Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

Depew, David J.

First Committee Member

Depew, David J.

Second Committee Member

Hingstman, David B.

Third Committee Member

Gronbeck, Bruce E.

Fourth Committee Member

Havens, Timothy J.

Fifth Committee Member

Greene, Ronald W.


This dissertation examines the discourses of witnesses in their response to the exigence of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. I find significant clusters of terms and phrases that I read as reimagining the meaning of the attacks as well as the position of audience members who themselves rewrite the rhetorical situation or context in which the attacks take place. Traditional uses of the "rhetorical situation" model to understand the exigence of the attacks - as an objective external event that called discourse into being, a spectacular image that confused and traumatized audiences, or set of opportunities for President Bush to manipulate its meanings - continues to miss the vernacular, everyday texts of witnesses that struggle to articulate the exigence. Through conflicted and contradictory testimony analyzed in each chapter, I show how witnesses' discourses problematize the status of the exigence of the attacks, keeping its meaning open and dynamic. I conclude that audience members' discourse - the words and phrases of witnesses - may therefore be read as an "event" rather than as part of a stagnant situation. In this way, the rhetorical force of words maintains a capacity to transform the very context in which it takes place as opposed to being read by critics as just another instance of a pre-existing situation.


9/11, Discourse, Event, Experience, Rhetoric, Witness


iv, 310 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 297-310).


Copyright 2013 Nikolaos Poulakos

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