Purdue University Graduate School
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The Right to Health: A Rhetorical Assemblage of Mental Health Advocacy and Legislation

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posted on 2020-07-28, 17:44 authored by Lindsey M MacdonaldLindsey M Macdonald

This dissertation examines the relationship between legislation and advocacy as forms of professional communication and interrogates their influence on mental health in the United States. Through a case study of one mental health nonprofit’s advocacy materials and interactions with the legislative process, this dissertation demonstrates the entanglements between legislation and advocacy materials and how their circulation impacts mental health outcomes at the national, state, and local levels. I use two major research strategies to conduct my case study: 1) structured interviews with staff members from the nonprofit’s national, Indiana state, and local offices and 2) a qualitative analysis of mental health legislation at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as the nonprofit’s advocacy materials using Rhetorical Ecologies and Assemblage Theory as the primary theoretical frameworks. My findings suggest that, although both the organization and legislative bodies in the United States have some hierarchal tendencies, they function more like a rhizomatic, multilevel assemblage that is constantly evolving and growing as a result of the communicative interactions among its various components. This is due largely in part to the organization’s grassroots structure, which enables staff and supporters from the state and local levels to affect change within and beyond the organization. Although components at the federal/national level have the most significant affects across the assemblage, my findings demonstrate how state and local components can disrupt or deterritorialise the assemblage to create new “lines of flight” or “flows” that expand the assemblage (DeLanda, 2006, 2016; Deleuze & Guattari, 1987; Fox & Alldred, 2015).

The findings and conclusions generated from this dissertation have several implications for mental health advocacy organizations, Technical and Professional Communication (TPC) pedagogy, and the Rhetoric of Health and Medicine (RHM) and the broader field of Rhetoric and Composition. For advocacy organizations, it provides a framework for tracking the potential material impacts of advocacy initiatives and legislation. For TPC pedagogy, it enables instructors to frame professional genres as components of a larger assemblage or organizational/institutional system, rather than as static artifacts. Finally, for RHM and Rhetoric and Composition, it provides a methodology for engaging in institutional and systems research that can be adapted to other rhetorical contexts.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • English

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Richard Johnson-Sheehan

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Jennifer Bay

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Michael Salvo

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr. Elizabeth Angeli