July 29, 2012 § 11 Comments

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Ethnographic in approach, this dissertation examines trolling, an online subculture devoted to meme creation and social disruption. Rather than framing trolling behaviors as fundamentally aberrant, I argue that trolls are agents of cultural digestion; they scour the landscape, repurpose the most exploitable material, then shove the resulting monstrosities into the faces of an unsuspecting populace. 

Within the political and social context of the United States, the region to which I have restricted my focus, I argue that trolls on 4chan/b/ and Facebook digest and often perform a grotesque pantomime of a number of pervasive cultural logics, including masculine domination (Bourdieu 2001) and white privilege (Dyer 1997). Additionally, I argue that the rhetorical and behavioral tactics embraced by trolls, including sensationalism, spectacle, and emotional exploitation, are homologous to tactics routinely deployed by American corporate media outlets. In short, trolling operates within existing systems, not in contrast to, immediately complicating, and often ironizing, knee-jerk condemnations of trolling behaviors.

UPDATE: My dissertation is not available for download, and won’t be until sometime in 2014. I am currently revising the book manuscript for publication, and that timeline is out of my hands. Hopefully soon everything will be public, but these things take time!

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§ 11 Responses to THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS: Dissertation Abstract

  • [...] Gerring (1999) points out that it is important for a well-formulated concept to be “intuitively clear” or “make sense.”  (p.368) He points out that familiarity is an essential component of a well-formulated concept; otherwise, the concept will not be understood or remembered.  And, I am clearly now working my way towards the argument that the “troll” is more than just negative behavior—and that the relational terms that we deal with trolls through may need to be interrogated.  Trolls have a bad reputation—and in many cases this is justified, as much of their behavior is pretty despicable.  Even in cases of more mild-mannered trolls, the subterfuge and the fact that the person being trolled is being tricked for the amusement of the troll and other observers, means that some level of meanness is involved.  However, the dichotomy created between troll and non-troll may obfuscate interesting insights—as shown by work that does not create strict dichotomies, such as Gabriella Coleman’s discussion of troll as trickster and Whitney Phillip’s argument that, “Rather than framing trolling behaviors as fundamentally aberrant, I argue that trolls are agents … [...]

  • ms says:

    Where can I find your dissertation? I have been anticipating reading it!

    • Howdy! First of all, thanks for reading/your interest. Second, sorry for my slow response, I *just* moved to NYC and have been in apartment-hunting hell, not really doing much in the way of internetting. Third, I’m not sure when the diss will be made publicly available. Currently it’s snaking its way through the final editing/formatting process — for the time being, it’s totally out of my hands. I’ll update once I know more! Thanks again for asking…:D

  • [...] of her three-part guest series, Whitney shares with us how she tackled the ethical pitfalls of her groundbreaking research. She also discusses how these pitfalls allowed her to make larger claims about trolling, with [...]

  • k says:

    Hi Whitney, just wondering if there is any update on the publication of your dissertation? I’m undertaking an undergraduate thesis at the University of Melbourne, Australia and I am really interested in your work. I’ve been reading your published articles and media commentary but would love to use your dissertation in my research. Look forward to hearing from you. Best, K

    • Hi K! Thanks for the note, and for reading! No dissertation publication just yet — still working on book manuscript, which makes a number of fundamental changes to the diss (which these days is essentially an outdated draft); hopefully soon I’ll get book stuff figured out so I can unlock my research! Curious to hear more about your work; send a message to my NYU email if you’d like to discuss!

  • Hello Whitney,

    I am a sociologist working with computational argumentation and I would be interested in reading your dissertation, and maybe in some tips about how to retrieve datasets from Youtube, Facebook, Twitter (or wherever) discussions…

    Best regards,

    • Hi Simone! It might come as a surprise, but I actually didn’t collect any analytics/datasets. My research was purely ethnographic — I interviewed people, engaged in participant observation and lurked on various trolling hotspots for literally thousands of hours. So I wouldn’t really be the person to ask about data collection (scraped data, anyway).

      As for the dissertation, it’s still in publication limbo — my dissertation manuscript, the one I deposited with my university, has been so thoroughly revised it barely resembles its former self. Not too eager to release that, since it’s outdated and shameful, and can’t release the revised version because I’m working on book deal stuff. Again, limbo. Hopefully soon I’ll know more!

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  • Anonymous says:

    I was just wondering if there is anywhere online I’d be able to access the full article?
    Thanks :)

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