Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

Document Type



This dissertation engages public rhetorics surrounding pop princess Britney Spears as a case study for examining the rhetoricity of bodily autonomy. Bodily autonomy is commonly understood as the legal right to control what happens to one’s body without external influence or coercion. However, one’s legal access to bodily autonomy is produced, negotiated, and maintained through discourse. In other words, one’s access to so-called “ownership” over their body and agency to make decisions about it is deeply tied to the gendered and racialized symbolic production of citizenship in the United States. Utilizing a reproductive justice framework, I investigate how Britney Spears’ right to bodily autonomy was rhetorically and materially revoked through the mediated and legal discourses that sanctioned a legally binding conservatorship that gave her father control of her body and personhood for 13 years. I then examine how feminist social movement discourses mobilized to resist the conservatorship through the #FreeBritney movement. In my analysis, I highlight how the discourses both challenged legal formations that undermined Britney’s access to bodily autonomy, while also revealing how the movement traffics in a white paternalism that further entrenched the revocation of Britney’s bodily and rhetorical agency. Finally, I turn to Britney’s own rhetoric post-conservatorship as a case study in how Britney reclaimed rhetorical agency over her body and the narratives that constrained her as a symbolic public figure rather than a fleshly, agentive subject. The discursive negotiation of Spears’ right to access bodily autonomy provides essential insights into how rhetorics about reproducing bodies constrain and enable corporeal agency.



Committee Chair

Mack, Ashley N.