Platform Interface, Agency, and Identity


This reading list was designed to move me toward a historical, cultural, and practical understanding about how the architecture of online spaces influences the ways that people understand and conduct themselves online. Tracing the trajectory of the birth of new technologies (Wells, Licklider, Sterling, Abbate, Bush, Cerruzzi, Battelle, O’Reilly), I interrogate how agency is defined online (Miller, Gurak) and how individual and cultural identities are formed in electronic spaces (Hayles, Lundby, Turkle).

To this end, I carefully examine the role that platform design and architecture play in the flow of information on the web (Berkun, Warnick, Selfe & Selfe, Pace, Berners-Lee), paying close attention to emerging network culture (Taylor, Spinuzzi) and community online (Warnick, Miller, Byam, Gurak). Reading these inquiries through the lenses of social behavioral theory (Mead, Goffman, and others) and philosophies of technology (Dusek, Heidegger, Habermas, Foucault, Haraway, Arendt), I finally aim to acquire a solid historical familiarity with how the intellectual community has interpreted the transformations wrought by changing technologies; to articulate the impact that these ongoing changes have had on personal and societal conceptions of agency; and to elucidate the significance that metamorphoses in communicative practices have had and continue to exert on the formation and expression of individual and cultural identities.


Johnson-Eilola explains that while the Industrial Age was driven by the “production of concrete objects, the Information Age focuses on the production of information. In this epoch, information workers do not merely use information, they inhabit it” (Datacloud). Instead of coming to these rhetorical situations with “frameworks and ground rules” already having been established, users in many electronic environments are navigating new territory, actively learning and creating new rules as they go. I am particularly interested in investigating the shift between passively absorbing and adhering to rules already-in-place and actively participating in determining and designating the new rules of digital culture. For me, this distinction is inextricably tied to theories that have developed around agency, power, and autonomy, and I am invested in framing the rhetorical positioning of these conditions in online spaces.

This list of readings been designed to probe questions about power in these spaces, both in terms of power imposed from above and the tactics employed by communities of individuals online. In considering how the participatory platforms of Web 2.0 culture position users, a primary goal is to understand how user-generated content is solicited by the architecture of web platforms and to consider the extent to which desired content may be coercively and manipulatively wrought by proclaiming and then exploiting new electronic customs of sharing (Zuckerberg via Kirkpatrick from ReadWriteWeb). Following this stream of thought, I examine how linguistic economies of efficiency are accelerating to create new normative ideologies surrounding professional and personal interaction. To extend this inquiry, I will spend time considering the ways in which users fashion and inhabit their identities in light of blurred or obfuscated boundaries of privacy through multiple modes of information exchange and symbolic identification.

This intellectual project essentially aims to investigate the rhetorics of interface architecture through the historical and theoretical lenses of social behavioral and communication theory and the development of electronic technologies. My ambition is to be able to elucidate the extent to which individuals and communities are shaped by and also take part in shaping the structures which govern their daily activities, an increasing number of which exist solely or at least peripherally in electronic environments. As the agency of end users and entire communities is largely wrought by the constraints of the spaces they inhabit (Certeau, Foucault), studying the goals and outcomes of choices in platform architecture and design becomes an increasingly important enterprise. The changes in the ways that information is disseminated and consumed in the rapidly expanding digital public sphere echoes the profound and wide-reaching shifts in communication that were brought about by the proliferation of print culture, and paying close attention to the impact of these increasingly pervasive technologies on our everyday lives is essential to the extension of both extant and nascent philosophies and theories of agency, identity, and communication.


My pursuits are focused through these central questions:

  • To what extent does platform design determine what kinds of communities can and do form around particular applications and in online spaces?
  • How and to what extent are users’ articulated electronic identities the result of design choices on the part of the site architects?
  • How do interfaces influence or dictate the rhetorical character of discourse at and around these sites?
  • What role does electronically-driven communication and socialization play in the formation and operation of communities, individual identities and agency?
  • Insofar as agency refers to a person’s ability to act in the world, how is agency enhanced and/or constrained by emerging network culture?
  • In what ways do platforms coerce or manipulate user activity, and what stands to be gained (and/or lost) by these practices?
  • What role do users have in shaping the way interfaces are designed and adapted?
  • How might interfaces encourage and foster autonomous and meaningful participatory interaction?

I have selected texts that document the history of the Internet and the rise of the Information Age and network culture; examine the influence of platform design and architecture online; and forward theories about how the foundational shifts in material and intellectual culture that are currently taking place are steadily at work in refashioning how individuals and societies see themselves and operate in the world. The definitions and perceptions of agency, identity, privacy, and community are and always have been in a state of constant flux, dependent upon the attendant social, economic, and cultural conditions of the times.

I wish to continue and advance the work done by so many thinkers who have sought to comprehend and decipher the ways in which human beliefs and behaviors acquiesce to or come together to reject embedded or emergent systemic demands. Ultimately, I am most interested in assessing the possibilities and potential downfalls that we face in light of the increasing percentage of our time spent inhabiting virtual spaces, a majority of which are driven by the acquisition of economic and cultural capital.


Abbate, J. (2000). Inventing the Internet. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Barabasi, A. (2002). Linked: The New Science of Networks. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.

Barlow, J.P. (1996, February 8). A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. Retrieved from

Battelle, J. (2005). The birth of Google. Wired, 13.08. Retrieved from

Baudrillard, J. (1995). Simulacra and simulation. (S.F. Glaser, Trans.). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1967). The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. New York, NY: Anchor Books.

Berkun, S. (2001, January/February). The Role of Flow in Web Design. Microsoft Corporation. Retrieved from

Berners-Lee, T. (1989). Information management: A proposal. Retrieved from

Bolter, J. D., & Gromala, D. (2003). Windows and Mirrors: Interaction Design, Digital Art, and the Myth of Transparency. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Borgman, C. L. (2010). Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure, and the Internet. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Brooke, C. G. (2009). Lingua Fracta: Toward a Rhetoric of New Media. New York, NY: Hampton Press.

Bush, V. (1945, July). As we may think. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Baym, Nancy K. (1997). Interpreting soap operas and creating community: Inside an electronic fan culture. Journal of Folklore Research, 30(2/3), 143-176. Retrieved from

Campbell, K.K. (2005). Agency: Promiscuous and Protean. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 2(1), 1-19. Retrieved from

Ceruzzi, P.E. (2003.)  The advent of commercial computing, 1945-1956. In A History of Modern Computing (2nd ed.). 13-46. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Certeau de, M. (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Cooke, M., & Buckley, N. (2008). Web 2.0, social networks and the future of market research. International Journal of Market Research, 50(2), 267-292.

Ding, W., & Lin, X. (2010). Information Architecture: The Design and Integration of Information Spaces. San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool Publishers.

Dusek, V. (2006). Philosophy of Technology: An Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Earls, M. (2003). Advertising to the herd: how understanding our true nature challenges the ways we think about advertising and market research. International Journal of Market Research, 45(3), 311–336.

Fogg, B.J. (2003). Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers. Retrieved from

Foucault, M. (1995). Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (2nd ed.). (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York, NY: Random House, Inc. (Original work published 1975).

Geisler, C. (2004). How ought we to understand the concept of rhetorical agency? Report from the ARS. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 34(3), 9-17.

—. (2005). Teaching the post-modern rhetor: continuing the conversation on rhetorical agency. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 35(4), 107-113.

Gofffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Greene, R.W. (2004). Rhetoric and capitalism: rhetorical agency as communicative labor. Philosophy and Rhetoric, 37(3), 188-206.

Gurak, L. J., Antonijevic, S., Johnson, L., Ratliff, C., & Reyman, J. (Eds.). (2004). Into the blogosphere: Rhetoric, community, and culture of weblogs. Retrieved from

  • Gurak, L. J.,  S., Johnson, L., Ratliff, C., & Reyman, J., University of Minnesota. Introduction: Weblogs, Rhetoric, Community, and Culture.
  • Miller, C.R., & Shepherd, D., North Carolina State University. Blogging as Social Action: A Genre Analysis of the Weblog.
  • Baoill, A., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Weblogs and the Public Sphere.

Gurak, L. J. (2003). Cyberliteracy: Navigating the Internet with Awareness. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Handa, C. (Ed.). (2004). Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World: A Critical Sourcebook. New York, NY: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

  • Arnheim, R. Pictures, Symbols, and Signs.
  • Barthes, R. Rhetoric of the Image.
  • Buchanan, R. Rhetoric, Humanism, and Design.
  • hooks, b. Black Vernacular: Architecture as Cultural Practice.
  • Lanham, R. A. The Implications of Electronic Information for the Sociology of Knowledge.
  • —. Figures of Rhetoric.
  • Porter, J. E. & Sullivan, P.A. Repetition and the Rhetoric of Visual Design.

Hayles, N. K. (1999). How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press.

—. (2005). My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts. Chicago: IL: University Of Chicago Press.

Herring, Susan C. (1993). Gender and democracy in computer-mediated communication. Electronic Journal of Communication, 3(2), Retrieved from

Hiltz, S. R., and M. Turoff. (1993). Social and psychological processes. The Network Nation: Human Communication Via Computer. (Revised ed.). 76-127. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. (Original work published 1978).

Hippsley, H. (2002, June 27). Re: Complaint Requesting Investigation of Various Internet Search Engine Companies for Paid Placement and Paid Inclusion Programs. United States of American Federal Trade Commission. Retrieved from

Johnson-Eilola, J. (2005). Datacloud: Toward A New Theory Of Online Work. New York, NY: Hampton Press.

Kiesler, S., Siegel, J., and McGuire, T.J. (1984). Social psychological aspects  of computer-mediated communication. American Psychologist, 39(10), 1123-1134.

Leff, M. (2003). Tradition and agency in humanistic rhetoric. Philosophy and Rhetoric, 36(2), 135-147.

Lenhart, A. (2000, September 21). Who’s not online: 57% of those without Internet access say they do not plan to log on. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from

Leung, L. (2003). Where am I and who are ‘We’?: Self-representation and the intersection of gender and ethnicity on the Web. First Monday, 8(10). Retrieved from

Licklider, J.C.R & Taylor, R.W. (1968). The Computer as a Communication Device. Science and Technology, 20-41.

Lundby, K. (2008). Digital Storytelling, Mediatized Stories: Self-representations in New Media. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.

Madden, M., & Rainie, L. (2003, December 22). America’s online pursuits: The changing picture of who’s online. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from

Manovich, L. (2002). The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, Self, and Society: From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1934).

Miller, C.R. (2007). What Can Automation Tell Us About Agency? Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 37(2), 137-157.

—. (2004.) Expertise and agency:  transformation of ethos in human-computer interaction. In Hyde, M. (Ed.), The Ethos of Rhetoric, (pp. 197–218). Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.

—. (1993). Rhetoric and Community: The Problem of the One and the Many. In Enos, T. & Brown, S.C. (Eds.), Defining the New Rhetorics, (pp. 79-94). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

—. (1984). Genre as social action. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 70, 151-167.

Miller, C. S., & Remington, R. W. (2004). Modeling information navigation: Implications for information architecture. Human–Computer Interaction, 19(3), 225–271.

Nakamura, L. (2002). Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet. New York, NY: Routledge.

Norman, D. A. (2005). Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things. New York, NY: Basic Books.

O’Reilly, R. (2005, September 30). What is Web 2.0? Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software. O’Reilly Media, Inc. Retrieved from

Pace, S. (2004). A grounded theory of the flow experiences of Web users. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 60(3), 327-363.

Rainie, L. & Horrigan, J. (2005). Internet: The Mainstreaming of Online Life. Trends 2005 (57-69). Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from

Rice, R.E., & Love, G. (1987). Electronic Emotion: Socioemotional Content in a Computer-Mediated Communication Network. Communication Research 14(1), 85-105.

Scharff, R., & Dusek, V. (2003). Philosophy of Technology: The Technological Condition – An Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Part II: Philosophy, Modern Science, and Technology

  • Bunge, M. Philosophical Inputs and Outputs of Technology.
  • Ellul, J. On the Aims of a Philosophy of Technology.
  • Shrader-Frechette, K. Technology and Ethics.
  • Jonas, H. Toward a Philosophy of Technology.

Part III: Defining Technology

  • Kline, S.J. What is Technology?
  • Pinch, T.F. & Wiebe, B.E. The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts.

Part IV: Heidegger on Technology

  • Heidegger, M. The Question Concerning Technology.
  • Ihde, D. Heidegger’s Philosophy of Technology.

Part V: Technology and Human Ends

  • Arendt, H. The ‘Vita Activa’ and the Modern Age.
  • Ellul, J. The ‘Autonomy’ of the Technological Phenomenon.
  • Heilbroner, R.L. Do Machines Make History?
  • Marcuse, H. The New Forms of Control.
  • Haraway, D. A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.

Part VI: Technology as Social Practice

  • Habermas, J. Technical progress and the Social Life-World.
  • Borgmann, A. Information and Reality at the Turn of the Century.
  • Dreyfus, H.L. Anonymity versus Commitment: The Dangers of Education on the Internet.
  • Foucault, M. Panopticism.
  • Winner, L. Luddism as Epistemology.
  • Mesthene, E.G. The Social Impact of Technological Change.
  • McDermott, J. Technology: the Opiate of the Intellectuals.
  • Feenberg, A. Democratic Rationalization: Technology, Power, and Freedom.

Selfe, C. L., & Selfe, R. J. (1994). The Politics of the Interface: Power and Its Exercise in Electronic Contact Zones. College Composition and Communication, 45(4), 480-504.

Spinuzzi, C. (2008). Network: Theorizing Knowledge Work in Telecommunications. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

—. (2003). Tracing Genres through Organizations: A Sociocultural Approach to Information Design. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Sterling, B. (1993). A Short History of the Internet. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Retrieved from

Suler, J. R. (2002). Identity management in cyberspace. Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 4(4), 455–459.

Taylor, M. C. (2003). The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press.

Turkle, S. (2009). Simulation and Its Discontents. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

—. (2005). The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (20th anniversary ed.). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. (Original work published 1984). Retrieved from

—. (1997).Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Van Gelder, L. (1985). The strange case of the electronic lover. Ms. Magazine, 365.

Warnick, B. (2007). Rhetoric Online: Persuasion and Politics on the World Wide Web. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.

—. (2005). Looking to the Future: Electronic Texts and the Deepening Interface. Technical Communication Quarterly, 14(3), 327–333.

Welch, K. E. (1990). Electrifying Classical Rhetoric: Ancient Media, Modern Technology, and Contemporary Composition. Journal of Advanced Composition, 10(1), 22-38.

Wells, H.G. (1938). Contribution to the new Encyclopédie Française. In The World Brain. Garden City:  Doubleday, Doran & Co., Inc. 39-80. (Original work published 1937).

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