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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”

Scholarship: NCA 2022, “Installectual participation”

#BlackLivesMatter, Instagram Slideshows, and participatory sensibilities in Summer 2020

This paper was presented at the 2022 National Communication Association for the Critical and Cultural Studies division in a panel entitled “Algorithms and Public Culture.”

This is a Slideshow about Slideshows

Hello! Thanks for having me. My name is Matthew Salzano, and I’m a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland. My paper today is entitled “Installectual participation: BlackLivesMatter, Instagram Slideshows, and participatory sensibilities in Summer 2020.”

This is a slideshow about slideshows. If you were on Instagram during Summer 2020, you probably encountered graphics like these. Using Instagram’s carousel feature, users uploaded up to ten swipeable images per post to circulate social justice information on the platform.

My paper reckons with how the slideshow “formats” participation, as one particularly notable phenomenon to understand the infrastructure of digital civic life. I ask: What sensibilities of digital participation are being generated in this moment, and how do they enable and constrain coalitional movements for intersectional justice?

In today’s presentation, I identify a sensibility of participation generated by these slideshows that I call an “Installectual participatory sensibility.”

  1. To understand how the slideshow specifically formats participation, I begin by sharing a rhetorical history of the slideshow.
  2. Second, I reveal how users of Instagram slideshows build on these features and format a sensibility of participation.
  3. Finally, I argue that this installectual sensibility, while helpfully attuned to access and information, remains tethered to modes of judgment that tie participation in social justice projects to the metrics that benefit digital platforms, metrics that must be questioned in projects seeking intersectional justice.
Continue reading “Scholarship: NCA 2022, “Installectual participation””

Scholarship: The Instagram Activism Slideshow for the communication classroom

Victoria Ledford and I just published “The Instagram activism slideshow: Translating policy argumentation skills to digital civic participation” as an original teaching idea in Communication Teacher.

The Instagram Activism Slideshow helps undergraduate students bridge theory and practice by connecting the media arguments they see in their daily lives to the principles of policy argument they learn in argumentation courses. Students use a relevant argumentation theory or concept to argue for a public policy in a concise and palatable Instagram “slideshow” format. The Instagram Activism Slideshow engages students with a highly relevant media context, equips students with a meaningful product for their professional portfolios, and teaches students how to leverage argumentation for advocacy.Courses This assignment is suitable to relevant upper-division undergraduate communication courses related to argumentation, social and digital media messaging, civic participation, social justice, and public policy. Relevant courses might include argumentation and debate, argumentation and advocacy, argumentation and public policy, and social media campaigns.Objectives The purpose of this assignment is to assist students in: (1) understanding how stock issues arguments apply to public policy rhetoric; (2) effectively planning, creating, and presenting multimedia arguments; and (3) analyzing and evaluating public policy arguments.

Victoria Ledford and Matthew Salzano, “The Instagram Activism Slideshow: Translating Policy Argumentation Skills to Digital Civic Participation,” Communication Teacher (January 19, 2022): 1–6,

This project builds from my previous work on Instagram Slideshows that serves as a chapter in my dissertation. Also still forthcoming from this line of research is a publicly-accessible digital archive (currently in Beta testing) that hopes to support scholars, educators, and activists who want to browse a collection of slideshows for education, criticism, and/or inspiration.

If you’d like a PDF of the article, please email me! Also check out the Twitter thread Victoria wrote about the article.

Scholarship: “Going off scripts: emotional labor and technoliberal managerialism”

Out online-first in Critical Studies in Media Communication: “Going off scripts: emotional labor and technoliberal managerialism,” co-authored with Misti Yang.

Originally conceived to highlight problematic labor relations that required emotions, the term emotional labor is now deployed to describe emotional relations that require problematic labor. In this paper, we identify how digital platforms have amplified this inverted form of emotional labor and spawned a phenomenon we term technoliberal managerialism, or the use of the connection, quantification, control, tracking, and optimization capacities of technology to manage everyday interactions. Through the analysis of viral self-help Twitter threads, a mobile application, and an algorithmic prototype we trace how the resulting habituation rewards happiness, efficiency, and uniformity at the expense of moodiness, messiness, and difference. Ultimately, we argue that going off scripts and embracing the “fuck up” can help resist technoliberalism.

You can read the entire essay at CSMC, or email me (mattsalzano AT gmail DOT com) to get a PDF.

I also wrote up a twitter thread about the essay if you’re interested in a more casual summary of our insights.

Scholarship: Instagram Slideshows, Black Lives Matter, and Technoliberalism

My paper, “Technoliberal Participation: Black Lives Matter and Instagram Slideshows” was just published in AoIR’s Selected Papers of Internet Research archive.

After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, Black Lives Matter protests surged around the globe. Amid COVID-19, activism on social media flourished. On Instagram, use of the ten-image carousel as an informative slideshow akin to a PowerPoint presentation gained significant attention: The New York Times highlighted their “effort to democratize access to information.” In this paper, I rhetorically analyze case studies to illustrate how Instagram slideshows facilitated deliberation about participation. I argue that these posts reveal a tension in platformed digital activism: as digital templates broaden access to participation, technoliberal ideology constrains activist judgment.

Salzano, Matthew. 2021. “Technoliberal participation: Black Lives Matter and Instagram Slideshows.” Association of Internet Researchers Selected Papers in Internet Research.  

This project is ongoing. In Communication Teacher, Victoria Ledford and I offer a pedagogical guide to Instagram Activism Slideshows for college educators. In a dissertation chapter, I look closely at a media history of slideshows–how did they arrive on Instagram, and what rhetorical features did they bring with them? This chapter is connected to a digital archive (currently in Beta testing) that hopes to support scholars, educators, and activists who want to browse a collection of slideshows for education, criticism, and/or inspiration.

I look forward to sharing more, and please reach out if you’re interested in chatting more about Instagram activism via slideshows.

Scholarship: Critical Communication Pedagogy and Rubrics

The first article co-authored by the Critical Communication Pedagogy Research Team, facilitated by the Oral Communication Program in UMD’s Department of Communication, was just published in Communication Teacher.

Ashby-King, Drew, Victoria Ledford, Jeannette Iannacone, Alyson Farzad-Phillips, Matthew Salzano and Lindsey Anderson. 2021. “Expanding and constraining critical communication pedagogy in the introductory communication course: A critique of assessment rubrics.” Communication Teacher.

Rubrics are a commonly used tool to evaluate student work in the introductory communication course. Although rubrics may appear objective, they are continually interpreted by both instructors and students, often reflecting traditional classroom power dynamics. In order to understand how rubrics constrain as well as expand opportunities for the enactment of critical communication pedagogy, we conducted an interpretive analysis of the presentational speaking rubrics used in the introductory communication course at 20 institutions in the United States. In doing so, we identified three levels of rubric context: high, low, and shared. These contexts inform important theoretical and pedagogical implications for the introductory course, as they highlight existing power dynamics, instructor grading practices, and student agency.

This essay was written with colleagues spanning all three tracks in UMD COMM: Rhetoric (Farzad-Phillips and Salzano), PR (Ashby-King and Iannacone), and Communication Science (Ledford).

Scholarship: Local Theories of Argument

Edited by Dale Hample, Local Theories of Argument is a selected collection of essays originally presented at the 2019 Alta Conference on Argumentation.

I’m the author of chapter six: “Beyond Participation, Toward Disparticipation: Contesting White Feminism at the 2017 Women’s March.” It appears you can read that on Google Books.

In this paper, I supplement the analog of movement to view the richness of activist argumentation, specifically revealing what I call “disparticipation.” While disparticipators may be seen as not participating, or even counter- protesting, their arguments are really dissing a protest for a lack of nuanced politics. Building from Jose Esteban Muñoz’s ( 1999) theory in Disidentifications, I contend that disparticipation is the action of someone who takes part in an assembly queerly by defying global understandings of social movement. Disparticipation generates argumentation that expands the topoi of protest rhetoric by revealing and responding to broader structural injustices.

Salzano, 2021, p. 38-39.

I also co-authored chapter 62: “The Bensenville Pause: Argumentation, Sound Figuration, and Local Sound Cultures” with Justin Eckstein.

“Noise” is part and parcel of any pluralist democracy where different cultures must come together and occupy the same space. Hence, one of the most vexed objects is what exactly constitutes a noise and how communities use reason to determine noise regulations. This essay extends the work done in rhetoric, sound, and argumentation by suggesting a local theory of sound argumentation: there is not a universal sound to measure against noise, but only local sound cultures rhetorically constituting vibration into meaning. In other words, there can only be local theories of sound arguments. We argue that this is best illustrated through controversies around what constitutes a noise in the first place and how sound is marshalled to make arguments in these controversies.

Salzano and Eckstein, 2021, p. 419

Happy to provide PDFs via email! mattsalzano [AT] gmail [dot] com

Public Humanities: Research profile on ARHU blog

The University of Maryland’s College of Arts and Humanities recently featured me on their Voices from the Field blog that highlights research from ARHU graduate students.

As his interest in a career in local journalism declined, he found rhetorical studies in a slightly different hallway of the communication department. Matthew knew he was hooked when he started taking courses on media and cultural criticism, social movements, and argumentation, because they linked his interest in media, publics, activism, and education. He ended up at UMD after his undergraduate mentors introduced him to the work of his now-adviser, Dr. Damien Pfister. He thought: “I can do that for the next 5-6 years? Great. Sign me up.” 

Now, as a Rhetoric and Political Culture Ph.D. Student in the Department of Communication, Matthew is researching digital media, social change, and affect. Rhetoric is, by Cicero’s definition, an ancient art of invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. Matthew is primarily concerned with invention. He wants to explore how digital media could be (and are being) used to invent more equitable, just worlds.

You can read the full profile on the Voices from the Field blog. Thanks to Fatima Montero for interviewing me and Fielding Montgomery for passing on my research to ARHU.

Scholarship: NCA 2020, “Digitizing Fictocriticism”

Inventing and Intervening in the bath with ContraPoints

This paper was presented at the 2020 National Communication Association during the Top Papers Panel for the Critical and Cultural Studies division.


Hi all, thank you for coming today and for listening to my paper. I’m Matthew Salzano, a Ph.D. Student at the University of Maryland, coming to you live from my bedroom-office-conference room in Hyattsville, MD.

ContraPoints, despite what she says, cares.

Continue reading “Scholarship: NCA 2020, “Digitizing Fictocriticism””

Scholarship: Review of Rhetoric As a Posthuman Practice in QJS

My review of Dr. Casey Boyle’s book, Rhetoric as a Posthuman Practice, was just published online-first in the Quarterly Journal of Speech. Here is the first paragraph of the review:

Through examples as varied as glitch art, urbexer photography, and DIY digital networks, Casey Boyle suggests a redefinition of rhetoric, one summarized in the title of his book: Rhetoric as a Posthuman Practice. “Practice,” like rhetoric, has many definitions; rhetoric is both a social practice and something that individuals practice. But this is not a rhetoric handbook in a posthuman register. Boyle’s project is not simply offering “posthuman methods” that rhetors can use to increase their persuasiveness. Instead, he is attending to the rhetorical consequences of contemporary digital information technology by transcending a humanist framework and theorizing that rhetoric “is a practice that exercises serial encounters within ecologies to inform bodies” (27). Boyle draws from scholarship on rhetorical ecologies and circulation, critical affect studies, and posthumanism to recast well-worn, ancient practices from rhetorical training as ways to exercise rhetorical capacities. Boyle’s work is thus relevant to seemingly disparate subfields of rhetoric and communication studies: rhetoricians engaged with in situ field methods may find his discussions of topoi complementary and provocative, scholars of historic public address may contend with his implication that persuasion is a result of serial encounters, and teachers of public speaking might consider whether assigning self-reflection papers about persuasive speeches is an adequate way to prepare students for contemporary civic life.

You can read the entire review at the Quarterly Journal of Speech. Contact me if you don’t have access to QJS and would like a PDF.