Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric, Theory and Culture (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Humanities

Advisor 1

Karla Kitalong

Committee Member 1

Marika Seigel

Committee Member 2

Ann Brady

Committee Member 3

Lauren Bowen


As digital technologies have expanded, so have the literacy sponsors that support and shape how those technologies are used. This project focuses on one of these growing sites of sponsorship surrounding a specific health-tracking technology: wearable Fitbit devices. While much of the work on literacy sponsorship has focused on institutional sponsors as agents, I argue that the picture becomes more complicated and interesting when we place our focus on how users—often considered the sponsored—can become agents in a system that may have marginalized, excluded, or used them.

Using a combination of qualitative methods, this dissertation highlights how various literacy sponsors create possibilities and constraints, how communities of users support and resist these frameworks, and how users can become digital literacy sponsors. This research maps the ecologies of sponsorship that Fitbit users engage in as both consumers and producers. The concept of “ecologies of sponsorship” is a unique contribution of this project, which expands traditional frameworks for understanding the stakeholders in literacy development to account for digital, networked environments.

In addition to typical tracking practices, this research found that significant groups of users “hack” the technology to help them work toward subversive goals. Some users reject the stated purposes of health-tracking technology, instead manipulating their data to create an illusion of health. Some of these users have shared their alternative goals and tactics in online communities, which allows them to become sponsors of metistic digital literacies. Rather than transforming Fitbit technology and ideologies of health through explicit hostility or force, this research explores how users developed metistic practices to subvert health-tracking systems from within.

Though this research focuses on the development of digital literacies in extra-curricular spaces, there are important implications for writing classrooms that aim to help students develop digital literacies. This research raises questions about how our classroom practices might shift if we add metistic literacies to frameworks that already support functional, critical, and rhetorical literacies. And by considering classroom-based teaching in the context of larger ecologies of sponsorship, this research highlights a need for new pedagogical practices that account for the distributed nature of technological expertise.