English Ph.D. Dissertations


The Art of Heterotopian Rhetoric: A Theory of Science Fiction as Rhetorical Discourse

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


English/Rhetoric and Writing

First Advisor

Sue Carter Wood (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

William Armaline (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Kristine Blair (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Thomas Wymer (Committee Member)


This study builds a theory or vocabulary that explains science fiction (SF) as a form of persuasion, called Heterotopian Rhetoric. This rhetoric utilizes a cognitively estranged scientific heterotopia (an other place: a utopia, eutopia, or dystopia) as a proof and appeal that persuasively demonstrates to dynaton, what is possible. The vocabulary of Heterotopian Rhetoric is built through the contextual re-vision and synthesis of SF critical theory, classic rhetoric, sophistic rhetoric, feminist rhetoric, and several relevant philosophical and scientific vocabularies. The use of a cognitively estranged scientific heterotopia (CESH) as a proof and an appeal is particularly useful when the rhetor/author wants to critique readers' hegemonies and privileged cognitive paradigms, especially those with which they identify. The CESH proof provides a psychological projection situated within the realm of potentiality that absorbs direct criticism and subverts the readers' defense mechanisms. Numerous feminist SF novels can be read as utilizing the CESH proof to critique and persuade their traditionally white, male audiences by “educating” their cognitive paradigms or “ways of seeing”. So after building the vocabulary of Heterotopian Rhetoric in chapters one through three, Chapter Four applies and exemplifies the vocabulary through a case study of Octavia E. Butler's Lilith's Brood trilogy. The study concludes by suggesting further study of Butler's Parables novels and their embedded Earthseed text as not only Heterotopian Rhetoric, but rhetorical theory.