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Overpopulation or Over Population? A Burkean Analysis of Transformations and Continuities in the Rhetoric of “Human Population Growth” at the United Nations (1974-2004)

Brigham, Matthew/P (2012) Overpopulation or Over Population? A Burkean Analysis of Transformations and Continuities in the Rhetoric of “Human Population Growth” at the United Nations (1974-2004). Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Despite the prominence of the issue across time, scholarly accounts of population rhetoric remain limited. Those analyses that do respond to this current of public argument focus overwhelmingly on actors such as Paul Ehrlich and R. Thomas Malthus, and on extreme instantiations of population rhetoric and policy, such as eugenics and China’s one-child policy. Missing in this body of scholarship is a sustained treatment of population rhetoric on a global stage, as it has occurred at United Nations conferences for over 30 years. This under-appreciated body of texts yields a global vision of population. Beyond the reductionist approaches to population that draw scorn from scholars, activists, and policymakers alike, the consensus documents produced at Bucharest (1974), Mexico City (1984), Cairo (1994), and the follow-ups to Cairo (1999 and 2004) take into consideration the complex web of factors that feed into population and that are fed by population. By employing a model of rhetorical criticism that focuses on a “close reading” of the final consensus documents produced by each conference, this study charts both the transformations of public argument across time while also paying special attention to the continuities in these texts. This project aims to benefit multiple scholarly communities, including environmental studies, international relations, public argument, and rhetorical theory and criticism, as well as to policymakers, NGOs, and activists focused on population issues. I consider whether it is meaningful to continue to talk about “population” as an issue separate from a web of interconnected factors, and whether we are in fact beyond discussions of overpopulation to the point where we have moved past and are thus over population. Alongside this topical question, this project opens the conversation as to whether UN conference documents, and related documents, constitute a unique rhetorical genre, and if so, what some characteristics of this genre might be.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Brigham, Matthew/Pmpb12@pitt.eduMPB12
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMitchell, Gordongordonm@pitt.eduGORDONM
Committee MemberLyne, Johnjlyne@pitt.eduJLYNE
Committee MemberWarnick, Barbarabwarnick@pitt.eduBWARNICK
Committee MemberPutnam, Laralep12@pitt.eduLEP12
Date: 24 September 2012
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 16 April 2012
Approval Date: 24 September 2012
Submission Date: 13 August 2012
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 287
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: rhetoric, United Nations, communication, overpopulation, international relations, argument
Date Deposited: 24 Sep 2012 22:21
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:01


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