Brown, James Joseph, 1978-
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This dissertation examines Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that “anyone can edit,” in order to locate an emerging digital rhetoric. That emerging rhetoric is being developed from the bottom up by various rhetors, and it offers rhetoricians a framework for rethinking some of the foundations of the discipline. The discipline has tended to define agency in terms of the conscious rhetor, intellectual property in terms of an author-origin, and community in terms of a shared project that a collective has agreed upon. This dissertation rethinks each of these disciplinary key terms by examining Wikipedia’s hospitable structure, a structure that welcomes writers regardless of identity or credentials. This structure of hospitality troubles the notions that agency can be reduced to consciousness, that texts are easily linked to an owner, or that community is the result of an agreed upon project. In many ways, Wikipedia acts as a microcosm of the various rhetorical collisions that happen to rhetors both online and offline. The proliferation of new media makes for more rhetors and more rhetorical situations, and this requires a complete rethinking of certain portions of rhetorical theory. The theory of hospitality that grounds this project is not utopian—it is instead a full consideration of the complications and perils of welcoming others regardless of identity or credentials. This is a structural hospitality, one that is not necessarily the result of conscious choice. This structure means that Wikipedia is far from a utopia—certain voices are filtered or silenced. But these filters are put up in the face of a hospitable structure that welcomes a broad range of writers, invites colliding interests, allows libelous or inaccurate writings, and encourages an endless chain of citations. The invitations extended by hospitable texts open up difficult questions for rhetoricians: Who is editing this text as I read it? How do we define “community” in such a situation? Who owns this text? “Hospitable Texts” rethinks these questions in light of the Web’s emerging ethical and rhetorical structures.