Back to the garden : place, nostalgia, and neoagrarian environmental rhetorics of community gardening
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This dissertation presents rhetorical scholarship at the intersections of social movement participation and epistemologies of place. The study explores the relationship of rhetoric and group identification by examining the rhetorical dimensions of a site that has rarely been researched in rhetoric as a field: an urban community garden project. Using qualitative data from participant observations and semi-structured interviews, the analysis describes how people in one community conceive of their engagement across a spectrum of civic participation. In doing so, this research questions the complicated and sometimes problematic assumptions that structure people’s perceptions of what constitutes political action. It considers, for example, when and how people make connections between their everyday behaviors, such as gardening, and their politics. Community gardening and other iterations of contemporary local food movements are often criticized for their romantic, nostalgic, and overstated promises to mitigate environmental degradation and perceived deterioration of local communities. These movements’ rhetorics are commonly associated with the iconic and malleable trope of the yeoman farmer, an ideograph that has long been used by stakeholders from across the political spectrum. Do participants in contemporary food sovereignty movements feel persuaded to garden because of agrarian nostalgia? Do they see their participation as part of a broader, collective, potentially political movement, such as environmentalism? The data presented in this dissertation reveals that some participants in contemporary community garden projects are not motivated by identification with the visual rhetoric of the yeoman farmer or its political associations. Among other motivators, interviewees said that they began gardening during childhood and have continued to garden as adults. In short, for gardeners in this community, agrarian ideologies and political associations are not the primary motivators of their community membership. As a result, a politically ambivalent community coalesces at this community garden site.