Abbott, Christopher Blake
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The economic crisis that began in 2008 marked a rhetorical shift in the construction, expression and negotiation of economic citizenship in the United States. Economic citizenship, as a rhetorical construct, marks the ways in which a person understands and performs his or her membership in the economy. This project investigates ways in which that shift was rhetorically performed and marked during the economic crisis by examining national news media discourse at that time. It looks at this construction in three major sectors of the economy: finance, manufacturing, and housing. In the financial sector, this project looks at the rhetoric that reported on and justified government bailouts of financial institutions, coverage of the populist backlash against the same institutions, and assumptions in terms like “bailout” and “too big to fail.” In the manufacturing sector, this project compares and contrasts reporting on financial bailouts with that of government bailouts given to automobile manufacturers, rhetorical distinctions between wealthy and working class Americans in news media, and nostalgic laments for the loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States that received attention in the crisis. Finally, in the housing sector, this project examines the rhetorical construction of the concepts “home” and “ownership,” the relationship between those concepts and the housing crisis, news discourse of evictions and policy responses to the crisis, and the news media controversy surrounding the widespread practice of owner-occupiers strategically defaulting on their mortgages. This project argues that news media rhetoric in all three sectors describing, affixing blame for, and discussing responses to the economic crisis functioned hegemonically by focusing on anger and disappointment in local, individualized contexts. This discourse dispersed the crisis throughout the country and distracted citizens from a broader, systematic view of the crisis. It also overshadowed attempts to connect the crisis to the very function of the capitalist system by constructing new modes of economic citizenship—such as the reluctant shareholder—and promoting old ones—such as investor citizenship—to justify policy responses to the crisis that secured the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism as the country emerges from the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.