Sidewalk: The Rhetoric of Walking, Chalking, Crawling and Other Acts of Discourse and Dissent

Nicole Mauro

RHET 195
Core A2

Course Description:

This CORE A2-fulfilling course thematically uses the sidewalk to explore the various, often subversive, forms of argument occurring in our urban landscape. In the most pragmatic sense, we use sidewalks to move from place to place, but sidewalks are also the places where we manufacture and maintain (as well as disrupt) civilized social discourse. To understand the intricate function sidewalks play is to better understand our cities, our neighbors, our culture, our public (and sometimes private) selves, and the issues raised in contemplation reveal variations on a central theme. Sidewalks are not just pedestrian footpaths; they are also the places where we observe, listen, live, perform, play, buy and sell, where assertive structures of observer and observed, visible and invisible, public and private intersect in ways that are as complex and they are human. Interdisciplinary works about sidewalks and urban landscapes that are part social theory, part visual art, and part political compendium will inspire students to engage in issues that occur on, and because of, sidewalks. These texts ask students to consider how (and by whom) sidewalks are “supposed” to be used, why the irresistible canvas that is a sidewalk sparks social critique and the expression of personal sentiment (as seen in the form of the stencils and “guerilla” art famously and spontaneously appearing on San Francisco’s sidewalks, including ones close to USF). Additionally, these texts show us how the human body as rhetorical device, via the act of crawling down a street, can bring attention to important social issues such as homelessness, poverty, and hunger, while metaphorically reminding us of peoples and events like the Navajos’ “Long Walk,” whether the efficacy of the surveillance cameras mounted on San Francisco’s streetlights positively affect safety or violate fundamental personal rights, and how the “sidewalk chalking” phenomenon on college campuses throughout the US informs student and university identity. With an emphasis on argumentation, the foundations of rhetoric, and research, students will analyze critical social issues, making connections between readings, their own personal and cultural experiences, and the sidewalks we all literally and symbolically share.

Faculty Bio:

Nicole Mauro earned her B.A. in Communication Arts (emphasis mass media/print journalism) at The University of San Francisco. She earned an M.A. in Creative Writing (emphasis short fiction) at The University of San Francisco, and an M.F.A in Creative Writing (emphasis poetry) at Mills College. Her poems and criticism have appeared in numerous publications such as Jacket, How2, Western Humanities Review, and Harriet (A Blog from The Poetry Foundation), among others. She is the author of seven chapbooks, one full-length poetry collection, The Contortions (Dusie Books, 2009), and her second book, Tax-Dollar Super-Sonnet Featuring Sarah Palin as Poet, is forthcoming from Black Radish Books in 2012. She is the co-editor of an interdisciplinary book about sidewalks titled Intersection: Sidewalks and Public Space (with Marci Nelligan, ChainArts, 2008). She is an Adjunct Professor of Rhetoric and Language at the University of San Francisco.