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Readings on the Rhetoric
of Social Protest

third edition

Charles E. Morris III
Syracuse University

Stephen Howard Browne
Pennsylvania State University


The third edition of Readings on the Rhetoric of Social Protest, like the preceding  editions, is designed for instructors and students in courses that study social protest from a rhetorical perspective. On the basis of our own teaching experiences and many conversations with a diverse community of colleagues who have similar teaching goals, we agreed that we wanted a book that would offer ready access to a rich but dispersed literature on the subject in a single volume; highlight key theoretical, historical, and critical developments; and provide a basis upon which students could extend their own explorations and insights.

We have benefited greatly from colleagues who used the book and provided valuable feedback that confirmed our belief in the volume’s classroom utility, deepened our perspectives, and suggested ways in which it might be enriched to serve instructors and students more fully. Our new selections and commentary reflect a desire to meet current pedagogical needs and account for recent scholarly developments. As in previous editions, our purpose is to offer some of the best work in the discipline and allied fields, and to bring it together in a cogent, clear, and productive format. We believe that instructors and students will find in these pages a wide range of provocative issues, intriguing personalities, inventional resources, and suggestive lines of scholarly inquiry.

The rhetorical analysis of social protest is as diverse as the voices, texts, meanings, bodies, images, and performances it seeks to explain. Instructors and students are confronted with a potentially bewildering array of approaches, topics, critical objects, and questions. What, precisely, is rhetorical about protest, dissent, resistance, movement? How do we go about identifying, analyzing, and evaluating rhetorical action for social change and in opposition to established institutions and cultural norms? Why is it important to study such action? What are the proper objects of our study? What can we learn about protest and rhetoric generally from attention to specific case studies? This collection of readings provides a map of sorts, first to assist students into the field and then into those more specific areas that have demarcated the scholarship. We have also sought through our selections to allow for free exploration across several domains, as well as for structural reconfigurations to fit the goals of particular courses. The chapter introductions acquaint students with leading authors, issues, and movements, and  encourage readers to observe points of similarity and difference, note key developments, and consider prospects for further study.


The readings are arranged in two major sections, "Origins and Trajectories" and "Critical Touchstones," reflecting two generations of scholarly approaches within the discipline. The first generation of scholarship engaged with and struggled over definitions of "social movement," object domain, methodologies, and theoretical perspectives. Some of its questions about the means and ends of protest are returning to prominence in the second generation, which has so far focused attention on critical analysis of individual rhetorical acts and performances, or on constellations of them, usually within particular movements or protest groups. This work, too, is theoretically sophisticated and productive, but it critically centers the object of analysis, the historically specific experiences, and the engagements of protest rhetoric to a greater degree than its predecessors. Students will also discover contemporary scholars returning to fundamental issues and questions that animated their forebears and that generate connections and points of departure across the two major sections of the book.

In each section, we have organized essays into chapters that address common themes, issues, and audiences. Each chapter is arranged in chronological order to suggest an unfolding series of conceptual concerns, allowing students to identify patterns and transformations and to develop an increasingly sharpened and sophisticated approach to the subject.

Section I: Origins and Trajectories. The essays in the first section explicitly create and debate the rhetorical nature, purpose, and functions of social movements.

Chapter 1, "Theoretical Foundations and New Directions," presents essays that speak directly to the ways that social protest movements may be conceptualized as an area of rhetorical inquiry. The stress, accordingly, tends toward definition, jurisdiction, and scope. Students are encouraged to consider the characteristics that define social movements as rhetorical phenomena, the types of rhetoric at work in social protest and how they are manifested, the ethical and psychological dimensions of such rhetoric, the dynamics of social and political action, and the contexts that enable and constrain resistance and movement.

Chapter 2, "Competing Perspectives," includes essays that take a critical view of the precepts established in the first chapter. These essays emphasize some of the limits that the first generation of movement scholars imposed and offer alternatives and priorities for advancing scholarly inquiry. They stress, in particular, the interplay of history and theory, and bring into sharp relief such questions as whether movements are best understood with reference to the former or the latter. Students are encouraged to identify and differentiate among scholarly approaches and assumptions.

Section II: Critical Touchstones. To illustrate the possibilities of social movement criticism, the second section offers a selection of critical touchstones, or case studies, that take up a rich variety of historical and contemporary movement  for social reform and radical transformation. Collectively, these essays offer a means of conceptualizing social protest rhetoric in broad terms, beyond the contextual and strategic particularities of a single movement—spanning movements, time, space, texts, affects, and bodies. In grouping the essays into four thematic chapters, we hope to encourage comparative analysis and theory building, from a multiplicity of scholarly perspectives and cases linked by a designated conceptual focal point or rhetorical issue, helping students to deepen their analyses of protest rhetoric within an individual movement.

Chapter 3, "Tactics for External Audiences," offers essays that examine how rhetoric is directed from a movement outward to expose oppression, unsettle the norms and policies enabling that oppression, and persuade others—the state, institutions, media, potential recruits, bystanders, and the general public—to embrace the movement’s transformative ideals and agenda. What rhetorical situations do  protest rhetors confront? What tactical means, both conventional and innovative, are available, preferred, and selected in specific historical circumstances, to appeal to and confront complex audiences of opponents, allies, and other agents of influence? Within the framework of social protest, in short, what are the available means of persuasion?

Chapter 4, "Tactics for Internal Audiences," addresses similar questions about how movement rhetoric is directed inward, toward members and sympathizers, for purposes of recruitment, mobilization, conflict resolution, and entrenchment. How is rhetoric used to entice potential members? Craft a coherent and sustaining vision and identity? Invigorate the movement in times of frustration and fatigue? Resolve conflicts among members? Adapt collective goals and maintain unity to shifting circumstances? Adapt strategy across time and circumstance? Build coalitions with other protest groups and movements?

Chapter 5, "Tactics of Control," considers the rhetorical responses from those against whom a movement has mobilized,or from others who perceive the movement as a threat. These essays explore how opponents of social movements—such as individuals writing hate mail, countermovements, and mainstream media reflecting the hegemonic society—work rhetorically to undermine, contain, or domesticate protest discourse. What are the available rhetorical means of controlling protest rhetoric? How do power arrangements shape those responses? How do those responses change movement strategy? Can we understand protest rhetoric and its oppositional counterpart as interdependent?

Chapter 6, "Tactical Modifications," considers the influence of time on social protest rhetoric. Given that social transformation never occurs overnight, how do changing circumstances, shifting demographics and dynamics of membership and opposition, and cultural change itself shape rhetorical tactics for the duration of the movement? How do developments over time exhaust favored tactics or inspire new tactics? How does protest rhetoric succeed or fail according to its long-range tactical vision and capacity for modification?

Our chapter divisions reflect our assessment of concerns and interests that occur in many movements and that are prominently featured in the study of social protest rhetoric. No doubt other conceptual configurations will come to mind. Our object is neither to endorse any one approach to the study of social protest nor to privilege a particular movement or movements, but to highlight the diversity and directions of current scholarship, providing a wide range of examples that indicate the theoretical, historical, and critical assumptions and practices that drive scholars’ work on social protest rhetoric. Over all, the goal with this section—as in the book as a whole—is to draw attention to patterns that range across categories, topics, and methods.

As editors, we have made every effort to reproduce the essays exactly as they appeared in their original publication. Exceptions include the correction of minor typographical errors and the insertion of “[sic]” to indicate accuracy where the original phrasing was unusual. All unitalicized appearances of “[sic]” are in the original essay. In addition, footnotes have been moved to the end of each essay.

The Selected Bibliography is designed to serve several purposes. Students can link and extend their projects to existing work in many fields on many different movements; explore key issues related to the rhetorical study of protest in greater detail, depth, and scope; and find models of scholarly writing for their own projects. For each movement, we list references to primary materials, historical contexts, and critical analysis from among the best scholarship of academic fields studying social protest.

The bibliography has been updated and expanded in this edition to include five new movements that are transforming our world as we speak: Arab Spring/Arab Awakening, Latina/o movements, Occupy, Prison Reform and Death Penalty Abolitionism, and the Tea Party. For some of these movements the research is only just emerging, so the  sources listed here are only a beginning; they are likely to be richly supplemented over the next several years..

Readings on the Rhetoric of Social Protest provides instructors as well as students access to a long and productive tradition of rhetorical scholarship. Our hope is that this collection may introduce students to this tradition and cutting edge work and provide inspiration for scholarly investigation of their own.


In light of feedback to the organization of the second edition, the general structure of the book and the number of essays remains the same.  To keep pace with developing scholarship and the array of diverse and significant movements that students might engage, however, we have replaced some selections with newer works, especially in Section II.

With two exceptions, the readings in Section I, "Origins and Trajectories" remain the same. To Chapter 1, we have moved Karlyn Kohrs Campbell’s canonical 1973 essay "The Rhetoric of Women’s Liberation: An Oxymoron," a foundational theoretical work that we now believe should have been in this chapter 1 all along. In the same chapter, we have added Robert Cox and Christina Foust’s “Social Movement Rhetoric: Public Discourse, Counter-publics, and Resistance,” a disciplinary interdisciplinary genealogy and analysis of social protest scholarship that maps work in allied fields—past, present, and future—and therefore constitutes an important new beginning to envisioning and teaching social movements.

In Section II, "Critical Touchstones," in response to teachers who used the second edition, we have added more scholarship on contemporary movements. Although this edition still includes exemplary studies in  movements from the nineteenth century through the 1960s, which are important to the history, theory, and criticism of social protest, we recognize that they are increasingly remote to today’s students and scholars. Newer selections reflect current interests, perspectives, and touchstones regarding "new social movements" and "new communication technologies" that constitute and facilitate social action in rapidly changing global contexts—rendering some new movements not so new, and perhaps not movements, tomorrow.

That said, we emphasize that our goal was not to represent every social movement, nor to favor any particular movement, but rather to represent a wide array of social movements. We also hoped to highlight a variety of meaningful approaches and applications for the rhetorical case study of social protest, selected for their diversity as well as their theoretical and critical contributions to this area of study.


For a period of more than a year during 2009 and 2010, we were not certain that this volume would be published, in our opinion owing to what theorists and polemicists call “academic capitalism.” It was a demoralizing time. However, having one’s book on social protest rhetoric stalled on the verge of production has a way of stirring the activist spirit within one, and bringing forth the voice of dissent that is surging in one’s throat. After months of negotiation with powers-that-be, and an exhilarating speech and floor debate in San Francisco on behalf of this volume and similar projects, we were back in business. Born of struggle, then, this third edition of Readings on the Rhetoric of Social Protest is particularly meaningful to us. The aftertaste of struggle sometimes can be very sweet indeed.

Our gratitude, then, always abundant, is all the more deeply heartfelt because numerous colleagues and friends generously lent their expert advice and copious suggestions, voiced their solidarity, and shared their political skill so that this volume would come to be. We thank so very much Angela Aguayo, Southern Illinois University; Robert Asen, University of Wisconsin–Madison; Diana Ashe, University of North Carolina at Wilmington; Kevin Ayotte, California State University, Fresno; Jason Edward Black, University of Alabama; Carole Blair, University of North Carolina; Jennifer Borda, University of New Hampshire; Dan Brouwer, Arizona State University; Carl Burgchardt, Colorado State University; Kevin Carragee, Suffolk University; Karma Chávez, University of Wisconsin–Madison; Jim Cherney, Wayne State University; Dana Cloud, University of Texas at Austin; Terri Cornwell, Liberty University; Tasha Dubriwny, Texas A & M University; Jeremy Engels, Penn State University; Cara Finnegan, University of Illinois; Christina Foust, University of Denver; Barbara Oney Garvey, Hanover College; Chuck Goehring, San Diego State University; Greg Goodale, Northeastern University; David Henry, University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Dale Herbeck, Northeastern University; Kristin Hoerl, Butler University; Diane Hope, Rochester Institute of Technology; Davis Houck, Florida State University; Carl T. Hyden, Morgan State University; Spoma Jovanovic, University of North Carolina at Greensboro; Brendan T. Kendall, Clemson University; Jeffrey Kurtz, Denison University; Randall A. Lake, University of Southern California; John Lucaites, Indiana University; Kristy Maddux, University of Maryland; Jimmie Manning, Northern Kentucky University; Matthew May, North Carolina State University; Bryan Mack-McCann, Wayne State University; Sara McKinnon, University of Wisconsin–Madison; Tom Nakayama, Northeastern University; Lester Olson, University of Pittsburgh; Susan Owen, University of Puget Sound; Catherine H. Palczewski, University of Northern Iowa; Jennifer Peeples, Utah State University; Phaedra Pezzullo, Indiana University; Kendall R. Phillips, Syracuse University; Michele Ramsey, Penn State University Berks; Erin J. Rand, Syracuse University; Angela Ray, Northwestern University; Valerie Renegar, Southwestern University; Spencer Schaffner, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Shannon Scott, Seattle Pacific University; Brant Short, Northern Arizona University; Signatories of the 2010 NCA Resolution on Copyright Fees; Stacey K. Sowards, University of Texas at El Paso; Belinda Stillion Southard, University of Georgia; Ted Striphas, Indiana University; Karen Taylor, University of Alaska Fairbanks; Robert Terrill, Indiana University; Mari Boor Tonn, University of Richmond; Phillip Voight, Gustavus Adolphus College; Darrel Wanzer, University of Iowa; Jason Warren, George Mason University; and Richard West, Emerson College.

For the day-to-day and the above-and-beyond during this book’s long matriculation, Chuck expresses special thanks and love to Dan, Rob, Tom, Dale, Pam, Jason, Karma, Sara, Phaedra, Ted, Michele, Mary Kate, Shea, Katie, Andrew Austin, the fabulous “regulars” on Facebook, and Jackson and Cooper.

We could not have finished this volume without the marvelous Scott Rose, who listened sympathetically to seemingly ceaseless discussion of copyright politics and offered his wealth of support. Scott also skillfully handled, with patience and aplomb, the tedious and frustrating but invaluable work of proofreading much of this manuscript in its messiest post-scanning phase. Cheers, Mr. Rose!

Kathleen Domenig and Brian Henry are now old friends and longstanding collaborators. This volume no doubt proved to be daunting for them, too, but they never flinched and always believed in the value of this project. Their engaging shop talk, hilarious banter, deep commitment to scholarship and pedagogy, and consummate professionalism are gifts for which we feel fortunate, and their courageous and creative venture, Strata, Inc., is a gift to the field.

We dedicate our work on this volume to Scott Rose and Margaret Michels, our partners and mainstays, with love and endless thanks for everything.

Copyright © 2001, 2006, and 2013 by Charles E. Morris III and Stephen Howard Browne.



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