Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Carol Winkler

Second Advisor

Lois Agnew

Third Advisor

Timothy Barouch

Fourth Advisor

David Cheshier

Fifth Advisor

Sean Horan


This dissertation examines the constitutive functions of multimodal cancer rhetoric in America and critiques the resulting ideological consequences. This study locates the multimodal manifestations of American cancer rhetoric within three realms – textual/oral, visual/material, and bodily/performative. Beginning in the discursive realm, it traces the metaphoric evolution of the “War on Cancer” and the “Cancer Moonshot Initiative” in presidential rhetoric before then moving to an analysis of artifacts from American cancer rhetoric’s nondiscursive formations. For the visual/material modality, this study analyzes the pink breast cancer “awareness” ribbon and the yellow Livestrong cancer “support” bracelet; for the bodily/performative modality, it then considers two portrayals of cancered bodies in popular media – Walter White from the television series Breaking Bad and the featured childhood cancer patients from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

To better understand the ongoing identification processes within and among the various modalities of American cancer rhetoric, this dissertation expands upon several theories of constitutive rhetoric. First, it utilizes an extended concept of constitutive metaphors to properly ascertain the identification and ideological power of the martial and space exploration metaphoric frameworks underlying the “War on Cancer” and the “Cancer Moonshot Initiative.” Second, it positions the pink ribbon and yellow bracelet of American cancer culture as iconic objects and locates their identificatory and ideological impact as emanating from their constitutive materiality. Finally, this study advances a narrative-based framework for understanding the constitutive corporality of cancered bodies in media. By attending to the physical contours of cancered bodies, this study effectively demonstrates the identity and ideological force of such bodies.

Overarchingly, however, this dissertation contributes to a more nuanced understanding of constitutive theory through its focus upon cancer’s paradoxical status as an “invisible illness.” That is, although initially invisible, cancer transforms into a highly visible disease when medically treated – and this tension between what is visible and what is not, and its impact on processes of identification – demonstrates the latent power of invisibility in constitutive rhetorics.


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