Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design

Committee Chair/Advisor

David Blakesley

Committee Member

June Pilcher

Committee Member

Erin Ash

Committee Member

Darren Linvill


This project presents a rhetorical-sociological understanding of emotion while foregrounding the place and role of language. Born from Sara Ahmed’s work in The Cultural Politics of Emotion, it presents a simplified equation (contact + orientation = emotion) as both a prescriptive and descriptive formula for making sense of human emotional experience. Starting with an exploration of the difficult-to-understand affect system, this dissertation identifies both rhetoric and affect as energies which cannot be understood apart from their traces, the things they move, produce, and become. As a way to get at these often-invisible forces, two trace studies are conducted which explore human emotional experience at the level of language. The first traces newspaper articles and social media comments about the erection and eventual removal of a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest in Nashville, TN. The second traces the language found in the marketing materials of the Moms for Liberty organization. In the end, this dissertation finds that the only way to understand human emotion is to embrace the betweenness of force and trace. If we focus too much on the forces of affect and rhetoric, we may lose the inability to study emotion practically in its daily use, but if we focus too much on the traces of our language, we lose sight of the large, nebulous energy forces driving it. The oscillation between driving force and linguistic trace is what distinguishes this rhetorical-sociological approach to understanding emotion, allowing us to gain a more comprehensive picture of our affective and affected lives.

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