Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Ethics of Identification in the Organizational Production of the War on Terror: The Rhetoric of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Lynda Dixon (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Steve Jex (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Michael Butterworth (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Rekha Mirchandani (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Catherine Cassara-Jemai (Committee Member)


Since World War II, the American military-industrial complex has governed political, economic, and scientific change on a global scale. Largely because of the agricultural industry's political power in domestic and foreign policymaking, it continues to hold a privileged status in matters of war and peace. The purpose of this dissertation is to direct an increasingly urbanized American public's attention to this reality and to show what is globally at stake in the industry's participation in today's war on terror. Through case studies and extended theoretical analysis of the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) multiple hidden roles in the G.W. Bush administration's response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, I argue that democratic protection of public well-being is under attack. My investigation develops a model for partisan advocacy and ethical stakeholder citizenship that envisions a public culture of active and informed dissent. Through rhetorical criticism guided by the philosophy of Kenneth Burke, I show the political functions of organizational texts in the public experience of war. My argument is that the USDA's global solicitation of public participation in its narration of war unethically blocks off critical self-understanding and deflects critical publicity. I propose that a Burkean perspective offers a necessary measure of ambivalence toward rhetorics of transcendence, purity, self-defense, and control that appear in the organizational production of war drama. Specifically, Burke's notion of rhetoric of identification, which explains the intertwined workings of cooperation and conflict, offers a device for contesting the USDA's self-proclaimed moral identity in the war on terror.