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McCann, "Therapeutic and Material <Victim>hood"

McCann, "Therapeutic and Material <Victim>hood"

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Published by Bryan Mack McCann

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Published by: Bryan Mack McCann on Jan 06, 2011
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This article was downloaded by:[McCann, Bryan]On:26 October 2007Access Details:[subscription number 783544648]Publisher:RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK
Communication and Critical/CulturalStudies
Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t713684641
Therapeutic and Material <Victim> hood: Ideology andthe Struggle for Meaning in the Illinois Death PenaltyControversy
Bryan J. McCannOnline Publication Date:01 December 2007To cite this Article:McCann, Bryan J. (2007) 'Therapeutic and Material <Victim>hood: Ideology and the Struggle for Meaning in the Illinois Death PenaltyControversy ', Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 4:4, 382 - 401To link to this article: DOI:10.1080/14791420701632931URL:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14791420701632931PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLEFull terms and conditions of use:http://www.informaworld.com/terms-and-conditions-of-access.pdfThisarticlemaybeusedforresearch,teachingandprivatestudypurposes.Anysubstantialorsystematicreproduction,re-distribution,re-selling,loanorsub-licensing,systematicsupplyordistributioninanyformtoanyoneisexpresslyforbidden.Thepublisherdoesnotgiveanywarrantyexpressorimpliedormakeanyrepresentationthatthecontentswillbecompleteoraccurateoruptodate.Theaccuracyofanyinstructions,formulaeanddrugdosesshouldbeindependentlyverifiedwithprimarysources.Thepublishershallnotbeliableforanyloss,actions,claims,proceedings,demandorcostsordamageswhatsoeverorhowsoevercausedarisingdirectlyorindirectlyinconnectionwithorarising out of the use of this material.
 
   D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   B  y  :   [   M  c   C  a  n  n ,   B  r  y  a  n   ]   A   t  :   1   7  :   2   0   2   6   O  c   t  o   b  e  r   2   0   0   7
Therapeutic and Material
B
Victim
!
hood: Ideology and theStruggle for Meaning in the IllinoisDeath Penalty Controversy
Bryan J. McCann
This article analyzes the struggle over the 
B
victim
!
ideograph following former Illinois Governor George Ryan’s decision to commute all state death sentences in 2003. Atherapeutic rendering of the 
B
victim
!
ideograph typified mainstream opposition to Ryan’s move. This approach personalized the death penalty at the expense of discussing its social and political implications. In contrast, the discourse of George Ryan and his supporters offered a material 
B
victim
!
hood grounded in political, historical, and economic contextualization. By performing a historical materialist critique of thidialogue, I conclude that rhetorically deploying the figure of a material 
B
victim
!
is an indispensable strategy for the abolitionist movement in that it allows activists to capitalize on the ideological constraints of liberalism while maintaining an awareness of  capital punishment’s implications in a capitalist society.Keywords: Historical Materialism; Death Penalty; Ideograph; George Ryan; Therapeutic Rhetoric; Victim
On January 11, 2003, former Illinois Governor George Ryan declared his state’s deathpenalty system ‘‘arbitrary and capricious
 *
and therefore immoral.’’
1
As a result, heemptied the state’s death row. Ryan commuted all but three of Illinois’ 167 deathsentences to life terms. This bold and controversial gesture followed a two-yearmoratorium on executions in Illinois, implemented in response to a study by a
Bryan J. McCann is a PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin. This article was derived from the author’sMaster’s thesis, completed at Illinois State University in 2004 and directed by Craig Cutbirth. An earlier versionwas presented at the 2005 annual conference of the National Communication Association in Chicago. Inaddition to Dr. Cutbirth, the author wishes to thank Dana Cloud, John Baldwin, Stephen Hartnett, JohnMcHale, Joseph Zompetti, editor John Sloop, and two blind reviewers for helpful suggestions and comments.Correspondence: Bryan J. McCann, Department of Communication Studies, The University of Texas at Austin,1 University Station A1105, Austin, TX 78712-0115, USA. E-mail: bmccann@mail.utexas.edu
ISSN 1479-1420 (print)/ISSN 1479-4233 (online)
#
2007 National Communication AssociationDOI: 10.1080/14791420701632931
Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies Vol. 4, No. 4, December 2007, pp. 382 
 Á 
401
 
   D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   B  y  :   [   M  c   C  a  n  n ,   B  r  y  a  n   ]   A   t  :   1   7  :   2   0   2   6   O  c   t  o   b  e  r   2   0   0   7
Ryan-appointed commission that documented more than 80 serious flaws with thesystem.
2
The Land of Lincoln had executed 12 individuals since 1977 and exonerated13 after new evidence revealed their innocence.
3
Many of those exonerated hadconfessed under torture.
4
Critics also cited a variety of racial, geographic, and classdisparities as reasons to halt the state’s death penalty system.
5
The commutations, enacted two days before the end of Ryan’s scandal-ridden termas governor, were largely motivated by the Illinois legislature’s failure to implementany of the reforms recommended by the commission.
6
Ryan claimed that the Illinoisdeath penalty system was broken beyond repair. Since his action, Ryan hasbeen nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times, and his actions have raisedactivists’ hopes for statewide abolition.
7
The death row in Illinois is still under amoratorium; meanwhile, Governor Rod Blagojevich is seeking to re-implementcapital punishment.
8
The Illinois moratorium and commutations mobilized the national anti-deathpenalty movement, prompting new debate as to whether inmates and those executedconstituted victims of a broken system.
9
Popular controversy over the decisionrevolved around who counts as a victim, and the term
B
victim
!
emerges as anideograph out of this debate.
10
This article will discuss the struggle over the
B
victim
!
ideograph in the context of the Illinois commutations, arguing that therhetorical strategies invoked by both sides of the issue constituted a tension betweentherapeutic and material
B
victim
!
hood. Therapeutic
B
victim
!
hood is under-stood here as an affective strategy that emphasizes personal suffering and healing inthe context of criminality. In contrast, the rhetoric of George Ryan and his supportersoffered a material
B
victim
!
hood grounded in political, historical, and economiccontextualization. I argue that the
B
victim
!
ideograph is a potent linguistic markerwhose persuasive power encouraged voices from both sides of the Ryan controversy to appropriate it toward their own rhetorical ends. Adopting a historical materialistperspective, I advocate a material
B
victim
!
hood as an alternative to the prevailingtherapeutic discourses supporting capital punishment.Historical materialism is a critical perspective which argues that economicconditions and ideological discourses are interactive and mutually conditioning. Itlocates issues of social power within the broader context of a capitalist society, seekingto understand how different forms of oppression work in tandem to reify classrelations and determine the conditions of possibility for intervention.
11
As TeresaEbert writes:
[Materialist critique] shows that apparently disconnected zones of culture are infact materially linked through the highly differentiated, mediated, and dispersedoperation of a systematic logic of exploitation. In sum, materialist critique disrupts‘‘what is’’ to
explain 
how social differences
 *
specifically gender, race, sexuality, andclass
 *
have been systematically produced and continue to operate within regimesof exploitation, so that we can change them.
12
An historical materialist analysis of pro and anti-death penalty rhetoric allows thecritic to connect both to broader regimes of exploitation. Executing prisonersscapegoated for social ills displaces public anxieties about crime away from demands
Therapeutic and Material 
B
Victim
!
hood 
383

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