Sara McKinnon

Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture

Associate Professor


608-262-2417, 608-514-1702

6035 Vilas Hall

Professor Sara McKinnon

Office Hours:

  • Wednesday 3-5 PM


Expertise and Activities

I research and teach in the following areas: intercultural rhetoric, globalization/transnational studies, legal rhetoric, and feminist theory. Most of my projects bridge rhetoric and qualitative/ethnographic research methods, but I am also interested in using performance-based methods to do and represent research. My 2016 book, “Gendered Asylum: Race and Violence in U.S. Law and Politics,” (University of Illinois Press, 2016), examines the gender discourse that has emerged in U.S. immigration and refugee law since the 1980 Refugee Act. In this project I analyze a range of gender and sex-related political asylum cases against public discourse concerning globalization, women’s rights as human rights, displacement, migration, and sexual violence. The book identifies what gender means in U.S. asylum law and it examines the ways gender and gendered subjects as political serve U.S. national and international interests. My current research examines U.S. discourses about violence in Mexico in order to understand their geopolitical stakes and material consequences. Since the mid-2000s U.S. discourse about Mexico has consolidated around widely circulating images of the country as rampant with narco-violence, out-of-control sicarios and gangs, mass graves, brutal killings, and people on the move out of the country for safety elsewhere. Drawing on archival research and field work, this project tentatively titled Violent Rhetoric: Constructions of Mexico in US Media and Politics, takes up these contemporary US discourses of violence in Mexico to question how violence is imagined, what is erased as violence, the material impacts of the discourse on daily life in the country, and what this image of the country does for US political-economic interests.


  • Ph.D. Arizona State University, Tempe, 2008
  • M.A. Arizona State University, Tempe, 2005


  • Bonnie Ritter Book Award for Gendered Asylum: Race and Violence in US Law and Politics, Feminist and Women’s Studies Division of the National Communication Association, 2017
  • Grant Awardee, Wisconsin Partnership Program, UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, 2016
  • Awardee, University of Wisconsin-Madison, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Undergraduate Mentor Award, 2015
  • Grant Awardee, Wisconsin Partnership Program, UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, 2014
  • Anita Taylor Outstanding Published Article or Chapter Award, Organization for the Study of Communication, Language and Gender, 2012
  • Competitive Research Grant, Organization for the Research of Women and Communication, 2010


  • 2016. “Necropolitical voices and bodies in the rhetorical reception of Iranian women’s asylum claims.” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 13, 1-17,
  • 2016. “Gender violence as global phenomenon: Refugees, genital surgeries, and neocolonial projects of the United States.” Cultural Studies <-> Critical Methodologies, 16, 414-426,
  • 2016. “US gender- and sexuality-related asylum law: The politics of transgender asylum.” Communication and the Public, 1, 245-250,
  • 2016. “Rhetoric and ethics revisited: What happens when rhetorical scholars go into the field.” Cultural Studies <-> Critical Methodologies, 17.
  • 2015. “Kiva’s flat, flat world: Ten years of microcredit in cyberspace.” Globalizations, 13, 143-157,
  • 2015. “School Experiences of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students in Wisconsin.”,
  • 2014. “Public Access, Privacy, and Queer Politics: An Interview with Nathan Fuller.” QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking, 1, 148-161.
  • 2013. “Alternatives to Global Capitalism: Person-to-Person Lending, New Media, and the Conditions of Intercultural Contact.” Howard Journal of Communications, 24, 326-347.
  • 2011. “Positioned In/By the State: Incorporation, Exclusion, and Appropriation of Women’s Gender-Based Claims to Political Asylum in the United States.” Quarterly Journal of Speech, (97): 178-200,
  • 2010. “Excavating Gender in Women’s Early Claims to Political Asylum in the United States.” Women’s Studies in Communication, (33): 79-95,
  • 2009. “Citizenship and the Performance of Credibility: Audiencing Gender-Based Asylum Seekers in U.S. Immigration Courts.” Text & Performance Quarterly, (29): 205-221,
  • 2009. “‘Bringing New Hope and New Life’: The Rhetoric of Faith Based Refugee Resettlement Agencies.” Howard Journal of Communications, (20): 313-332,
  • 2009. “Home: Hospitality, Belonging and the Nation.” Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies, (5),
  • 2008. “Unsettling Resettlement: Problematizing “Lost Boys of Sudan” Resettlement and Identity.” Western Journal of Communication, (72): 397-414,
  • 2007. “Mirrored Asylum: Reflections on Naming, Home and Subjectivity in Ireland.” Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies, (3): 1-29,


  • 2016. Gendered Asylum: Race and Violence in U.S. Law and Politics. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
  • 2016. Text + Field: Innovations in Rhetorical Method. State College: Penn State Press.


  • 2014. “Text-Based Approaches to Qualitative Research: An Overview of Methods, Process, and Ethics..” Research Methods in Media Studies, Fabienne Darling-Wolf Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell Press, 319-337.
  • 2012. “Essentialism, Intersectionality and Recognition: A Feminist Rhetorical Approach to the Audience..” Standing in the Intersection: Feminist Voices, Feminist Practices in Communication, Karma R. Chávez & Cindy L. Griffin Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 189-210.
  • 2010. “(In)hospitable Publics: Theorizing the Conditions of Access to U.S. Publics.” Public Modalities: Rhetoric, Culture, Media, and the Shape of Public Life, Daniel C. Brouwer and Robert Asen Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 131-153.


  • CA 260 – Communication & Human Behavior
  • CA 371 – Communication & Conflict Resolution
  • CA 373 – Intercultural Communication & Rhetoric
  • CA 573 – Rhetoric of Globalization & Transnationalism
  • CA 610 – Rhetoric & Performance
  • CA 671 – Communication & Social Conflict
  • CA 969 – Intercultural Rhetoric
  • CA 969 – Rhetoric & Qualitative Methods


Curriculum Vitae