Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

Bennett, Jeffrey

First Committee Member

Hingstman, David

Second Committee Member

Kang, Jiyeon

Third Committee Member

West, Isaac

Fourth Committee Member

Eckstein, Barbara


This dissertation argues that the symbolic force of deindustrial Rust Belt decline is expressed through patterns of rhetorical invention, what I call ruination rhetorics. Ruination, I argue, works to construct divergent orientations toward space and time in representations of the Rust Belt. I trace these orientations as a way of charting the contours of how we understand domestic urban decay in our contemporary political and economic climate. This project argues that ruination's inventive force hints at a number of thematics including: ruination as urban waste; ruination as a claim to forms of nostalgia and authenticity; ruination as a linkage between temporal configurations of the past and the present; and ruination as a narrative form enabling what I call a "melancholic" rhetorical style. In all of these instances, ruination supports differentiated orientations toward time and space, creating temporal and geographical connections and boundaries through rhetorical manipulations. In this way, the times and spaces of and for industrial ruination shift, and in so doing, their discursive manifestations elucidate the diversity and instability of spatio-temporal structures. Conceptually, I argue that ruination shapes an understanding of space and time as fluid concepts, rather than stagnant or pre-determined categories. And by unpacking the ways that ruination traffics in representations of Rust Belt geographies and citizens, we discover an increasingly complex discursive field out of which meaningful relationships to decay and renewal might be forged. In this way, ruination does not weave a cohesive narrative of what the Rust Belt is, where the Rust Belt is, or who does or does not lay claim to its political realities and challenges. Rather, its divergent and contradictory modes of rhetorical invention suggest ruination expresses the incoherencies and compatibilities constitutive of an everyday life lived in the ebbs and flows of a material space that is always-already a site of ongoing decay and renewal.

Public Abstract

This dissertation studies popular representations of the U.S. Rust Belt in the wake of industrialization. Specifically, I look to the frame of ruination, that is, the ways that industrial ruin is linked to urban decay and renewal in Rust Belt Cities, to unpack the representational practices that present the region to a reading and viewing audience. I argue that this communicative pattern offers divergent and nuanced ways of talking about regional struggle, rather than simply a univocal interpretation of deindustrialization as a condition defined by urban destruction. These diverse modes of representation from commercial branding campaigns, to art installations, to personal storytelling make persuasive appeals linked to national histories, urban development mythologies, personal memories, and geographically-inspired emotive conditions. In these ways, symbolizations of ruination inspire multiple approaches to talking about the economic, social, and political conditions in the Rust Belt, while also extending those issues to a larger audience beyond the boundaries of the region itself. I explore how frames of ruination establish the contours for how we talk about urbanism, decay, and renewal in a shifting cultural climate, and the ways that this emphasis on decay provokes alternative modes of imagining our relationships to industrial pasts and unknown urban futures.


publicabstract, Invention, Rhetoric, Ruin, Rust Belt, Space/Place, Time


ix, 247 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 237-247).


Copyright 2015 Brook Alys Irving

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Communication Commons