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Language and social change : the Canadian movement for women's suffrage, 1880-1918 Thieme, Katja


This dissertation examines the print discourse of the Canadian women's suffrage movement from the 1890s to the 1910s and investigates how suffragists positioned not only themselves but also suffrage sceptics through their utterances. Grounded in both rhetorical analysis and the study of nineteenth-century Canada, this work contributes to our understanding of the discourse of social and political movements. Lloyd Bitzer's concept of the rhetorical situation is used to show how suffrage debates were aligned with debates about temperance, social reform, and imperialism. Michel Foucault's notion of the statement--claims which have acquired authority independent of situation--helps expand the concept of the rhetorical situation to better theorize how suffrage utterances travelled through various genres and situations. The repeated dismissal of English suffrage militancy is here analyzed through the lenses of uptake and genre. Militancy received uptake in front-page reports, on women's pages, and in letters to the editor. Anne Freadman's notion of genre as residing in the interrelationships between utterances helps theorize the wide-reaching discursive effects--rather than direct influence--which English militant activism had on the Canadian suffrage campaign. Audience design offers a way of thinking about how suffragists addressed different audience groups and called them toward different types of action. Erving Goffman's and Herbert C. Clarke's approach to audience leaves behind the dyad of writer and reader and grasps the complexity of how some audience members are directly addressed, while others are positioned as side participants or distant bystanders and overhearers. A general tendency among Canadian suffragists was to cast men as overhearers--incidental readers who were expected not to collaborate but to witness the ongoing debate. The most predominant addressees of suffrage texts, middle- and upper-class women who were not yet suffragists, were often interpellated as inert and immoral. In fact, suffragists' appeals to morality in their audience address were part of an effort to convert middle-class women's moral capital into access to political power. These appeals to morality also participated in a fundamental re-interpretation of citizenship as founded on moral rather than economic qualifications and on concern for the moral quality of Canadian society.

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