Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

English Rhetoric and Composition, PhD

Committee Chair

Journet, Debra

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Boehm, Beth A.

Committee Member

Sheridan, Mary P.

Committee Member

Stanev, Hristomir

Committee Member

Bawarshi, Anis

Author's Keywords

rhetorical genre; media; multimodality; mode; gendered writing


This dissertation proposes a retheorization of rhetorical genres, media, and modes, with a particular emphasis on how this interrelationship reinstantiates and/or subverts deeply entrenched power dynamics over time. Current scholarship often depicts genres and media in a one-to-one relationship that obscures the intricate ways rhetorical genres and media rely on one another to enable (or hinder) writers’ participation in particular discourse communities. This project primarily focuses on gendered power and analyzes letters—a traditionally feminized genre—in three distinct time periods marked by media transition. Specifically, I explore ways women employ genre and media affordances together to assume positions of greater authority and examine how texts mediate who can exercise power. The first chapter reviews scholarship on rhetorical genre theory, media studies, and multimodal composition and introduces a new theoretical model. The first case focuses on Renaissance women’s manuscript letterwriting in the Bagot family collection (Chapter Two). The second case examines Samuel Richardson’s gendered epistolary writing in his vernacular letters, printed manuals, and fiction (Chapter Three). Finally, Chapter Four examines epistolary conventions of social media posts in Pantsuit Nation. Using these cases, I drew conclusions about how genres and media can continue to exclude and/or promote certain writers’ voices in and over time—even when the genres and media appear more accessible and inclusive. The project emphasizes how genres and media influence our lives and enable us to make space for ourselves in the world. Genres and media shape each other in recurrent, dynamic processes through their modal affordances and respond to the social and cultural exigencies of a particular moment. As a field committed to inclusivity and the study of power in language, we must retheorize the dynamic processes involved in writing platforms if we are to empower students and other writers and citizens with whom we work.

Included in

Rhetoric Commons