Dr. Savannah Paige Murray

Writer | Assistant Professor | Environmental Rhetorics and Ecocriticism


I am dedicated to advancing social and environmental justice in the Appalachian region through the study of environmental rhetoric. For example, in my award-winning essay “An Ethic of Everyday Nature in John Ehle’s The Road,” I highlight the ways in which Ehle’s Appalachian fiction provides a more responsible and equitable approach to the relationship between nature and human nature in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Similarly, my dissertation project, The Dam Fighters: Commons Environmental  Rhetoric, Rhetorical Citizenship, and Local Ethos, demonstrates how a group of grassroots environmental activists known as the Upper French Broad Defense Association (UFBDA) successfully opposed and prevented the implementation of 14  ecologically-devastating Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) dams in western North Carolina from 1961-1972. My dissertation documents the inherent value and rhetorical savvy of these Appalachian activists and shows the necessity of exploring environmentalism through the lens of civic engagement, with a particular emphasis on public participation and democratic processes. My dissertation not only contributes to current studies of community involvement and environmental protest in Appalachia, but also illustrates how this case study from Appalachia makes valuable interventions into rhetorical theory as well. More specifically, my key findings in this dissertation highlight: (1) the ways in which commons environmental rhetoric invites a more collaborative, inclusive, and equitable form of environmental activism, (2) the value of engaging in rhetorical citizenship as a means for creating additional avenues for deliberation, and (3) how building ethos around community members’ local knowledge can help marginalized groups push back against the hegemony of technocratic expertise.

My broader research profile also showcases my commitment to environmental and social justice rhetoric. While much of my work focuses on the Appalachian region, I also seek out national and global connections, from the battle for land protection and water rights at Standing Rock to the ongoing dam controversies in India and China. In doing so, my research makes a rhetorical intervention into the conception of environmentalism—expanding the knowledges, activities, and sources we as scholars can use to understand this vital social justice movement.

Further, my research also critiques the environmental movement—highlighting the ways in which the search for environmental protection has often elided and erased marginalized individuals and communities, allowing me to argue for a more equitable and intersectional form of environmentalism which can help current and future environmental activists be more effective rhetors in the fight for justice. For instance, in the book chapter “Rhetorics of Stewardship and Loss” (in Lost in Translation and co-authored with Katrina Powell), we focus on rhetorics of displacement and the importance of everyday environmentalism in environmental decision-making.

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