Masters Thesis

Reproducing neoliberal breast cancer awareness: a discourse analysis of pinkwashing campaigns

This thesis examines conventional approaches to addressing breast cancer within the United States, as they are reinforced by breast cancer awareness campaigns. Through these campaigns, companies and organizations emphasize the importance of making people aware of the disease and raising money for research by hosting fundraising events and selling consumer products. Additionally, campaign events, educational material, marketing, merchandise, and social media activity reinforce a dominant discourse around breast cancer, composed of the following elements: spreading awareness, pink ribbon products, saving breasts, optimism and survivorship, a search for the cure, early detection (mammography), and individual responsibility. This discourse bears the legacy of early cancer awareness-spreading efforts and corporatized philanthropy, situated within a neoliberal capitalist society that values scientific innovation and marketplace freedoms over environmental and human well-being. Within such a context, the mainstream discourse becomes a powerful rhetoric that maintains the dominance of industry over the public, and consequently, obscures corporate responsibility for environmentally linked cancers. Using the lens of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), I examine three case studies to illuminate the ways in which they reinforce the key elements of the mainstream discourse. The first case study is the Breast Cancer Site and their associated Facebook page. The second case study is the NFL’s annual Crucial Catch Campaign. The third case study, which I label Fossil Fuel and Toxic Polluters, includes Avon, Estée Lauder, Chevrolet, and Ford. This study contributes to growing body of scholarship critiquing breast cancer awareness activities, which is an essential step in dismantling the stronghold companies have on efforts to address the breast cancer epidemic. The level of normalcy afforded to pink ribbon products and fundraising activities makes it difficult for the public to ask critical questions and understand why this approach is problematic. Therefore, this thesis aims to articulate how and why these activities are not only ineffective, but also damaging to real progress towards preventing and eliminating breast cancer as a disease that threatens individuals, families, and communities. My hope is that through my own analysis, the reader will gain a new understanding and new ways of thinking about these complex issues.

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