Date of Award

Spring 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Ralph Webb

Committee Chair

Ralph Webb

Committee Member 1

Patrice Buzzanell

Committee Member 2

Ashley Kelly


In this thesis, I introduce a philosophic concept termed "imaginative resistance," a concept which targets the unimaginability of narratives, which I argue offers new insights into polarized communication. I discuss the philosophic debate on imaginative resistance to date, and piece out central puzzles and approaches. I show that imaginative resistance can be applied to broader types of communication than those currently being discussed by philosophers, and indicate that polarized debates are especially likely places to uncover imaginative resistance. I discuss, and respond to, a recent article by Susan M. Behuniak (2011) in which she analyzes a subsection of the contemporary medical euthanasia debate and concludes that with mutual understanding of the word "dignity" the sides should be able to communicate better. I then do my own analysis, focusing particularly on the perspective of the disability rights advocacy group involved in Behuniak's analysis, Not Dead Yet, and I analyze key texts from this group using the theory of imaginative resistance. My analysis reveals that beneath their rhetoric is a particular worldview and set of fears which provoke a refusal or inability to imagine that the claims made by their primary opponent, Compassion & Choices, could possibly be correct, therefore inhibiting their ability to engage with Compassion & Choices). I show that understanding this worldview and set of fears is essential to understanding their rhetorical choices, and that if effective debate requires understanding then the barriers present to effective debate are considerably more substantial than the use or interpretation of the word "dignity." I also suggest other debates in which this theory may prove useful, as well as further explorations of the theory alongside incommensurability.