English Ph.D. Dissertations


Epideictic Without the Praise: A Heuristic Analysis for Rhetoric of Blame

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


English/Rhetoric and Writing

First Advisor

Kristine Blair (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Richard Gebhardt (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Lance Massey (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Lisa Dimling (Committee Member)


This dissertation is a historical and theoretical exploration of epideictic rhetoric of blame as it functions to build community and teach civic virtues. I have assembled a set of heuristics - concentrating on three strategies of creating ethos, establishing place, and utilizing ekphrasis - to examine the didactic nature of epideictic, especially in environments where social change is being demanded by the rhetor. The heuristic model encompasses 13 guiding questions, which then are applied to two case studies of rhetoric of blame: the writings of journalist Ida B. Wells to stop the lynchings of African-Americans during the 19th century, and a current website created by the Save Darfur Coalition to intervene in the genocide in Darfur, Africa.

While a significant amount of research has examined epideictic rhetoric of praise, existing scholarship on rhetoric of blame is minimal. Thus, this project helps to fill the gap both by furnishing evidence of historical and current instances of epideictic rhetoric of blame as it functions to build community and teach civic virtues, and by demonstrating a methodology to assess such discourse. At a time in our nation and neighborhoods when words of condemnation are often flung about too quickly and carelessly, a reliable methodology is needed for creating and analyzing rhetoric of blame – and how it accomplishes a rhetorical purpose beyond that of a one-sided volley of insults.

This study breaks new ground by offering a methodology for analyzing how the epideictic rhetor using words of blame can be successful through an expression of ethos and ekphrasis in bringing readers together, and the places where this occurs. This project is grounded in the work of more than a dozen scholars ranging from Sullivan to Royster, Laurer to Hauser, and Agnew to Bolter, and it furthers work concerning ethos and the transformative nature of epideictic discourse. Because new media technologies often play a crucial role in today’s epideictic rhetoric, I have designed the heuristics to be applied to a broad spectrum of epideictic pieces, such as essays, newspaper articles, speeches, videos and websites, which provides a richer understanding of rhetoric of blame from a 21st century perspective.