Visible Identities, Visual Rhetoric: The Self-Labeled Body as a Popular Platform for Political Persuasion

Joel Penney


This study examines how political T-shirts—i.e., those featuring printed images, symbols, or words that make explicit reference to electoral politics—are used by their wearers as identity labels for the purpose of advancing persuasive messages in the public sphere. Drawing upon 28 in-depth interviews with wearers, I consider how making one’s political identity publicly visible with legible markers is conceptualized as a rhetorical act with the potential to challenge public perceptions of who “the people” out there really are. The discussion poses larger questions about how the visual expression of identity endemic to a wide variety of popular culture-related practices may be used by citizens to gain an empowering sense of participation in the sphere of “mainstream” political communication.

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