school’s value to its financial output and in the entelechial pursuit of perfecting school closure criteria, technocrats and ordinary people are compelled by a terministic compulsion to carry out the implications of instrumental rationality. As people participate in market valuations of school spaces and colorblind market argumentative criteria, the neoliberalization of school and education meanings is mystified through a rhetorical process of enclosure that entails closing off, seizing, and repurposing ways of perceiving and acting in urban spaces that are irreducible to market terms. Consequently, the Latina/o community in Southwest Detroit is dispossessed of a communal resource and their cultural sensibilities and experiences negated as third persona in the school closure discourse. Blurring the line between persuasion and coercion, I have concluded that these rhetorical features are systemically violent in that they normalize an inequitable status quo and silence victims of the structural violence of school closings. I also conclude that commoning represents a vernacular cultural practice for Latina/o students in Southwest Detroit to struggle against neoliberalism and toward locating non-commodified communal values in order to claim a right to the city not only for themselves, but for all Detroit Public School (DPS) students.

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