Date of Award

Spring 4-9-2020

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Bridie McGreavy

Second Committee Member

Nathan Stormer

Third Committee Member

Holly Schreiber

Additional Committee Members

Darren Ranco

Caroline Gottschalk Druschke


How do we understand what to do with rivers and dams? How might rhetoric, the ancient study of persuasion, inform and shape this understanding as it relates to river restoration practices? Ecological approaches to rhetoric provide ways for engaging in decision making about dams and river restoration. In this dissertation I present three projects that bring media discourse analysis, reciprocal case study, and cross-cultural digital rhetoric to sites of collaborative decision making about dams and rivers in the Penobscot River watershed (Maine, USA). In this place, the prominent Penobscot River Restoration reconfigured several hydroelectric dams to improve fish passage and hydropower generation. My collaborators and I explore what needs and opportunities remain for further action here and how community-engaged rhetorical ecology can advance decolonization and social-environmental justice.

In the first project, we ask how news media about dams portray river restoration and how these portrayals matter for ongoing collaboration and decision making. We use a rhetorical approach within transdisciplinary media discourse analysis to explore 30 years of newspaper coverage of dam removal, with particular focus on news media about the Penobscot Restoration. Our results show that news media have widely framed the project as a success based on technical and social outcomes and that this framing limits what we can understand about the complexities of restoration and ongoing needs that remain on this river. In this way, media analysis can reveal opportunities for further collaborative engagement.

In the second project, we build on the first to ask about other histories, futures, and stories that are left out of the dominant Penobscot Restoration success narrative. We advance an ethnographic case study approach where engaging across communities presents opportunities for changing how we do research. Doing research with community partners shifted our study from a retrospective focus to a focus on reciprocation--from looking back on past restoration activity to using research as a way of giving back to those who made the work possible. The results show how building relationships and opening up our research processes to this kind of reordering helps expand understandings of what we can work to restore.

In the third project, we explore where reciprocation can lead when advancing research projects in response to our partners' needs. We ask how digital approaches shape the opportunities for collaboratively composing alternative forms of media documentation for decolonization. In our analysis, we reflect on developing procedural digital ethics to support visual portrayals of Indigenous environmental science as a form of ongoing restoration practice. Our results show how this process relies on relationship building, cross-cultural dialogue, and flexible naming practices that reshape how we can collectively see our histories and work together toward socio-environmental justice.