Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Urban and Public Affairs

Degree Program

Urban and Public Affairs, PhD

Committee Chair

Walker, Margath

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Imbroscio, David

Committee Member

Imbroscio, David

Committee Member

DeCaro, Daniel

Committee Member

Ruez, Derek

Committee Member

Curtin, John-Robert

Author's Keywords

Compassionate city; Louisville; critical discourse analysis; emotional governance; Neoliberalism


Since 2011, the city of Louisville, the site of this research, has been calling itself “Compassionate City.” The dissertation takes Compassionate Louisville as a city brand and seeks to investigate the effect of the image construction on the local politics. It aims to investigate the latent discourses produced by Compassionate Louisville in relation to the neoliberal political economy of the city. This dissertation employs the Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) methodology. Compassionate Louisville, being a brand, produces a discourse of compassion. The CDA methodological approach helps to investigate this manufactured discourse in relation to the neoliberal socio-political context of the city. To conduct the study, the dissertation has analyzed textual data from a variety of sources, including interviews of key participants, city government reports, planning documents, meeting minutes of Metro Council, local news publications, websites of the city government, and relevant non-profit organizations. There are three specific but interrelated findings of this dissertation. First, the discourse produced by Compassionate Louisville permeates the political narrative of Louisville and is increasingly used in policy rationales, contestation, debates, and claim-making. The discourse is strategically used by various groups, including politicians, city officials, religious organizations, activists, non-profits, and businesses. Second, the discourse of compassion aids neoliberalism by privatizing the responsibility of welfare in the disguise of a moral high ground of compassion. In the process, it depoliticizes social problems, displaces rights, and entrenches the precarity of the communities. Third, the discourse of compassion is an urban version of humanitarian governance and acts as a technology of neoliberalism. It serves to manage the marginalized population of the city, discipline emotions to make the working population more compliant, and create the ground to transform emotions into a productive asset through which value can be extracted. Taken together, the dissertation finds that the discourse of compassion in Louisville originates and operates in the social context of neoliberalism- it works the work of capital in the disguise of a humanitarian narrative.