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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Negotiating self, sociality, and local knowledge : metadiscourse, audience design, face-work and genre in computer mediated discourse Maurer, Elizabeth G.


This dissertation addresses claims about the internet’s effects on language and, by extension, on identity, social relations, and social orders. It investigates three areas of language competency which produce and are produced by people’s knowledge of social roles and relations: linguistic pragmatics, metadiscourse about computer-mediated discourse (CMD), and genre. The dissertation argues that these competencies are forms of “local knowledge” (Appadurai, 1996, 180), upon which subjects draw to reproduce local contexts in which subjectivity and social relations can be meaningfully experienced and understood. However, because of new conditions for writing and speech online (such as interactivity, anonymity, and possibilities for public address), and evolving expectations about mobility and borders, Internet users face challenges to their ability to reproduce such local knowledge—or they face the possibility that discourse change might prove an occasion for transforming local roles and relations. Examining how internet users negotiate the production of local knowledge in these conditions shows that existing theoretical understandings of metadiscourse (such as “netiquette” discourse), of technology’s effects on the pragmatics of audience design, and of genre evolution need to be adjusted. As part of reframing the internet’s effects on these competencies, the dissertation proposes that social theorist Erving Goffman’s observations about “face-work” (1955; 1959) are a valuable contribution to studies of pragmatics, genre, and metadiscourse, both online and offline. Chapter One surveys scholarly and folk assumptions about language, identity, and sociality online and argues that such discourse needs to be questioned in light of CMD’s challenges to local knowledge. Chapter Two examines the linguistic pragmatics of audience design in asynchronic CMD, analyzing national news discourse and the evolution and functions of “netiquette” literature. Two chapters about online genres examine how rhetors respond to the possibilities for civic writing and hence for enhancing citizenship. The first of these analyzes a new genre, the “homeless blog,” along with the network of public responses to it; the second investigates the evolution of an older, established genre by examining, through comparative and corpus-based analysis, petitioning and electronic petitioning of the Canadian House of Commons.

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