In this session, we will be discussing the assigned readings for the course, including:

Opening Questions:

  1. What is an “infrastructure”?
  2. What are examples of “infrastructure”?
  3. e.g. the positions of ‘dupe’ and ‘passer’
  4. e.g. “framing” as a conceptual device (alternatively, “trope” or “theme”).
  5. e.g. “domestic futurity”
  6. What is the role of “structure” in infrastructure?
  7. What are the implied commitments of an “infrastructure”?
  8. Speech/Discourse
  9. Population
  10. Materialism
  11. Secrecy
  12. In what ways is rhetoric an appropriate “method” for examining this topic?
  13. “Rhetoric of Infrastructure”
  14. “Rhetoric as Infrastructure”

Infrastructural Rhetorics Presentation by Sylvia Vue

Part 1: Squires, C. & Brouwer, D., (2002). In/discernible bodies: the politics of passing in dominant and marginal media. Critical Media Studies in Media Communication, 19:3, 283-310.


Squires and Brouwer compare dominant discourse in comparison to marginalized print media discourses on Black and Queer identities as they provide a juxtaposition on the complex “histories, cultural memories, and understandings of power”.  They explore News media coverage of two types of alleged “passing” passing across racial lines from black to white and across sex lines from female to male. The three cases that are used in this study are of Susie Guillory Phipps a black woman trying to be perceived as white, and Sean O’Neall and Brandon Teena, who are women trying to be perceived as men.

They discuss how “both Dominant (power) and Marginal social groups express desire to fix the identities (black and queers) of passers in a single discrete category for disparate reasons” and how dominant media correlate race passing with class passing and sex passing is correlated with sexuality passing (queer passing for heterosexual).  However, If a pass is discovered all the actors have a lot at stake because this “threat” impacts both the social and political, causing a backlash of the dominant group onto and against these marginalized communities.

Identity maintenance is critical to politics of difference and politics of justice.

Key Terms:

Passing: (Amy Robinson, 1994): described as the interplay between three actors or groups:

  • the passer: who usually performs a privileged identity
  • The ingroup clairvoyant: a member of the passer’s non-privileged group who can see through the pass to the true identity of the passer
  • The “dupe”: a member of the privileged group who believes the pass
  • “The pass”: the performance/act

Framing: the process of “selecting some aspects of a perceived reality and making them more salient in a communicating promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation” for the described phenomenon.

Frames in Dominant Media:

Phipps: framed by the “dupe” class and the state.

  • Case was local, archaic anachronism
  • DM Worked to contain this situation to “Louisiana” or the south as a state issue and minimized its significance to national conversations on race and law and potential for national conversation on racial identity
  • Encouraged racial judgement among audiences (is she black or white?).
  • Eg. side by sides, exposing her pictures for judgement
  • Reinforced invisibility of whiteness and whiteness as natural; race as a minority attribute
  • Case was bureaucratic and legal, not civil issue
  • “There was no description of what evidence could have proved her white to the state”
  • There exists a shadow world between races
  • Lack of acknowledgement to the existence of interracial people other than the plaintiff
  • Stereotypical descriptions of multiracial individuals not fitting into society “unfortunate people in between”, “emotionally white and legally black”
  • “Social climber” “simply marrying a white person and melting into the privileged caste” (Threat)

Frames in Marginal Media or “In-Group Members”:

Case concerned in civil rights:

Abolishing 1/32 blood statute, and racist notion that black blood impurifies white blood.

  • Double standards with blood statute
  • Focus not on Phipps desire to be white, but focused on dismantling unfair, racist statute (jet)

Shift in focus when in pursuit of eliminating racial labels on birth certificates, because it conflicts with the political (statistics and essential tools for planning and monitoring public health programs, affirmative action, and anti-discrimination measures)

  • Phipps goal to maintain and live in a white identity
  • Phipp’s desire to be classified as white is an affront to black communities
  • Social positions - Black detrimental to one’s economic and social well-being
  • State mechanisms used as weapons to divide and psychologically damage Black people. Passing was portrayed as pathological and disrespectful to the Black community.

Historical: long history of controversy involving mixed-race individuals

  • Racial double-standard for those who crossed color line
  • Laws against interracial marriages
  • One-drop rule - racially mixed person is assigned the identity that corresponds to the racial group that has the lowest social status
  • Seen as part of a lineage vs. DM where she was a rarity to be examined

Black media focused on what makes you make vs. solutions to the problem of dual identities and barely confronted the court's role in constructing whiteness and granting white identity.  Moved attention away from whiteness to be unnoticed, unexamined.

Related Work: “Add Up All My Black” in Review of Communication

Sean O’Neil & Brandon Teena

Dominant media: “the dominant media had even less understanding for these cases than the Phipps “identity crisis”

Dominant frames:

Masquerade and deception: “Women pretending to be men” “posing as a teenage boy” -

  • never allowing Sean’s self-description as male to enter the frame
  • Focus on Brandon’s true femaleness - pronouns and Teena in descriptions
  • Focus on troubles with the law, destructive behavior
  • Side by side photo comparisons

The sex was not lesbian

  • In Sean’s case he & her were used interchangeably when describing sexual encounters as it was a “heterosexual” relationship - Girls were fooled
  • Brandon: did not always use pronouns- emphasized girls unawareness and and being convinced that Brandon was a guy through performance
  • Looked for naive partners to outsmart

Genetalia proves sex identity

  • “There are no quotations from Sean, Brandon, queer activists,  or others proposing that either person has any legitimate reasons to present himself as male.  In the absence of such a challenge, biology-that is , genitalia reigned as the unquestionable source of proof of Sean and Brandon’s identity”

Marginal Media Frames:

The passers actions took place within a context of homophobia

  • Queer press gave examples of anti-queer sentiment and homophobic or gender violence - the sheriffs response to Brandons rape

Heteronormative identities are limiting and oppressive

  • The need to defend gay and lesbian identities and to mobilize politically around them

The passers present a challenge to the integrity of a queer community

  • Deception of passer to avoid being associated with LGBTQ community
  • The queer press focused on Brandon’s identity as female - lesbian

Quotes/Thinking points:

“The conflict between personal identity, state entities(such as law enforcement and courts of law), and social expectations is dramatized in news coverage of these events”(p.284).

“The majority of media studies concerning race and gender focuses on dominant constructions of marginal identities” - Poses as challenge to marginalized identities

“Media resources produced by and for marginal people provide interpretations of events and identities that may run counter to dominant representations.”

“The failure calls into action and greater visibility- other methods of determining difference: legal, social and “scientific” norms and evidence are used to put the passer back into the right category and quell anxieties over blurred boundaries”(p.285)

“Acts of passing expose both the performative dimensions of identity and the unreliability of visual regimes of identification built on scientific notions of race, sex, and biology”

“Passing and catching someone in a pass make clearly visible the web of individual, state, society, and culture involved in maintaining identities. Passing is a transgression that inspires fear in the state and dominant social groups”

“When race is no longer visible, it is no longer intelligible: if “white” can be “black”, what is white?  Race, passing not only creates a category crisis but also destabilizes the grounds of privilege founded on racial identity”

“Sex passing “threatens the security of male identity and the certainties of identity categorys and boundaries...When the passer is revealed, the result can be scandal, interrogation, legal procedures, violence, or even murder.”


Squires and Brouwer state “In sum, both dominant and Black texts contributed to the operation of Whiteness as a “strategic rhetoric” that renders invisible it’s nature as a rhetorical construction”.  What do you think they mean by this? Does the “Strategic Rhetoric” imply that there was intentionality behind the choice of text by both the dominant and Black media?

Place and space, in Certeau’s formulations of the terms, are given meaning by the practices employed in them creating a relationship between place and STRATEGY, and space and TACTICS. The association of place with STRATEGIES signifies how locations are ‘‘circumscribed as proper and thus serve as the basis for generating relations with an exterior distinct from it.’’ …. To complete the explanation of the  dialectical pairing, as opposed to places and strategies, spaces are associated with TACTICS or ‘‘calculated actions’’ that ‘‘play on and with a terrain imposed on it and organized by the law of a foreign power.’’ (West, PISSAR 158-159)

In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau makes an interesting distinction between strategies and tactics. We find this frame useful for exploring the larger discursive framework that guides white identity:

A distinction between strategies and tactics appears to provide a more adequate initial schema. I call a strategy the calculation (or manipulation) of power relationships that becomes possible as soon as a subject with will and power (a business, an army, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated. It postulates a place that can be delimited as its own and serve as the base from which relations with an exteriority composed of targets or threats (customers or competitors, enemies, the country surrounding the city, objectives and  objects of research, etc.) can be managed .... By contrast with a strategy ... a tactic is a calculated action determined by the absence of a proper locus. No delimitation of an exteriority, then, provides it with the condition necessary for autonomy. The space of a tactic is the space of the other. Thus it must play on and with a terrain imposed on it and organized by the law of a foreign power. It does not have the means to keep to itself, at a distance, in a position of withdrawal, foresight, and self-collection. (35-37)

Nakayama and Krizek, “Whiteness a Strategic Rhetoric”

From both of the examples in this reading of Phipps and Brandon Teena and Sean O’Neal,  It seems that although there were some juxtaposition between dominant media and marginal media, “they both reduced fluid individual identities to narrowed, socially approved categories”.  Both cases showed how bodies are political yet there seems to be some flexibility in the rhetoric of these cases from both dominant media and marginal media that support hegemonic constructs of race and sex.  What are your thoughts on this?

Thinking about infrastructure, is Squires and Brouwer alluding to the dominant media and marginal media as “the infrastructure” that circulate how bodies are raced and sexed?

  • Baxter: Cis-assumed versus the inauthentic “trying” implied by passing.

Part 2: Woods, H. S. (2021). Smart homes: domestic futurity as infrastructure. Cultural Studies, 35 (4-5), 876-899.


In this article Woods explores Smart homes created by Brookefield Residential (BR) and Amazon as a new mass-market of smart domestic products to provide its homeowners protection, productivity, and pleasure.  Here Woods argues that Smart homes construct “domestic futurity” and “intensifies infrastructures that fortify divisions between smart homeowners and marginalized others”.

Domestic futurity is a form of infrastructure because it: “is so well distributed as to be frequently hidden, agential and transitional, and subject to cultural transformation while simultaneously upholding residues of traditional domesticity”.

Key Terms:

Infrastructures: networks that facilitate movement

  • Canonical infrastructures: telephony, electricity, rail network
  • Woods adds “cultural forces such as domesticity in smart homes as infrastructure
  • Domestic futurity Is infrastructural as it provides a material architecture for politics and culture
  • “DZ Domesticity shape the worlds within and beyond it, producing subjects that are assigned socially acceptable roles that are supported by the architecture of the house”

Domestic futurity: a cultural condition in which the homespace is increasingly mediated by platforms, technological products, informational logics, and ambivalent technologies.

Platform labor: digitally mediated service work associated with the “on demand” or “gig”economies

Platform Intermediaries: manage workers through “on demand” platforms, they enforce the immunity of the buyer of a service and the company that owns the platform

Eg. Uber, Amazon, Insta-cart

Quotes/Thinking points:

“Domestic futurity negotiates the complex relationship between domestic traditions and innovations through the logics and discourses of platforms and other technologies. Presently, domestic futurity is constituted through commercialized rhetoric that reinforce pernicious divisions between smart Homeowners and stranger-others who are either rendered suspect or, sometimes equally dangerous, invisible.”

“Cultural forces such as domesticity act as infrastructure and shape the human experience within and beyond the domestic sphere. The BR smart home also demonstrates how myriad infrastructures converge in the home, a space often figured as discrete, individual, and private rather than structural, collective, and public.”

“As an exemplar of mass market smart home technology, it communicates the durability of traditional conceptions of domesticity in the smart home age, including hierarchical social relations pertaining to race, class, and gender”


Woods states that “cultural forces such as domesticity act as infrastructure and shape the human experience within and beyond the domestic sphere”. What happens if greater society rejects new/traditional forms of infrastructure? Or is Infrastructure created to remain visible but invisible?

With the pandemic expediting how we utilize technology within our home spaces, how do you see domestic futurity negotiating/forcing its way into our daily lives? And what about those who do not have access?

"The skeumorph" (N. Katherine Hayles, "How we became Post-Human")

"The content of all new media is old media" (Bolter & Grusin, "Remediation") -- true of the gig economy?

1957-67 House of the Future:

Normalizing the Virtual Assistant:

Part 3: Derrida, (1966). “Structure, sign and play in the Discourse of the human sciences”.


Philosophers extend their knowledge only as far as their language permits them. Therefore structure is always changing? Or at play, and that the center is not center but also outside of itself because the meaning changes with the philosopher. There are always going to be points of contradiction because even and “origin” can be reworked or changed.  Structures have or are given centre,  “The centre also closes off the play which it opens up and makes possible.  As centre, it is the point at which the substitution of contents, elements or terms is no longer possible.”


Is what Derrida saying that there are dangers in Structure, sign, and play, because it is fluid and always changing based on interpretation/construction? Can you help me to understand this?