Crowd Technologies: Rhetoric and Power in Peer Production Discourse

Open Access
Ceraso, Antonio
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
November 19, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Richard Doyle, Dissertation Advisor
  • Richard Doyle, Committee Chair
  • Jeffrey Nealon, Committee Member
  • Ryan Andrew Stark, Committee Member
  • Stephen Howard Browne, Committee Member
  • composition
  • copyright
  • rhetoric
  • writing
  • kairos
This dissertation examines and evaluates the way a discourse of networked peer production has affected composition pedagogy. The opening chapter examines what I call the “intellectual property discourse” as it appears in both a broader cultural context and within composition studies itself. I argue that composition studies imports an activist stance related to copyright, a stance which, I suggest, obscures the forms of power that circulate in peer production environments. These forms of power are better understood through an examination of the concept of crowds. Chapter 2 thus works through the history and concepts of crowds that developed in modernity in order to show why crowds have become the key topos for action in networked space. By tracing a history of categories used to describe crowds, I argue that crowds have taken on a new discursive value because the features traditionally associated with them have begun to create economic value through networks. Chapter 3 continues this investigation of crowds as productive units, focusing on the rhetorical positioning of free and open source software as a novel form of labor. Drawing on Michel Foucault’s concept of the diagram, the chapter attempts to read free and open source software rhetoric not merely as an oppositional force in copyright arguments, but as a form of labor and power that increasingly spreads throughout economic practice. Chapter 4 will turn back from the free and open source method of software production to an instantiation of similar forces in the new writing technologies, and particularly in wikis. This chapter argues that both wikis and social networking technologies produce not only a public transparency, but rather a distinct form of temporality. Because wikis both produce and work on pure potentials for encounters, they can be read as an element of what Marxist critic Paolo Virno calls a “universal opportunism,” or what is described in the chapter—drawing on the rhetorical concept of kairos—as “kairotic ecologies.” I close by suggesting that attention to such ecologies provides a distinct framework for understanding the training that occurs in networked writing classrooms when they deploy peer production technologies.