Cindy Sheehan’s Confrontational Iraq War Protests: A Case Study in Contentious Rhetoric
This dissertation examines Cindy Sheehan’s Iraq War protests from November 2004 to
May 2007 as a case study of contentious rhetoric. The notion of contentious rhetoric
is based on the concept of contentious politics developed by sociologist and political
scientist Charles Tilly, sociologist Doug McAdam, and political scientist Sidney Tarrow.
This new conceptualization acts as a guide to understanding how Sheehan navigates
the dichotomy between women and war and how she uses her own motherhood as validation
for her protests. I selected a cross section of Sheehan’s speeches and online blogs
for this analysis and, through a close reading of these texts, looked for themes to
emerge that align Sheehan within this context of contentious rhetoric. Through this
framework, the analysis shows that Sheehan is not part of an isolated anti-war social
movement, but is actually extending the women’s peace movement that has existed over
the past century in the United States. By developing this concept of contentious rhetoric,
this project creates an opening for studying the rhetoric that exists before a social
movement occurs or fails.
University of Memphis