Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

English Rhetoric and Composition, PhD

Committee Chair

Williams, Bronwyn T.

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Kopelson, Karen

Committee Member

Journet, Debra

Committee Member

Jaffe, Aaron

Committee Member

Hart, D. Alexis


Identity (Philosophical concept); Soldiers--Psychology


In this dissertation, I examine the public negotiation of service member identity by multiple stakeholders as a way to better understand the available rhetorical strategies for affecting ideological constructions of identity. While current Rhetoric and Composition research attends mostly to student-veterans, I draw on cultural and rhetorical theorists, such as Louis Althusser, Kenneth Burke, Maurice Charland, to identify the rhetorical approaches used to construct military personnel identity, particularly in the post-9/11 era. Through analysis of films, recruiting materials, and the publicly-shared stories of personnel, I extend current understandings of constitutive rhetoric and rhetorical identification—which tend to focus on the work of the rhetor as he or she addresses a target, constituted audience—to consider the interventions made by other institutional and individual stakeholders. In the first two chapters, I provide the scholarly and cultural context for this dissertation. In the first chapter, I review cultural studies and rhetoric scholarship regarding ideology, rhetoric, and identity to form the groundwork for a study that enriches our understanding of not only military personnel but importantly of the way in which rhetors—as representatives of institutions and as individuals—negotiate, challenge, and shape ideological understandings. In the second chapter, I argue that the general ideological understanding of military personnel—as seen in film—is that they are physical, aggressive, and superior in their pursuit of morally-guided endeavors. This construction of military personnel identity establishes the basic perceptions of service members and forms the ideological definition that other stakeholders begin from when adding to or challenging common notions of personnel. Chapters Three and Four examine the rhetorical strategies and tactics used by the Military institution and military service members (acting as individuals and citizens) to intervene in dominant ideological constructions of their identity. Through an analysis of Military recruiting materials, I argue that the Military makes use of a unique form of constitutive rhetoric, which I call recruiting rhetoric, to refine the popular representations of military personnel. In Chapter Four, I examine the publicly-shared stories of American military personnel and the rhetorical features used therein which demonstrate that military service members’ primary intervening approach is the use of the stories to reshape the current topoi used in public discourse about service members. These efforts by current and former military personnel serve as models for the ways in which individuals can affect powerful ideological constructions of their identity and thereby facilitate the reproduction of more accurate public representations. In my concluding chapter, I discuss the implications that my analysis has for the development and extension of constitutive rhetoric and other rhetorical strategies used to shape ideological understandings of identity generally and of military personnel identity in particular.