Persuasion by Word of Foot: A Rhetorical-Ontological Inquiry into Barefoot Running as a Health Practice

Norma Coto

Advisor: Heidi Y. Lawrence, PhD, Department of English

Committee Members: Douglas Eyman, Isidore Dorpenyo

Online Location,
October 15, 2021, 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM


Running emerged as a health practice in the 1960s. In response to the growing concerns a sedentary life carried, specifically heart disease, the 1970s jogging movement ushered in a health practice that millions embraced. Fast forward fifty years and running continues to be a popular health activity. Millions participate in races, are part of running groups, and spend hundreds on running shoes. Runners have also come to accept that injuries are a normal part of their health practice. Barefoot runners, however, challenge this assumption.  

This dissertation brings to light how and why barefoot runners in Western society come to their unique practice, what sustains their practice, and how they find it meaningful. In short, this study explores what it means to be a barefoot runner in a shod-running community. Through a rhetorical-ontological framework that includes the concepts of mētis and kairos, this study examines data collected from 33 interviews with barefoot runners, key texts on running, and important events in running history. 

Additionally, this dissertation elucidates the importance of the running shoe as a health technology, the embodied tactics and arguments made by barefoot runners, and the opportune moments in barefoot running history that continue to shape the practice. Also revealed are the power dynamics that work to keep barefoot running on the fringe of mainstream running and assure that dominant institutions of power, such as shoe companies and podiatry, remain in control of discourse surrounding the running health practice. 

Lastly, this study also serves to advance rhetoric into a new site of study—running—in hopes of initiating more rhetorical analyses of health practices affecting people daily.