(Re)writing civics in the digital age: The role of social media in student (dis)engagement

Joannah Portman Daley, University of Rhode Island

Abstract

(Re)Writing Civics in the Digital Age: The Role of Social Media in Student (Dis)Engagement addresses an important gap in the knowledge of civic rhetoric available in Rhetoric and Composition by using qualitative methods to explore the parameters of civic engagement through social media-based digital writing. With funding from URI's Office of Research and Economic Development and the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing, the project's findings challenge traditional notions of civic engagement by demonstrating how digital writing spaces, such as Facebook, Twitter, KISS, and Reddit, among others, can reconstitute civic acts and communal affiliations. ^ Chapter One examines popular intersections of social media and civic engagement in recent history, as well as offers a critical review of the scholarship within on this fairly nebulous relationship. Chapter Two, then, turns to the framework for my study by describing the critical and social research qualitative methodologies that inspired my work as well as the ensuing methods—time-use diaries, interviews, and screen capture analysis—I selected to carry out the research. In doing so, it highlights the digital writing research scholarship that informed my procedures and illustrates how my study both complements and extends said research. It also introduces and describes in detail each of the study's participants and social media affiliations. ^ Chapter Three is the first of my three data analysis chapters. In attempt to investigate the parameters of civic engagement through digital writing, it examines the differences between slacktivism and activism against changing citizenship styles and definitions of civic action. Using participant data, it demonstrates how many young "scotomatic citizens" are tethered to normative notions of citizenship and civic engagement, thereby discounting, in many cases, digital action that holds potential for social change. ^ Chapter Four builds on this analysis by adopting the lens of public pedagogy through which to analyze the informal learning that occurs in social media spaces. Here, I explain the concept of public pedagogy, as well as offer examples and analyses of my participants' contributions to, and engagement with, various public pedagogies located within and across multiple social media spaces. Ultimately, this chapter situates the importance and power of social media-based public pedagogy within our burgeoning understandings of 21st century civic discourse and its necessary inclusion of digital civics. ^ Chapter Five explores the connection between literacy and the power to engage civically by focusing on participants' multiliteracies and analyzing how various skill levels affects awareness and, in turn, opportunity. It illustrates the correlative relationship between digital literacy and civic awareness that emerged among participants. For example, students who existed simply at functional digital literacy levels were often blinded to the civic opportunities available in their digital writing practices because they failed to look deeper than a semi-automatic usage; whereas students who also operated on critical and/or rhetorical levels found that social media spaces allowed countless critical occasions for meaningful civic action primarily via the user-generated content creation that contributes to peer-to-peer knowledge sharing activities. The chapter then turns its attention toward the classroom. With the goal of rethinking the relationship between civics, social media, slacktivism and scotosis, and bridging the binary between informal and formal learning, it outlines a digital writing project that uses social networking technologies to enact social change by increasing students' awareness in terms of what counts as civic action in digital spaces. ^ Finally, Chapter Six serves as an afterword of sorts. Instead of concluding, it initiates a conversation about the future of digital writing research by pointing to two fruitful junctures for the questioning and critical rethinking of representation issues in digital writing spaces, in terms of the researcher, the participants, and relevant third parties.^

Subject Area

Sociology, Theory and Methods|Information Technology|Language, Rhetoric and Composition

Recommended Citation

Joannah Portman Daley, "(Re)writing civics in the digital age: The role of social media in student (dis)engagement" (2012). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3503347.
http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/dissertations/AAI3503347

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