Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Michelle Brown

Committee Members

Lois Presser, Harry Dahms, Patrick Grzanka, Roger Murphy


Framed by cultural criminology, this project examines the discursive construction of the U.S. state and the Global War on Terror (GWOT) in 190 public speeches and statements made by U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Whereas cultural criminology's focus on the politics of meaning and transgression in deviant subcultures is often criticized for glorifying deviance and ignoring real harm (O'Brien 2005; Hall and Winlow 2007), this project instead uses the framework to analyze the cultural practices of the state in regard to the waging of war. A key contribution of this work is thus the development of a cultural criminology of the state. Through a deep reading of the cultural narratives driving U.S. Presidential discourse from September 11, 2001 - February 18, 2015, this dissertation asks: Through what narrative does ongoing, global warfare make sense? In what story does the torture of human beings seem necessary? How does the state construct a symbolic universe in which its material violence is justified? This project further contributes to a growing body of literature addressing state criminality. Using a constitutive conceptualization of crime (Henry and Milovanovic 1996) and narrative (Presser 2009), this study positions state discourse itself as criminogenic, as it constructs a totalizing narrative that encourages violence toward dehumanized others and justifies perpetual global warfare as a necessary means of achieving peace. With the state established as a potential criminal actor, it uses a distinctly cultural approach to expand the motivational framework used to analyze state criminality. It accomplishes this first by looking at state violence through an expressive rather than purely instrumental lens and connecting the transgression of U.S. ideals to national identity and ontological insecurity.

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Included in

Criminology Commons