Rhetoric Beyond the Digital/Physical Divide: The Internet and Digital and Physical Hybridity
Kulak, Andrew Michael
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In this dissertation, I report findings from three case studies of rhetoric about the internet based on a rhetorical theory of the internet as physical and digital hybrid. I understand digital and physical hybridity as connections between physical and digital objects enabled by the internet that trouble a delineation between digital and physical space. I begin my study by tracing the history of the internet and its relationship with materiality. While the vastness of the internet is not something that can be readily understood, it is something that spreads across space and time, resulting in effects that demand rhetorical response. I describe rhetorics of purification as rhetorical responses to the internet that isolate physical and digital objects and ascribe to these objects different qualities. These rhetorics can be productive in rendering the internet and its effects salient within different discourses, but they can also be limiting in terms of aspects of the internet that they elide. To situate my work, I review literature in the field focused specifically on the emergence of digital rhetoric and its theories, methods, and objects of inquiry. I describe a primary method of rhetorical analysis for locating rhetorical strategies used to account for internet technology in different discourses, with supplementary methods including distant reading and interface analysis. In the first case study, I consider a social media app that leveraged smartphone geolocation technology to situate anonymous online discourse within physical locations and analyze responses to the service and posts on the app. In the second case study, I consider legal decisions in the United States focusing on the rhetorical moves that make internet interactions matter within the context of internet surveillance and privacy rights. In the final case study, I consider online-only writing courses and the impact of online platforms on pedagogy through a procedural interface analysis. In conclusion, I focus on the relevance of these studies to ongoing conversations in digital rhetoric concerning social media, internet privacy, and pedagogy.
General Audience Abstract
This dissertation considers the internet from the perspective of rhetoric, which is the study of the theory and practice of written, spoken, and other modes of communication and debate. I report findings from three case studies about the internet in terms of digital and physical hybridity and rhetorics of purification. Digital and physical hybridity refers to the internet in terms of connections between physical objects (like people, buildings, and the environment) and digital objects (like data and computer code) that make a distinction between the two kinds of objects difficult. This means that the internet itself cannot be completely reduced to physical or digital components, even though it sometimes is in communication. Rhetoric where this distinction between digital and physical occurs can be understood as a rhetoric of purification because digital and physical objects are separated, or purified, from the deeper network of relationships between physical and digital objects which makes up the internet and the common reality both kinds of objects share. Rhetorics of purification can make the internet easier to understand and communicate about, but they can also overlook the deeper effects of the internet and its relationships with places, people, and communities. This dissertation takes up three different case studies related to rhetorics of purification. To demonstrate how this theory relates to the field, I review literature in rhetoric that considers digital texts, interfaces, and the internet in different ways in response to changes in technology. To study rhetoric surrounding the internet, I used a method of rhetorical analysis applied to different texts related to the internet. I combined this method with several methods of computer-assisted analysis including analysis of large bodies of text and interface analysis. I applied these methods within three different case studies. Each case study considers examples of rhetoric that represents the internet as distinct physical and digital components. In my first case study, I consider a social media service that used location information from users’ devices to situate anonymous online discourse within physical communities and analyze responses to the service. In my second case study, I consider legal decisions in the United States about internet surveillance and privacy rights. My analysis focuses on the rhetorical moves that are used in the legal decisions that relate the internet to the privacy of individuals and groups. In my final case study, I consider online-only writing courses and the impact of online platforms on teaching. In conclusion, I focus on the findings from these case studies and their relevance to ongoing conversations in the field concerning social media, internet privacy, and online teaching.
- Doctoral Dissertations