Mutable Mobiles: Online Journals and the Evolving Genre Ecosystem of Science

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Title: Mutable Mobiles: Online Journals and the Evolving Genre Ecosystem of Science
Author: Casper, Christian Fredrick
Advisors: Carolyn R. Miller, Committee Chair
William J. Kinsella, Committee Member
Kenneth S. Zagacki, Committee Member
Jason M. Swarts, Committee Member
Abstract: This dissertation addresses the related questions of how online communication technologies may be affecting communication in science and, more broadly, how new ways of interaction in online spaces may affect how texts enact genres. Genres have been usefully thought of as typified discursive responses to recurrent social exigences, and much recent work has shown that genres often work together in assemblages with other genres to address these exigences. The work reported here examines four online tools for post-publication feedback on and review of articles published in two scientific journals: the online-only, open-access journal PLoS ONE, published by the non-profit publisher Public Library of Science, and the prestigious journal Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The communication in these tools is examined using both quantitative methods and qualitative rhetorical criticism as well as the perspective of actor-network theory. A coding scheme was developed to examine both the speech acts and the objects of discussion in these online communication tools, and the results from this were compared with the results of a survey of readers and authors in PLoS ONE to ascertain how these texts are used in the community of researchers in genetics and genomics. The textual analysis and the survey study indicate that the direct hyperlinking of the online feedback tools with the research articles in the journals has some effect on how we might perceive these texts as enacting genres. To account for the interactions afforded by online media the concept of the genre ecosystem is proposed, which combines characteristics of genre systems and genre ecologies. It is also suggested that the research article, which has been characterized in actor-network theory as an immutable mobile, may be fruitfully conceived as becoming in some senses a mutable mobile. Studies of the evolution of the research article and other genres as mutable mobiles may help us better understand genre assemblages in online media.
Date: 2009-12-03
Degree: PhD
Discipline: Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media

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