Posted: The Campaign Sign Landscape, Race, and Political Participation in Mississippi
Bass, J. O. Joby, Journal of Cultural Geography
Cultural landscapes offer potential insights into cultural processes. As a cultural/political landscape element, the domestic campaign sign is linked to a variety of socio-cultural and political processes. Examination of the geographical distribution of 2004 presidential election campaign signs posted throughout the town of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, illustrates that race is a factor in understanding who chooses to post signs. Historically, limitations on political participation in the South would have included use of landscape for communication, imposing a sort of metacommunicative landscape hegemony. Further, patterns of sign postings and voter turnout indicate that both activities are forms of political participation that are embraced differently by different social groups.
Keywords: cultural landscape; campaign sign; race; political participation; Mississippi
There is a 'pervasive geographical constitution' to the social, economic, and political processes that are the foundations of electoral behavior. (Johnston 2005, p. 580)
Geographical patterns can raise good questions and offer intriguing insights into cultural processes. Cultural landscapes--complex manifestations of human intentions and activity--offer perspective on who people are and how we make our worlds. This study examines the geographical distributions of a cultural/political landscape element the domestic campaign sign. To be sure, the domestic campaign sign is a political element and subject to consideration as such, at any scale. It is also a landscape element. At the local level, examining the campaign sign may offer new perspectives on how different groups of people are integrated and socialized into the political process. Looking at these signs also contributes to understanding how the communicative aspects of landscape are utilized differently by different groups within a local social order. This contributes conceptually by linking the two areas in human geography, particularly electoral geography and cultural landscape studies.
From the perspective of cultural landscape studies, looking at the distribution of posted campaign signs provides a novel way of seeing these signs and some of the social and cultural relationships manifested in their 'geographical constitution.' The cultural landscape--an interactive, communicative, and reflexive component of the human experience--holds cues to what people are up to. Similarly, it can be instrumental in shaping and maintaining what people are up to. Geographical patterns of the cultural landscape practice of posting domestic campaign signs offer insights into how different groups engage in political participation differently and how that difference is indeed manifested in the ways that these groups utilize the landscape as an arena of discourse.
The notion that the landscape is a communicative device has long been the basis for its conceptual use, in geography and beyond. Plentiful debate has long accompanied this use, shaping conceptual definitions, utilization, and interpretation (for examples of different perspectives, see Sauer 1925; Cosgrove 1984; Crang 1998; Rowntree 1996; Mitchell 1996). What the landscape communicates, of course, depends a lot on who is looking, what they know, what they what to know, what informs their world view(s) and why. As an empirically observable reflection or result of human activity, the idea that spatial patterns in cultural activity produce spatially recognizable and observable forms of landscape has been with modern geography at least since August Meitzen (Sauer 1941). This was foundational in the Berkeley legacy of seeking to understand complex cultural processes through explaining and interpreting observable patterns in material landscapes (see Wagner and Mikesell 1962), the "unwitting biography" that humans produce (Lewis 1976, p. 1), though we also have learned that structures of power may hide part of the human story behind such products (Mitchell 1996). …