Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2009

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

Gronbeck, Bruce E

First Committee Member

Peters, John D

Second Committee Member

Depew, David

Third Committee Member

Hingstman, David

Fourth Committee Member

Poulakos, Takis


Can private bodily pain be transformed into a communication medium fit for the public sphere? Can the body in pain be utilized as a means for political participation? If so, how? Under what circumstances? By whom? And to what effect? To begin answering these questions, this dissertation concentrates on extralinguistic confrontational practices such as self-immolation suicide protests that are exercised by those who have been marginalized and excluded from political participation. By focusing on hitherto neglected forms of communication that are visual, spectacular, violent, unruly, and physical, the study expands and complicates the current discussions about the public sphere that are usually yoked to speculation on the boundaries of reason and words. Arguing that the body in pain is a theoretically considerable and practically available mode of public participation, the dissertation examines the rhetorical potency as well as fragility of body rhetoric.

Each chapter analyzes different cases of self-immolation, addressing such issues as embodiment in publicity, the gap between private sensation and public discourse, the role of emotion in constituting the public sphere, and the judgments of the audience. The cases offer an opportunity not only to theorize how subaltern people appear out of the darkness of sheltered existence and enter the space of appearance by utilizing their body, but also to rethink the civic art of looking upon suffering. Through the exploration of the place of embodied performance, visual spectacle, and moral stuntsmanship within the larger discussion of democracy, the dissertation endeavors to rehabilitate publicity as a nondialogical political value.


democracy, pain, self-immolation, the body, the public sphere


iii, 178 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 168-178).


Copyright 2009 Young Cheon Cho

Included in

Communication Commons