Writing Cyborgs: An Ethnography of Online Composition

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Susan Malone

Advisor Department



For this project I have studied four of my own advanced composition classes, each designed with a hybrid structure, having traditional and online components. In applying the theories of sociologist Erving Goffman to analyze and reclaim the bodies and places in Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), I have looked at the role of authority, the role of the student in relation to the institution, and the possibilities for using cyborg and performative theory to flesh out the virtual body as a powerful heuristic for understanding a postmodern, fragmented identity. Using Goffman's theories of interaction rituals, I reposition cyberspace as a democratic forum filled with passionate beings who are building communities much as we do in our RL encounters, using examples from student virtual micro-ethnographies and academic chats to illustrate. Cyborg theory in composition attempts to ground the writer in his time--highlight his own situatedness in history instead of submerging issues of power and authority within the discourse itself. However, this open forum and free space is only made possible, or more nearly possible, when authority is muted. I demonstrate how this shift in power, or dispersal of power rather, is much more likely to occur when educators use new technologies to virtually disappear. I also discuss ways these cyber-communities of the many communicating with the many can become activist forums for student-performers to become actors in RL political and social struggles.