Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Bardhan, Nilanjana


In 2011, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) was thrust into the Western media spotlight through the murder of LGBTIQ activist, David Kato Kasule, and the now-infamous “Kill the Gays Bill.” During the last six years, SMUG and its members have continued to fight oppressive Ugandan governmental systems and conservative leaders that have been instigated by U.S. evangelical fundamentalists, most notably Scott Lively. And while SMUG and its members have fallen out of the Western media spotlight since 2012, SMUG continues its social justice activism with and for LGBTIQ Ugandans on the ground, while also building transnational coalitions with other LGBTIQ organizations both within and beyond the borders of Uganda. In this dissertation, I examine the ways in which SMUG utilizes its website ( as a site for transnational and translocal coalition-building for the sake of social justice activism. To understand the ways in which SMUG is engaging in LGBTIQ activism with nuance, I build a conceptual framework for my analysis through five constructs of critical intercultural communication: critical cosmopolitanism, transnational activism, the global-local dialectic, power, and identity. Critical cosmopolitanism, as conceptualized in Communication Studies by Miriam Sobré-Denton and Nilanjana Bardhan (2013), “is a world- and Other-oriented practice of engaging in deliberate, dialogic, critical, non-coercive and ethical communication. Through the play of context-specific dialectics, cosmopolitan communication works with and through cultural differences and historical and emerging power inequalities to achieve ongoing understanding, intercultural growth, mutuality, collaboration and social and global justice goals through critical self-transformation” (p. 50, emphasis in original). Through this definition, I also work with critical cosmopolitanism as conceptualized by Walter Mignolo (2000, 2010, 2012) and Gerard Delanty (2006, 2009). For Mignolo (2000), critical cosmopolitanism “comprises projects located in the exteriority and issuing forth from the colonial difference” (p. 724) as “an argument for globalization from below” (p. 745) that works to dislodge West-centric modes of thinking. Delanty (2006) extends this definition, as critical cosmopolitanism “seeks to discern or make sense of social transformation by identifying new or emergent social realities” (p. 25). In this, critical cosmopolitanism is a project that asks us to consider the ways in which “diversality,” or “diversity as a universal project” (Mignolo, 2000, p. 743), can dislodge Western modernity, colonialism, imperialism, and globalization from above. To understand the ways in which SMUG is engaging in a critical cosmopolitan vision through its website, I examine for clues of transnational activism as a way of performing and engaging in critical cosmopolitanism through Bardhan (2011), Burgmann (2013), and Gledhill (2010). To complicate our understanding of transnational activism, I turn to the global-local dialectic, as conceptualized by Stuart Hall (1997). The global-local dialectic helps me to observe the ways in which SMUG is dislodging all-encompassing narratives that center globalization as a top-down-only mechanism that ceases all local particularities of culture from existing. Kraidy (1999, 2005) also helps me to investigate the ways in which the global and the local are always already present and in a dialectical tension in our postmodern and postcolonial world. To understand more about how these tensions function, I investigate the construct of power through sociologist Jonathan Hearn’s (2012), Theorizing Power. In it, he seeks to shift theorizing of power away from questions regarding what “we mean by power” to questions of “what do we have to bear in mind when studying power?” (p. 4). Through theorizing five oppositions associated with power—“(1) physical versus social power, (2) power ‘to’ versus power ‘over’, (3) asymmetrical versus balanced power, (4) power as structures versus agents, and (5) actual versus potential power” (p. 4)—Hearn helps me to complicate the ways in which power is observed and discussed in relation to SMUG, LGBTIQ Ugandans, Ugandan leadership, U.S. evangelism, and Western political involvement. Finally, I offer a conceptual framework for identity in critical intercultural communication research, including questions on how we theorize difference differently through John T. Warren’s (2008), “Performing Difference,” as well as offering a framework to understand cosmopolitan identity as constructed by Sobré-Denton and Bardhan (2013) and a framing for African queer sexualities through the works of Ugandan feminist scholars, Sylvia Tamale (2003) and Stella Nyanzi (2013). To address my research questions, I engaged in an ideological criticism (Foss, 2003, Hart & Daughton, 2005, Wander, 1983) of SMUG’s website to more fully understand the ideologies driving SMUG’s rhetorical choices. I chose to use ideological criticism as a methodological framework as it allowed me, the critic, to construct a critical framework with which to analyze a text. Ideological criticism also offered me the opportunity to bring critical rhetorical methods into conversation with critical intercultural communication constructs. Through this conceptual and methodological framework, I analyzed 110 screen shots of their website and all 54 articles included as content on their page over the course of 13 months. Through this process, I argue that SMUG is showing signs of a critical cosmopolitan vision in their website through their participation in peripheral partnerships and activism that speaks back to oppressive systems in ways that highlight globalization-from-below, as conceptualized by Walter Mignolo (2000, 2010, 2012). I also trouble the ways in which SMUG represents LGBTIQ Ugandans on the ground as I call for more intersectional representation that speaks more broadly to LGBTIQ Ugandan experiences in the everyday than SMUG is currently offering visitors. This dissertation research also highlights the difficulties of reading critical cosmopolitanism in one online mediated space, and that centering people and the relationships among people is critical when engaging in critical cosmopolitan research. I end this project with a call to critical intercultural communication scholars to offer more nuance around the representations of LGBTIQ people around the world that takes us beyond sensationalized subjects while also not erasing the devastating impacts of LGBTIQ hatred locally and globally.




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