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Colloquium Archive

Kaitlin Marks-Dubbs

Name: Kaitlin Marks-Dubbs, English Department

Presentation Title: “What’s the Buzz?:Examining Corporations as Institutional Sponsors of Writing in Social Networking Spaces.”

Date: October 17th, 2013


In 1998, Deborah Brandt’s theory of literacy sponsorship rendered legible how economic and ideological interests are transacted through the instruction of literate activity. Brandt identifies sponsors of literacy as “any agents, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable, support, teach, model, as well as recruit, regulate, suppress, or withhold literacy—and gain advantage by it in some way” (1998). Within the fields of literacy and writing studies, research on sponsorship has been commonly executed through ethnographic research on the development of multiple sponsorships of individuals’ literacy practices (Brandt, 1998, 2001; Emig, 1971; Fishman et al., 2005; Gere, 1994; Selfe and Hawisher, 2004; Webb-Sunderhaus, 2007; Yi and Hirvela, 2010). While such a focus has productively examined the relationship of literacy to those instructed or otherwise enabled to read or write, this presentation seeks to articulate the rhetorical function of sponsorship as it positions writers to mediate sponsored messages to a broader audience. Throughout this presentation, I focus on interactions between retailers and potential consumers on social network site (SNS) Facebook to argue that sponsorship is frequently multiple and layered, a series of processes in which multiple sponsors elicit sponsored writers to structure channels between themselves and a broader audience than they could attract alone.

Building upon research on how individual sponsors can act as both sponsors and inhibitors through seemingly contradictory messages about literacy (Webb-Sunderhaus, 2007), this presentation examines how different sponsors can work together to laminate confluent meanings of compositional activity. In turning to Facebook as a sponsor for its writing contests, retailers access: 1) Facebook’s ideological emphasis on identifiable authorship and the construction of identity through social connections; 2) Facebook’s interface construction of compositional space, which, in subsuming comment responses to status updates, lends itself to initiate-response methods of eliciting and modeling composition; 3) Facebook’s extensive compositional labor force; and 4) exposure to the social contacts of those whose composition it sponsors via Facebook’s Newsfeed feature. This presentation argues that the synthesis of Facebook and retailers’ confluent interests in gathering, targeting, and organizing consumers through compositional affiliation results in what I term composite sponsorship, in which the co-operation of multiple sponsors results in structural significance and ideological freight distinct from those resulting from the operation of either on its own.