Date of Award

June 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Writing Program


Lois P. Agnew


activism, composition, history, rhetoric, Third World feminism, women's studies

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


This dissertation focuses on the work of the Third World Women’s Alliance (TWWA), a women-of-color-led activist organization that maintained active chapters in New York City and the Bay Area between 1971-80. Drawing on archival research and qualitative interviews, I reconstruct how the group invoked, constructed, and circulated intersecting Third World histories and geopolitical analyses through political education, publications, and cultural events. In addition to this historical study, I seek to understand the ongoing presence of the TWWA in educational spaces through interviews with archivists and professors across disciplines. This project makes three contributions to the field of Rhetoric and Composition: 1) offering a genealogy of the rhetoric and writing from the era that Cynthia Young refers to as the U.S. Third World Left; 2) demonstrating how the TWWA’s work--and U.S. Third World rhetoric and writing more broadly--blurs scales that are often treated as discrete in Rhetoric and Composition (embodied, local, and transnational); and 3) situating the study of archival research and writing assignments across disciplines as a method of tracing the ongoing impact of social activist histories.

The Introduction, “U.S. Third World Histories of Rhetoric and Writing,” demonstrates the significance of the TWWA’s “U.S. Third World” framework for scholarship in rhetorical historiography, geopolitics, and multimodal/multigenre composition. In order to put past and present into concrete conversation, the Introduction establishes the research questions that guide this larger project: How did the TWWA invoke and circulate histories and geopolitical analyses in order to build a “U.S. Third World” alliance? What methods, modes, and genres did they use to do so? How and why is the TWWA’s history--via its archives--invoked and circulated today by teachers scholars, and archivists? How does the TWWA—and rhetorical genealogies of the U.S. Third World Left more broadly—reshape/extend disciplinary theories and methodologies of history, geopolitics, form, and writing across contexts/disciplines?

Chapter 1, “‘In the Belly of the Monster’: Setting a U.S. Third World Scene,” historicizes the TWWA’s formation in relation to the civil rights/Black power movements, women’s liberation movements, and global Third World anti-colonial struggles. Drawing on the TWWA archives, as well as theoretical work in Third World, U.S. Third World, and transnational feminisms, I contextualize the TWWA’s multiple methods of teaching histories and geopolitical analyses within U.S. Third World cultural, political, and intellectual genealogies.

Chapter 2, “Building Lifelong Activists: Political Education and Publications” draws on the TWWA archives, including the group’s internal education curriculum and newspaper Triple Jeopardy: Racism Imperialism Sexism, in order to demonstrate how the group taught the interlinked histories of women of color, and put struggles for women’s liberation within and outside the U.S. into conversation. Read together, the group’s political education and publications demonstrate the rhetorical construction of what Rhetoric and Composition might refer to as a "U.S. Third World scene" both within and outside the organization.

Chapter 3, “Theorizing Culture: The TWWA’s Cultural Committee” turns to the group’s “cultural work,” which TWWA members defined as “arts, methods, techniques, and expressions.” Drawing on the archived meeting minutes of the TWWA Cultural Committee, this chapter surfaces the behind-the-scenes organizational labor of developing a theory of culture, with particular attention to the intellectual, political, and artistic genealogies of three organizations that the Cultural Committee interviewed as part of its work. This chapter demonstrates the role of multiple modes and genres--including theatre, songs, and visual displays--in communicating intersecting histories and geopolitical analyses in a "U.S. Third World" context.

Chapter 4, “’Freedom We Know is Possible’: The TWWA’s Cultural Events,” looks at how the TWWA’s theory of culture was put into practice through events commemorating International Women’s Day. Drawing on qualitative interviews, as well as archived event programs, scripts, songs, and committee evaluations, this chapter focuses on the TWWA’s use of multiple modes and genres in spaces of cultural performance. I argue that multimodal/multigenre performances have particular affordances for linking multiple histories and geopolitical locations into a U.S. Third World political identification.

Turning from the TWWA’s time to the present day, Chapter 5, “Curating, Remediating, and Teaching U.S. Third World Histories: The TWWA Archives,” traces the ongoing influence of the organization via a study of the construction and use of the group’s archives. Drawing on qualitative interviews with archivists and professors across disciplines, I trace the curation, institutionalization, and pedagogical use of the TWWA archives to teach history, women’s and gender studies, and archival studies through critical research and writing assignments. This chapter situates the study of archival pedagogy as a method for tracing the ongoing impact of social activist histories across academic disciplines.

The Conclusion summarizes the central contributions of this dissertation to Rhetoric and Composition, and opens up directions for future work.


Open Access