Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

English Rhetoric and Composition, PhD

Committee Chair

Schneider, Stephen

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Petrosino, Kiki

Committee Member

Petrosino, Kiki

Committee Member

Johnson, Tim

Committee Member

Williams, Bronwyn

Committee Member

Gibson, John


Prisoners' writings; Prisoners--Social conditions; Rhetoric--United States


This dissertation is a theoretical analysis of rhetorical constructions of identity as they are impacted by spatiality, with specific regard to the writing of incarcerated persons. It begins with an exploration of prison as “rhetorical space”—that is, the specific geography of communicative events, which includes both the material conditions of the environment as well as the cultural, abstracted conditions which offer persuasive potential. Proposing then a framework for analysis along these lines—a concept called “rhetorical cartography”—it then turns its attention, in the latter half, to analysis of actual texts authored by American prisoners. This dissertation is divided into four chapters, covering prison space, rhetorical cartography, and extended analyses of two subject groups. Chapter One considers the historical and theoretical dimensions of the modern prison as it works with accounts of the prison’s spatiality from guards and inmates alike. Drawing on these texts, Chapter One suggests that prison space and the prisoner identity are dialectically linked, resulting in a conception of the prison that results from its prisoners, as well as ideas about individual prisoner identities that emerge from the environment of the prison. Chapter Two attends to relevant spatial and postmodern theory in order to propose a framework for studying this linkage of space and identity: “rhetorical cartography.” Chapter Two then elaborates on this framework via explorations of texts that draw attention to this linkage, resulting in the identification of a two-step pattern of rhetorical action: “spatial inventory” and “recalibration.” While Chapters One and Two serve to theorize the rationale and framework behind “rhetorical cartography,” Chapters Three and Four turn more heavily to analysis of prison texts. Chapter Three considers the cartographic rhetoric of African-American males writing in the context of the civil rights era; Chapter Four enters a modern context by exploring the increasingly visible texts of female prisoners. While Chapter Three focuses more heavily on the shared rhetorical moves of its subjects as a group, Chapter Four looks to explore the moves of prisoners who are less aware of each other’s work, and yet who exhibit similar constructions of identity with relation to cultural identity.