Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English


Rhetoric and Composition



First Advisor

Michael Pennell


This project examines knowledge making and sharing amid special interest forums, specifically, online forums for herp (reptile and amphibian) hobbyists. In doing so, it addresses a gap in rhetoricians’ understanding of publicness: its effect on writing and people’s perceptions thereof. Few studies measure public writing unless its telos is change or activism. Additionally, despite increased rhetorical scholarship focusing on new media, much current research on forums situates them in classroom-based learning and collaboration, neglecting online forums that are open to public access. This project is a naturalistic inquiry using qualitative methods to explore collaborative public writing that occurs in discourse communities outside of the classroom in order to better understand knowledge making and sharing. Ultimately, this project’s findings are that online forums for herp hobbyists create “specialized nonacademic discourse communities” in which members learn autonomously and through acculturation to the communities’ writing environments. This writing is described as specialized nonacademic writing because of the space that it occupies between the professional/academic domain of scientific fields and the less trained public. Through this specialized nonacademic writing, herp hobbyists create and share new knowledge through interactive, asynchronous communication, building a field around their special interest where none has yet been formally established. By challenging the oppositional binaries of popular vs. professional and academic vs. nonacademic, this data shows that some motivated individuals have a profound ability to self-instruct and create knowledge without the structures of classrooms and certification tracts.