Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric, Theory and Culture (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Humanities

Advisor 1

Victoria Bergvall

Advisor 2

Abraham Romney

Committee Member 1

Craig Waddell

Committee Member 2

Saheed Aderinto


This dissertation contests the framing of “development” in Liberian presidential discourse — Inaugural and State of the Nation addresses of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (EJS) and George Weah through Reisigl & Wodak's (2016) Discourse Historical Analysis (DHA) and conceptions of political ideologies (Chilton & Schaffner, 2002; van Dijk, 2006; Fairclough & Wodak, 1997). Aristotelian rhetoric complements my analysis. I turn to Mohanty (1988), Mama (2001), and other theorists of globalization for theorizing the subjectivity of third world subjects, setting up the complex connections between the periphery and global south. Through a linguistic, historical, and rhetorical analysis, I contest the framing and conception of development by Liberian presidents Sirleaf and Weah, questioning whether it matches the expectation and needs of the everyday Liberian. I interrogate development in Liberia and the implications of such developments on the selected leaders and nation. My central question is whether "development" is construed to the advantage of the speaker (Sirleaf and Weah) or their audience (the people of Liberia). My interest in the concept of development stems from the observation of its ambiguous usage, such that I identified it as a "god term" or "uncontested term" (Weaver, 1953) based on assumptions of its meaning.

Since my data is suffused with neoliberal discourses, the works of Chilcote (2002) and Springer (2012) are helpful for my analysis of the contradictions of globalization, especially with Liberia's positionality as a dependent economy — bound to ex-imperial powers—despite its richness in natural and human resources. My quest for understanding the relationship between language, power, and ideology drives the thematic analysis of education, democracy, empowerment, gender, security, etc. These are all related to how development is conceptualized in the Liberian context. I focus on the semiotic choices of the presidents and their "positionality" to understand issues, events, actions, and the people they legitimize or delegitimize, as well as the values and beliefs they portray in their discourses. My analysis reveals that the discursive practices of Sirleaf and Weah are essentially "performing politics" (Wodak 2012) so that, unfortunately, the masses soon find themselves in the hands of new politicians with old ways of thinking, with non-inclusive and non-progressive state institutions and structures. Furthermore, by exploring Liberia's history, I problematize the current political structure, especially the neglect of tensions between the different groups due to beliefs and ideologies. Liberia's political actors’ unique adoption of neoliberal discourses cannot be explored without investigating their backgrounds and connections, e.g., Sirleaf to America and Weah to Europe, such that their framing of development is linked and dependent on their foreign allies’ interests and control. Thus, to achieve significant progress, Liberia must look at alternative means of addressing her historical problems rather than adopting neoliberal rhetoric that is not useful for her political and cultural structure. More importantly, there must be a collaborative effort between the government and the people towards accountability and correcting the ideology of public office equals personal enrichment. Instead, it is necessary to cultivate new ways of ensuring that public offices are used toward the good of all, especially to maintain peace and avoid a repetition of political tensions as Liberia has experienced before.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.