Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design

Committee Member

Dr. Steven B. Katz, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Cynthia Haynes

Committee Member

Dr. Todd May

Committee Member

Dr. Beth Lauritis


The Guilty Breast: A Fleshy Semiotics takes up the subject of the nude female breast, from St. Augustine's developing and a shifting semiotic theory of signs and the flesh in Christian doctrine through feminist theories and Foucault's analysis of the scientific “Gaze” to the protests of breastfeeding on social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, and in the public sphere. The dissertation argues that boobs teach us how to see by examining the breast's semiotic anatomy in five parts. “Chapter One: Nipple” asserts that breasts are both…and: maternal and sexual, subjective and objective, metaphoric and actual. “Chapter Two: Cleavage” juxtaposes St. Augustine with French feminist Hélène Cixous to reveal their shared life project of making “the sign” (and substance) of the guilty body—and by extension/ostension, female breasts—morally good. “Chapter Three: Milk” “mangles” and disrupts “the Gaze” of biological theory by dripping thirst, claiming that leaking itself is onto-epistemological. “Chapter Four: Areola” highlights social media's censorship of breastfeeding to explore socially constructed borders. “Chapter Five: Ducts” investigates two political examples of breasts-as-weapon. “Chapter Six: Support” offers “breast semiotics” as a new hermeneutic by which to read nude female breast texts via the plurality of bodies and concludes with a visual example.



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