Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Communication and Rhetorical Studies


Morris III, Charles E.


Affect, George Floyd, Social Movements, Witnessing

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Arts and Humanities | Communication | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Speech and Rhetorical Studies


Following the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020 by police officer Derek Chauvin, a protest began in the city of Minneapolis that resulted in the burning down of the third precinct police building, the looting of a local Target, and the destruction of over one hundred buildings in the area. But despite this violence, the Minneapolis uprising sparked a wave of protests that spread to over sixty countries on every continent of the globe. Why was Floyd's murder so politically mobilizing? And why did this protest inspire so many others? To answer these questions, I treat the video recording of Floyd's murder as a rhetorical text which has the capacity to transform viewers into affective witnesses. Then, by carefully analyzing statements made by participants of the Minneapolis uprising, I show how protest participants used the affective experience of witnessing Floyd's murder to weave a complex justification for the violence of the protest. I argue that this view of the protest helps explain its success in spreading, as well as its ultimate undermining in the American social consciousness. This project has implications for how, through rhetoric, individuals and social movements are able to reach beyond the limits of a conceptual framework of meaning and gesture towards new horizons of intelligibility. This project also supports and complicates several theoretical conceptions of witnessing.


Open Access



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.