Date of Award

8-2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Lisa M. King

Committee Members

Kirsten F. Benson, John E. Nolt, Jeffrey M. Ringer

Abstract

In the national debate over hydraulic fracturing (fracking), pro- and anti-fracking discourses tend to depict a flattened, homogenous American public that shares the same beliefs, values, and experiences with fracking. But, these depictions of a universal public smooth over the rhetorical complexities of situated discourses, identities, and experiences of distinct peoples in discrete places and locales. To unflatten the rhetorical landscape and flesh out the dimensions of place in regional and local discourses of fracking, my dissertation centers on a case study of Vernal, Utah – an historically boom-and-bust town in northeastern Utah struggling financially amidst a recent downturn in the gas and oil industry and dealing with a controversy over the possible link between pollution from fracking and the town’s escalating infant mortality rate. Drawing on interviews with residents and government officials, direct and participant-observations, and archival materials, my project offers insight into the lived experiences of residents in a fracked town. Their stories illustrate the necessity of considering the intricate rhetorical dimensions of place in people’s beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and actions toward complex environmental issues like fracking and demonstrate that the rhetorical phenomenon of fracking is not universal; rather, it is deeply situated and profoundly influenced by geography, sense of place, and regional history.

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