Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science

Degree Name

Composition, Rhetoric, and Digital Media

First Advisor

Melissa Bianchi, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Mario D’Agostino, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Juliette Kitchens, Ph.D.


TED, Cluster Criticism, Productivity, Agency, Self-Help Rhetoric, Multimedia, Critical Discourse Analysis, Ideographs


The contemporary United States is characterized by rising standards of productivity in pursuit of success, which James Daniel suggests has caused significant physical and mental strain for many. Self-help materials, such as motivational video lectures, often exploit this discomfort to present specific ideologies as “solutions” to an audience’s anxiety, sense of insufficiency and perceived failure. This project evaluates motivational video lectures from TED to determine how their rhetoric constructs success. This project uses Burkean cluster criticism and queer influenced methodologies to illuminate an understanding of success characterized by perceived action and sustained by stigma. The project finds that the speakers represent success as eminently accessible to those “resourceful” enough to exert action towards it. This emphasis on general accessibility uses stigma to identify the activities and individuals as successful in our contemporary rhetorical ecology. These results can guide rhetorical studies scholars in challenging popular representations of success and locating more nuanced and inclusive understandings.