Electronic Theses and Dissertations



Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Craig Stewart

Committee Member

Antonio de Velasco

Committee Member

Andre E. Johnson

Committee Member

William E. Duffy


In this dissertation on rethinking the rhetorical dimensions of public refusals, I attempt to enhance the heuristic value of compositionist John Schilb’s neglected but promising concept of rhetorical refusal with (1) an amplification of his higher principle criterion using rhetorical studies of decorum and (2) the scholarly deployment of strategic silence, journalism ethics, controversy and melodrama, irony, and prophetic rhetoric. In so doing, I (1) endeavor to inspire cross-disciplinary dialogue between those who study rhetoric in communication departments and those who study rhetoric in English departments; (2) demonstrate analyses of rhetorical refusals that take us beyond the cases explored in Schilb’s work; and (3) illustrate how additional concepts from communication studies can add to the theoretical significance of rhetorical refusal. This is the first communication department dissertation devoted to a monograph-length analysis of rhetorical refusal—an understudied concept that deserves further academic attention. A principal aim of this dissertation is to encourage such attention. Rhetorical refusals are strategic communicative moves that challenge the expectations of audiences. Rhetors affirm the appropriateness of this discontinuity with convention by prioritizing a higher principle that takes different forms depending on the speaker or writer. In focusing on and exploring the ethical dimensions of decorum in my three case studies, I attempt to improve and expand the reader’s understanding of rhetorical refusals. I discuss rhetorical refusal and (1) two contemporary campaigns urging journalists not to focus heavily on mass shooters; (2) Frederick Douglass’s 1852 Fourth of July oration; and (3) the 2001 Jonathan Franzen/Oprah Winfrey controversy.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to ProQuest.


Open Access