Show me your desire: Critical discourses of legislating Voter Identification, Right to Work, and SB 1070

Document Type


Presentation Date


Conference Name

16th Biennial Rhetoric Society of America Conference

Conference Location

San Antonio, TX


While popular and political discourses seeking to shore up the mobility of bodies ‘to be’ in public is nothing new, the recent convergence of a host of legislating is worth noting. The rhetoric surrounding voter identification and right to work laws, as well as Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 underscore xenophobic compulsions to reconstitute the appropriate public body. In this manuscript I am specifically interested in the intersection of race and class as they emerge in the political discourses of these cultural and legislative debates. In these three cases several tropes emerge including traditional arguments to preserve the American Dream for rightful hardworking citizens, lazy immigrants, union workers, and communities of color, criminality of ‘others’, etc. The most significant trope in this research emerges around state desire. Judith Butler (2004) argues that in contemporary social movements the state becomes the object of fantasy insofar as it confers legitimacy on those it desires. A partial inverse of this relationship is the most interesting trope in the three cases discussed here. For voter ID and right to work laws, as well as SB 1070, the desire emerges as a collective concern for the public to desire the states conference of legitimacy. In order to regulate the means of access to an ‘official’ public space, subjects of voter ID laws, right to work, and immigrants, in the case of SB 1070, should desire the state’s legitimacy. Rhetoric surrounding all of these laws suggests that the collective ‘we’ of culture desires the ‘others’ targeted by the laws to desire the state’s desire. In the case of voter ID laws the argument emerges in conservative claims that ID laws will protect traditionally underserved populations who might be taken advantage of by voter fraud. In right to work states, especially Indiana, advocates insisted that communities of color and poor communities would be protected by such legislation because it would encourage business growth in the state. In this way, supporting this legislation was a way to encourage ‘others’ to desire the states desire, conference of legitimacy, and protection. This rhetorical structuring of these debates is both theoretically and materially significant; the social and political implications are discussed.



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