Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Mary Jo Reiff

Committee Members

Janet Atwill, Michael Keene, Rosalind Hackett


This dissertation examines the role of human rights Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in sponsoring public deliberation and activism. Activists who take part in an NGO’s campaigns encounter a system of genres that aligns their human rights literacies and discourse with the NGO’s ideological and organizational structure. The genres that activists use thus play a powerful socializing role, placing the discourse of activists within a complex context of organizational discourse that not only embodies specific human rights exigencies, but also specific organizational rationales for addressing those exigencies. Human rights NGOs, while often reflecting an ideology of a common, unified voice for human rights, are in fact heterogeneous networks of discursive agents that are linked together through complex interdiscursive exchanges. I argue that these rhetorical exchanges reflect a set of mediating rhetorical strategies that NGOs employ to translate their professional advocacy into terms and genres accessible to their membership and to their public activists. This analysis is developed from a case study of the organizational structure and discursive communities of Amnesty International (AI) and the influence of Amnesty‘s advocacy structures and techniques on the NGOs and social movements that lobby for human rights. Chapters one and two analyze the problem of discursive agency in discussions of global and transnational civil society, aligning critical discussions of the development of global public opinion with critiques of the growing professionalism of human rights NGOs. In chapter three, I trace the relationship of AI’s professional genres to the international institutions of human rights policy and law. Chapter four examines the activist genre system of Amnesty International and the role of professional discourse plays in framing opportunities for the activism of Amnesty’s members. I then turn in chapter five to an analysis of the multi-modal genres and web genres that AI has utilized to construct public awareness of its campaigns. Chapter six concludes the study by tracing out the implications of this analysis for theories of the public sphere and global civil society. I argue that genre analysis provides a means for understanding the social contexts, discursive agencies, and embodied literacies of contemporary public discourse.

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