Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design

Committee Chair/Advisor

David Blakesley

Committee Member

Michelle Smith

Committee Member

Ufuk Ersoy

Committee Member

Kyle Jensen


This dissertation critiques the systems theory approach to incarceration policy, practice, and research and proposes a rhetorically informed spatial theory approach as an alternative. Offering a non-hierarchical complexity theory as a bridge between systems and space, I then integrate rhetorical listening as a strategy for navigating and operationalizing our proposed spatial theory approach. I then apply our proposed methodology to archival research, focusing on the South Carolina Penitentiary as a case study, and offer two heuretic experiments to explore the range of this methodology for archival research. I also explore potential applications of this rhetorically informed spatial theory approach in terms of civic engagement among incarcerated populations through deliberative democracy theory. Finally, I conclude that this methodology offers an avenue for elaborating the ambiguity in myriad social organizational practices that are conceived in terms of systems, crucial insights into uses of complexity in contemporary rhetorical studies, and a valuable approach for argument analysis and civic engagement in composition classrooms.



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