Borders and bodies: Rhetoric(s) on the threshold of transnational (re)production

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Writing Program


Margaret Himley


Transnational feminism, Rhetoric, Borders, United Nations, Migration, Mobile body, Multilateral treaties

Subject Categories

Rhetoric and Composition


The core of this dissertation is a rhetorical analysis of Multilateral Treaties constructed between 1904 and 2003 and presently administered by the United Nations, seeking to protect the transnational migrant body. I explore the transnational implications of the written products of this international organization, and examine the ways that it writes and has written international borders and transnational migrants. I argue that the treaties protecting the mobile body articulate three "periods" during which the figuration of the mobile body is distinct: the first group emerges amidst the anti-vice rhetoric of the first part of the twentieth century; the second is marked by the production of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948; and the third is signaled by the 2000 International Treaty on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. I draw on critical rhetoric, transnational feminism, political philosophy, feminist geography and the stories told by transnational migrant writers in order to interrogate, historicize, and demystify this collection of texts. My dissertation recognizes that current international discourses project a rhetoric of crisis which circulates among discussions of sovereignty, human rights, and transnational migration. I establish that the Conventions occupy a paradoxical space in that they are embedded in and indebted to the very same discourses of globalization and the nation-state that they work rhetorically to mitigate.

In sum, I argue in this dissertation that treaty writing in the UN Assembly increasingly resists the hysterics of crisis with a precision that seeks to identify and (re)cover any body left unprotected by national law; however, as written products, the conventions also reify national borders and reduce the migrant body to an `object of study,' an abject form in need of protection. I submit that little work in Rhetorical Studies has focused on the United Nations, even though the UN is the only institution in existence that claims to represent, literally, "everyone," and, if for that reason only, it demands further study. With the UN Conventions as a starting point, this dissertation engages and extends ideas with which Rhetorical Studies might intervene and participate in more transnational conversations.