Date of Award

Spring 5-12-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Mary Hocks

Second Advisor

Ashley Holmes

Third Advisor

George Pullman


This dissertation proposes the civic crowdfunding platform as a worthy object for critical study and as a powerful tool for liberation and transformation of the public sphere. I use Freirean praxis and empirical measures of policy outcomes to argue that under the current political system, specifically the constraints and incentives induced by Supreme Court rulings Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, a citizen’s (or corporation’s) financial contribution has superseded voting, legislator contact, and protest as the most effective form of civic engagement and political activism. To evaluate effectiveness, I revive speech act theory and J. L. Austin’s “performative speech acts” and arrange digital and traditional speech acts along an axis of performativity. Additionally, this study classifies crowdfunders as counterpublics whose unmet demands, per M. Lane Bruner’s conception of counterpublics, are especially well addressed by digital civic crowdfunding. Digital crowdfunding specifically addresses issues of accessibility and inclusiveness through lowered material constraints, fewer exclusionary criteria, decentralized power, and mechanisms for accountability. The study employs participatory, iterative scholarship in a live test case campaign (and a resulting public) on the civic crowdfunding site ShiftSpark, in collaboration with its founder Ben Yee. Screenshots and the language of the test campaign are included, and a summarizing chapter explains my selection of the issue and its public as an exemplar of a counterpublic whose political participation is currently constrained by an oppressive system. Using this example, I argue crowdfunding counterpublics can be consciousness raising and disruptive, capable of challenging existing power distribution. Citizen crowdfunding therefore embodies many of the hopes of post-bourgeois public sphere and liberatory civic and social action.


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