Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Stewart Hoover

Second Advisor

Peter Simonson

Third Advisor

Nabil Echchaibi

Fourth Advisor

Alison Jaggar

Fifth Advisor

Shu-ling Berggreen

Abstract

With rapidly changing and proliferating digital platforms, individuals are able to mediate their daily lives more rapidly and with more flexibility regarding modality and format. The flexibility and affordances enabled by the spaces created by various digital online platforms provide users of these platforms spaces through which to communicate their authentic, or perceived authentic, mediations of various life experiences. Traumatic events are particularly interesting when mediated online because of the way trauma acts on a person’s previously held beliefs about themselves and about the world (Janoff-Bulman, 1989). When trauma interrupts a person’s ability to believe certain truths about the world, those individuals seek out spaces through which to explore, articulate, and communicate new meanings.

Digital spaces are particularly salient places through which to negotiate meaning, particular when life feels contingent upon the recovery from, or overcoming of a traumatic event. The digital spaces explored in this dissertation are social media spaces where users can post or share information about themselves or others, and interact with other users. Within these spaces users can mediate and re-mediate their traumatic experiences or instances of trauma they have witnessed and been traumatized by, thus producing and negotiating new meanings.

This dissertation investigates how users behave online when exploring difficult to contend with subject matter. Working from a broad range of interdisciplinary theories, this research attempts to use a feminist post-structuralist lens among others to explore the possibility for changes in discourse inherent in the mediations and articulations made online by those who seek to discover new and changing ways of knowing, because they are forced to do so through traumatic experience. Using three case studies to empirically explore the intersections of media and trauma, this research yields a dynamic theoretical framework to account for how digital users engage with media during times of suffering that may also have applications for broader research of digital media.

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