A Rhetorical Hermeneutics of Danger: Leaks in the Digital Age

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A Rhetorical Hermeneutics of Danger: Leaks in the Digital Age

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For the past 10 years, unauthorized disclosures of classified information have become a permanent fixture of our political landscape. Their frequency, magnitude, and commonality have engendered competing discourses that rhetorically articulate the act of disclosure to transparency and accountable governance or, respectively, to threat and national security. Through an analysis of the legislative history of FOIA, internal documents from various state institutions aiming to deter such disclosures, and public statements from people indicted of leaking classified information, this dissertation investigates how truth of and about government becomes problematized, how its accessibility, its subjects authorized to speak, and its threatening others are shaped, defined, and put into political play. This dissertation traces through this legislative history the “will to truth in politics” and “national security” as distinct logics of organizing truth of and about government whose dialectic results in a “multilayered architecture of access” by which the discursive field is controlled through divisions between licit and illicit objects of discourse, lawful and unlawful circuits of discursive flow, as well as authorized and unauthorized subjects. This structured access is complemented by an “insider threat apparatus” that defines potential leakers as “insider threats,” as individuals with a propensity to commit a crime and thus as targets of surveillance and intervention. The counter-discourse, to these institutional attempts to conflate leaking and treason, links a parrhesiastic irruption of truth to the most important ideals of the democratic imaginary: transparency, accountability, and informed citizenry. The “rhetoric of parrhesia,” however, is not so much a counter-discourse as it is the dialectical other of the “rhetorical hermeneutics of dangerousness.” Both are deployed as technologies of interpretation that distribute discourses, institutions, and populations onto a political field of action structured by the issue of access to information. In the end, this study illuminates how Foucauldian Rhetoric is less of a rhetorical hermeneutics to uncover the power of discourse but a way to investigate how a rhetorical hermeneutics is put into operation by an apparatus to uncover problems and threats.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2015. Major: Communication Studies. Advisor: Ronald Greene. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 246 pages + 1 supplementary PDF file.

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Horvath, Daniel. (2015). A Rhetorical Hermeneutics of Danger: Leaks in the Digital Age. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/191345.

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