Date of Award

December 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Leslie Harris

Committee Members

Kathryn Olson, John Jordan, Nancy Burrell


Affect, Constituting Community, Loci of Presence, Queer Legal Worldmaking, Social Movements, Value Argument


In this dissertation, I propose to better explain the argumentative processes by which communities are constituted in political crisis moments and how, within those moments, social movement and legal rhetorics co-create the rhetorical possibilities for queer legal worldmaking. Specifically, I argue that affect functions as an important tool within argumentative loci of presence (magnitude, proximity, and severity) and is intimately connected to value-warrants in political argument. When the affective resonance of polices exclusive of LGBTQIA+ persons is made present, deeply held values can be reappropriated in order to enact political change. Queer legal worldmaking is less about the creation of a single policy, but of a new rhetorical history and tradition that enables a worldview that honors the authenticity and legitimacy of queer lives. A queered legal rhetoric necessitates several argumentative processes ranging from redefinition, renegotiation of value hierarchies and community boundaries.

Public and legal deliberation tends to be conservative and resist change, but my analysis proves that social movements can engage these seemingly stagnate sites of influence with arguments built around fulcrums of shared experiences. This dissertation includes three case studies that reveal how members of marginalized communities and their legal representatives can translate protest into policy-making. Through loci of presence, advocates in the case studies rhetorically embodied the threat posed to LGBTQIA+ individuals and broader communities by heteronormative policy, thereby making that threat legally relevant. As only one piece of a much larger constellation of rhetorical practices, legal rhetorical theory alone inadequately encapsulates the process by which progressive advocates argue for the public recognition of queer partnerships and families. I develop the dialectical relationship between social movement and legal rhetorical theory in order to propose a prescriptive vision for queer legal worldmaking. The vehicles with which these discourses impact one another enlighten the process of community formation and public advocacy in the realm of political transformation.

Keywords: Queer legal worldmaking, loci of presence, affect, value hierarchies, political argument, social movements, constituting community