Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Speech Communication

First Advisor

Kenneth S. Zagacki


Western culture, in large part, is a product of scientific inquiry, technological development and the ability to harness some of nature's resources. Much of society looks to science for technology-related solutions to many of its ills. As it develops new technology, science necessarily seeks to understand and control the forces of nature. Although science assumes a prominent role in contemporary society, that prominence does not necessarily translate into cultural consensus on the progress achieved by technological developments. Another perspective is represented by those who contend that continued technological advancement is the source of existing problems, not the solution. As these issues surface, so do questions about how to adjudicate them. Who decides which of these issues are to be debated by the public? And, who defines the terms on which they are argued? One significant issue to come before the public in recent years is recombinant DNA research or genetic engineering and its applications. An important spokesman on this issue is Jeremy Rifkin. Rifkin is of rhetorical interest because of his strategies to sustain the dialogue and define the parameters in which it occurs. This dissertation analyzes a broad range of Rifkin's rhetorical artifacts and those of scientists engaged in recombinant DNA research. They are examined against criteria developed to identify and understand heresy. The five areas of analysis are: the nearness/remoteness phenomenon, the social construction of heresy, the social consequences of heresy, the doctrinal consequences of heresy, and the heresy-hunt ritual. The first two criteria focus on the rhetorical strategies of the heretic. The last three concentrate on the rhetorical strategies of the defenders of the institutional orthodoxy. This dissertation examines the rhetorical strategies of a heretical challenge to the scientific establishment and the consequences of that challenge. This dissertation also analyzes the rhetorical strategies employed by the defenders of the scientific orthodoxy. Although an understanding of the rhetorical strategies employed on both sides of this conflict is important, the implications for the role of rhetoric in highly controversial issues such as recombinant DNA are even more critical.