Date of Award

Summer 7-10-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Peter Simonson

Second Advisor

Gerard Hauser

Third Advisor

Nathan Stormer


This dissertation develops a theory that accounts for the rhetorical practices that constitute living entities as sacred, expendable, or somewhere in between. I forward a concept of zoerhetorics, defined as legible, consequential, public, and partisan discourses or practices that raise or lower the status of entities along lines intelligible to biopolitical regimes of living. These biopolitical trenches of difference include gender, race, and ability. Joining biopolitics and posthumanist rhetorical theory, zoerhetorical theory attempts to understand how lives come to matter along the status-laden thresholds of humanity and citizenship. The theory of zoerhetorics forwarded here draws on the biopolitical/necropolitical production of unequal populations in order to explain the processes by which some living entities obtain higher or lower statuses than other living entities.

In order to ramify zoerhetorical theory, I analyze the trajectories of zoerhetorics across three field-assemblages in the contemporary United States. The first case study explores the ways in which rhetorics at the National Memorial for the Unborn in Chattanooga, Tennessee inflate the status of fetal entities. By employing the zoerhetorical tropes (or zoetropes) of naming, apostrophe (en-voicing), and prosopopeia (en-facing), the Memorial for the Unborn inflates the status of the fetal entity, with resulting consequences of livability distributed across various groups of entities. The second case study explores the zoerhetorics of CIA drone strike targets in Pakistan, as represented in the New York Times. Across dichotomies of innocence (militant/civilian) and social belonging (U.S. citizen/Other), American-identified drone rhetorics produce racialized bodies for targeting in Pakistan. The third case study explores zoerhetorics of populations encouraged toward "life" as they exercise in upscale athletic clubs in Boulder, Colorado. Through zoe/rhetorics of training and whiteness, vitality-performing biocitizens maintain and justify accumulated embodied privilege through practices of vitality. At each of these sites, zoerhetorics operate in prescriptive, iterative ways for entities with a contested relationship to humanity: the fetus, the drone target, and the vital biocitizen. The final chapter concludes with a series of topoi (topical resources), horoi (boundary markers), and qualities of zoerhetorics, as well as recommended future directions for building zoerhetorical theory.