Date of Award

2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Communication

First Advisor

Barbie Zelizer

Abstract

Within contemporary American political discourse, the right is understood as ‘owning’ morality, which allegedly confers a rhetorical and partisan power that the left lacks due to its religiously diverse and partly areligious constituency and unwillingness to make universal statements of moral perspective with religious language. However, this aspect of right-left political difference depends on the conception of morality and moral engagement with politics as exclusively religious, and normatively conservative evangelical Christianity. These circumstances make left-wing moral engagement illegible in political discourse, but do not support the assumption in commonplace and scholarly conceptions of a right/left difference in modes of political engagement. I argue that the left moralizes uses alternate, non-religious frameworks from different discursive spheres that can be studied using moral vocabularies analysis. This project uses interview and focus group data with members of transformative media fandom to investigate how the contemporary left in America expresses moral engagement with politics in the discursive sphere of popular culture. These data align with the observations of and predictions about the American left made in both the preponderance of political science and the moral theory of Charles Taylor. Despite their lack of a normative language provided by political institutions to describe a leftist moral engagement with politics, my analysis also shows that morality is central to these fans’ engagement with politics. They draw on media texts and fandom experience as frameworks for moral expression that fellow fans will understand. This project shows the importance of looking beyond normative venues and frameworks of political discourse when studying and conceptualizing of the role of morality in politics and defining right/left political difference in contemporary American politics.

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