Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
David R. Russell
Richard B. Crosby
James Dobson is a pediatric psychologist best known as the figurehead of Focus on the Family, an important social conservative organization that helped to define the American Right's concept of "family values." The books, videotapes, and radio broadcast about parenting that Dobson produced in seventies and eighties, particularly the bestselling Dare to Discipline (1970), were particularly important for shaping arguments used by the conservative side of what we now call "the culture wars." During the past three decades, Dobson has become an increasingly prominent participant in partisan politics, but his career as a public figure is built atop his work as parenting expert.
A defining aspect of Dobson's career is his deployment of agentive interdiscursivity. Through careful fusions of arguments drawn both from his expertise as a psychologist and from religion, Dobson's rhetoric give moral and political force to arguments about professional uncertainties. Dobson is a seminal figure in contemporary American politics, and rhetorical strategies he pioneered in his books about parenting continue to define American social conservatism. Describing Dobson's work as a rhetorical project which depends on interdiscursivity complicates notions of agency, equips scholars to better understand rhetorical strategies still used by the Religious Right, and suggests new starting points for discussing expertise in public life.
McAfee, James, "James Dobson and the American Right: Interdiscursivity and the construction of rhetorical agency" (2013). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 13409.