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Title: Dramatic catharsis : Barack Obama's rhetoric of redemption
Author: Marshall, Chris
Awarding Body: Swansea University
Current Institution: Swansea University
Date of Award: 2016
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The 2008 election of Barack Obama as America’s first African American president was popularly held to represent a fulfilment of Martin Luther King’s Dream and led to speculation about the implications of an Obama victory for a post racial America. This thesis argues that race was a recurring theme of Obama’s election campaign, and that his rhetoric referred frequently to America’s history of racial inequality. It explores how Obama constructed a racial identity that connected him to the African American struggle for civil rights and which placed him within a national progress narrative, and it argues that an important feature of Obama’s campaign was the articulation of a rhetoric of redemption. Academic debates focussing on Obama’s racial identity and the extent to which he spoke about race have been supported either by textual analysis of his speeches or by applying a historical perspective to the campaign. This thesis incorporates both approaches as it combines discourse analysis of a reference corpus of 172 speeches with intertextual and extralinguistic analyses facilitated through contextual knowledge of African American history and culture. The methodology embraces Ruth Wodak’s Discourse-Historical Approach, consideration of Obama’s appropriation of the Exodus narrative, and the application of Kenneth Burke’s dramatistic pentad to explore the construction and representation of racial identity in Obama’s rhetoric. The approach identifies an analytic corpus of 41 speeches which focus on race. This is used to identify how Obama presented his personal history within the context of the civil rights struggle and how he positioned his campaign to neither confront nor accommodate white America about racism and inequality. The results reveal Obama’s desire for a national catharsis in repudiation of America’s history of racial injustice; a redemptive moment made possible through unity, atonement and the collective effort encapsulated in the campaign slogan, “yes, we can”.
Supervisor: Farebrother, Rachel Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral