Date of Award

Winter 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Director

Kevin Eric Depew

Committee Member

Louise Wetherbee Phelps

Committee Member

Rochelle Rodrigo

Committee Member

Geoffrey Sirc


This project addresses the need for a rhetorical theory that is appropriate to the unique needs of certain groups who "write" (in a broad sense of the word) from a position of desperation that results from some kind of tension between their needs or values and the dominant culture. These rhetors demonstrate a suspicion toward mainstream channels through which they might have their voices heard, are often subversive, and tend to be community-oriented.

To develop an appropriate rhetorical lens for studying these groups, I bring notions of guerrilla warfare from a precise point in the historical narrative of the guerrilla (that of the modern guerrilla articulated by Ernesto "Che" Guevara) together with key rhetorical constructs: rhetorical situation, exigence, kairos, audience, community of practice and techne. This synthesis allows me to articulate a preliminary theory of guerrilla rhetoric.

I then test that theory against two case studies, both set in Washington, DC, that represent contexts wherein I initially hypothesized guerrilla rhetoric might occur. The first case study explores the work of a graffiti writer who has done illegal and legal works in Washington for more than thirty years. The second case examines the work of a foundational figure in the District's Hardcore punk movement, who has contributed to the scene through multiple bands since 1980, as well as the founding and operation of an independent record label. As a result of these case studies, I revise and propose a refined theory of guerrilla rhetoric and then discuss the implications for this term to additional rhetorical groups.