Transforming “Rubbertown”

Throgmorton, James A. Work in progress. “Transforming ‘Rubbertown’: The Rhetorical Construction of Sustainability and Environmental Justice in Louisville, Kentucky.”

I’m still working on this paper, wanting to revise it in light of the “Toxic Talk” Symposium I directed back in late-2007. The current version of the paper explores what is required for scholars and other technically trained experts to help people imagine and create places that are more environmentally just and sustainable. Distinguishing between communicating truth and making claims, this paper argues that, if they want to affect action, such scholars and experts cannot rely exclusively on the “normal science” of their disciplines. Rather, they will have to take their audience into account and think in terms of the rhetorical process of claim, reply, and response. Doing so will enable them to collaborate with lay publics to co-produce usable knowledge and new possibilities for place-based understanding and action.

To convey this argument, the paper recounts a story about the “Rubbertown’ area of Louisville, Kentucky. Building on that story, the paper gradually demonstrates how scholars, other technical experts, and Louisville’s diverse publics are co-constructing the practical meaning of environmental justice and sustainability in Louisville. It also argues that, to succeed, advocates of environmental justice and sustainability need one another.

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