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Rhetoric of strength in writing studies and American culture

Smith, Benjamin Phillip
This project aims to uncover, explore, and complicate a definition of the concept of strength as it occurs in writing studies and in American culture. To begin, I examine semiotics and rhetorical structures of strength, using Barthes, Eco, Pierce, and Rickert as a basis for analyzing a theory of strength. Chapter two traces the development of the philosophies of the Human Potential Movement and their influence on expressivist writing practices. This chapter also traces various and competing histories of composition in order to uncover a better understanding of the chronology of composition and how competing philosophies are woven together throughout. The final chapter examines rubrics and assessment practices, dissecting and analyzing these rubrics to reveal a definition of "strong writing" as it reflects and effects potential and actual assessment practices. The first case study analyzes strength and fitness manuals from the late 19th century and early 20th century to establish a basis for physical strength through identity both local and widespread and the importance of these concepts to a post-Civil War America. The second case study compares Franklin Roosevelt's speeches as a presidential candidate and as the President with the visual rhetoric of the first issue of Captain America Comics to offer insight into how the idea of strength evolved into a priority of national defense. The conclusion examines these ideas in context to understand how the idea of strength has functioned and continues to function in culture and in rhetoric.