Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Taking It to the Streets: The Rhetorical Mobility of Expert Arguments in Public Settings

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Taking It to the Streets: The Rhetorical Mobility of Expert Arguments in Public Settings

Article excerpt

In Salt Lake City, Utah, a group of medical physicians are stepping outside of their socially constructed boundaries of expertise to address environmental problems in public settings. This group of physicians, known as Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, is working with public organizations to resist the expansion of one of Utah's largest contributors of pollution: Kennecott Utah Copper (KUC). Owned by international mining giant, Rio Tinto, Kennecott is responsible for operating one of the largest open pit copper mines in the United States: The Bingham Canyon Mine. This mine provides copper, molybdenum, and zinc to the global economy. Although the company heralds itself as a responsible member of the community and a driver of progress, it is charged with irresponsible environmental practices that compromise public health (Fahys, 2009, 2011, 2012a, 2012b; Gaddis & Hombeck, 2011; Klaus & Mayhew, 2012; Naftz et. al., 2009; Shearer, 2010; Stettler, 2011). Rio Tinto Kennecott (RTK) regularly pollutes the air with wasted toxins that exceed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) federal limits and infiltrate the lungs of local subjects (Fayhs, 2011; Foy, 2011; McNamara, 2012). Problems with Salt Lake City's air quality are especially problematic because of the area's inversion effect, where sinking cold air traps pollution in the valley due to the bowl-shaped geography of the metropolitan region. Additionally, Kennecott's toxic waste dump of mineral tailings, located on the ridge of the Great Salt Lake, contaminates the air with harmful particulates that infect brains and lungs of citizens (Wu & Dietrich, 2012).

Local environmental organizations claim that Kennecott is responsible for exploiting state loopholes and using bad science to justify environmentally destructive practices that jeopardize human health (Fahys, 2011). Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE) is at the helm of this controversy. The organization is unique because it is comprised of expert physicians that have become politically active* 1. Recognizing the severity of health ramifications to local citizens, these medical experts have gone public. The move to bring expert knowledge to public audiences is important for rhetorical and argumentation critics because it demonstrates the epistemic limits and rhetorical potentials of discourse constructed as expert. The discursive mobility of this organization, as persons from expert to political advocate, highlights the applicability and fluency of arguments constructed as expert in public contexts.

Although the practices of producing technical arguments in public places range in purpose, methods, and overall scope, this case study demonstrates that expert and non-expert arguments can assist one another in achieving goals. In this case study, expertise is a public resource as opposed to a demarcated realm of knowledge that is more often used in support of industrial or governmental objectives. Using its expertise to challenge the industrial logic responsible for unhealthy levels of air pollution, UPHE has rhetorically adapted its technical arguments to public audiences. UPHE demonstrate that technical arguments about fact can be used as rhetorical messages that rally publics for social change.

The purpose of this research is twofold. First, this essay seeks to understand the mobility of expertise in deliberative settings. This is important because a narrow understanding of expertise can contribute to limited understandings of problems such as global warming and air pollution impacts. Experts are often relied on to provide information necessary for policy. We must, therefore, understand expertise as a rhetorical force capable of initiating change and informing publics about technical implications to social problems. A second purpose is theoretical. Here, my purpose is to determine how technical arguments can (re)design spaces for deliberative engagement. By developing a rhetorical approach to design theory, I hope to determine how competitions of expert designs struggle for authority in social contexts. …

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