Memetic Rhetorical Theory in Technical Communication: Re-Constructing Ethos in the Post-Fact Era

ECU Author/Contributor (non-ECU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Carleigh J Davis (Creator)
East Carolina University (ECU )
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Abstract: "This dissertation interrogates existing interpretations of ethos by analyzing the spread of misinformation through online communities. In particular , this dissertation argues that the rhetorical concept of ethos should draw on the idea of agency as it has been taken up in technical communication scholarship to account for the myriad cultural and technological factors that contribute to the construction of credibility in online spaces. As a way of integrating the concepts of ethos and agency , the author introduces Memetic Rhetorical Theory (MRT) , which is an evolutionary model for understanding how elements of rhetorical action co-evolve to create communities with shared rhetorical principles that work together to determine the success or failure of newly-introduced information. This dissertation begins with a characterization of what some have called the ""post-fact"" era as demonstrative of the need for new understandings of how ethos develops in various communities. Next , it discusses Memetic Rhetorical Theory in detail , including its history in the field of memetics and its application to modern rhetorical study. The case study chapters conduct memetic rhetorical analyses of the Whole30 community Facebook page and the spread of #fakeprotests following the 2016 presidential election , demonstrating that the interface features of the social media sites that house these movements work symbiotically with the cultural content of the movements themselves to determine the kinds of information that are considered credible within the community. The dissertation concludes with the argument that MRT and memetic rhetorical analysis can help technical communicators to intervene more productively in the spread of misinformation online by offering a more comprehensive understanding of the formation of ethos in these spaces and allowing technical communicators to draw responsibly on those constructions of ethos when introducing new or corrective information."

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2018
Technical Communication

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