Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Carl H. Herndl


British Petroleum, Deepwater Hoizon, Epideictic Rhetoric, New Materialism, Posthumanism, Risk Communication


When a disaster the magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill takes place, is it natural for the news media stories, investigative reports, and public deliberation to focus almost exclusively on finding the person or group responsible for such a horrendous scene. Rhetorically speaking, the discourse surrounding the event can be characterized as a reductive form of praise and blame rhetoric (epideixis). However, these efforts, while well-intentioned, are troublesome because searches for the one technical cause and the sole personal culpability are thwarted by the sheer complexity of the ecological, technological, scientific, institutional, and communicative network required for such a disaster to take place. Thus, to demonstrate the insufficiency of extant models of disaster in a variety of fields, which tend to privilege human-centered approaches, Dead Man's Switch: Disaster Rhetorics in a Posthuman Age explores the ontology, technical documentation, and rhetorical theory of disasters through a posthuman lens.

To find a more critical approach to understanding the nature of disasters in the twenty-first century, I ask the following questions: How do rhetoricians and technical communicators account more fully for the human and nonhuman forces at work in the precipitation of disaster? How do rhetoricians and technical communicators find an approach to ecological catastrophe that goes beyond the mere "environmentalist rhetoric" characterizing the public response? Through the application of several posthumanist theories, my project develops an approach to disaster that complicates traditional ways of approaching causality and blame.

I use accident reports, news media stories, and popular literature as data for this project. By examining these texts, my project has broad implications for technical communication, rhetorical theory, and philosophy of rhetoric.