Dissertation: Living a Participatory Life

Photo courtesy of Jeannette Iannacone

I defended my dissertation, Living a Participatory Life: Reformatting Rhetoric for Demanding, Digital Times on April 12, 2023. My committee and I are pictured above, complete with participation ribbons. From left to right: Kristy Maddux, Catherine Knight Steele, Matthew Salzano, Damien S. Pfister (chair), Carly S. Woods, Jason Farman (Dean’s Representative, American Studies).

Abstract: Living a Participatory Life explores how people navigate demanding, digital times where social movements and digital media meet, in the context of what media scholars refer to as the participatory condition. The participatory condition describes how participation is an inherent, inescapable condition of digitality with its always-on and always-prompting media; it is distinctly different from the participatory cultures theorized of the blogosphere and Web 2.0. In the participatory condition, the digital is demanding, and our demands are digitized. What does it mean to live a participatory life in the participatory condition? How should we practice rhetoric (as a productive and critical art) during demanding, digital times? To aid in answering these questions, this dissertation offers a format theory of participation. I theorize four key concepts—parameters, imperatives, trans-situations, and sensibilities—to define participation as a formatted rhetorical practice that modulates affect and sensibilities within a formatted ecology. In the following three chapters, I locate three participatory sensibilities from advocates for social change across intersectional issues: Disparticipants, offering participatory dissent at the Women’s March; Fictocritics, generating criticism of the YouTube manosphere; and Installectuals, transforming Instagram during the Summer 2020 resurgence of Black Lives Matter activism. Each illustrates the ramifications of the participatory condition and how advocates for social change navigate it. The dissertation concludes with a provocation to learn from these sensibilities and begin reformatting our own participatory lives. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the dissertation, feel free to contact me via email (mattsalzano AT gmail DOT com). You can also look at some earlier versions of the case studies on this website:

Read a truncated version of Chapter 1, Disparticipants, in the volume Local Theories of Argument

Read the conference presentation for Chapter 2, Fictocritics, NCA 2020, “Digitizing Fictocriticism”

Read the conference presentation for Chapter 3, Installectuals, NCA 2022, “Installectual participation”

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