About Me

Welcome to my site! I am an assistant professor of Communication Studies in the Rhetorical Studies area at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. My research program is about the rhetorical form and effect of secrets, transparency, and surveillance. My forthcoming book, This Page Intentionally Left Blank, describes how rhetoric and secrets are entangled in racist dog-whistles, the public and criminal trials of whistleblowers, the intensification of different kinds of cyber-war, and the growing American obsession with fraudsters and fraud.

I am also developing a secondary research program about mental health and wellness, which highlights the therapeutic effects of both speech and the talking cure.

On social media, you can find me on Twitter at @atillahallsby. Below, you will find a record of my published research, conference presentations, and teaching resources.

You can also find my current CV here.

While you’re here, I hope you’ll check out my undergraduate textbook on rhetorical theory and my newsletter, where I post content for courses I currently teach.

If you are seeking further information or consultations please reach out to hall1039 (at) umn (dot) edu. Thank you for visiting!

Recent Updates

Some Notes on the Document Scandal/Mar-a-Lago-Gate

Since August 8th — but really, a lot over the last six-odd years — I have repeatedly felt compelled to write about secrecy-related events as they were being reported. The Mueller Report has already taken its place alongside the Pentagon Papers and any number of WikiLeaks disclosures as an allegedly impotent revelation, that is, ineffectual …

Reading Rhetorical Theory

The UnTextbook of Rhetorical Theory is now an open educational resource with the University of Minnesota Libraries! Reading Rhetorical Theory: Speech, Representation, and Power is now available to read in a digital format or to download. From the textbook page: This textbook offers a undergraduate-appropriate survey of rhetorical theory centered on techniques of speaking, cultural …

(last updated May 2022)


My research emphasizes the study of rhetoric around several core themes: (1) Secrecy and Surveillance, (2) Algorithms and Digital Leaks (3) Conspiracy Theories, and (4) Psychoanalysis/Mental Wellness. Below, you will find published research and conference presentations organized by these themes. I have also included (5) Political Rhetoric and Public Culture and (6) Book Reviews/Panels for recent publications and presentations not explicitly having to do with the first four themes. Links are available to read (or watch) within each of the categories below.

Secrecy and Surveillance

Article. (Forthcoming) “Re-canonizing Rhetoric: The Secret in and of Discourse.” Accepted for publication in Journal for the History of Rhetoric. Preliminary version presented at the American Society for the History of Rhetoric (ASHR) Symposium, “Rhetoric in motu.”

  • Synopsis: About the problems with adhering to rhetoric’s established “canon” in Classical antiquity and different scholarly positions on de- and re-canonization. Enlists a Derridean reading strategy to explain secrecy as what is hidden/subordinated in the Greek/Roman past and the future-oriented transformation of rhetoric’s core terminology across different moments in time. Key examples include the hiddenness of Islamic intellectual traditions in western thought, xenophobia toward sophists, erased women sophists, helotry, and Cicero’s modification of the Aristotle’s core suite of tropes.

Article. Imagine There’s No President: The Rhetorical Secret and the Exposure of Valerie Plame,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 101, volume 2 (2015), 354-378.

  • Synopsis: Introduces the rhetorical secret as a broad heading for the tropological (re-)organization of discourse to produce the impression of hiddeness or absence within official executive discourse. Draws upon a Lacanian psychoanalytic framework inspired by Joan Copjec’s Imagine There’s No Woman and Jacques Lacan’s “Seminar on the Purloined Letter,” including a detailed description of the latter. Draws upon the progression of repetition, caesura, and synecdoche to describe the transformation of George W. Bush’s speech over the course of the Valerie Plame scandal, who was exposed as a covert member of the CIA’s nuclear counter-proliferation division. Recipient of the National Communication Association’s 2016 Stephen A. Lucas Debut Publication Award.


With Emily Winderman and Vanessa Nyarko. Rhetoric Before the Back Alley: Revisiting the Abortion Mill.” [Recorded Presentation] Rhetoric Society of America (RSA) Conference, Baltimore, MD. May 2022.

Re-canonizing Rhetoric: The Secret in and of Discourse.” American Society for the History of Rhetoric (ASHR) Symposium, “Rhetoric in motu.” Baltimore, MD. May 2022.

Algorithms and Digital Leaks

Article. Psychoanalysis Against WikiLeaks: Resisting the Demand for Transparency,” Review of Communication issue 20, volume 1 (2020): 69-86.

  • Synopsis: For a special issue of Review of Communication on “Psychoanalysis as Philosophy of Communication.” Discusses transparency as a historical and democratic ideal as well as problems with this conceptual framing. Enlists a psychoanalytic framework to describe the potential harms arising from an unequivocal celebration of transparency (e.g. the gesture of ‘denuding’ demanded by toxic masculinity), drawing upon the history of the WikiLeaks organization and statements by its founder.

Article. The Rhetorical Algorithm: WikiLeaks and the Elliptical Secrets of Donald J. Trump,” Secrecy and Society issue 1, volume 12 (2018): 1-40.

  • Synopsis: Introduces the trope of ellipsis as a rhetorical strategy of organizing secrecy using the Donald Trump’s “I love WikiLeaks” campaign statement as a core example. Ellipsis describes the omission that becomes commission by retroactively (i.e. belatedly) ascribing new meaning to an existing gap within official discourse. Ends with a reflection on the conspicuous omissions perpetuated by the WikiLeaks organization following the disclosure of CIA tool-kits known as Vault 7 and Vault 8.


Panelist. “You Live In Public. The Rhetorical Secret and the Vault 7 Leak.” Presented during “New Media, New Rhetorics?: Re-Inventing Rhetoric’s Past with its Technological Future.” Rhetoric Society of America, Minneapolis, MN. May 31-June 3, 2018.

Panelist. Aggressive Leak Campaigns and the Emasculation of Julian Assange.” Presented during “Disarticulating Whiteness and Masculinity in the Time of Donald J. Trump.” Southern States Communication Association, Nashville, TN. April 4-8, 2018.

Panelist. Invading MySpace: Anxiety and the Paranoid Style of Public Leaking Events.” Presented during “Algorithms and Anxiety in the Public Sphere.” Rhetorical and Communication Theory Division, National Communication Association, Dallas, TX. November 17, 2017.

Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories

Article. Co-authored with Dustin A. Greenwalt. “Graphed into the Conversation: Conspiracy, Controversy, and Climategate’s Visual Style.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly issue 51 volume 4 (2021): 293-308. DOI: 10.1080/02773945.2021.1947515

  • Synopsis: Reflects on the 2009 “ClimateGate” scandal as an instance of conspiracy rhetoric that relied heavily upon a visual style comprised of both (1) spurious visual diagrams meant to compete with official scientific reporting on climate change and (2) as metaphors used to entrench deniers’ claims. Reviews rhetorical studies literature on the ClimateGate controversy and discusses three characteristic appeals of the visual style: (A) “The Appeal to Proper Vision,” (B) “The Appeal to Imitation,” and (C) “The Appeal to Transparency.” Images for this article can be found in the slides linked below.

Images for “Graphed into the Conversation: Conspiracy, Controversy, and Climategate’s Visual Style”


With Kurt Zemlicka. “Only Time Like the Present: The Metaphysics of Kairos and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.” Rhetoric Society of America (RSA) Conference, Baltimore, MD. May 2022.

With Dustin A. Greenwalt. Graphed into the Conversation: Conspiracy, Controversy, and Climategate’s Visual Style,” ARSTM Division, National Communication Association, Baltimore, MD. November 14-17, 2019.

Psychoanalysis and Mental Wellness

Article. Intimate Spaces of Mental Wellness.” Rhetoric, Politics, & Culture issue 1, volume 1 (2021): 55-66. ISSN: 2693-7549

  • Synopsis: Discusses the related problems of psychoanalytic theorizing and mental wellness culture in rhetorical studies due to their shared roots in colonialist thought. Takes issue with the purported universality of “the subject” as an analytic category due to its homogeneity and neutrality, a ruse which covers up its historic whiteness and masculinity. As an alternative, introduces the concept of “intimate spaces of mental wellness” as pluralized psychoanalyses, and addresses how psychoanalytic critique must both (1) address the historical harms engendered by the framework and (2) elaborate the affirmative possibilities of new psychoanalytic paradigms as rooted in the uniqueness of racialized experience and particular communities of practice.

Encyclopedia Entry. Psychoanalytic Methods and Critical Cultural Studies.” [Pre-Publication Draft of Entry], Oxford Research Encyclopedia, 2019.

  • Synopsis: Long-form encyclopedia entry reviewing the role of psychoanalytic theorizing in Rhetorical Studies, including Sigmund Freud, Kenneth Burke, Jungian rhetorical approaches, Jacques Lacan, and contemporary criticism. Offers an overview of a number of core concepts ending with a reflection on the relevance of Lacan’s “four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis” for contemporary rhetorical and critical academic inquiry.


Roundtable Panelist. Spaces of Intimacy/Subordination: Reading Secrecy and Transparency in University Mental Wellness Discourse.” [Recorded Presentation] Presented during “Sustainable Transformation: Mental Illness in Academic Contexts.” Health Communication Division. National Communication Association Conference, Seattle, WA. Online Presentation. November 18-21, 2021.

Presenter. Lacan in Baltimore: On the Role of Structure in Psychoanalysis,” Rhetorical and Communication Theory Division, National Communication Association, Baltimore, MD. November 14-17, 2019.

Political Rhetoric and Public Culture


Panelist. “Public Address, Law, and Psychoanalysis: Theorizing Free Speech in the Digital Public Sphere through Packingham v. North Carolina,” Freedom of Expression Division, National Communication Association, SLC, UT. November 8, 2018.

Panelist“The Culture Wars Redux: Free Speech and Academic Freedom,” Critical and Cultural Studies Division/Freedom of Expression Division, National Communication Association, SLC, UT. November 9, 2018.

Panelist. The Statue is Where it Belongs: Iconoclasm, Analepsis, and the Monumental History of White Supremacy.” Presented during “A Lie by Omission? Memory and History in the Debate over the Removal of Confederate Memorials.” Southern States Communication Association, Nashville, TN. April 4-8, 2018.

Panelist. Rhetorical Theories of Dual Power and Revolutionary Possibilities.” Critical and Cultural Studies Division, National Communication Association, Dallas, TX. November 17, 2017.

Book Reviews and Panels

Book Review. Awful Archives: Rhetoric, Conspiracy, and Acts of Evidence by Jenny Rice in Rhetoric Society Quarterly issue 52 volume 2 (2022).


Respondent. “Playing With Fire: African American Rhetoric from Turner to Obama,” African American Communication and Culture Division. National Communication Association Conference, SLC, UT. November 8, 2018.

Panelist. “Response to Grano’s The Eternal Present of Sport. Presented during “Spotlight on Scholar: Sport, Rhetoric, Media, and Religion.” Southern States Communication Association, Nashville, TN. April 4-8, 2018.

Panelist. The Rhetorical Invention of America’s (In)Security State.” Political Communication Division, National Communication Association, Dallas, TX. November 16, 2017.


Below, you will find links to resources for courses I have taught, including an undergraduate-level online textbook on rhetorical theory designed for synchronous and asynchronous course administration and a general resource guide for rhetorical theory. The textbook is been created with an online teaching setting in mind, and presents a succinct overview of rhetorical theory that may be paired with an instructor’s preferred secondary readings. The resource guide offers a two-page digest of many of the resources offered here, as well as links to other academic syllabi that may be of interest for rhetoric instructors/students. The final section below offers handouts for common classes in the rhetoric curriculum, including public speaking and argumentation.

Textbook, Syllabi, Handouts, and Assignments

General Resource Documents

Undergraduate-Level Rhetorical Theory (3x-level)

This is a large-lecture introductory survey course intended to familiarize students with basic principles in the Rhetoric area of Communication Studies. Units covered in this course include (1) what is rhetorical theory? (2) ‘origins’ of rhetorical theory, (3) propaganda and the common good, (4) the symbol, (5) the sign, (6) ideology (7) narrative (8) argumentation (9) visual rhetoric (10) the rhetorical situation (11) the settler situation (12) the secrecy situation (14) the digital situation. This resource is open-access although it requires an email sign-up. The accompanying documents include the course syllabus, the day-to-day agendas used in course meetings, and the guidelines for written assignments.

Secrecy, Surveillance and Rhetoric (4x and 5x-level)

This writing-intensive undergraduate course is dedicated to the rhetorical criticism of secrecy in public and political discourse. The class has been taught as undergraduate-only and undergraduate/graduate. The handouts below are from the (2015) undergraduate-only version of the course, while the reading list and syllabus were both used for the (2021) undergraduate/graduate version.

(Fall 2015) Handouts

Graduate-Level Rhetorical Theory (8x-level)

Teaching Handouts

Public Speaking 

This speaking-intensive (100-level) course is designed to familiarize undergraduate students with the Communication Studies major and basic strategies of public speaking. The course moves through four units: the speech of introduction, the informative speech, the persuasive speech, and the encomium. Students also practice strategies of satire, impromptu, and policy debate.  The course heavily employs a controversy-curriculum to provoke discussion and to provide contestable prompts for short in-class exercises. By the end of this class, students are especially familiar with basic formats for speech composition as well as techniques of anxiety management and actively engaging an audience. In addition to the four major speeches, students will also complete two exams and weekly reading quizzes.


This presentation- and writing-intensive (200-level) course is intended for Communication majors and non-majors that surveys the theory, practice, and use of argumentation. The course surveys basic theories of argumentation, key vocabulary and concepts of debate, and stages major assignments in the style of structured two-on-two debates. Additionally, the class is organized around readings that present unique principles of argumentation derived from cognitive and social psychology (heuristics/biases), behavioral economics (incentives/defaults), and public address scholarship. Throughout the semester, students are urged to debate topics related to education policy, local-area and university-wide controversies.