Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Nathan Stormer

Second Committee Member

Bridie McGreavy

Third Committee Member

Kristin Langellier

Additional Committee Members

Carla Billitteri, Kirsten Jacobson


In the field of rhetoric, conventional concepts of movement depend on dialectical theories of materiality that posit matter is not rhetorical until acted upon by human sign or symbol systems. New materialist philosophy, which considers the dynamism of matter without situating materiality in dialectical relationship to language, provides a theoretical context for reconceptualizing the rhetoricity of movement. Working from a nondialectical approach to materiality, this dissertation theorizes how movement functions rhetorically, specifically within cultural practices of hiking. For this project, I participated in 15+ hikes at state and national parks in Maine, and generated a multimodal archive of 1,000+ audio, photo, and video recordings, focused on the ways that hikers interact with environments. Across three core chapters that combine ethnographic experience with new materialism, I argue that movement is a rhetorical process of world-making. First, I trace Michel de Certeau’s semiological theory of walking, using the new materialist concept of biogram and a rugged hike at Mount Katahdin to analyze affective experiences of embodied movement. Then, drawing from a slippery hike at Acadia National Park and Erin Manning’s philosophy of movement, I intervene in Kenneth Burke’s dialectical ontology of nonsymbolic motion and symbolic action, and reconsider what it means for human bodies to live in a world of flux. Finally, in an ethnographic case study with outdoors reporter Aislinn Sarnacki at Borestone Mountain Audubon Sanctuary, I explore the ways in which the movement of hiking enabled and constrained her journalistic practice. Taken together, this research offers new possibilities for understanding movement as integral to rhetoricity, for developing the field’s engagement with affect and materiality, and for engaging the archival poetics of rhetorical ethnography.