Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Dan Lair, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Bernadette Calafell

Third Advisor

Darrin Hicks

Fourth Advisor

Ann Dobyns


Desire, Four discourses, Lacan, Rhetorical agency


The postmodern criticism of humanist agency initiated by Dilip Gaonkar nearly twenty years ago set in motion a discipline wide discussion concerning the conceptualization rhetorical agency. Rhetorical agency is difficult but vital to conceptualize because the term bears directly on the discipline's theorizing about the speaker or rhetor, the effect of the speaker or rhetor's rhetoric on an audience, and the extent to which the speaker or rhetor's agency is constrained by ideology and discourse. What emerged from this discussion about agency did distance the discipline from the humanist conceptualization of rhetorical agency that persisted at the time Gaonkar published his argument, but conceptualizing rhetorical agency remains an evolving endeavor. The postmodern critique created two interrelated problems for the conceptualization of rhetorical agency in the discipline. The first concerns the role of discourse in the formation of rhetorical agency; the second concerns the impact ideology has on the formation of rhetorical agency. The response to the critique often assumes postmodern philosophy maintains the subject or agent is determined by discourse, and second, that the philosophy suggests ideology is virtually totalizing for subjectivity. I believe no postmodern author actually maintains either of these positions. The conceptualization of rhetorical agency which emerges in the recuperative effort predicated upon these two phantom criticisms results in the rehabilitation of the humanist paradigm Gaonkar's criticism suggests we reject. I argue we need not rehabilitate those aspects of agency postmodernism calls into question, but rather should direct our attention to the conceptualization of rhetorical agencies that Gaonkar presumes exist in discourse practices. Lacan's theory of discourse corrects for these errors because it assumes there are four discrete manifestations of rhetorical agency in discourse. The psychoanalytic terminology Lacan provides compliments the study of rhetoric not only because rhetoric was central to Lacan's thinking, but also because his theory provides a model for isolating and explaining rhetorical agency in discourse practices.

Publication Statement

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Rights Holder

Matt Dunn


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

236 p.



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Communication Commons