Title

The Reagan Administration and the AIDS Epidemic: The Relationship Between Rhetoric and Marginalization

Date of Award

5-2021

Degree Type

Honors College Thesis

Academic Program

Anthropology BA

Department

Anthropology and Sociology

First Advisor

Bridget Hayden, Ph.D.

Advisor Department

Anthropology and Sociology

Abstract

The use of rhetoric can be a powerful tool to persuade individuals. Politicians are no stranger to using this tool and often employ it when speaking to their constituents. One politician who utilized his own forms of rhetoric is former President Ronald Reagan. Reagan used rhetoric to discuss major issues with the American public, including the AIDS epidemic. This thesis analyzes Reagan and his administration’s use of rhetoric regarding the AIDS epidemic in order to answer the research question: How did the Reagan administration’s use of rhetoric further marginalize the risk groups associated with the AIDS epidemic? Although previous literature has been published on Reagan’s rhetoric, and many anthropological analyses of rhetoric itself, there is not much literature specifically examining Reagan’s use of rhetoric during the AIDS epidemic. Through the use of coding, I analyzed the instances where rhetoric was used when the Reagan administration spoke about the AIDS epidemic. I found that the Reagan administration often used rhetoric to avoid discussing the complex issues of the epidemic and taking responsibility for stopping the spread of the disease. This, in turn, led to the continued marginalization of AIDS patients and the risk groups associated with the disease. Research on this topic is important because marginalized groups are often scapegoated during times of crisis. This can be seen in recent times with the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans in response to the spread of COVID-19. My hope is for this thesis to contribute to the existing literature on rhetoric in political discourse and inspire further studies on this subject in order to help eradicate marginalization in our society.

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