Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

English Rhetoric and Composition, PhD

Committee Chair

Sheridan, Mary P

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Johnson, Timothy

Committee Member

Johnson, Timothy

Committee Member

Kelderman, Frank

Committee Member

Eble, Michelle

Author's Keywords

rhetorical genre studies; institutional rhetorics; gender and sexuality; evangelical Christianity


This dissertation forwards a rhetorical theory of institutions that centers their genre-based communications, redefines institutions in relation to organizations, and contributes to the field’s understanding of how communities collaboratively rewrite entrenched institutionalized practices from the outside, thus reducing the harm that institutions can enact. Using evangelical church policies on marriage as a case study, I answer the following questions: How do historically sedimented institutions, their genres, and their practices rhetorically impose, legitimize, and regulate certain patterns of social life? How does an evangelical Christian church manage to govern the gendered and sexual lives of their members and maintain their power in these arenas over long periods of time? How do communities intervene in institutional violence as a form of tactical institutional critique? More specifically, how do Church Clarity volunteers collaborate with their website’s users to uncover the actively enforced policies of churches that are largely occluded from the general public? I investigate these questions by tracing how one large, sweeping institution (evangelical marriage) has composed/imposed certain realities onto its LGBTQ members through the uptake of one genre (the church policy) without providing them the technical knowledge necessary to understand the risks they face by becoming involved. Through three case studies, I demonstrate how rhetorical genre studies (RGS) can provide the necessary foundation for expanding our theories of institutions. In these case studies, RGS revealed a series of new claims about institutional rhetorics: that institutions are constantly changing, and that change is even necessary to their sustained presence; that establishing and maintaining a conferral-based system of legitimacy is crucial to organizational power; and that rhetorical deinstitutionalization is possible at the individual level if we begin to envision it differently. Institutions as genres opens up our studies to be able to see much more about how they operate at the organizational and individual levels, how they travel across contexts, how they are continually used to exercise power over people, and how they may begin to break down under pressure.

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