Still life with rhetoric: Toward a consequentialist methodology of material rhetorics

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Writing Program


Collin G. Brooke


Visual rhetorics, Obama, Barack, Circulation, Fairey, Shepard, Material rhetorics, Futurity, Iconographic tracking

Subject Categories

Rhetoric and Composition


Still Life with Rhetoric: Toward a Consequentialist Methodology of Material Rhetorics introduces a non-representational approach to study how material artifacts circulate, transform, and affect rhetorical consequences as they enter into various associations. With a focus on futurity--those spans of time beyond the initial moment of production--this approach ultimately aims to show how empirical research can make visible rhetoric's dynamic materiality, temporality, and consequentiality. This methodological project extends Kevin Porter's and Louise Wetherbee Phelps' philosophical work on discourse and time and employs a wide range of interdisciplinary theories and methods such as actor-network theory, process philosophies, and postphenomenology. Drawing on this scholarship, the author develops six principles that constitute both the philosophical foundation of and research guidelines for a consequentialist approach. To test the affordances of these principles, iconographic tracking is introduced and employed as a research method to trace the production, distribution, and circulation of Shepard Fairey's Obama Hope image, which reached iconic status during the 2008 election presidential campaign. This two-part case study illustrates how material rhetorics such as the Obama Hope image shape human action and re-assemble social, cultural, political and economic lives. After modeling this approach at work in the Obama Hope case study, future potentials for studies of rhetorical history, transnational rhetorics, and visual rhetorics are identified. This dissertation concludes by articulating how the method of iconographic tracking might enrich undergraduate studies of delivery in the 21 st century and model inventive research approaches graduates students can take in their own scholarship.