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Paul Elliott Johnson

  • Associate Professor


  • PhD, University of Iowa


Paul matriculated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2005 with a degree in political science and after a successful career as a competitor for the William Pitt Debating Union. He returned to Pitt in 2011 while finishing his studies at the University of Iowa. Despite hailing from Nashville, TN he is a big fan of most things Pittsburgh.

Areas of Interest

Paul is interested in a varied body of academic literatures, including but not limited to rhetorical theory, work on victimhood in American culture, theories of gender and sexuality as they related to American conceptions of selfhood, psychoanalysis, and democratic political theory. The uniting interest in all of these interests is a concern about national identity, namely: how does America as a nation reconcile its intense celebration of heterogeneity in narratives of its founding reconcile its committment to pluralism with its actually existing character as a polity riven with inequalities.


Dr. Paul Johnson speaks about his research and teaching.


Paul Elliott Johnson studies rhetorical theory, argumentation, and American politics, with a particular focus on the rhetoric of populism and American conservatism. Utilizing lenses drawn from psychoanalysis, post-structural democratic theory, and gender and race studies, he is working on a manuscript entitled I, The People: The Rhetoric of Modern Conservative Populism which examines the last half-century populist turn of American conservatism and its consequences. This decades-long conservative turn towards populism--and an attendant skepticism of centralized political and intellectual authority--has contributed to the weakening of the common good by substituting  an appreciation of market rationality for traditional politics.

Recent publications include work in Argumentation and Advocacy on the intersection of legal rhetoric and Giorgio Agamben's State of Exception, an essay on demagoguery and Donald Trump in Women's Studies in Communication that focuses on how his presidential campaign co-opted discourses of precarity in the service of a toxic identity politics, and an essay in Critical Studies in Media Communication arguing that the broad cultural appreciation of the television program Breaking Bad is evidence of America's significant investment in the violence of white masculinity through humanist discourse.

 Other ongoing projects include an essay that distinguishes between the populisms of Left and Right by reference to Sigmund Freud's work on mourning and melancholia, and an essay length project about Ronald Reagan's famous "A Time for Choosing" speech in conversation with Michel Foucault's work on state-phobia.


  • Johnson, P.E. (2017) The Art of Masculine Victimhood: Donald Trump’s Demagoguery. Women’s Studies in Communication 40.3. Lead Article.
  • Johnson, P. E. (2017) Walter White(ness) Lashes Out: Breaking Bad and Male Victimage. Critical Studies in Media Communication 34.1.
  • Johnson, P.E. (2017) Deactivating the State of Exception: Imagining a Popular Trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Argumentation and Advocacy, 53.1. Lead Article.
  • Johnson, P.E. (2011) Sarah Palin and the Populist Deductive. In R. C. Rowland, (ed.), Selected Papers from the 17th Biennial Conference on Argumentation, Alta.
  • Johnson, P. E. (2010). Accidental Image Events and Overidentification: The Boston Mooninite Scare. In D. S. Gouran, M. A. Aakhus, J. A. Aune, R. Asen, J. M. Dallinger, S. M. Ketrow, S. L. Kline, R. C. Rowland, and H. M. Weger Jr., (eds), Selected Papers from the 16th Biennial Conference on Argumentation (226-232). Alta.
  • Von Burg, R., & Johnson, P. E. (2009). Yearning for a Past that Never Was: Baseball, Steroids and the Anxiety of the American Dream. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 351-371.


  • February 3, 2017 - 3:00pm: AGORA Speaker Series: “I, The People: American Conservatism, Political Theory, and the Populism’s Discontents”
  • September 7, 2018 - 3:00pm: Agora Speaker Series:“The Year of the Angry White Male: The 1994 Midterm and the Conservative Populist Crisis”
  • April 6, 2017 - 11:00am: Colloquium on Masculinity and Affect- Departmental special guest include, Brent Malin, Paul Johnson, and Caitlin Bruce

Courses Taught

  • Public Speaking (COMMRC 0520)
  • Power, Knowledge, and Desire (COMMRC 1143)
  • Argumentation
  • Rhetoric and Social Theory
  • Politics of Popular Culture


  • American Forensics Association Outstanding Dissertation Award (2015)
  • Outstanding Article of the Year, National Communication Association, Critical/Cultural Studies Division, "Walter White(ness) Lashes Out: Breaking Bad and Male Victimage" (2017)
  • Outstanding Article of the Year, National Communication Association, American Studies Division, "The Art of Masculine Victimhood: Donald Trump's Demagoguery" (2017)