G.51:  Rhetorical Geographies and Cultural Mappings

Reviewed by Sarah Hirsch, University of California, Santa Barbara (shirsch@writing.ucsb.edu)

Chair: Marie Moeller, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Speakers: Kyle Boggs, University of Florida, "Writing/Riding: Bikepacking and the Haunted Geographies of American Subjectivity"

William Garrett-Petts, Thompson Rivers University, "The Vernacular Rhetoric of Cultural Mapping: Everyday Cartography in the Public Sphere"

Eileen James, University of Rhode Island, "Digital Rhetoric and Thick Mapping as Cultural Critique: The Problematic Rhetoric of Manifest Destiny and the Pioneer Spirit Embodied in 21st-Century Alaskan Reality Television Programs"

The presentations on this panel explored the process of mapping and cultural geographies that engage in the rhetoric of colonization and culture.  

In Kyle Boggs’s presentation, entitled "Writing/Riding: Bikepacking and the Haunted Geographies of American Subjectivity," he began by defining his own term "Recreational Colonialism," which is a larger concept that romanticizes adventurous outdoor recreational activities such as biking, rock climbing, skiing and so forth. Bikepacking in particular is a relatively new phenomenon that involves backpacking and bicycle touring. Boggs noted that outdoor recreation tends to be a white-dominated activity that is coupled with a 460 billion dollar a year industry. The result is a reification of white settler colonialism that reinforces systems of oppression: racism, sexism, and heteronormative, patriarchal frameworks that become recognizable in these activities.

Boggs in particular is looking at outdoor spaces as text, and mentioned the protests against the Keystone Pipeline at Standing Rock as an example of landscapes taking on rhetorical power. In utilizing this example, Boggs explored an environmental rhetoric that is physically and materially discursive. He used this discursive rhetoric to explore how outdoor recreation creates a new language of colonialism. Boggs pointed to the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1987) and the notion of "affect," a philosophical concept that explores the experiential aspect of interaction and encounter, bodily or otherwise. In turn, Boggs focused on the affective side of language and how it works to create recreational colonialism. To illustrate how language initiates this colonialist mechanism, he gave the example of the 1857 Coconino Cycling Club and the Moqui Stagecoach route, which runs from Flagstaff, Arizona to the Grand Canyon. It was an event organized and advertised by the cycling club and presented as a challenge to see how fast bikers could complete the journey. Boggs explained that the language regarding this event and others frames landscape through the lens of frontierism, where a cultural imaginary is embedded in the landscape. Going further, Boggs noted Phillip Deloria’s book Playing Indian (1998), which speaks to the appropriation of Native American customs and traditions by white men as a way of shaping national identity. The result is an American subjectivity that comes out of a generic understanding of Native American culture that gets repeated by bike riders who trace the Coconino Cyclists’ stagecoach route.

According to Boggs, this tracing creates a performance of Manifest Destiny, often in the form of advertising. For instance, new bike models and frames created for outdoor recreation contain carriers for rifles or bows and arrows. The marketing is rife with Native American symbolism and iconography. Thus, outdoor recreation and white settlism narratives converge as this equipment is marketed to the rugged outdoorsman, an undergirding of a hyper masculine ethos. To underscore this, Boggs referenced a mural in Denver that features the silhouettes of bike riders in the foreground and Native Americans on horseback in the background. 

William Garrett-Petts’ talk, "The Vernacular of Cultural Mapping: Everyday Cartography in the Public Sphere," discussed the emerging practice of cultural mapping and how visual and textual vernacular are utilized in the public sphere. Particularly used by cities to create a cultural mapping of place, a modern cartography is formulated that includes vernacular aspects of the textual to tell stories about a place. The result is a social and cultural understanding of the landscape that becomes defined by the interactions of everyday life and relationships. These connections are what make places sacred and significant.

Garret-Petts pointed out that cultural mapping is informed by a theory of the vernacular, with vernacular defined as the identification of one’s voice. Citing Robert Howard’s (2005) work on the theory of the vernacular, a theory which ties language to a specific place, region, or set of communications practices, Garrett-Petts argued that cultural mapping is a form of community building—a social practice that involves identity formation and advocacy. Thus, visual and vernacular rhetoric is utilized in the practice of cultural mapping—the marking of place and the being of that place. Garrett-Petts privileged the vernacular by posing the question of how to map oneself onto the community as a visiting writer in residence. How do you become part of that place? He noted that language becomes a point of entry—a way of becoming part of the collective. As a result, a recursive engagement with the landscape and its stories emerges as one participates in the community’s conversations about itself. In his introduction to Cultural Mapping as Cultural Inquiry (2015), Garrett-Petts, along with Nancy Duxbury and David MacLennan, stated that cultural mapping "promises new ways of describing, accounting for, and coming to terms with the cultural resources of communities and places" (p. 2).

Garrett-Petts pointed out that cultural mapping manifests itself in various cartographic categories, such as indigenous maps, bioregional maps, and various counter-mappings. These counter maps can aid in community building, identity formation, and affirmation of local knowledge. Communities then can tell their own stories of place; cultural mapping becomes a way to empower and engage in transparency. Yet, Garrett-Petts noted that, though cultural mapping can be a bottom up phenomenon, maps can be overtaken by dominant narratives. This is why vernacular is so crucial to cultural mapping as it is a way of articulating the local and connecting the language to the land and community of which it is a part.  Maps depict a sense of place and belonging. Garrett-Petts argued that participatory mapping is a vernacular practice.

In Eileen James’s presentation, "Digital Rhetoric and Thick Mapping as Cultural Critique: The Problematic Rhetoric of Manifest Destiny and the Pioneer Spirit Embodied in 21st-Century Alaskan Reality Television Programs," she stated that her project is built upon the ideas of hypercities and thick mapping. Thick mapping is "the humanist project of participating and listening that transforms mapping into an ethical undertaking" (Kawano, Presner, & Shepard, 2014). James noted that when tuning in to Alaskan reality television shows she was essentially watching people do things they never would do, like building a home from scratch. She stated that most people featured on the show were outsiders from the lower 48 states trying to prove that they were true Alaskans. Thus, a form of Manifest Destiny plays out on these television programs as white settlers head up to Alaska to reclaim the land. The result is an erasure of the indigenous culture by performing it, much in the same way Boggs accounted for this appropriation in his theory of recreational colonialism.

In her mapping project, James explored how Manifest Destiny and the pioneer spirit supposes that supremacy belongs to the colonizer, and how this narrative is illustrated by the rhetorical choices the networks make in marketing these shows. The number of television shows devoted to Alaska is vast. They include: The Last Alaskans, Alaskan Bush People, Yukon Men, Life Below Zero and Alaska: the Last Frontier. James noted that Life Before Zero on the National Geographic channel is situated in the realm of the rhetorical, in that there are specific rhetorical choices made on how the website describes the show and its characters, or the people featured in the reality series. James pointed to the example of Sue Aikens, one of the main cast members. Her profile on the website states: "While some women collect shoes, Sue collects bullets, beer, blood and guts" ("Sue Aikens," 2013). The language is that of the rough and rugged frontier, the frozen tundra. James focused on the language utilized repeatedly like "extreme conditions." The words used to describe the landscape and the elements also work to describe the people. The website goes on to depict Sue as tough, like the land: "For Sue Aikens, Life Below Zero demands perseverance. A strong will enables Sue Aikens to hold her ground in the heart of bear country and to live life on her own terms." Sue’s motto is: "If it hurts, don’t think about it." In addition, the website features a picture of Sue braced against the cold, bundled up in snow-proof clothing with binoculars hanging around her neck, and her gun in hand with the tagline: "Life Below Zero Demands Zero Weakness." The show rhetorically presents her as a prototype that embodies that of the colonial settler.


Deleuze Gilles, & Guattari, Felix. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. (Brian Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Deloria, Phillip J. (1998). Playing Indian. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books/about/Playing_Indian.html?id=dQFBTKi4aYsC(external link)

Duxbury, Nancy, Garrett-Petts, William F., & MacLennan, David. (2015). Cultural mapping as cultural inquiry. New York, NY: Routledge.   

Howard, Robert G. (2005). A theory of the vernacular: The case of a “sinner’s prayer” online. Folklore, 116(2), 172-188.

Kawano, Yoh, Presner, Todd, & Shepard, David. (2014). Hypercities: Thick mapping in the digital humanities. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Retrieved from http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674725348.(external link)

Sue Aikens. (2013). In National Geographic. Retrieved May 28 from http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/life-below-zero/articles/sue-aikens/(external link)

Created by cheryl. Last Modification: Monday 15 of January, 2018 22:49:42 UTC by cheryl.