Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Department of English
In deliberative argument, in political discourse, in teaching, and in casual conversation, as rhetors we often hope that our attempts at interaction will have some effect on the participants in these discursive environments. The phenomena of stubbornness, however, would seem to suggest that, despite our efforts, there are times when rhetoric just doesn't work. This dissertation complicates this premise, and in so doing complicates common understandings of both stubbornness and rhetorical effect. As I argue, rhetorical effects exist within a complex rhetoric system, within which they circulate and are interconnected with a diversity of other rhetorical and non-rhetorical elements. Using N. Katherine Hayles's concept of "making the cut," I argue that within such complex systems, stability and change are tangled up in an interdependent relationship; in short, in order for complexity to exist it must be constrained by contingent stabilities. These necessary stabilities mask the way that systems are always moving, and so we often do not see changes in the rhetoric systems we inhabit. In this sense, these changes are compensatory, and they work to maintain a stability that can manifest precisely as stubbornness. In delineating what I call a "rhetoric-systems" approach, this dissertation maps the stabilities and movements of several different rhetoric systems, and provides new insight into the complex and relational movement of rhetorical effect. Our use of this approach asks us to recognize the existence and value of certainty and stability, and then to pull back and recognize the existence of complexity and change. The approach integrates insights from systems theory (and so from the sciences) into existing rhetorical theory, and in so doing models an interdisciplinary approach to public rhetorics and writing studies that is firmly grounded in rhetorical theory.
Mays, Chris, "Building Complexity, One Stability at a Time: Rethinking Stubbornness in Public Rhetorics and Writing Studies" (2014). Theses and Dissertations. 89.