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

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Kopelson, Karen

Committee Member

Kopelson, Karen

Committee Member

Sheridan, Mary P.

Committee Member

Boehm, Beth

Committee Member

Palmeri, Jason

Author's Keywords

narrative; rhetoric; circulation


This dissertation examines the digital circulation of personal narratives by non-celebrity individuals that become part of larger public and political debates. I posit the “available means of imagination” to describe the ways that narratives – cultural, fictional, and personal – influence our ability to understand the many facets of a given public debate before tracing the interactions among narrative, emotion, and circulation in a series of case studies using new materialist methods. I argue that emotion plays a key role in structures of participation of social media and in how we subsequently engage with contemporary political issues, especially with regards to what we choose to circulate. The dissertation is divided into five chapters, including three case studies. Chapter 1 offers an overview of rhetorical approaches to the public debate, circulation – digital or otherwise – and narrative. The second chapter, which covers Liza Long’s article “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” establishes the relationship between emotion and circulation, arguing that Long’s post traveled widely because of the wide range of emotions it evoked. Chapter 3 analyzes the circulation of the story of Savannah Dietrich, a teenage sexual assault victim who violated a court order by posting the names of her underage attackers on Twitter, via its uptake into preexisting ideologics, demonstrating the ways rhetors may adapt another’s personal narrative to serve as evidence of their own claims while also having their own interpretations of the story mitigated by their worldviews. Chapter 4 examines the case of GamerGate, a movement purportedly devoted to ethics in games journalism which began with programmer Eron Gjoni’s blog post about his relationship and break-up with game designer Zoe Quinn. This case provides further insights into how a personal narrative may be interpreted to fit a preexisting world view, as well as demonstrating how competing narratives develop surrounding the same event, including accounts of the motivations of participants, critiques of opponents, and moves to bolster the ethos of the group with which the rhetor identifies.

Included in

Rhetoric Commons