Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


A Geosemiotics of the Myth of Social Mobility


Liberal Studies Department


Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies

Date Range



Arts and Humanities


This paper surveys, describes, and analyzes the spatial elements represented in narratives, especially those with strong autobiographical elements, produced by critics of the myth of individualistic social mobility. Among those U.S. intellectuals under study are Mike Rose, Tim Wise, Victor Villanueva, Richard Rodriguez, Ernesto Galarza, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Tomas Rivera, Louis Owens, bell hooks, and Malcolm X. This interdisciplinary project is inspired by recent sociological and ethnographic work done in the field of education research, specifically borrowing the concept of geosemiotics from researchers like Rainbird and Roswell (2011) and the significance of understanding space in education by Leander, Phillips, and Taylor (2012). Geosemiotics dialectically links current scholarly and interdisciplinary theoretical concerns in geographies of place and space with the ongoing interest in discourse analysis. Spatio-temporal realities and conceptualizations interact in the writings of the above authors in order to show how they make sense of and create social meaning about their life experiences and its social contexts and places in order to comment on the realities of social mobility, or what Villanueva describes as "slipp[ing] through the cracks of the hegemonic bloc." By theorizing and applying an analysis of "place" to discourse and intellectual work, we can envision "sites" from bodies to neighborhoods to schools to workplaces as arenas and trajectories of accumulation, as Harvey argues in Spaces of Global Capitalism and Heather Beth Johnson details in The American Dream and the Power of Wealth, but also as resources distribution centers, making individualistic narratives, produced for the sake of market-oriented ideologies all but meaningless distortions. The aim is to help reorient theories and practices of intellectual history to the "placeness" of class, critical consciousness, and the possibilities for social change.

Conference Name

Society for US Intelelctual History Conference

Conference Location

University of California-Irvine

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