Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of English: English Studies

First Advisor

Julie Jung


While campaigning for reelection in 2012, President Barack Obama gave a speech in which he uttered the sentence “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” In the aftermath of the speech, the phrase “you didn’t build that” circulated widely in political discourse, generating a variety of responses from campaigns and commentators as to what the phrase means. This thesis uses a posthuman rhetorical framework to investigate how “you didn’t build that” influenced and was transformed by political discourse systems. Specifically, I synthesize scholarship on complex systems, enthymeme, and new materialism to argue that the ambiguity of the phrase enables individuals to draw inferences capable of destabilizing discourse systems, and that from such disruptions emerge responses that work to (re)stabilize those systems. In particular, I analyze a response from the Obama campaign, articles written by political commentators, and the “You didn’t build that” Wikipedia page in order to consider the rhetorical activity generated by the phrase. Ultimately, this thesis argues that treating sites of analysis as momentarily stable can provide a productive means of investigating the complexity of

rhetorical movement. I also maintain that seemingly divisive arguments can indicate subtle yet significant changes in political discourse.


Imported from ProQuest Scott_ilstu_0092N_10790.pdf


Page Count


Included in

Rhetoric Commons