Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Professional Writing

Committee Chair

Loel Kim

Committee Member

Susan Popham

Committee Member

Emily Thrush

Committee Member

Charles Hall


Abstract Willis, Sharese. Ph.D. The University of Memphis. May 2010. A Burkeian Analysis of the Embryo in the Congressional Debate over Federally Funding Embryonic Stem Cell Research (1998-2001). Major Professor: Loel Kim, Ph.D.Debates about publicly funded science research have attracted the interest of various types of stakeholders who use different strategies to argue their positions. The more scientists use human biological material as their focus of study, the more nonscientists call for and participate in debate about such research. In this dissertation, I study the debate about embryonic stem cell research by analyzing transcripts from Congressional hearings held from 1998 to 2001. In the study, I center my analysis on how supporters and opponents of the research variously defined the embryo and embryonic stem cells according to their own interests. To accomplish this, I use Kenneth Burke’s dramatistic pentad as a rubric to identify components of the embryo’s journey from its creation to the end proposed by the hearing witness, whether implantation in a womb or transplantation in a patient. Burke proposes that the pentad be used to identify what people are doing and why they are doing it. The study examines what people are doing with the embryo and why they are doing it. In this dissertation, I aimed to answer the following questions: How is the embryo defined? And how does the embryo become a treatment for conditions beyond infertility? The results of the study indicate that hearing participants defined the embryo according to its context, its procedural origin, and its future direction. Also, supporters of the research portrayed the embryo as a treatment by surrounding the embryo and embryonic stem cells with people and settings that suggest research and then medical application. The findings of the study suggest that definitions are malleable and can be used effectively as a tool of persuasion. In addition, members of the lay public who wish to participate in debates about publicly funded science should be aware of the definitional perspective of government entities and the resources that they have to construct their arguments. Finally, budding scientists also would benefit from training in argumentative strategies because contemporary public science requires that efforts be made outside of the laboratory in order to pursue the research of the laboratory itself.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.