Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Gingrich-Philbrook, Craig


This dissertation explores the experience of participating in collective protest. I performed an existential-phenomenological analysis of five participants’ in-depth accounts of their involvements participating in collective protest. I considered my interviewees’ discourse to be reflective of their lived, embodied experiences of being in protest with others. Participants each described distinct protesting experiences. I explored their accounts in relation to six basic aspects of existence: self, other, embodiment, time, space, and choice/freedom. From within these existential realms, participants’ accounts revealed five key existential themes of participating in collective protest: (1) Existential Crises and Activation; (2) Existential Magnification; (3) Existential Horizons; (4) Existential Stakes; and (5) Existential Time-Space. These themes emerged from the ways my participants discussed their experiences in contingent and concrete interrelationships with the six basic states of existence. I considered phenomenological similarities and departures across participants’ descriptions and uncovered 30 distinct modes, or manners in which they experienced their participation in embodied collective protest. My insights suggest that collective protests frequently emerge during periods of heightened cultural disorder. During such anxious times, many participants seek the company of others in collective protest to have their voices heard and to be with people who are similarly concerned. Participants discussed the importance of preserving and exercising their First Amendment rights to publicly communicate dissent in this way. My interviewees also described understandings that protesting is a potentially dangerous activity, but that the risks are assumed collectively. While protesting can be unsafe, this collective action pertains to individuals banding together to make an ethical statement addressing the sense that something bad is on the horizon. While in protest together, people often meet like-minded others, and sometimes these connections bond members in enduring activist communities. At the heart of participating in collective protest are individuals who make a personal choice to adventure out in public to demonstrate in communicative interaction with fellow citizens.




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