Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Sandra Sarkela

Committee Member

Tony De Velasco

Committee Member

Janann Sherman

Committee Member

Giuomar Duenas-Vargas


The Madres de Plaza de Mayo was once a small group of grieving mothers in Buenos Aires who sought solace during a dictatorship that began in 1976. As their resistance developed, they grew into a social and political organization whose purpose is to keep the memory of their children alive and to generate justice in Argentina and worldwide. Their leader, Hebe de Bonafini, is atypical because there was no oratorical tradition for her to follow: she created one. Throughout the thirty-four years of the mothers' movement's existence, Bonafini's rhetoric has changed and has taken a new shape. The permanent disappearance of the Madres' loved ones led to the strategies that allowed the Madres a voice during a dictatorship that silenced an entire country. A year into Argentina's military dictatorship, Bonafini framed her arguments around the injustices of the dictatorship, yet as the Madres' organization transformed to political activism and their movement split, her rhetoric became more aggressive and revolutionary. Even though democracy was established in 1983, Bonafini's resistance discourse continued for twenty-three more years, until 2006, as the Madres sustained their resistance to the Argentine government. This study is about social movements, women, mothers, and power. The focus is five of Bonafini's major speeches, chronologically dated from 1988 to 2003, analyzed to identify her rhetorical instruments of power. A close reading provides a better understanding of the speech texts which identify three consistent themes: motherhood metaphors, denial of agency and the use of prosopopoeia, and scapegoating. Strategies that generate revolution are important to study. Bonafini began to speak during a brutal dictatorship and continued to use her oratorical skills to resist the elected government after the dictatorship ended. Her rise to fame was dependent upon her rhetorical strategies; hence, a study of how Bonafini motivates and influences others by the use of verbal and nonverbal symbols is central to understanding more about this rare social movement phenomenon. A critique of Bonafini's speeches given during the late stage of this accidental yet calculated mothers' movement will provide us with much insight into their particularly persistent resistance.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

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