Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Michael Harker

Second Advisor

Dr. Ashley Holmes

Third Advisor

Dr. George Pullman


Inspired by Kenneth Burke’s call to understand even the most distasteful rhetorics, this project directly explores arguments imagined by contemporary conspiracy theorists within the modern QAnon movement. After careful analysis of the rhetorical questions posed within “Q drops,” this project understands conspiracy theories to be a rhetorical act that narrates a socially constructed reality in opposition to an imagined or real “other,” recognizing the narratives to be the articulation of an inquisitive and collective positionality that attempts to provide answers to difficult questions. This definition guides my empathetic reading of the conspiracy theory’s origins, but also provides critique of the act as the creation of an often harmful narrative of division.

The first chapter of this project analyzes the term “conspiracy theory” from multiple disciplines, including rhetorical studies. Next, I provide a detailed literature review of the scholars who have studied Q drops before me, finding that few scholars have taken on the task of directly analyzing the rhetoric. The third chapter details the methods and methodology of my study of Q’s drops, defining more precisely how Burke’s work on identification and dialectic informs the project. From there, I explain my findings, focusing much of my analysis on questions that begin with “how” or “why,” which represent the most common kind of question Q poses. The concluding chapter initiates a conversation regarding the role of questions in composition studies–especially relating to the way instructors generate writing prompts. I suggest that instructors of First-Year Writing pay careful attention not just to teaching students how to ask questions, but also to countering the impulse to generate narratives of division by facilitating acts of rhetorical listening, a method of deliberately considering arguments made by others rather than harping on the creation of one’s own, individualized claims.


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