English Ph.D. Dissertations


Relationship Literacy and Polyamory: A Queer Approach

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


English (Rhetoric and Writing) PhD

First Advisor

Kristine Blair (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Sue Wood (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Lee Nickoson (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Kenneth Borland, Jr. (Other)


The field of rhetoric and composition has embraced queer theory and broader understandings of sexual literacy in order to dialogue with students, teachers, theorists and other learners about the problematics of normativity when applied to sexuality. Although discussed in a variety of other academic fields, polyamory—the practice, identity, and theory of an ethical engagement in multiple loving relationships with the full knowledge and consent of all involved—has not yet been broached within rhetoric and composition. This project is the first step in starting such a conversation. By providing a synthesis of the extant scholarship on polyamory across the disciplines and explaining how polyamory can be viewed as an organic outgrowth from current conversations about queerness and identity, I coin the term “relationship literacy” as a way to provoke new dialogues about what it might mean to make and maintain intimate, consensual relationships that do not necessarily fall in line with the status quo. Through the lens of queer theory, I advocate the importation of polyamory studies into rhetoric and composition because it can stimulate existing conversations about feminist pedagogy as well as the generative social justice theories and activisms that form the basis of the field. Through a queer approach to polyamory, new insights in both theory and pedagogy become possible, as scholars and teachers begin to understand the force of mononormativity as nearly ubiquitous.