Cover image for Constitutive Visions: Indigeneity and Commonplaces of National Identity in Republican Ecuador By Christa J. Olson

Constitutive Visions

Indigeneity and Commonplaces of National Identity in Republican Ecuador

Christa J. Olson


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ISBN: 978-0-271-06198-6

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272 pages
6" × 9"
42 b&w illustrations/1 map

Rhetoric and Democratic Deliberation

Constitutive Visions

Indigeneity and Commonplaces of National Identity in Republican Ecuador

Christa J. Olson

Constitutive Visions demonstrates, in rich detail, how visual representations serve as rhetorical acts that constitute nations—acts every bit as important as the constitutions, laws, political speeches, and policies that make up a national rhetorical culture. Christa Olson pushes rhetoric scholars to extend their reach beyond the English world and beyond dominant Western traditions, a trend in contemporary scholarship that she models masterfully. This book will become a benchmark for both experienced scholars and novices seeking to examine how national and visual arguments take on rhetorical power across time and space.”


  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
In Constitutive Visions, Christa Olson presents the rhetorical history of republican Ecuador as punctuated by repeated arguments over national identity. Those arguments—as they advanced theories of citizenship, popular sovereignty, and republican modernity—struggled to reconcile the presence of Ecuador’s large indigenous population with the dominance of a white-mestizo minority. Even as indigenous people were excluded from civic life, images of them proliferated in speeches, periodicals, and artworks during Ecuador’s long process of nation formation. Tracing how that contradiction illuminates the textures of national-identity formation, Constitutive Visions places petitions from indigenous laborers alongside oil paintings, overlays woodblock illustrations with legislative debates, and analyzes Ecuador’s nineteen constitutions in light of landscape painting. Taken together, these juxtapositions make sense of the contradictions that sustained and unsettled the postcolonial nation-state.
Constitutive Visions demonstrates, in rich detail, how visual representations serve as rhetorical acts that constitute nations—acts every bit as important as the constitutions, laws, political speeches, and policies that make up a national rhetorical culture. Christa Olson pushes rhetoric scholars to extend their reach beyond the English world and beyond dominant Western traditions, a trend in contemporary scholarship that she models masterfully. This book will become a benchmark for both experienced scholars and novices seeking to examine how national and visual arguments take on rhetorical power across time and space.”
“This engaging book explores the larger rhetorical ecology generated out of a wide range of image-making and discursive practices by which Ecuadorians came to see themselves, others, and the national territory between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries. Christa Olson shows how national visions—including, centrally, topoi of indigeneity—were forged over time through interactions, dialogues, and engagements among social groups. In doing so she explores the resilience of topoi and their re-creation over time and into the present, illuminating the formation of deeply rooted common sense that has shaped visions of the Ecuadorian nation.”
“[This] book makes a unique interpretation of the frequently debated topic of national identity formation, adding significantly to our understanding of the contradictions and intricacies of this process.”
“[Olson’s] innovative application of the theoretical language of constitutive rhetoric to the exercise of both national and popular sovereignty challenges our understandings of the creation of national identities. As such, this important new work significantly advances our understanding of theories of citizenship and national formation.”
“Analyzing the relationship of the indigenous to the nation-state is a global challenge and one that the author of this new study undertakes with great skill and unquestionable success. . . . This is an excellent work of scholarship and highly recommended for graduate students as well as specialists in the field.”
Constitutive Visions brings readers a graphic-rich rhetorical history of nationalisms in Ecuador. Christa Olson makes a compelling argument showing how Ecuadorian national identity formations are a particularly valuable example for drawing out broader claims about the visual rhetoricity of nationalism.”

Christa J. Olson is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.


Preface: The Precarious Politics of Going There


Introduction: Scene Setting

Chapter 1: Constituting Citizenship

Chapter 2: Geography Is History

Chapter 3: Burdens of the Nation

Chapter 4: Dead Weight: The Indian as National Other

Chapter 5: Performing Strategic Indigeneity

Conclusion: ¿De Quién Es la Patria?




Scene Setting

A rondador. A man with dark eyes, wearing a poncho, holding a panpipe to his lips. With those words I could begin a description of any of the three images sitting on the desk in front of me (figs. 1–3). And I could go further: an image made in the Ecuadorian Andes, an indigenous man, a figure that circulated and has been copied and reproduced, an object intended to envision the nation.

The similarities among these images—a nineteenth-century watercolor painting, a twentieth-century photograph, and a twenty-first-century cloth doll—are far from coincidental. Even a cursory review of Ecuadorian art books and Internet databases turns up dozens of rondador images produced over a hundred-and-fifty-year span and crafted by a diverse array of makers: indigenous merchants, foreign visitors, and white-mestizo artists, among others. Despite their historical spread and varied creators, all these images share common features. The overall look and use of the rondador has remained remarkably stable from the first rondín paintings of the nineteenth century to the present-day photographs available on Flickr. That repetition and resilience draw attention to three themes that pervade this book: the rondador appears in many forms but circulates especially prominently in artifacts of visual culture; his image has been taken up over time by a spectrum of rhetors concerned with Ecuadorian national identity; and his indigeneity is an essential part of his ability to stand in for the nation.

That ubiquitous rondador is one figure among many whose circulation and use in the Ecuadorian context illuminate the urgent questions underlying this study: how do strong identifications, such as national identities, come into being and sustain themselves? How do those identifications make claims on future change? To answer those questions, the study tracks the ways that the rondador and his image kin—peasants at market, public works conscripts, festival participants, and more—have served as strange synecdoches for Ecuador. Reviled and excluded in much of daily life, those indigenous subjects reappear in images as representative members of the national body and are used to convene national identification. Their shifting and purposeful use highlights a basic reality that extends well beyond Ecuador: all national identity, all nationalism, is rhetorical. But such rhetoricity does not exist only in the grand documents of national constitution or in the circulation of individual, explicitly nationalist artifacts. Instead, it fills the interstices of daily life and infuses experience through a wide spectrum of modes and actions. Contradictory yet constitutive, the diffuse objects and ideas of national life accumulate into a thick common sense that is far more resonant than any individual artifact could be. Growing out of and inviting identification, that common sense creates publics, sustains them, and summons them to action.

Whether because of their country’s small size and strong neighbors, its ethnic and geographic diversity, or its frequent political change, Ecuadorians have spent much of their history imagining national identity. Throughout that history of contestation, image makers—artists and authors, but also politicians, intellectuals, and journalists—have invested figures like the rondador with a long memory of what Ecuador looks like. The image history offered here tracks the interwoven claims about identity and sovereignty at work within that national vision. It takes the particular case of Ecuador—replete with images, political arguments, and intellectual analyses all aimed toward national identity—as instructive for the larger nature of identification. Tracking how national arguments gain force through ubiquity, repetition, and evolution, the study suggests a revision to the idea of the topos, or commonplace. In light of the work done by figures such as the rondador, it reimagines topoi—those resources for arguing from generally accepted opinion whose nature has been debated by rhetoricians since Aristotle—as places of return in changing circumstances that allow rhetors to make claims both on and from within the nation.

The resilient role played in national identity by figures like the rondador illuminates the ways that theories of rhetoric rely on the commonplace. Definitions of rhetoric often highlight argument or identification, language or artifact, situation or civitas. If we look closely, the commonplace lies beneath all those definitions and provides them force. Persuasion and identification rely on shared meaning. Texts, images, and objects must be mutually intelligible to gain influence. Situations and publics gain their shape from common experience and common appeals. As the pages ahead articulate, the commonplace is the basic terrain of rhetoric. Structuring rhetorical analysis around topoi puts useful emphasis on the contexts, practices, registers, and modes of purposeful communication. Working in that vein, Constitutive Visions repositions rhetorical theory in light of the Ecuadorian example and reimagines nationalism in light of a visually infused theory of rhetoric.

The analytical reconsideration offered here was inspired by the striking contradiction mentioned earlier: the idea of the Ecuadorian nation has often relied on images of indigenous people, but indigenous people themselves have equally often been excluded from active participation in the nation. Over time, the creation and repetition of commonplaces that connect indigeneity to the idea of the nation have aided in the maintenance of that contradiction, giving it conceptual force, naturalizing its paradoxes, and negotiating its complex rhetorical circumstances. With those commonplaces, socially dominant white-mestizo Ecuadorians reconciled concerns over their own modernity and imagined a coherent nation-state even in the midst of social upheaval and territorial contraction. Popular movements, middle-class artists, and indigenous people also engaged topoi of indigeneity and national identity, contesting the visions circulated by their elite compatriots and making space for themselves within the public body. In their interactions across places, times, and social positions, those multiple claims to the nation have woven a pervasive fabric of national identification able to absorb even resistance and contestation.

This study, written at a moment when scholars question the continued relevance of the nation-state as a primary category of identification, draws attention to an earlier moment of nation trouble. Investigating the idea of the nation as a rhetorical process and product, Constitutive Visions suggests that nations have always been porous affairs. The problems of sovereignty and standing that trouble scholars of contemporary transnationalism are nothing new when seen from the perspective of the global South. Constitutive Visions traces the contradictory and piecemeal yet enduring visions of the nation that developed in Ecuador from the beginning of the popular republic. In the process it illustrates how nationalism—understood in rhetorical terms as a sustained, compounded process of identification—depends on elastic topoi to provide conceptual places of return in the midst of contestation and interrupted sovereignty.

The remaining pages of this introduction map the book’s rhetorical terrain. They use those ubiquitous, repeated rondador images as a guide to three key aspects of my revised notion of the commonplace: circulation across modes, elasticity over time, and resonance within context. Discussion of those three elements, along with a brief history of the Ecuadorian scene, sets the stage for tracking national identity in Ecuador and for a renewed understanding of nationalism’s rhetorical foundations.

The Terrain of the Commonplace

This study approaches topoi as nodes of social value and common sense that provide places of return for convening arguments across changing circumstances. That definition emerged from a need to understand the persistent patterns of national vision so prevalent in Ecuador as something other than a sign of stagnation. Research in archives and secondary material made clear that Ecuadorian rhetors—from criollo elites to subaltern indigenous people—returned repeatedly to shared themes of national identity and used those returns to make new social meaning and effect change. The anthropologist Emma Cervone shows indigenous communities engaging pre-Columbian social orders to invert white-mestizo control of social space; historian Eduardo Kingman Garcés’s La ciudad y los otros follows the feudal patterns that underwrote the emergence of modernity in Quito; anthropologist Blanca Muratorio tracks the images of indigenous people that nineteenth-century Ecuadorian elites used to picture their nation in world’s fairs and international expositions. For all these Ecuadorianist scholars, what is old does not merely exert the power of tradition. Instead, it drives re-creation.

That sense that the familiar can serve a generative purpose resonates productively within the long history of rhetorical theorizing around the commonplace. It works particularly well with recent definitions put forward by the rhetorical theorists Carolyn Miller and Ralph Cintrón, who figure topoi, respectively, as “aid[s] to pattern recognition” and “storehouses of social energy.” Blending Cintrón’s emphasis on social context with Miller’s focus on familiarity and novelty and then reading both in light of the insights offered by Ecuadorian scholars, my definition of topos directs attention to issues of temporal and spatial circulation, stressing the moments and movements of the commonplace. Topos, thus defined, allows new insights into the rhetorical processes that foster, valorize, and give force to the common. It also makes clear the term’s particular applicability to the rhetorical tactics of nationalism.

By virtue of its encounter with Ecuadorianist theories and with the work of contemporary rhetorical scholars, the notion of topoi invoked here is several steps removed from Aristotle’s concern with finding ways to “reason from opinions that are generally accepted.” Like other more recent rhetorical scholars, I engage topoi to examine how the “generally accepted ideas” that Aristotle largely takes for granted emerge and gain their persuasive power in context. That approach to topoi as intricately situated heuristics highlights, above all, their resilience. Topoi are elastic symbolic tools built from common sense that provide a stable tether point, allowing rhetors and publics to negotiate shifting terrain.

This move to alter topical theories in light of new contexts is nothing new. The rhetorical theorist Richard McKeon reminds us that the current proliferation of commonplace theories has its roots in ancient ambiguity. Their key terms, “places, topics, loci, commonplaces and proper places . . . were as ambiguous in ordinary Greek as they are in ordinary English.” Rhetorician Michael Leff similarly notes that elaborating a systematic theory of topoi has been at the center of rhetorical study from ancient times to the present. Such effort has resulted in “a bewildering diversity of meanings,” largely because ancient sources simply do not agree. Each era and context, it seems, recuperates the commonplace for its own uses. It should not be surprising, then, that our scholarly moment is less concerned with topoi as means of arrangement and more concerned with topoi as ideological carriers and sources of invention. The most driving commonplaces of late modernity are, after all, the simultaneously meaning-filled and contentless terms of democracy and capital, economic liberalism and religious conviction, that pervade contemporary common sense and underline our most pressing arguments.

It is in this sense, then, that commonplaces are what Cintrón terms “storehouses of social energy.” Those content-filled storehouses allow actors from a wide range of subject positions to bring a shared sense of the world “before the eyes” of the publics they convene. That common vision, conditioned by the social energy on which it is based, “organize[s] our sentiments, beliefs, and actions in the lifeworld” and, in the process, nurtures public common sense. Cintrón thus moves the emphasis of topical invention from the action of individual rhetors to the social life of common sense and positions topoi as both products and means of public creation. Though Cintrón does not develop the point, this understanding of the commonplace makes it particularly applicable to the material and symbolic constitutions of national life. The very idea of the nation relies on expansive, layered commonplaces that appear to preexist any given rhetorical moment but are also generated from each use in context. Understanding the commonplaces of nationalism, then, requires seeking out those topics and topoi that, as Cintrón suggests, “have sufficient umpf to actualize the body politic.”

Such forceful topoi, I propose, share three features that bear more thorough discussion. The following sections perform that extrapolation, unwinding the ways that commonplaces circulate across modes, maintain elasticity over time, and gain resonance in context. Putting rhetorical theories, Ecuadorianist theories, and Ecuadorian history into conversation, that exegesis expands the interpretive terrain of the commonplace.

Circulation Across Modes: Doing Rich Rhetorical Historiography

While most theories of the commonplace omit direct treatment of the visual, the ocularity of the term is hard to miss. Whether defined in terms of “pattern recognition,” “invention, discovery, and insight,” or “bringing-before-the-eyes,” explanations of the commonplace generated by rhetoricians are shot through with the sensory and the visual. Such implicit dependence is not incidental. As Ecuadorian art historian Alexandra Kennedy Troya asserts with regard to national identity and visual culture, “images are instruments of historical invention, . . . and along with texts written, read, or sung, they become national discourses that will be reinterpreted or re-elaborated in the hands of various social agents once their original purposes [commitments] have lost relevance.” Visual images are, in other words, frequent and natural carriers of the commonplace. Though commonplaces work across multiple expressive modes, leaving elements of visual culture out of the analysis prevents full understandings of the strong identifications of nationalism. Any robust treatment of topoi must attend to their accumulation and circulation across an array of symbolic forms (Kennedy Troya’s “images . . . along with texts written, read, or sung”) as it is that very modal flexibility that allows them to become common.

As the case of Ecuador suggests, the need for a broad sensory awareness is especially profound in the study of national topoi. Commonplaces, in whatever form they circulate, function primarily to help publics see themselves and envision their interconnections with the imagined community. They are carriers of visuality in the sense invoked by Nicholas Mirzoeff, as “the visualization history . . . [a] practice [that] must be imaginary, rather than perceptual, because what is being visualized is too substantial for any one person to see and is created from information, images, and ideas.” Commonplaces allow access to the larger scene, speaking both to it and from within it. As Miller suggests, in other words, commonplaces illuminate the wider patterns that drive and organize social life.

Rhetorical scholars, then, need to pursue what Cara Finnegan has called “rich rhetorical histories”: studies that include “careful, situated investigation of the social, cultural, and political work that visual communication is made to do.” Doing otherwise in our analyses risks omitting important aspects of how publics come together, sustain themselves, and promote visions for the future. The circulation and repetition of images in the process of Ecuadorian nation formation are, in other words, essential to understanding the common sense informing claims about national identity and republican sovereignty. Such an approach treats visual rhetoric not as “a unique genre of rhetorical artifact (‘rhetoric’ that is ‘visual’)” but as “a project of inquiry that considers the implications for rhetorical theory of sustained attention to visuality.”

In that spirit, it becomes both useful and necessary to track figures like the rondador that contribute to a commonsense national pattern and bring a vision of the nation before Ecuadorian and foreign eyes. The rondador, interpolated into the story of the nation, has circulated within and across moments, appearing in nineteenth-century traveler’s books, in twentieth-century periodicals, and in twenty-first-century tourists’ trinkets. In each moment, he makes the features of national life visible. Like the rondador, most of the artifacts of Ecuadorian visual culture examined in the coming pages come from genres suitable for mass reproduction or public dissemination (illustrations, murals, prints, etc.). Though it would be disingenuous to suggest that all of the images discussed here had truly popular circulation in their own time and place (economies of art and access always limit circulation, even in forms intended for wide consumption), their ability to move and their frequent reproduction helped make them common to the national milieu and available to those actively engaged in shaping national identity. In visual form, they helped sustain and circulate commonplaces that moved across modes. They thus are implicated even in the versions of those topoi that Ecuadorians encountered in political speech, in quotidian discussions, and in cultural ephemera. These images are rich sources of topoi. They popularize and make visible shared places of return. In their uptake and recreation over time and space, they provide stable locales from which invention can occur and aid responses to new moments and new circumstances. They allow the nation to see itself again and again in new light.

Elasticity over Time: On Novelty and Tradition

The ubiquity of that repetition points to the second feature of topoi made particularly visible by the Ecuadorian context: their elasticity. The three rondadors introduced earlier speak eloquently for an understanding of the commonplace that highlights resilience. The figures are social types—ordered, condensed images of local character that inoculate the public body against the flux of daily life. That these resources for argument provide stability, then, is largely apparent. The rondadors from the mid-nineteenth, mid-twentieth, and early twenty-first century are romantic, nonthreatening, and consumable. Given that each of those periods was marked by sustained resistance from indigenous communities and by significant elite anxiety over the threats that indigenous Ecuadorians posed to their authority, such passive availability is clearly both purposefully and persuasively deployed. It holds the public in place and manages the national body.

At the same time, we ought also to see that commonplace constancy as active and inventive. Ecuadorians have repeatedly used figures like the rondador to make new claims about national identity. The images provide a sense of stability that pervades even the shaky experiences of national change. In this sense, they point us toward a means of resolving the classic tension in rhetorical discussion of topoi, what Miller terms their simultaneously managerial and generative capacity.

Over the course of their theoretical history, topoi have been celebrated as tools for building arguments and dismissed as sets of technical rules. As McKeon puts it, “The commonplaces of invention changed periodically from meaning devices for discovering something previously unknown to meaning familiar quotations in which something well known and widely esteemed is stated.” Though the more tradition-based form of topoi has often been promulgated through guides and handbooks for orators, McKeon notes that rhetorical theorists since ancient times have argued for the inventive sense of topoi. In light of that ongoing disconnect, there has been a relatively consistent contemporary interest in what might be called the central paradox of the topics: the fact that they house inventive possibility in the recitation of the familiar. Rhetoricians, again and again, seek to address those tensions between tradition and structure on the one hand and creativity and innovation on the other.

Informed by the Ecuadorian example, my treatment of topoi as places of return emphasizes invention but suggests that tradition and stability play a crucial role in that invention. The rondador and similar images are compelling in rhetorical terms not because they hold the national body still but because that apparent stillness constantly creates new possibilities. As a topos, the rondador allows for invention and development by grounding visions for the future on images of the past. Such a view of commonplaces gives further emphasis to what Miller terms the “generative potential of the familiar.” For Miller, tradition and innovation interrelate within the topos: “A revived theory of topical invention should make novelty and decorum complementary and interactive, opposing impulses that can be implemented only in tension with each other.” In this sense, a topos functions as “a point in semantic space that is particularly rich in connectivity to other significant or highly connected points.” The commonness of “commonplace” in that sense, is derived from intersections and the ability to interlock with other locations and ideas. Miller emphasizes that connectivity is key to creating novelty out of the habitual. As techniques of pattern recognition, topoi push rhetors and audiences to recognize the “familiar [in] the unfamiliar, the known [in] the unknown” and then make new connections in light of that recognition. Seen in this light, topoi provide resources for innovative arguments because they allow audiences to recognize the contexts and structures from which that novelty arises.

Within Miller’s study, while topoi are generative and open-ended in a spatial sense, providing “a region of productive uncertainty” and “a space, or a located perspective, from which one searches,” the temporal dimensions of their function are ambiguous. Miller draws on McKeon, so it is reasonable to imagine that she, like McKeon, sees topoi as cyclical. McKeon describes the commonplace as the outcome of novelty grown old: “Invention, discovery, and insight are creative modes of departure from accustomed circumstances of the commonplace to transform the customary or the unnoticed into novelties. Widely known and authoritatively established novelties in turn become commonplaces and provide circumstances and subjects for new innovations.” Defining topoi as elastic or resilient, as “places of return in changing circumstances,” presses against the idea that they gain their inventive potential primarily through a cyclical relationship with the new or a tendency to be replaced by novelty. A reliance on return directs attention instead to the lives and life spans of topoi: how they retain connectivity over time, are remodeled for new purposes along the way, and are constantly stretching and altering supposedly familiar terrain.

That insistence on seeing topoi as live over the long term again emerges from the parallel insights provided by Ecuadorianist scholarship about national identity. Scholars of Ecuadorian history broadly agree that national identity first began developing there more than twenty years after the 1830 creation of the political territory known as Ecuador. It was only in the 1850s and 1860s that economic and social pressures gave exigency to a sense of common identity that crossed regional boundaries. Not coincidentally, that moment coincided with the de jure integration of indigenous peoples into the republic in 1857, when indigenous people were no longer required to pay the separate “personal tax” or “tribute.” The projects of nation building begun in the 1850s lasted well into the twentieth century. Such a drawn out and explicit process demands attention to the enduring textures and mechanisms of nation making and, in turn, to the importance of temporal resilience within theories of the commonplace.

To make sense of that simultaneously temporal and spatial resilience, and of the topos’s ability to make novelty from the familiar, this study engages a diverse collection of archival documents drawn from a variety of moments and contexts. Taken together, those artifacts trace an intricate history of everyday and exceptional communication that has given commonplace force to visions of what it means to invoke the nation. Working from that wide concatenation of archival material (works of art, illustrations, petitions, proclamations, articles, essays, etc.) allows access to the long-term, commonplace machinations of identification and nation making in Ecuador. It demonstrates as well how both everyday and exceptional artifacts participate in the creation and dispersal of commonplaces, serving both as part of the familiar substrate that allows novelty to emerge and as examples of that novelty itself.

By describing the opposite of the “everyday” in terms of the “exceptional,” I suggest that both official and private realms produce everyday discourse and that the mundane and the extraordinary together merit rhetorical analysis. This study, then, challenges the frequent implication in scholarship that the opposite of “everyday” is “elite,” as if elites did not have an everyday and subalterns never stepped outside of the ordinary. Defining “everyday” in terms of the quotidian and opposing it to the exceptional emphasizes the different levels at which commonplaces circulate in their role as sustainers of publics. It suggests that stability and change similarly occur at multiple levels.

The constant petitions of indigenous laborers and the revolutionary speeches of political elites both prompt change by drawing on the national familiar. They simply do their work at different levels and in different scopes. To understand images like the rondador as tapping the generative potential of the familiar, then, requires a theory of the topos that pays attention to quotidian availability, such as their ubiquitous presence in market stalls, postcard displays, periodical illustrations, and watercolor sketches; and extraordinary appearances, like their presence in oil paintings or invocation in national political campaigns. It also requires awareness of the political and documentary contexts in which those images have circulated. For that reason, the coming chapters move between artifacts such as political Constitutions, geography treatises, and oil paintings (“exceptional” rhetorical objects meant to be unitary and immense in their definitive scope) and popular petitions, congressional debates, and widely reproduced pictures (“everyday” rhetorical objects that constitute publics through their mundane repetition). They examine, in other words, how complexes of everyday and exceptional artifacts convene and sustain the elastic topoi of Ecuadorian national identity.

Resonance Within Context: Placing Rhetorical Ecologies

For most of their history, rondadors have served as powerful indicators of place. While themselves often sceneless, they grew from artistic movements and commercial purposes intricately tied to a sense of location. Rondadors have participated in tourist economies, providing evidence of a visit to Ecuador and standing in for the national experience. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, rondadors also aided internal arguments about Ecuadorianness: Ecuadorian image makers made them for Ecuadorian audiences who wanted a sense of national particularity. Whether made for local audiences or foreign ones, though, rondadors sought and projected a common place: Ecuador.

The spatial specificity of the rondador points us back toward the territorial implications of the commonplace. It illuminates as well how the constitutive, permeable interplay between identifications and territories informs the experience of national identity. When it comes to national common sense and national topoi, the question of how, where, and through what scenes topoi move is essential to understanding the social energy they channel. That focus on how topoi move and influence within contexts invites us into an ecological view of rhetorical practice.

The first definition of ecology, voiced by Ernest Haeckel in 1869, is frequently glossed as “the study of the interrelations of plants and animals with their environments.” Since 1985 Charles Krebs’s definition of ecology as “the scientific study of the interactions that determine the distribution and abundance of organisms” has become more or less dominant. It is not much of a stretch to understand rhetoric in ecological terms as the study of the symbolic interactions that determine the distribution and abundance of civic life. Commonplaces, in this sense, form the shifting terrain of rhetorical ecology. They ground identifications and allow us to recognize dynamic relationships among audiences, places, rhetors, and events.

In her generative rethinking of the rhetorical situation, Jenny Edbauer introduces the term “rhetorical ecology” to emphasize the interrelations of rhetorical elements “in a wider sphere of active, historical, and lived processes.” Edbauer’s ecological project is to develop “a framework of affective ecologies that recontextualizes rhetorics in their temporal, historical, and lived fluxes.” That aim leads her to contest the “placed” aspects of rhetorical theories, noting that the social resides not in “fixed sites, but rather in a networked space of flows and connections.” “In this way,” Edbauer continues, “place becomes decoupled from the notion of situs, or fixed (series of) locations, and linked instead to the in-between en/action of events and encounters.” For Edbauer, place is always characterized by fluxes and processes, not sites. Location is displaced; place is dislocated.

While Edbauer’s emphasis on flux treats an essential piece of ecology, its departure from situs risks losing what precisely is ecological about rhetoric. Rhetorical ecologies do highlight fluid populations and mobile interactions, but they are also, fundamentally, about placed confluences: communities, ecosystems, publics. My return to Edbauer’s term in light of the Ecuadorian case finds me digging in my heels in support of location and situs. That recalcitrant interest in sites does not dispute Edbauer’s insistence on circulation as one of rhetoric’s key terms. Movement makes rhetorical practice. As Edbauer argues, no ecology is hermetically bounded; they are always permeable, though not necessarily in predictable ways. At the same time, no ecology is placeless. Even in light of Edbauer’s insight that “rhetoric emerges already infected by the viral intensities that are circulating in the social field,” no rhetorical act entirely transcends its location. It is that balance of flux and site that drives the rhetorical force of the commonplace (linking questions of place to the generative capacities of the topos).

The fact that ecology cannot be detached from place comes into focus as we consider its etymological root in the idea of oikos: ecology is the study of the “‘home life’ of living organisms.” The root of “ecology,” whether approached as biological or rhetorical, encourages attention to the relationships “between organisms [biological, discursive, symbolic, material] and their environments.” Rhetorical ecologists, like scientific ecologists, “focus on the pathways followed by energy and matter as these move among living and nonliving elements of . . . [their] ecosystem.” Ecology is about populations and interactions, then, but it is also about paths and places. This is not so much a departure from Edbauer’s claims as a reemphasizing of a less central point. Edbauer notes, after all, that a shift toward rhetorical ecologies allows us to “see that public rhetorics do not only exist in the elements of their situations, but also in the radii of their neighboring events.” Neighborhoods matter. Rhetorics circulate within and across places. Situs, if newly porous and crisscrossed with resource flows, remains powerful.

My fidelity to the territorial implications of the commonplace has two related motives, both shaped by contemporary concerns in rhetorical scholarship and by the placed histories at hand. First, rejuvenating a connection made by rhetorical theorist Scott Consigny in 1974, I suggest that rhetorical scholars ought to read our various spatialized theories in concert. We should view commonplaces, rhetorical situations, and rhetorical ecologies alongside one another to better understand the workings and possibilities of another concept whose placedness is often contested: the public. The analyses ahead, particularly in chapter 2, enact that combinatory project. Second, seeing commonplaces in terms of situated publicity and rhetorical ecologies may help rhetorical scholars grapple with the complexities of expanding our own vision. As the field engages troubling questions about the relevance of rhetorical theory to contexts minimally touched by Greco-Roman traditions, it is useful to remember that persuasive practice emerges both from places and from the forces that move across them. A new study of the topos, because it takes so seriously the question of place, pushes rhetorical scholars to review the territories of our own identifications. The majority of rhetorical scholars locate our work in places where classical rhetorical traditions overlap with, appropriate, or are washed away by other traditions of persuasion and identification. In that context, careful attention to terrain—to common and uncommon places—is essential. We need robust, flexible, and wide-ranging theories of the topos: theories that have traveled and that travel well.

The particular location of Ecuador, the landscapes and common places of a small Andean republic, also demand rhetorical scholarship that takes terrain into account. While transnational topics of modernity, science, capital, and political ideology have crossed nation-state borders and permeated Ecuadorian national argument, they have always also been moving across specifically Ecuadorian topography. Making sense of the rhetorical work of Ecuadorian national identity, then, requires careful attention to the particular ecology of its common places and common visions. The purpose and use of rhetorical theories must, similarly, shift to accommodate the forms and patterns at work in those places.

Each of the three elements of topoi discussed here—movement across modes, innovation from tradition, and ecological placement—emphasizes the interconnection among rhetorical objects, contexts, and effects as well as their circulation among audiences and moments. They direct rhetorical analysis toward the lines of force and dependence that make identifications common. Shaped by the insights made available in the Ecuadorian context, this reworked approach of topoi allows new understandings of how they authorize and sustain strong public identifications. It positions rhetorical artifacts (images, texts, performances, etc.) not as isolated instances of persuasion but as force-filled elements that move within persuasive fields and are engaged by varied publics and counterpublics in the pursuit of a coherent, legitimate, sustainable sense of a national “we.”

Setting the Scene: The Argument from Ecuadorian History (a Brief History of Ecuador)

Understanding the stakes and shape of that national “we” in the case of Ecuador requires one more round of scene setting. This final section takes heed of the reminder to place commonplaces. Constitutive Visions’s rhetorical terrain is shaped by an Ecuadorian one: replete with boundaries, histories, politics, and cultural contexts. To follow the study’s rhetorical paths, then, readers need an overview of their Andean topography and of the ways that the pages to come traverse that terrain.

Such cartographic sketching could easily start in the pre-Columbian period: tracking the Inca Huayna Capac’s invasion of what is now Ecuadorian territory or his son Atahuallpa’s rise to power only to face the Spanish invaders. Likewise, this history could begin in the colonial period with the Republic of Spaniards and Republic of Indians, whose different governing structures set the stage for future Ecuadorian policies, or with the influence of indigenous aesthetics in the so-called Quito School of sacred art. Moving toward independence, it could trace the tribute system under which indigenous people provided significant income for colonial and early republican governments. Or it might begin with Quito’s status as the site of the first “Shout” for independence—in 1809, with the Quito department’s subsequent slowness to achieve independence (on May 24, 1822), or with its separation from Simón Bolívar’s Gran Colombia in 1830.

This brief history of Ecuador actually begins, however, in the 1850s, when Ecuador formally abolished indigenous tribute (1857) and saw the founding of its first local postcolonial arts organization, the Escuela Democrática de Miguel de Santiago (1852). The year 1857 thus marks the moment when Ecuador, by law, recognized itself as incorporating rather than coexisting with its indigenous population—even if the end of tribute is best explained by its decreasing utility and not by an egalitarian urge toward inclusion. For its part, 1852 introduces a rising concern with national vision, one that positioned history, territory, and population as integral elements of Ecuadorian image making. Those two early and thoroughly intertwined events on the path of nation making set constitutive scenes that were revisited and reimagined again and again over the next hundred years. The mapping here begins from those two events, using their impetus to aid readers’ orientation to the two eras central to this study and to highlight the ways that political, artistic, and intellectual trends flowed together during those eras, making clear why it is crucial to treat them in concert.

The Romantic Picturesque from Catholic Modernity to Secular Liberalism (1852–1906)

The 1850s saw some of Ecuador’s first moves toward national integration. Prior to that, elites and subalterns alike tended to privilege local affiliation over national. Ecuadorian governments from the 1850s through the turn of the century invested in political centralization and cultural cohesion. They pursued cultural, political, and economic strategies designed to advance the nation and a sense of national identity. Civil society both drove and responded to that governmental orientation, and Ecuadorian criollos and white-mestizos launched periodicals, literary and philosophical societies, and artwork all aimed toward the idea of the nation. Though elite economic and administrative interests were a primary impetus for the move toward national vision, the means for achieving such vision strayed well beyond those realms. The notion that Ecuador ought to have a claim on the affiliations and identifications of its population required full-spectrum engagement to bring into reality. Such “all available means” attention to nation formation appears in the founding documents of the Escuela Democrática de Miguel de Santiago, in the policies and institutions advanced by successive presidents, and in the cultural production of authors, artists, and intellectuals throughout the era. Those nation-making efforts took more than fifty years to reach their first, short-lived point of stasis. The first period of this study coincides with that early era of nation formation.

The second half of the nineteenth century was a period of intense political dispute. Catholic Conservatives and secular Liberals repeatedly clashed—with words, with images, and with bullets—over the fundamentally sacred or secular nature of the nation-state. That battle slowed the process of national-identity creation and set the scene for the more chaotic contests of the next century. The era under consideration here saw a gradual shift in political dominance of the presidency from the staunchly Catholic Conservative Party (1859–75) to the bourgeois banking- and export-dominated Progressives (1883–95) to the secular Liberal Party (1895–1916). Though there were significant political and ideological differences among those groups, as the Ecuadorian historian Eduardo Kingman Garcés suggests, “they coincided, in large part, within the same process of constituting a State and a National Society” and, further, in their use of indigenous images within that process. The ideological polarities dividing Liberals and Conservatives also existed within a shared aesthetic-conceptual milieu: a positivist romanticism whose sources lay primarily outside the borders of Ecuador but whose orientation was profoundly local. Liberals and Conservatives, authors and artists, local officials and visiting experts all spoke the language of science and nature. They observed, recorded, and attempted to improve their country.

Politics, academics, and the arts were far from separate spheres in this era. The central characters of this study exemplify that fact: the artist Juan Agustín Guerrero and the author Juan Leon Mera both held elected positions and participated in party politics during their careers (Guerrero with the Liberals, Mera with the Conservatives). Conservative President Gabriel García Moreno joined visiting scientists as they scaled Quito’s famous volcano, Guagua Pichincha, and was responsible for creating the country’s first school of fine arts. The painter Joaquín Pinto alternately satirized and romanticized local culture in his art and also provided scientific illustrations for books of natural history. The archbishop of Quito, Federico Gonzalez Suárez, mediated between Liberals and Conservatives at the turn of the twentieth century, hired Pinto to illustrate his study of pre-Columbian archaeological remains, and published a history of the Spanish Americas that exposed the vices of colonial authorities and helped justify independence. The country as a whole, and Quito in particular, had a small cadre of active nation makers, and they did their constitutive work in conversation and conflict with one another.

García Moreno, who dominated Ecuadorian politics between 1859 and his assassination in 1875, is usually credited with the first successful period of Ecuadorian state and national-identity formation. His authoritarian approach, fierce commitment to Catholic doctrine, and pursuit of scientific and educational advances sparked both great change and great resistance. He pushed through an official alliance with Rome in 1866, sponsored scientific expeditions, founded educational institutions, and promoted infrastructure projects. During his presidency, the arts began to flourish again in Ecuador after a period of decay during the early republic. Though artists in this era worked in the shadows of Europe—their status often depended on their ability to train there—they also began to promote a new sense of Ecuadorian particularity. They painted local landscapes, extolled the heroes of the wars of independence, and sketched scenes of “local color” through a genre known as costumbrismo. Guerrero, Pinto, and Mera all came of age in this era and produced work that envisioned Ecuador’s popular spirit, critiqued its foibles, and promoted its particularity. Those projects—artistic and administrative—advanced a vision of Ecuador as an integrated national whole, and they left clear marks on the political, architectural, scientific, and economic state of the nation.

After García Moreno’s assassination in 1875, Ecuador entered a period of upheaval that eventually led to an alliance between Coastal agro-export interests and conservative Highland landowners. Pairing the social values of the Conservatives with bourgeoisie economic interests, these Progressive governments approached national development in terms of the growing interests of cacao production and exportation on the coast. That outward turn also precipitated Ecuador’s participation in the world’s fairs and international expositions of the era. The Ecuadorian pavilions in Paris, Madrid, and Chicago featured Highland textiles and Coastal cacao; they vaunted a spirit of republican progress through paintings of heroes and martyrs; and they displayed landscapes and local customs in the romantic picturesque of the day.

In general, the emphasis on national images continued to grow in aesthetic circles during that era. Mera began to publish prolifically and became a central figure in Highlands intellectual and political circles. His best known novel, Cumandá—a romantic tale set in the Amazon—joined hundreds of poems and essays, as well as a guide to the Constitution, a textbook on geography, a compilation of popular songs, and the text of the national anthem. Pinto, becoming better known in Quito, produced large numbers of both costumbrista watercolors and traditional, religion-themed oil paintings. He also provided illustrations for a study of Ecuador’s biological diversity written by the French naturalist Auguste Cousin and for archaeological texts by González Suárez. Around the same time, Luís A. Martínez, the youngest son of a prominent Highland family who would become an influential Liberal politician, artist, and author, came to Quito. He began writing and painting for public consumption in the 1890s, making a name for himself as an avid mountaineer and amateur scientist along the way. Considerations of indigenous culture infused much of Martínez’s work—from paintings of the Incan highway (fig. 10) to photographs of mountain chozas (huts) and laments over the rustic state of Ecuadorian agriculture. Even Progressive Era efforts to move outward and establish Ecuador in the world (through export, participation in world’s fairs, scientific publication, etc.) meant looking inward for defining features and national character.

During the Progressive Era, Liberal resistance to the national government gradually increased. An economic and political crisis in the 1890s gave the exiled Liberal leader General Eloy Alfaro the opening he needed, and the 1895 Liberal Revolution brought Alfaro into power. That upheaval occasioned dramatic shifts in Ecuador’s national climate: the secular Liberals expropriated church property, established civil marriage laws, and began building a secular system of education. Ideologically and politically, Liberals were invested in improving the status of the “miserable” Indian. In service of that commitment, they eliminated the state-enforced tithe that the Catholic Church had demanded of indigenous people; they moved against the debt-peonage system of concertaje (though their own interests delayed its demise until the 1920s); and they debated the possibility of extending citizenship to illiterate Ecuadorians (a change that did not occur until 1979). Like their predecessors Liberals were also committed to establishing a coherent sense of the nation. They pushed through the long-awaited completion of a railway that would connect the Coast to the Highlands. In 1904, at the urging of Luís Martínez, Alfaro’s successor founded the Escuela de Bellas Artes (School of Fine Arts) that still exists in Quito today. An aging Joaquín Pinto was one of the school’s first professors, and many of the next generation’s prominent artists received their training there.

Elite Conservatives, Progressives, and Liberals found themselves at odds over religion, politics, and economics. They shared, however, an overarching goal of national vision and mobilized many of the same tools in service of that vision. They grappled with how to imagine the country’s indigenous majority; they built highways and railways to transport goods from the Coast to the Highlands (and back); they engaged the arts, natural science, and history to tell the national story. Again and again, romantic bourgeois positivism set them in pursuit of a discoverable, measurable, and demonstrable nation defined, as the official closing phrase of Liberal-era missives put it, by order and progress.

Social Realism from Populist Politics to the Artistic Left (1929–1948)

Though it focuses primarily on the 1930s and 1940s, the second period of this study effectively begins with the July Revolution (Revolución Juliana), sparked fifteen years after liberalism’s more radical hopes died alongside Eloy Alfaro in the hands of a Guayaquil mob. The twenty-three years between the July Revolution and the coup d’état against President José María Velasco Ibarra in 1947 were characterized by persistent instability: revolving administrations, economic crises, the fission of leftist political parties, and the emergence of populist politics. Artists sought to overturn the romantic aesthetics of the previous century and, in some cases, battled alongside their compatriots in the era’s armed conflicts. Throughout the period, Liberals, Conservatives, and leftists struggled to establish authority and draw the nation into their vision of modernity. For all of them, the terms of social realism—starkly focused on the country’s problems and possibilities—offered a vocabulary for assessing both national present and national future.

The 1930s and 1940s were particularly fraught with crises. There were constitutional assemblies convened in 1929, 1937, 1938, 1944, and 1946, with new Constitutions produced in 1929, 1945, and 1946. In addition to the destabilizing effects of the global economic crisis of the thirties and the rise of fascism in Europe, internal political struggles and escalating tensions with Peru made for a chaotic era. In the 1930s no president served a full four-year term, and there were multiple brief dictatorships, multiple appointed executives, and multiple coups d’état. The first seven years of the 1940s saw only two governments, but one was overthrown by revolution and the other by coup d’état, and both administrations faced (and suppressed) significant political turmoil. This mid-twentieth-century period featured a socialist president who favored the Catholic Church and export interests while violently suppressing leftist parties, and a populist Conservative president who briefly sponsored the nation’s “Red” Constitution and founded key state institutions that would house the nation’s intellectual and artistic Left. It is no surprise, then, that President Galo Plaza Lasso, who took office after a democratic election in 1948, characterized his arrival in power as an “experiment in democracy” that would replace the instability of “twenty-seven chiefs of state, four presidents in one month, six constitutions and innumerable so-called revolutions” with a new era of “social justice, of better times, and of opportunities for work . . . in an atmosphere of peace and liberty and justice.”

For white-mestizo politicians, intellectuals, and artists during the mid-twentieth century, discussions about indigenous people almost always engaged the terms of the so-called Indian problem. At its most basic, that “problem” saw unhygienic, uneducated, impoverished, and marginalized indigenous people as a threat to the life of the nation. Where the academic efforts of previous eras had emphasized a mythic indigenous past through historical narrative and archaeology, mid-twentieth-century scholars known as indigenistas turned to psychology and physiology to examine the problems of the indigenous present. Though some scholars situated indigenous struggles in light of ongoing exploitation, they still viewed contemporary indigenous people as unfit for active participation in the nation-state.

Indigenismo also came to dominate the arts in Ecuador during the 1930s and 1940s. Like the costumbrismo of the nineteenth century and the romantic indianismo of the early twentieth century, indigenismo depicted Ecuador as a nation of Indians. Unlike its earlier cousins inspired by romanticism and positivism, however, indigenismo was grounded in social realism and linked to the expressivist strands of modern art. Starting around 1935 young indigenistas in the Highlands rebelled against the established salon culture and its connections to Quito’s traditional aristocracy. They joined or sympathized with the Ecuadorian socialist party and supported leftist political struggles. Some of the indigenistas, including the painter Eduardo Kingman and the critic Benjamín Carrión, became central figures in the new art institutions founded in the 1940s under the aegis of the Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana. Some—Oswaldo Guayasamín, Camilo Egas, Galo Galecio, Carlos Rodríguez, Kingman, and Carrión—gained fame both in Ecuador and abroad. Egas spent most of his career at the New School in New York, while Guayasamín remained in Ecuador but became the international face of indigenismo and its leftist politics. Galecio and Rodríguez traveled to Mexico on government scholarships in the forties; Kingman traveled to the United States through artistic exchanges in the forties and fifties; Carrión lived off and on as an ex-patriot and sometime diplomat in several European and Latin American countries from the late twenties through the early forties. Indigenista artists painted murals in public buildings, provided illustrations for poems and periodicals, and established new salons and arts collectives. They aimed to alter the scene of Ecuadorian art, making it more profoundly Ecuadorian, more committed to the popular classes, and more visibly modern. In the process, they helped shift the terrain of what “Ecuadorian” looked like, but they also kept that national picture resolutely indigenous.

Between the July Revolution and the ouster of José María Velasco Ibarra very little about the Ecuadorian civil scene can be said to have been stable except, perhaps, change itself. It is compelling, then, that the symbolic role of indigenous people within visions of the nation remained so consistent. There were, of course, fierce debates over the ideological valence of images, over the political purpose behind invocations of the “Indian problem,” and over the aesthetic strategies used to depict indigenous people. Yet still the struggling nation remained inextricably and influentially tied to visions of indigeneity throughout those three decades.

From 1852 through 1947, then, projects of nation making occupied a central place in Ecuadorian rhetorical production. They infused artistic media and national development strategies. They crossed ideological, ethnic, and religious lines. They remained consistently present even as political and social circumstances changed dramatically. Images like the rondadors who opened this introduction were central to those nation-making projects, helping condense and circulate national vision. Romantic and picturesque in the nineteenth century, hauntingly realist in the twentieth, those images helped the nation imagine itself.

On Public Projects of Identification

The preceding pages developed in light of a driving yet implicit question for the rhetorical study of images like the rondador: what do these repeated, resilient images tell us about how national identity is created and sustained and, in turn, what does such telling reveal about how rhetoric works? My answer to these questions, elaborated over the course of the next six chapters, is this: as scholars interested in how human communities give “emphasis and importance to contested matters,” rhetoricians need to pay particular attention to those public projects to which we ascribe powerful emotional attachments, including nationalisms and other politicized identities. Drawing the circle more widely, all scholars interested in nations, publics, and peoples need to understand how strong identifications form, how they change, and how they set the scene for public interaction and decision making. Using the generative case of Ecuador as catalyst, I argue that such strong identifications are formed and sustained in large part through their circulation in resilient commonplaces that provide a place of return for identification even in the midst of change.

In mapping a history of national common sense and elastic identifications, Constitutive Visions both advances and resists a narrative of nation-state formation. It resists that narrative by looking critically at the teleological assertions of national development and new beginnings that so often accompany discourses of democracy and nationalism. It advances it by tracing the interplay of permanence and change within narratives of national identity, showing how resilient commonplaces sustain new arguments about the nation. To maintain a productive tension between such analysis and resistance, the book vacillates between chronological and conceptual development, using three complementary pairs of chapters: The opening and closing sections, chapter 1 and the conclusion, bookend the study with analyses of Ecuadorian constitutions and the rhetorics of permanence and change. The second pair of chapters engages two central nation-founding commonplaces, one that links history, indigeneity, and landscape (chapter 2) and another that holds in tension indigenous labor and national modernity (chapter 3). Chapters 4 and 5, the final chapter couplet, investigate how identifications of the Indian as other and self have enabled arguments about national legitimacy. Engaging a variety of artifacts—images, letters, policies, performances—each chapter of Constitutive Visions asks how, why, and by whom such artifacts were created and what work they have done within changing social and political contexts. Taken as a whole, the chapters demonstrate the powerful roles played by resilient commonplaces in the constitution of national identity and emphasize the particular force that elements of visual culture lend to the constitution of strong identifications. They make clear how wide-ranging and multimodal investigations of topoi can foster more robust understandings of national identity and allow us to take better account of the commonplaces and common visions of nationalism.

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