Sean Zwagerman

Associate Professor / Associate Dean, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences


  • BA (Berkeley)
  • MA (Sonoma State)
  • PhD (University of Southern California)


I am interested broadly in rhetoric and writing, in the compositional relationship among the word, the self, and the world. I tend to use the terminology of speech-act theory to analyze and define the role of rhetoric in social ontology, and to understand what we try to do, are able to do, and fail to do in our purposeful acts of writing and speech. To that end, I have written in past works about women’s strategic use of humour to perform indirect speech acts, and about the rhetorical failures of protest discourse. I am currently writing about the pervasive problem of unpersuadability—people who refuse to even consider changing their minds—and what we might do about it. I propose (perhaps unsurprisingly) that the remedy is to be found in rhetorical acts. I argue along the way (perhaps surprisingly) that, since most people are not ideologues, ideology plays a minimal role in determining our beliefs, motives, and actions. Social change is thus best pursued at the micro-level of personal and interpersonal dialogue—the speech acts of which social institutions are constructed and maintained—not at the macro-level of vast ideological forces.

Selected Publications

"The Scholarly Transgressions of Constance Rourke." In Transgressive Humor of American Women Writers. Ed. Sabrina Fuchs Abrams. Palgrave, 2017.

"Local Examples and Master Narratives: Stanley Fish's Blog and the Popular Appeal of Current-Traditionalism." College Composition and Communication 66.3 (2015).

Women and Comedy: History, Theory, Practice (co-editor). Fairleigh Dickinson, 2013.

"A Cautionary Tale: Ann Coulter and the Failure of Humor.” In Women and Comedy, above.

“A Marked Resemblance: Students, Teachers, and the Dynamics of Plagiarism.” In Critical Conversations About Plagiarism. Parlor Press, 2013.

Wit’s End: Women’s Humor as Rhetorical and Performative Strategy. Pittsburgh, 2010.

Published Books