Hyden, Carl T. and Theodore F. Sheckels. Public Places: Sites of Political Communication.
"Places are political," write Carl T. Hyden and Theodore F. Sheckels in Public Places: Sites of Political Communication. While all kinds of people visit significant places in the United States for many reasons, communication scholars Hyden and Sheckels do so to discover how these places are political. Their hope is to "push" the whole area of public place studies in more political directions. This book is the 23rd in Lexington's political communication series edited by Robert E. Denton Jr.
Public Places provides a tour of 14 significant tourist attractions that are altogether different from each other. Whether visiting a monument, a museum, a city park, or a baseball stadium, it is clear that one or both authors spent thoughtful time at each, noting their impressions and observing the scenes in situ. The resulting first-hand accounts are vivid, immersive experiences. From here, Hyden and Sheckels ask readers to "excuse our historical 'journeys'" (p. xxv) and then provide a detailed history of each place. These histories lead into the political controversies and complicated decisions associated with each. The locations they discuss include one or two references to books previously written. For example, in the chapter on Chicago parks, Hyden and Sheckels refer to the book The City in a Garden: A History of Chicago Parks. For the chapter on The High Line, an elevated 13-mile line of railroad track in New York that eventually became an "urban oasis," Hyden and Sheckels include Annik La Farge's On the High Line: Exploring Americas Most Original Urban Park. Supplying these comprehensive and in-depth references for each case serves interested readers and scholars alike.
One strength of the wildly different public places Hyden and Sheckels visit is the different insights each offers. The chapter on national 9/11 memorials, for example, has a section on the history of naming memorials as well as a discussion of "meaningful adjacencies," the creative solution to organize the names of those who perished by the relationships they shared in life. In the chapter about remembering the floods in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the authors analyze the flood films featured in the two different museums. A final example is the chapter about the sculpture of Lincoln and his son in Richmond, Virginia. Apparently, local residents protested the sculpture. Because Lincoln's visit to Richmond was federal, protestors perceived Lincoln and his son an affront to "the South" and the struggle for states' rights.
The conclusion of Public Places revisits the challenges involved in reading the political into public places to discover the different tangles of power and contestation. Public Places offers eight questions to guide students or scholars through the process of finding these power dimensions. The conclusion also reviews each of the previous cases in light of the eight questions they developed to demonstrate the utility of their heuristic. Since the 14 cases are so different, it is easy to see the heuristic's adaptability and potential.
To look at Public Places as scholarship is to note how the authors define themselves, where they locate their work, how they use theory, and what their goals are. For these authors, the value of rhetorical scholarship is in tracking the intentions and designs of places and the way they are received. As researchers, Hyden and Sheckels are "not communication studies scholars masquerading as historians; rather, [they are] ... communication scholars--more specifically, rhetorical critics--bringing to bear all of the necessary resources on a range of places that demand to be 'read'" (p. xxv). Hyden and Sheckels locate their analyses at the intersection of rhetoric and politics, although they approach politics more "classically than quantifiably." Public Places steers clear of theory. The authors reason that memory or place scholars are likely well-versed in the theories and therefore do not need a theory-driven book at this time. When they do refer to theory, they introduce it with phrases like "without bogging down in theory" (p. 225), which either points to their view of theory as something that slows, or points to their desire not to trap readers in theory. Their explicit plan is to draw "extant theory into a coherent but loose approach for studying public places" (p. xiv). Hyden and Sheckels discuss the political with "thinkers" such as Adorno, Gramschi, Foucault, Hall, and Bakhtin because they influence rhetorical critics. In so doing, the cases avoid being heavily academic. While written for scholars who know the theories, those scholars may find value in cases such as these. Public Places begins in public monuments and public memory and ends as an exploration in urban sociology.
Each case in Public Places is meticulously described, includes history, and prompts certain kinds of reflection, which make the book ideal for instructional purposes. Communication theory courses could have students apply theories from the field to the different cases and discuss the potential of each. Ethics or debate courses could use the case studies for illustrations and discussions. Instructors of communication or rhetoric who use cases would find Public Places valuable, too. Of course, this book would work well in a course on conflict and communication because places are rife with conflict over meaning.
Public Places is a worthwhile stop, whether you visit for casual interest, scholarly endeavor, or pedagogical purpose.
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|Publication:||Communication Research Trends|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2018|
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