Sara McKinnon

Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture



608-262-2417 (office phone)

6035 Vilas Hall

Professor Sara McKinnon

Office Hours:

  • Wednesday 1-3 PM

Expertise and Activities

I am Professor of Rhetoric, Politics & Culture in the Department of Communication Arts, and Faculty Director of Latin American, Caribbean & Iberian Studies. I co-chair UW-Madison’s Human Rights Program and have affiliations in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies and Chican@ & Latin@ Studies.

My current research examines foreign policy rhetoric in an era of globalization, considering as case studies collaborations between the United States, Mexico, and Central American countries since the 1980s to address regional issues such as drug trafficking, corruption, and migration. I am also working on a collaborative project to expand the legal information about US immigration and refugee programs and legal counsel available to migrants throughout Latin America as they consider safe options for movement and resettlement. You can find more information about this project at

I have published three books. 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 between the 1980 Refugee Act and 2014. In this project I analyzed a range of gender and sexuality-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. Text + Field: Innovations in Rhetorical Method (Penn State University Press, 2016) is a co-edited collection that considers a range of approaches for using ethnographic and field-based methods in doing rhetorical research, and I have a forthcoming co-edited collection, Foreign Policy Rhetorics in the Global Era: Concepts and Case Studies with Michigan State University Press.

I regularly teach undergraduate and graduate classes in communication and human behavior, migration and refugee studies, gender and communication, intercultural communication, and conflict studies, and qualitative and text-based research methods.


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


  • Research Forward Grant, “Safe Passage through the Darién Gap” 2023-2025
  • Borghesi-Mellon Workshop “Migrant Media & Artivism” 2021-2022
  • Vilas Associates Award, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, 2020-2022.
  • Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award. University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2019.
  • 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
  • Undergraduate Mentor Award, University of Wisconsin-Madison, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, 2015

Selected Articles

  • 2021. “Feminicidio in the International Courts: Agency and responsibility in the making of justice.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 24, 413-445.
  • 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. “School Experiences of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students in Wisconsin.”,
  • 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,
  • 2008. “Unsettling Resettlement: Problematizing “Lost Boys of Sudan” Resettlement and Identity.” Western Journal of Communication, (72): 397-414,


  • Forthcoming. Foreign Policy Rhetorics in the Global Era: Concepts and Case Studies. Lansing: Michigan State University Press.
  • 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.

Selected Chapters

  • 2021. “Critical legal rhetoric takes on immigration and asylum law.” In Shauhim Talesh, Heinz Klug, & Elizabeth Mertz (Eds.) Research Handbook on Modern Legal Realism (pp. 176-190). Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • 2019. “Transgendered Asylum and Gendered Fears in US Asylum Law and Politics.” In Bridget M. Haas & Amy Shuman (Eds.) Political Asylum and the Politics of Suspicion (pp. 206-224). Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.
  • 2018. “Necropolitics as foreign affairs rhetoric in contemporary US-Mexico relations.” In Wendy S. Hesford, Adela C. Licona & Christa Teston (Eds.) Precarious Rhetorics (pp. 94-118). Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press.
  • 2020. “Dead, Dying & Failing: Violent Mexico in the Context of Transnational U.S. Politics.” In Kendall R. Phillips & Charles E. Morris III (Eds.) The Conceit of Context: Resituating Domains in Rhetorical Studies (pp. 303-318). Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.


  • CA 260 – Communication & Human Behavior
  • CA 316 – Gender & Communication
  • 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
  • CA 976 – Rhetorical Criticism
  • CA969 – Migration, Mobility & Stoppage