Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Member

Brad McAdon

Committee Member

Michael Osborn


American democracy demands deliberative debates rather than dictatorship, which require engaged individuals equipped with civic communication skills. The establishing of united states created a need to educate democratic citizens. This study investigates what it means to be an active American citizen and how citizenship is conceptualized and rhetorically practiced in the United States. In surveying civic education centers housed at universities that teach various ideals of democratic citizenship, I focus a close analysis on university-based associations from three national organizations: Western Kentucky University's Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility and ALIVE Center for Community Partnerships (American Democracy Project), Michigan State University's Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement (Campus Compact), and Colorado State University's Center for Public Deliberation (National Issues Forum Institute). I argue that the rhetoric of these centers constitutes a genre of human communication that expresses democratic voices. I employ a discourse genre analysis to find that the civic education center genre is characterized as (1) a rhetorical response to America's democratic problem of participation that (2) communicates the common purpose of teaching citizenship. I identify four shared themes that reveal the rhetorical view of the ideal citizen put forth by the centers. Next, I perform a phenomenological investigation in order to explore the space where the students' experiences and centers' discourses interconnect. Four common themes emerge from the student interviews: (1) giving back; (2) community engagement; (3) making a difference; and (4) gaining an awareness of others. In examining their lived experiences, I discover expressions of how citizenship feels. Finally, I rhetorically analyze my phenomenological results to illuminate the centers' influences and their effectiveness. I find that the students appear to adopt the centers' language, and the managers and staff view them as being successful. Studying civic education centers as a genre exposes an important aspect of the rhetorical foundation of the American democratic system. I conclude that this civic education center discursive genre: (1) reveals democracy as a communication process, (2) exposes the affective aspects of citizenship, and (3) expands the sphere of democracy. Overall, my research contributes to the field by bringing to light significant connections between communication and citizenship.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

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