Geopolitical Kairos Lesson


additional keywords: international relations, presidential rhetoric, genre

In “The Specter of Nuestra América: Barack Obama, Latin America, and the 2009 Summit of the Americas” René De los Santos presents a critical view of Obama’s first presidential speech as providing definitional work in U.S.- international relations. De los Santos situates his argument in presidential rhetoric studies, using David Zarefsky to hone in on the “institutional function” (164) that speeches made by U.S. presidents may serve, especially in international contexts. De los Santos does acknowledge the pathos-driven, oratorical function of a president’s national address, but concerns himself with the kinds of identifications available to such rhetors in the broader Américan hemisphere, and how these suggest a series of ideological assumptions that can have political repercussions.

School begins

Focusing more on De los Santos’ criticism, it’s important to keep in mind the rhetorical situation he is addressing [the Summit of the Americas], but also the kairotic moment in which an attention to Cuban-U.S. relationships are increasingly shifting.

Later on, the article goes into an explanation of the historical background that informed Obama’s perceptions of the role of the United States in the 2009 American Summit. De los Santos especially notes a “barbarism-civilization duality,” which seems to have resonances with Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny ideologies—a worldview wherein the United States has the responsibility to watch over/control other American geopolitical settings.

  • How are we understanding a “barbarism-civilization duality” frame? What are the worldviews and locations presented in the reading thus far?

More recently, the Cuban Embassy now has its place in Washington DC, and there are signs of increasingly friendlier relations between Cubans and U.S. Americans.

To continue our exploration of U.S-Cuban relations, and by way of introducing visual rhetoric, we should look at a photo essay that depicts “Hipsters in Havana,” which shows how Cuban millennials are not so different from U.S. youth cultures.

  • What kinds of identifications can be made here? What are the points of consubstantiality presented? Who do you think is the geopolitical audience of Foreign Policy?


Brainstorming for our next assignment–“Geopolitical Visual Rhetorics”

Considering De los Santos’ attention to a barbaric-civilized dualism, today you will begin brainstorming about concepts that are used to describe “others” so you can study the potential repercussions of such descriptions. For example, you can focus on a concept like “immigrant” and go from there. You can stay within the confines of the U.S. nation-state, or you can study other geopolitical areas where you see culture and language intersect in a meaningful way.

Ultimately, you will: Choose a concept that is, in your view, contested; Write descriptors you’re familiar with; Find images and trace the sources used.

In class you’ll be thinking collectively of concepts and common descriptors. For homework, you’ll search the internet for images that fit the descriptions you came up with, and plug in the sources you used. Write an entry in your reflexivity journal about the frames, locations and worldviews that the sources demonstrate.

For example:

Concept Common Descriptors Images Sources
  Illegal, dangerous,
Immigrant Ancestors, important


Works Cited:

De los Santos, and René Agustín. “The Specter of Nuestra América: Barack Obama, Latin America and the 2009 Summit of the Americas.” The Making of Barack Obama: The Politics of Persuasion: 163-180.