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Title:Architecture and the record: Negotiating feminism in the Jezebel comments
Author(s):Forbes, Melissa K.
Director of Research:Mortensen, Peter
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Mortensen, Peter
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Gail, Hawisher; Rose Russell, Lindsay; DeVoss, Danielle
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):comment sections
Abstract:This dissertation explores contemporary feminist discourse as it unfolds in relation to the website Jezebel, giving particular attention to the rising conflict between editorial content, reader commentary, and the affordances of website architecture. Regularly described as feminist in everything from the New York Times to HBO’s Girls, prominent women’s website Jezebel covers many topics and arguments popularly considered to be feminist concerns. Nevertheless, the site has never actually claimed the label. Drawing on article content, comment threads, forum posts, and commenting guidelines from Jezebel’s founding in 2007 until the adoption of its current commenting system in 2014, I show how readers leverage Jezebel’s comment section to intervene in what they deem to be problematic feminism in the main site content. Jezebel’s indeterminate feminism allows the site to profit from baiting its feminist readership while avoiding accountability to feminist principles; the commenters respond by appropriating the comment section to strengthen Jezebel’s feminist subjectivity. The role constructed for commenters by the architecture of the commenting system undermines the role editors attempt to legislate for them through increasingly detailed guidelines, leading to philosophical conflicts over site ownership. When changes in the commenting system led to an influx in disruptive trolling behaviors, commenters were forced to collectively negotiate the aims of the comment section as they sought to determine the limits of acceptable dissent in the commenting space. Crucially, the commenting architecture shapes discursive possibilities in ways that are sometimes at odds with feminist values; I conclude by attending to the ways community members resist those seemingly deterministic structures. This work contributes to rhetoric and composition’s decades-long conversation about feminism and women’s spaces online and extends the parameters of an emerging conversation about the rhetorical function of comment sections.
Issue Date:2019-07-10
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 Melissa Forbes
Date Available in IDEALS:2019-11-26
Date Deposited:2019-08

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