Border Rhetorics is a collection of essays that undertakes a wide-ranging examination of the US-Mexico border as it functions in the rhetorical production of civic unity in the United States.

A “border” is a powerful and versatile concept, variously invoked as the delineation of geographical territories, as a judicial marker of citizenship, and as an ideological trope for ...
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Border Rhetorics: Citizenship and Identity on the US-Mexico Frontier

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Border Rhetorics is a collection of essays that undertakes a wide-ranging examination of the US-Mexico border as it functions in the rhetorical production of civic unity in the United States.

A “border” is a powerful and versatile concept, variously invoked as the delineation of geographical territories, as a judicial marker of citizenship, and as an ideological trope for defining inclusion and exclusion. It has implications for both the empowerment and subjugation of any given populace. Both real and imagined, the border separates a zone of physical and symbolic exchange whose geographical, political, economic, and cultural interactions bear profoundly on popular understandings and experiences of citizenship and identity.

The border’s rhetorical significance is nowhere more apparent, nor its effects more concentrated, than on the frontier between the United States and Mexico. Often understood as an unruly boundary in dire need of containment from the ravages of criminals, illegal aliens, and other undesirable threats to the national body, this geopolitical locus exemplifies how normative constructions of “proper”; border relations reinforce definitions of US citizenship, which in turn can lead to anxiety, unrest, and violence centered around the struggle to define what it means to be a member of a national political community.


Bernadette Marie Calafell / Karma R. Chávez / Josue David Cisneros / D. Robert DeChaine / Anne Teresa Demo / Lisa A. Flores / Dustin Bradley Goltz / Marouf Hasian Jr. / Michelle A. Holling / Julia R. Johnson / Zach Juatus / Diane M. Keeling / John Louis Lucaites / George F. McHendry Jr. / Toby Miller / Kent A. Ono / Brian L. Ott / Kimberlee Pérez / Mary Ann Villarreal

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“This engaging collection of essays explores the discursive power of ’the border’ in the US national imaginary. Border Rhetorics details the consequences of the border as a site of domination and resistance, pointing to its rhetorical power to constitute identities and shape political landscapes.” —Jeffrey A. Bennett, author of Banning Queer Blood: Rhetorics of Citizenship, Contagion, and Resistance

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817386054
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 8/25/2012
  • Series: Albma Rhetoric Cult & Soc Crit
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 278
  • Sales rank: 1,403,206
  • File size: 531 KB

Meet the Author

D. Robert DeChaine is a professor of communication and cultural studies at California State University, Los Angeles. He is the author of Global Humanitarianism: NGOs and the Crafting of Community, and his essays have appeared in journals such as the Journal of Communication Inquiry, Popular Music and Society, the Quarterly Journal of Speech, Text and Performance Quarterly, and the Western Journal of Communication.

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Border Rhetorics

Citizenship and Identity on the US-Mexico Frontier


Copyright © 2012 The University of Alabama Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8173-5716-0

Chapter One

Borders That Travel

Matters of the Figural Border

Kent A. Ono

Unsurprisingly, national attention is once again focused on the US/Mexico border. Each time this happens (some might say, "Has this ever not happened?"), historically minded scholars remind us this is a recurring state of affairs. Not only is it the most crossed national border in the world, but at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848 and subsequently the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, Mexican nationals existed on both sides of the border. To this day, citizenship along the border is a blurry matter.

If we stop to think about it, however, "border" is a hard word to define. Some see it primarily in terms of social regulation; hence the border is a "bounding, ordering" apparatus and construct (DeChaine, "Bordering the Civic Imaginary" 44). As Rob DeChaine writes, "a border exists as a given entity whose contours can be cleanly and clearly recognized, measured, and mapped" (44). For him, its "primary function is to designate, produce, and/ or regulate the space of difference" (44).

Others remark on its physical materiality. As Shoshana Magnet has suggested, the US/Canada border is sometimes a strip of land, with actual areas that laborers have to maintain and protect from the seasonal elements— snow, rain, wind, and the like—constantly clearing a path in order to make the border visible ("Using Biometrics" 360, 365). So, especially when covered in blown and drifted snow, or when it is in water, where the border is, precisely, is often difficult to determine. So, for instance, at the US/Mexico border, geologists tell us the Rio Grande (like all rivers) changes course over time; with maturation, new rivulets appear, riverbeds erode, and overall the river becomes wider and possibly shallower. Eventually it may even disappear altogether.

The meaning of the border is unclear even at the linguistic level. People use other words to define the border, each of them metaphorical, and therefore figural, such as "strip," "edge," "limit," and "boundary." Each of these terms has a different emphasis: "strip" implying three-dimensionality, "edge" denoting a dividing line between realms or that which cuts, a "limit" signifying a point not to go beyond, and a "boundary" meaning an enclosure or the outer extremity of a container. Depending on who uses which term, one can impute to each one a general attitude toward and about the border, some more friendly to migration, others less so. For instance, Joseph Nevins demonstrates how different terms imply different political positions regarding the border when he describes "a boundary as a strict line of separation between two (at least theoretically) distinct territories, a frontier as a forward zone of contact with the uncontrolled or sparsely-settled, and a border as an area of interaction and gradual division between two separate political entities" (8; emphasis in original).

Depending on one's stance, a border may mean a boundary needing to be crossed, or alternatively it might mean a dividing line that, if crossed, becomes an act of moral, ethical, and political trespass. Taking this logic further, John Sloop and I have suggested that what we say about the border shifts the border's meaning, changes how it functions, and determines both its relative porosity and impermeability. Discourse makes phenomena meaningful, as Stuart Hall has so compellingly suggested. In the case of the border, discourse is intrinsic to its meaning and the uses to which it is put. Furthermore, a definition of the border can convey more broadly attitudes and perceptions about social relations.

In this chapter, I concentrate on defining the border figurally. I do this in order to extend humanistic thinking about the border, addressing the contingency of social and public matters—contingency being a traditional province of rhetoric—and thereby encouraging questioning and introspection about a matter of fundamental significance to our collective futures. More specifically, I am interested in the border not at the border or, rather, the border that travels.

In his discussion of the ways the Southwestern United States is and is not exceptional with regard to neoliberal surveillance and control, Gilberto Rosas has suggested that processes that have historically been exceptional now are traveling to other locations in the United States. He writes, "The vast flows of largely Mexican immigrants across the United States perhaps cause the borderlands condition to likewise migrate, evidenced by two arrivals: the transnational immigrant social movement and the naturalization of anti-migrant paramilitary vigilantism on the national stage" (401). Central to the argument of this chapter is that discourse not only represents migration occurring at the border. Nor does it simply shuttle between material experiences and the epiphenomenal representation of that experience; rather, discourse constitutes migration and border processes in such a way that not only do the border processes move, but the US/Mexico border itself exists beyond the Southwest.

Besides the intellectual argument for why we might theorize the border in this way, one practical reason is to help draw attention to border practices across the US nation-state and therefore to highlight and emphasize that borders are being established all over the place—not only in Arizona, but also now in Michigan and North Dakota, for instance.

Typically, in discussions of Latina/o and Mexicana/o migration to the United States, border simply refers to where one state ends and another begins. Those on the US side have rights as determined by US law. Those on the Mexican side have rights as assigned by Mexican law. Defining the border, determining where it is, and deciding who is properly on one side of it or the other is therefore consequential and determinative of where one nation-state begins and another ends. In this way borders are intimately interlinked with national rights. Complicated processes ranging from social policy, court hearings, surveillance, interrogation, transport, imprisonment, and medical inspections become part of border enforcement.

Furthermore, which side of the border one is on, and from which side one comes, is determinative of identity and whether or not one will be included or excluded from particular activities, or from society in general, as a result. If a border is, as DeChaine suggests in "Bordering the Civic Imaginary," a site of regulation, that site is also then affectively one of anxiety, anxiety for those fearful that regulation will be applied to them, as well as anxiety for those seeking greater and greater regulative control. Furthermore, a border functions as a mechanism for control, elimination, and/or ejection; its role as marker of space in certain respects is secondary to its role in determining who should be included and who should be excluded. Thus, what constitutes a border has to do with the practices that create the conditions for exclusion. Defining the border as both a site and product of anxiety, and a means by which exclusion is made possible, helps to understand the boundary not only in geographical terms but also in terms of both effect and affect: how borders affect lives, both materially and spiritually. Such a definition disarticulates the notion of the border from constraints of spatial and geographical location that sometimes serve to overdetermine it.

While discussion of the literal meaning of the border has been extensive, discussion of its figural counterpart has not. Borders go beyond borders, and so does their function. Paradoxically, once one has crossed the border, one is no longer at the border. The momentary crossing of the border is, thus, necessarily fleeting and objectively unisolatable, yet a discourse of "at the border" saturates media, policy, and quotidian discourse—a discourse ostensibly about a consequential but nevertheless theoretically imagined, fleeting moment.

What we might call "border effects" therefore transcend geographical space and physical sites. Fences, both literally "on the ground" and figuratively and conceptually "in words" and "on bodies," are used to restrict entry. Both literal and figural fences become reified through application and praxis. Borders migrate, and so do their effects. This chapter theorizes the figural dimension of borders, emphasizing their material effects beyond the immediate ones ordinarily discussed in scholarly, political, and news media contexts. While the focus of much research and publ ic discourse is about the crossing of the border, this chapter argues that the effects of the border do not end when the border is crossed. In fact, it is at that point that they may begin.

If a border is something that separates one from another, we might do well to begin any exploration of the border by asking what effects that separation? What in fact constitutes the border between people? Whereas transnational capitalism may benefit from policies such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—hence giving the appearance of borders having been eliminated or made invisible and as creating what Masao Miyoshi has called a "borderless world"—for those on the flip side of transnational capitalism's privileges and pleasures (predominantly the working-class transnational labor force) the world is far from borderless. Rather than experiencing the borderless world of cosmopolitan capitalism, workers face borders to inclusion, employment, housing, health, education, and welfare not because of a literal border but because there is a figural divide seemingly immanent between contiguous nations. As such, a border acts as a separator or divider of people with different social, economic, and political affiliations, as a signifier of inclusion and exclusion, and as a way of determining one's worthiness as a living being, what Foucault might call one's "biopower" (Power/Knowledge).

With regard to California's Proposition 187, which passed in 1994, anti-immigrant activists defined the border as in need of protection from lawbreakers, as a site of hard-won national division between the United States and Mexico, and as a mechanism one could use to say who should and who should not be a member of the nation-state. Advocates conceived of Mexicans as illegal and the undocumented as not American and therefore excludable (Robin Dale Jacobson). Proponents of Proposition 187 sought to discourage immigration by eliminating health, education, and welfare benefits, seeing those crossing the borders as invaders, soaking up resources, and, through population growth and political power, ultimately seeking "reconquista" (Robin Dale Jacobson 34).

Pro-immigrant discourse also defined the border as in need of protection from outsiders and as a site of national division between the United States and Mexico. The difference, however, was that in this discourse, once the border was crossed migrants became wards of the state who required health, education, and welfare benefits to ensure against the spread of disease, criminality, and moral corruption, and in order to ensure that successful productive labor would continue. In a sense, one could argue that those opposing Proposition 187 conceived of the literal border as more central to their definition of borders, whereas, those proposing Proposition 187 sought to enact more figural borders, since they saw the literal one as ineffective at repelling unwanted migrants.

One reason for making the argument that discourse shifts borders is to further illustrate the ways the border is socially constructed and to reflect on how this socially constructed border impacts human beings. The US/ Mexico border is the effect and aftereffect of war, but it is also an outcome of policy, and of law, which means it is the product of discourse. For example, even after the court rejected implementation of Proposition 187, tragic stories of migrants afraid to purchase food at grocery stores and not going to, or taking sick children to, the hospital appeared. The meaning of the border became real or realized through the discourses that circulated, regardless of the proposition's legal standing. Discourse's power to produce realities, including laws and rules of enforcement, is tremendous, no less so in its ability to define the border and render realities material.

In this chapter, I want to reiterate that borders are discursively defined and constructed by ever-changing rhetorics. In addition, I also want to go one step beyond that argument to suggest not only that borders have to do with lines of demarcation separating nation-states, the real or imagined dividing lines between nations, but also that borders follow migrants. Surveillance, disciplining, and control of migrants take place within the nation-state, enforcing border effects. As with the border, a new era of what Gilberto Rosas calls "policeability" is at hand beyond the border, in which illegal surveillance and control practices are justified because of the overall logic that undocumented migrants' lives and civil rights are simply not as important as the lives and rights of documented citizens. As Rosas writes:

Policeability thus also captures the daily evaluations of the cumulative effects of numerous, historically configured, ideological processes that dehumanize a population to the point that state violence, merciless disposability, and other forms of population management appear appropriate or inevitable.... Popular ontological signifiers of race, such as the speaking of subordinated languages, hygienic practices, forms of dress, as well as phenotype, render immigrants and sometimes those who resemble them subject to such official and extra-official scrutiny. Policeability thus captures the politically organized investment in fixing difference. It thus renders race in the borderlands an ideologically charged social and political relation instead of an attribute or simply "color." (405)

The border already exists, sometimes incipiently and sometimes manifestly, where migrants move and on all of our bodies. The border moves with migrants into those social spaces where they live: in the interior of the nation, their workplaces, and their homes.

One way to get at this notion of a figural border, which I suggest has no less meaningfulness than its literal counterpart, is to consider where the border is enforced. We know the border is enforced at a "literal border" and have some sense of how that works, with security checkpoints, fences, sometimes walls, and the like, but where else is it enforced?

Border Enforcement without Borders

Just because someone crosses the border does not mean that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Homeland Security, the FBI, and other enforcement and surveillance agencies are not very much continuing to patrol the border on the streets of Los Angeles, in the fields of the Imperial Valley, on the Onion Farms of New York, and in poultry plants throughout the US South and Midwest.

We all know about Doctors without Borders, but now we have Minutemen without borders. Pictured with guns and waiting for undocumented migrants to cross, Minutemen are well known for patrolling the US/Mexico border, as scholarship has addressed (DeChaine, "Bordering the Civic Imaginary"; Holling, "Patrolling National Identity"), and the relevant chapters in this volume amply demonstrate, but Minutemen groups have also emerged throughout the United States, such as in Tennessee, home of the "Tennessee Minutemen Project." While INS raids have been widespread, the site of the raids has not been limited to the West or Southwest. For example, on August 26, 1999, news media reported that the INS led a raid at the Mall of America, not aimed at employers but at undocumented workers, part of the longstanding immigrant-busting processes and practices of the state.

Just as the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001, became the rationale for the US war against Iraq, with Iraqis having had no discernible connection to the attacks, so too did 9/11 serve as the rationale for widespread surveillance of the general population of US Americans, and, conspicuously, of all migrants, not to mention difference generally. In a sense, 9/11 emerged as the raison d'être for the massive fortification of the surveillance state. The goal of controlling terrorists comes to stand in for a larger and more extensive application of surveillance and control systems of migrants, to name one central focus of such scrutiny.


Excerpted from Border Rhetorics Copyright © 2012 by The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: For Rhetorical Border Studies D. Robert DeChaine 1

I Conceptual Orientations

1 Borders That Travel: Matters of the Figural Border Kent A. Ono 19

2 Bordering as Social Practice: Intersectional Identifications and Coalitional Possibilities Julia R. Johnson 33

3 Border Interventions: The Need to Shift from a Rhetoric of Security to a Rhetoric of Militarization Karma R. Chávez 48

II Historical Consequences

4 A Dispensational Rhetoric in "The Mexican Question in the Southwest" Michelle A. Holling 65

5 Mobilizing for National Inclusion: The Discursivity of Whiteness among Texas Mexicans' Arguments for Desegregation Lisa A. Flores Mary Ann Villarreal 86

III Legal Acts

6 The Attempted Legitimation of the Vigilante Civil Border Patrols, the Militarization of the Mexican-US Border, and the Law of Unintended Consequences Marouf Hasian Jr. George F. McHendry Jr. 103

7 Shot in the Back: Articulating the Ideologies of the Minutemen through a Political Trial Zach Justus 117

IV Performative Affects

8 Looking "Illegal": Affect, Rhetoric, and Performativity in Arizona's Senate Bill 1070 Josue David Cisneros 133

9 Love, Loss, and Immigration: Performative Reverberations between a Great-Grandmother and Great-Granddaughter Bernadette Marie Calafell 151

10 Borders without Bodies: Affect, Proximity, and Utopian Imaginaries through "Lines in the Sand" Dustin Bradley Goltz Kimberlee Pé rez 163

V Media Circuits

11 Transborder Politics: The Embodied Call of Conscience in Traffic Brian L. Ott Diane M. Keeling 181

12 Decriminalizing Illegal Immigration: Immigrants' Rights through the Documentary Lens Anne Teresa Demo 197

13 The Ragpicker-Citizen Toby Miller 213

Afterword: Border Optics John Louis Lucaites 227

Suggested Readings 231

Works Cited 235

Contributors 265

Index 269

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