Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2021

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

English and American Literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This dissertation analyzes American fiction’s contributions to contemporary discourses of sensitivity. In the late twentieth century, sensitivity developed into a concept distinct from the sentimentalist values of empathy and sympathy, coming to describe a bodily awareness that registers the difference of others. Amid the multiculturalist projects of the 1980s and ’90s, American institutions increasingly turned to the felt sensitivity of individuals to mediate conflicts pertaining to race, gender, and sexuality. The Sensitivity Readers argues that the novels and television of the post-civil rights era contend with institutional rhetorics of sensitivity in ways that inform their content, structure, marketing, and reception. Reading fiction by Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Julia Alvarez, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, as well as episodes from popular workplace sitcoms, this dissertation illuminates how narrative works have critically engaged and refashioned conceptions of sensitivity operative within the publishing industry, the university MFA program, the civic public reading program, and the corporate workplace.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Anca Parvulescu

Committee Members

William J. Maxwell, Long Le-Khac, Rachel Greenwald Smith, Rebecca Wanzo,

Available for download on Wednesday, May 21, 2031