Rhetoric and Audience Reception: An Analysis of Theresa May’s Vision of Britain and Britishness after Brexit

Judi Atkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article demonstrates the value of rhetorical audience studies for analysing constructions of ‘the nation’ and national identity. A key strength of this approach is its recognition of the interplay between the rhetorical situation, the text of the speech, and the audience’s responses to that rhetoric. Using the historical method for investigating rhetoric and its reception, the article examines Theresa May’s efforts to bring the nation together after the 2016 referendum and to offer an inspiring vision of post-Brexit Britain. A textual analysis shows that her rhetoric of Britishness was constructed around an imagined audience of Leave voters, and thus excluded Remainers from her conceptions of Britain and ‘the British people’. The audience reception study supports this finding, as it reveals two competing myths of ‘the nation’ which in turn constituted rival subject positions. In short, May’s epideictic failed to unite the country behind her conception of a strong, cohesive Global Britain.
Original languageEnglish
Early online date12 Mar 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage).


  • rhetoric; reception studies; national identity; Brexit; Global Britain


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