From Writers and Readers to Participants: A Rhetorical/Historical Perspective on Authorship in Social Media



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Despite the recent growth of social media, rhetorical theory which addresses authorship in this realm has been slow to develop. Static terms such as "reader," "writer," and "author" are often used to refer to the roles occupied by users in social media, although these terms are insufficient to describe the dynamic rhetorical exchange which occurs there. The goal of this dissertation is to use rhetorical theory to develop an updated terminology to describe the model(s) adopted by creators of social media content. First, past models of authorship are surveyed to locate rhetorical precedents for the model(s) that currently exists in social media. After comparing potential historical precedents to the overall process of content creation in social media, the term "participant" is adopted to describe the roles which users assume when creating digital content. Although "participant" initially appears to be an appropriate term, this notion is complicated when one considers the asymmetrical roles adopted on a smaller scale in genres such as social networking and blogs. To determine if the "participant" model is still applicable in such cases, an examination of authorship as it occurs in the genre of women's personal blogs is conducted. An analysis of the terms that bloggers use to refer to themselves as writers reveals that bloggers situate themselves in roles through which they claim to speak for a group such as storyteller and truth-teller. Subsequent examination of the interactions between bloggers and other participants reveals that bloggers negotiate authority with readers in a variety of ways. By using such strategies, bloggers attempt to situate themselves as community members in a manner which aligns with the "participant" model. The participant role adopted in women's personal blogs helps this previously marginalized group to establish a public presence and may also serve as a precedent for models which could be adopted by learners in the composition classroom as they strive to break free from the author/student writer binary and to establish themselves as socially-engaged participants.