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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

English

Year Degree Awarded

2015

Month Degree Awarded

May

First Advisor

Donna LeCourt

Second Advisor

Charles Moran

Third Advisor

David Lenson

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities

Abstract

While the discipline of rhetoric and composition has looked at a variety of topics related to the materiality of writing, the majority of materialist approaches limit their scope to local, situated writing practices. However, with the spread of digital media and the establishment of a global, networked infrastructure for communication and inscription, the abundant textuality that has emerged in the early 21st century demands that we develop more rigorous materialist approaches to the study and teaching of writing.

This growing textual environment has been called, in popular and academic discourse, Web 2.0—a more “social Web” than its early form in the late 1990s, one that encourages more interaction and collaboration between users. The ethos of sharing that defines Web 2.0 has been celebrated by writing scholars as a qualitatively new public sphere where we are writing and participating more than ever. Yet, underlying our exuberance of Web 2.0 is the problematic assumption that more writing is an intrinsic good. As more writing is produced, the logic goes, the richer the opportunities for human agency. In a world of infinite resources, such a productivist ethos makes sense; but in a world of finite resources, one whose health is intertwined with our global network of writing technologies, unrestrained textual production has become a threat to other human and nonhuman systems.

In this dissertation, I analyze current materialist approaches to writing to theorize how the usefulness of Web 2.0 technologies--and the writing labor they harness—have become necessary agents in the production of capitalist, consumer culture. Drawing on ecological models of writing and supplementing them with Marxian concepts of value, metabolism, and capital circulation, I explore the historical and dialectical relations that have given rise to a new phase of digital culture, one called Web 3.0, where the celebrated use value of Web 2.0 writing is eclipsed by the ascendant exchange value of Big Data--the massive substratum of consumer data that is produced as a by-product of our writing. Because the economic value of user data depends on two critical resources--the labor of our writing and the finite natural resources of the planet—our celebration of the productivity of Web 2.0 is in direct antagonism with other natural systems, including the organic system of the writing body. I conclude with a sequence of writing activities designed to help students foster critical, ecological literacies that will prepare them to grapple with the social and ecological problems emerging in Web 3.0

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