Sara McKinnon

Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture



608-262-2417, 608-514-1702

6035 Vilas Hall

Professor Sara McKinnon

Office Hours:

  • Wednesday 1-3 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


  • 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,


  • 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