Michele Simmons

Building public rhetorics: A critical approach to public participation in environmental public policy

Wendy Michele Simmons

  • School: Purdue University (0183)
  • Degree: Ph.D.
  • Date: 2000 pp: 217
  • Advisor: Sullivan, Patricia A.
  • Source: DAI-A 62/06, p. 2102, Dec 2001
  • Subjects: Language, Rhetoric, and Composition (0681)
  • ProQuest Document Number: 304618636
  • ISBN: 0-493-29391-4
  • UMI Number: AAT 3018269


    This study examines the ways in which citizens are allowed to participate in decisions about public policy by both investigating how risk communication is conducted in specific cases and focusing on ways in which institutional power relations constitute risk communication practices and public participation. Using an institutional case as a methodology, this study illustrates how regulations and programs established to ensure public participation, as well as existing models of risk communication, work to inhibit citizens from actively participating in the construction of public policy. Further, this project suggests that the failure to include citizens in the decision-making process leads to not only unethical but often inappropriate environmental policies. Drawing from ethics, participatory design, rhetoric, and technical communication, this project argues for a more critical approach to risk communication that encourages significant public participation by: (1) identifying unequal power relations that work to marginalize public involvement, (2) contextualizing risk by seeing the public as capable of contributing useful knowledge to the decision-making process, and (3) viewing risk as socially constructed by involving the public early and significantly enough in the decision-making process to affect the final policy. This study argues that rhetoricians and technical communicators are trained for the multidisciplinary and user advocacy work necessary to help dissolve the separation between environmental decision-making and public discourse and can facilitate a more ethical approach to risk communication.