Date of Award

December 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Anne F. Wysocki

Committee Members

William M. Keith, Dennis A. Lynch, Margaret A. Noodin, Cary Miller


Ecocentrism, Identification, Indigenous Environmental Ethics, Nature Writing, Non-Identification, Rhetorical Listening







Alexis F. Piper

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2016

Under the Supervision of Professor Anne Wysocki

In an effort to contribute to rhetorical theories of “identification” this dissertation examines Anglo nature writing written for Anglo audiences in the United States over several centuries. In my conclusion, I suggest approaches current nature writers might use to offer audiences ways of engaging with Indigenous peoples and Native conceptions of environment that are more ethical, appropriate, and effective than approaches used in previous centuries. I maintain that such approaches could potentially open possibilities for less destructive conceptions of and relationships with the “natural” world than are currently in use. I rely on the rhetorical concept “identification” (as developed and complicated by theorists over the last century) in my analysis of Anglo-American environmental writing for whites in three different time periods, focusing on how influential and widely read nature writers encouraged their white readers to conceive of Native peoples and Native relationships with environment. First, I argue that Anglo-American writers of the mid-nineteenth century encouraged their audiences to feel nothing in common—to disidentify—with Natives and nature, an approach which reinforces the long-standing Western tradition of “othering” Natives and the natural world as adversaries to be conquered or as resources to be exploited. Then, in my analysis of Anglo-American nature writing of the second half of the twentieth century, I argue that writers of the time encouraged audiences to seek to become like—to consubstantially identify with—Native peoples and the natural world, an approach which ultimately suggests to audiences that Native peoples can be dissipated into sameness and are resources that can be known and owned. Finally, I argue that influential Anglo nature writers at the end of the twentieth century encourage their audiences to experience relationships with Native peoples that are marked by exploring both similarities and differences—a non-identification. However, although such non-identifications should open possibilities for white audiences and writers to listen to and learn from Indigenous eco-orientations, I also demonstrate how influential twenty-first century non-Native nature writers continue to write for white readers primarily about “the Native,” without letting Indigenous peoples speak and be heard on their own terms and in their own words. Therefore, although non-identification is theorized as a first step towards genuine engagement and rhetorical listening, twenty-first century non-Native nature writing has not achieved this important objective of rhetorical listening in its construction of Native peoples. Through my analysis of each period, I illustrate how the kind of identification predominantly used in that period made sense given the political and cultural context of the time. However, in each era I analyze, authors also sow seeds for different kinds of identifications (for example, although Anglo writers of the mid-nineteenth century encouraged their white readers to construct disidentifications with Native peoples, there are seeds of consubstantial identifications). This dissertation thus ends with a consideration of how non-Native environmental writers can encourage their audiences to listen rhetorically to and construct more active non-identifications with Native writers and with Native writing on the environment in the hope that such an approach can encourage a wider range of possible relationships with and conceptions of our environment.