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In the eye of the beholder : rhetorical presence in visual representations of fast-fashion workers Knezevic, Mia

Abstract

On April 23, 2013, the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1,000 people in what is considered the largest factory disaster in modern times. While brands and factories scrambled to do damage control, a new wave of human rights discourse emerged in an effort to encourage shoppers to consider the impact of their consumption on the lives of fast-fashion workers. With these discourses as context, this thesis examines six visual artifacts which make use of rhetorical presence to portray the fast-fashion worker. Emphasized in the work of Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, presence provides a means for the rhetor to highlight the most important or salient components of an argument. In order to create a more sophisticated rhetorical analysis, this thesis takes two realms together: the rhetorical, in which the persuasive techniques used within the images are examined, and the cultural, which details the experiences of fast-fashion workers, the emphasis on maximized profits and the influence these have on the content of visual rhetorical artifacts. The thesis first examines Fashion Revolution’s “Who Made My Clothes?” campaign, which is intended to increase brand transparency by portraying workers, then examines an H&M eco-conscious advertisement and an opposing anti-advertisement by Clean Clothes Campaign, and ends with an examination of two additional genres, protest art and the documentary photograph, in which the creator of the artifact speaks on behalf of the fast-fashion worker, effectively removing her agency. Through these examples, I argue that, whether for profit, social action, or simply reportage, the depictions of fast-fashion workers fulfill each institution’s rhetorical purpose, but in doing so, also create inaccurate, one-dimensional portrayals of workers as content, suffering, or entirely absent.

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