Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This study explored the use of dramatistic and repetitive language in public discussion about water within the bioregion of the Red River Valley of the Upper Midwest. With the benefit of Ernest Bormann’s communication theory of symbolic convergence, theme and linguistic content analysis was applied to focus group narrative to explore the existence of a unified rhetorical vision within the region and to specifically identify possible language used in the understanding of that vision. The study is intended to complement our understanding of messaging language used in framing regional water resource communications and management issues.

The research includes an examination of the academic literature on community and resource definition, theories of hegemony, rhetorical vision and language priming, as well as ideas of hydraulic empires and community engagement in public policy. Applied research included the collection of narrative data from seven community focus groups and a triangulation process of theme and word count analysis. Manual coding identified primary themes in the discussions while content analysis of repetitive word use confirmed those themes and provided repetitive word comparison with keywords from local media articles, NGO/NFP web sites and government news releases. The study concluded with an analysis of select and key repetitive words by theme and individual session. The results of this case study identify definite common themes and consistent dramatistic and repetitive language used when discussing water in the Red River Valley area historically impacted by a natural water resource.

While participants found the river to be synonymous with thoughts of water, they also saw water as abundant and manageable that is either alive and in motion (flowing, melting, flooding) or dead and polluted (quality, nonrenewable, scarce). The research suggests that a gap may exist between the language used by the public in discourse about water and that used by the media, interest groups and government. This study also provides a functional and efficient mechanism for testing hot button language use in other environmental and resource issues. The findings will be of benefit in understanding and selecting messaging language for use in framing public resource policy issues to encourage public awareness and engagement in an increasingly cluttered media environment of sound bites and flash images.