Purdue University Graduate School
2023.7.7 Weech_Final Dissertation.pdf (3.48 MB)

The Rhetorics and Networks of Climate Change

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posted on 2023-07-10, 13:40 authored by Shelton WeechShelton Weech


Science by its very nature is a networked discipline. Experiments and research build off of past experiments and research. Labs are collaborative spaces where many individuals work together with an array of technologies and other infrastructural elements. Much of the work of network building in science is done online as scientists communicate with each other and with the public on platforms like Twitter. But how do science communicators work in these online, digital spaces to build their networks and communicate? What kinds of rhetorical choices do science communicators make when they share research or reach out to connect with others? How do social media, networking, and other technologies influence those choices? What kinds of networks are created in these online, public discussions? In this study, I draw from actor-network theory and assemblage theory methodologies to begin answering these questions. Using snowball sampling, I recruited 12 climate science communicators from three network clusters: Purdue scientists, scientists whose work was highlighted by the nonprofit Black in Environment, and science writers for NASA. Drawing from choices I observed in the Twitter writing of participants, I then spoke with each participant in a discourse-based interview, inviting them to reflect on the choices they made as they wrote online. 

The resulting conversation indicated the nonhuman (such as technologies) and human influences on their online discourse. Our discussions also revealed how participants used rhetorical strategies around identification and emotion to better appeal to their specific audiences. With identification, they not only asked themselves how an audience might react to their writing, but also engaged in internal dialogue with their imagined audiences and used conversational language. With emotion, participants emphasized the importance of humor and positivity as strategies by which to make online spaces more appealing and welcoming. This study offers four takeaways from the data: (1) science communicators should be aware of and take control of the networks that surround them; (2) public science communication should still be specific and directed at smaller audiences; (3) science communication—especially in online public spheres like Twitter—should not shy away from engaging with emotion; and (4) those of us who teach writing can (and should) teach writing as a networked process. 


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • English

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Bradley Dilger

Additional Committee Member 2

Jennifer Bay

Additional Committee Member 3

Richard Johnson-Sheehan

Additional Committee Member 4

Denise Tillery