Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

Critical Rhetoric in the Age of Neuroscience

Brett Ingram, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Although there has been an outpouring of scholarship on the "rhetorical body" in the last two decades, nearly all analyzes and critiques discourses about the body. Very little work in contemporary rhetorical studies addresses the ways in which rhetoric affects and alters the central nervous system, and thereby exerts influence at a level of subjective experience prior to cognitive and linguistic apprehension. Recent neuroscientific research into affect, identity, and decision-making echoes many of the claims made by ancient rhetoricians: namely, that rhetorical activity is corporeally transformative, and that the material transformations wrought by rhetoric have profound implications for subjects' capacity to engage in critical thought and agential judgment. This study demonstrates that emotional political rhetoric is physiologically addictive, that the brain and body can make decisions independently of the will of the thinking subject, and that symbolic violence can physically reconfigure the neural networks that make critical cognition possible. As public culture and discourse becomes increasingly imagistic, non-rational, and emotionally charged, critics must develop theoretical resources capable of recognizing and responding to new varieties of constitutive phenomena. Neuroscience can supplement traditional rhetorical criticism by offering insight into the physiological processes by which destructive ideas become self-sustaining, and it can help critics devise more sophisticated rhetorical approaches to the task of promoting social healing. To advance this conversation, this dissertation outlines a critical neurorhetorical theory that is attuned to the Sophistic and Burkean rhetorical tradition, informed by contemporary neuroscience, and responsive to the unique cultural and social conditions of the 21st century.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Ingram, Brett, "Critical Rhetoric in the Age of Neuroscience" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3556258.