Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Student Lecture Series Event: Change and Motion: Place, Space & Rhetoric in the Urban Space

UW20 Alumns Jennifer Nguyen, Matt Bevilacqua, and Alex Pazuchanics will present a panel entitled "Change and Motion: Place, Space, and Rhetoric in the Urban Space." Elizabeth Chacko, Associate Professor of Geography, will provide a faculty response. Discussion will follow the presentations.

When & Where
Friday, March 27
4:00 - 5:30 PM
Gelman Library 207

Change and Motion: Place, Space, and Rhetoric in the Urban Space

This panel explores the interactions between location and culture. Drawing from examples in New York, Washington, and Pittsburgh, the panel hopes to expose the discourse that develops around the urban experience in America.

Speakers will focus on the way in which their personal experiences and academic research in the metropolis contribute to an understanding of leisure, movement, and hegemonic identity. Pulling from discourses of geography, political theory, critical race theory, and the study of class, the panelists will engage the issues of homelessness, income inequality, and uneven geographic development.

"Beggars Can't Be Choosers: The Discursive Creation of Habituated Homelessness in Washington D.C."

Jennifer Nguyen examines the phenomenon of habituated homelessness in Washington D.C and argues that this apathetic behavior towards the homeless is deeply rooted to both cultural and class struggle. She argues that this generally dismissive view of homelessness is critically linked to our view of national identity and the moral statutes that accompany such a national identity. To assume any definition of "American morality" as it is often used in political discourse, as well as everyday rhetoric, is to assume both cultural homogeneity and hegemony.

Ms Nguyen critically examines the disparity between the stereotypical heroic image of the "American Moral Duty" and the behavior towards homelessness in our nation's capital. Moreover, the speaker posits that homelessness is an issue that is often ignored or left unaccounted for because the stigmatized associations of homelessness do not fit into the generally accepted homogenized view of the American dream. The homeless are essentially ex iled from this idealized imagery and thus are not included cultural identity. In the same way that America exercises political hegemony towards other regimes it feels are inferior, the homeless suffer a cultural hegemony that perpetuates their struggle to find themselves at home in their own country

"Omnibus No More: Deconstructing the Culture of Mass Transit"

Alex Pazuchanics analyzes the major trends that affect urban mass transportation systems, with a particular focus on transit systems in Washington DC and Pittsburgh. Using the works of several cultural theorists and radical geographers, he makes connections between who people are, where they live, and how they move. The paper examines structural and socioeconomic issues that face American transit systems. It details and critiques the two-tiered system that develops between buses and light rail. It details the institutional and social factors that contribute to the culture of automobility. The presentation closes with making the case for transportation studies as an interdisciplinary study of American culture. This work draws from discourses of race, poverty, class, and location to paint a picture of the way that transit systems work, and are perceived by both their riders and their non-riders.

"Renewal in Coney Island: What it Means for a Class of People Often Forgotten"

As of last month, Astroland, one of the two popular theme parks that compromise the commercial amusement portion of Coney Island, permanently shut its doors after more than forty-five years of operation. Its closing marks the latest development in a campaign to renew the area, undertaken by a powerful real estate development company with considerable support from the local city government. Matt Bevilacqua examines the history of Coney Island with regards to its cultural image as a social space of leisure reserved for the working class, and how the existence and availability of such an "urban populist" entertainment space can provide identity for a people often forsaken in a city's development plans. The paper also analyzes the history of gentrification as it occurred in Times Square and Las Vegas , the former of which held a similar image of working class identity prior to its renewal, and the latter or which has been invoked by the company in question as influence in its plans for the future of Coney Island. Examining the gentrification of these two neighborhoods exposes what is in store for Coney Island should it undergo renewal. It is ultimately concluded that, if the current plans for Coney's renewal come to fruition, then the neighborhood will lose its longstanding image as a space for the working class, and will instead adopt one of a luxury resort for members of the upper classes. This will generate more profits for the company and city hall, but leaves legions of blue collar New Yorkers at a loss, for without a substantial social space of entertainment, there is no space in which to find an adequate identity.

The Student Lecture Series is an ongoing public event sponsored by the Student Lecture Series Editorial Collective and the Capstone Committee of the University Writing Program. The Student Lecture Series features the research-based writing of UW20 students. The series features students who are identified by their professors as doing original, compelling writing and research. For current UWP students and the GW community, the lecture series is an opportunity to experience writing as a public event and writers as public intellectuals. Each student lecture includes a faculty respondent who has expertise or interest in the fields that the paper addresses who provides a 10 minute response that highlights the contributions of the paper. Conversation with the audience follows the presentation.

The Student Lecture Series is open to all members of the UW20 community and beyond, especially current faculty, students, and librarians. A special thanks to Cathy Eisenhower and Dolsy Smith for securing a room in the library for this presentation. And, a special thanks to the members of the Editorial Collective of the SLS for providing review and feedback for all paper submissions.


  1. If I can make a suggestion based on my experience, the key is succintness. Write tight, if you will. I thought at first that writing the 15 pages or so would be difficult, but I easily got 25 pages written. The critical issue then became trying to find the core arguement that you are trying to make. Forcing the presentation into 15 minutes makes you recognize how slipshod your writing can be sometimes. I would encourage you to read your paper aloud after you've written it but before you turn it in, because vocalization makes you realize how much excess and paraphrasing you (or at least I) do.

  2. I would agree with Paz. If I could go back and redo the presentation I would probably cut out a lot more background; if these items are omitted they can be easily clarified in discussion.

    I regret having to speed through the "meat" of my paper and my conclusion. As Paz said, as writers we spent the majority of our time meticulously developing our core argument. Having sped through what I would consider the most important aspect of my paper was a shame, especially since the audience must rely entirely on our oral presentation.

    A few people expressed to me after the presentation that they would have preferred to have a copy or an excerpt with which to read along.

    Perhaps sharing excerpts of our paper instead of attempting to downsize the entire paper into 15 minutes may have been a better approach to the time constraint (and audience attention constraint, as I imagine listening to three entire papers becomes a lot to take in at once.) I understand however: faced with having forced to "cut" away at your paper is a little painful. Perhaps there can be compromise.

    Overall however, I believe it was a success. (:

  3. I would certainly agree with Jennifer and Alex - as eager students with a great deal to say about the world around us, we're generally not the most concise writers. I feel like I commanded the most attention from the audience when I forced myself to paraphrase certain portions of my paper. Perhaps, instead of just reading through each of our respective pieces, and therefore having to cut out large and possibly necessary components, our presentations could be a discussion of our papers supported by what we consider our most vital excerpts. I feel that this would be far more effective in capturing and retaining the audiences' attention, as a straight reading is usually done in an unchanging drone and can put some listeners to sleep...

    Also, physical comfort has a tremendous influence on the quality of the reading. I, for one, kept sniviling as my voice grew more and more nasal and drowsy by the minute. Take care to remedy any of these petty discomforts - it'll help a great deal.