Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Lois Presser

Committee Members

Michelle Brown, Robert Duran, Harry Dahms


American capital punishment has been facing new opposition from abroad. In 2011 the European Union (EU) placed an embargo on the export of the primary lethal injection drug, sodium thiopental. Since the 2011 embargo, the 32 American states with the death penalty have been unable to obtain additional quantities of sodium thiopental and have since depleted or nearly depleted their supply, prompting a discussion of alternatives. This study analyzes that discussion. Specifically, the analysis of pro-death penalty rhetoric used by Tennessee state politicians who have recently taken steps to retain the death penalty despite the ongoing controversy surrounding the death penalty and the state’s lack of executions since the 1970’s. My findings indicate that Tennessee politicians creatively deploy collectivized arguments of justice, subscribe agency to inmates, and obscure history in order to make a case for reinstating once abandoned methods of execution. Themes of target reducing were also salient and expressed frequently in my findings. Politicians and criminal justice officials use discursive strategies to establish the moral permissibility of the death penalty while concealing the underlying realities of this institutionalized harm.

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