User, text, system: A phenomenology of publicness in the digital age

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Writing Program


Louise Wetherbee Phelps

Second Advisor

Louise Wetherbee Phelps


Phenomenology, Publicness, Digital age, Concept analysis

Subject Categories

Rhetoric and Composition


Publicness , as it is conceived in contemporary composition and rhetoric, is insufficient to account for writing and reading experiences at our current historical moment because it has not been analyzed as such. The tendency in the emerging scholarship of the field has been to take one of three courses: (1) drawing on an assumed common understanding of what the idea of Publicness is as it pertains to writing and writing studies. Specifically, using the terms "public" and "publics" to encompass a complex political tradition reaching back to the ancient Greeks and placing writers/speakers in roles as citizens; (2) theorizing idiosyncratic aspects of the idea of Publicness as they fit specific needs and limited contexts; and (3) committing to a notion (the Habermasian public sphere) inappropriate to our current techno-cultural moment, yet so pervasive that we seem theoretically trapped in it.

In response to these three trends, this dissertation sketches the outline for a general concept of Publicness which is flexible enough to accommodate a range of disciplinary needs. Grounded in a phenomenological account, the dissertation frames a model of Publicness along three analytical lines: (1) Analysis of three boundaries of experience which ground Publicness: inner-self/outer-self, stranger/not-stranger, strangers-in-one-group/strangers-in-another-group; (2) Analysis along the continuum structure/event, which posits Publicness as a contextual attribute of events, thus opening the possibility for more dynamic uses of the term in relation to meaning; (3) Analysis of four mid-level, connective concepts: participation, performance, visibility , and accessibility , which inhabit each phenomenal event to which Publicness is attributed.