Date of Award

Fall 2022

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Chris Holcomb


In our current information landscape, routine surveillance has changed the nature of rhetorical engagement in public spheres. Scholarship in publics theory have done productive work to map out the complex field of discursive participation. Michael Warner has demonstrated how, through the circulation of common texts, people no longer have to be in public in order to participate in publics. However, in the wake of ubiquitous surveillance, this focus on publicness has offered little attention to privacy in publics theory. I argue that legal and postmodern theories of bodies-as-texts is problematic for reading and writing bodies online. Intersecting with embodiment and authorship theories, I take a new materialist approach to ethically reading bodies mediated by surveillance technologies. Building from circulation theory and publics theory, I propose a theory of somnambulant participation where bodies online non-autonomously participate in a variety of publics without their awareness or consent. The concept of somnambulance illustrates how simply being in the presence of technologies like smart phones, cameras, smart speakers, wearable technologies etc. effectively collapse the distinction between the public-private binary, which poses certain ethical problems for public participation. I then analyze a viral meme to demonstrate how reddit’s community-based algorithmic moderation system co-constructs subjectivities caught within its purview. Finally, I argue that teacher-scholars of digital rhetoric should fold an intentioned empathy into critical digital literacy pedagogies. I argue that empathy can be a productive avenue for critiquing institutions of power that surveille and mediate our everyday digital practices.


© 2022, Adam S. Padgett