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Following Searle on Twitter

How Words Create Digital Institutions

Twitter allows us to build communities, track celebrities, raise our social profile, and promote a personal brand. Adam Hodgkin thinks Twitter is much more than a mere social media tool—it is a terrain ripe for a conceptual and theoretical analysis of our use of digital language. In Following Searle on Twitter, Hodgkin takes John Searle’s theory of speech acts as Status Function Declarations (SFDs)—speech acts that fulfill their meaning by saying the right words in the right context—as a probe for understanding Twitter’s institutional structure and the still-developing toolset that it provides for its members. He argues that Twitter is an institution built, constituted, and evolving through the use of SFDs. Searle’s speech act theories provide a framework for illuminating how Twitter membership arises, how users of Twitter relate to each other by following, and how increasingly complex content is conveyed with tweets. Using this framework, Hodgkin places language, action, intention, and responsibility at the core of the digital culture and the digital institutions that we are constructing.
Combining theoretical perspective with a down-to-earth exposition of present-day digital institutions, Following Searle on Twitter explores how all of our interactions with these emerging institutions are deeply rooted in language, and are the true foundation of social media and contemporary institutions.

224 pages | 1 halftone, 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Language and Linguistics: General Language and Linguistics, Philosophy of Language

Philosophy: General Philosophy


"Hodgkin evolves an almost-happenstance status function declaration (SDA)—following noted philosopher John R. Searle (@JohnRSearle)—into an application of Searle’s life work on the philosophy of speech acts for understanding digital networks. The result is a scholarly exercise in applying established Searlean perspectives to emerging forms of digital human communication. Hodgkin explains throughout the volume that many of Twitter’s basic required functions can be recast as SDAs, from the purely descriptive “I am writing a book” to the more relational, such as following or even blocking fellow Tweeters. Scholars of Searle will appreciate the connections made by Hodgkin....[He] does an admirable service to Searle’s work, and the result is a volume with heuristic potential for scholars at the intersection of philosophy and technology. Recommended."


" analysis that will deepen understanding of this ubiquitous tool/pastime and will offer real insight into one’s own practice. As an invitation to be self-reflexive about your own tweeting, you could not ask for a better guide than Hodgkin. I really enjoyed this book, and fellow tweeting social scientists, I know you will too."

LSE Review of Books

“Hodgkin’s book starts out as a refurbishment of Searle’s speech act theory but gradually turns into a profound rethinking of digital platforms as social institutions. In this highly original treatment of a classic theory, Hodgkin manages to tackle essential ethical and philosophical questions in his discourse on the new digital institutions. Following Searle on Twitter is a must-read for every student and scholar interested in new media and digital culture.”

José van Dijck, University of Amsterdam

“As we are all somehow aware, human reality is being changed as a result of the workings of social media. Philosophers have so far done little to come to terms with this fact. Hodgkin’s book is in this respect a true trailbreaker—and a pleasure to read.”

Barry Smith, University at Buffalo

“Hodgkin has given us a philosophical ethnographer’s insights into the creation and shaping of digital institutions. He has combined his practical insider knowledge as a publisher with an analytical sensibility to offer a lucid, lively, and insightful application of the work of John Searle to the world of Twitter. It is an audacious and revealing case study. Even more than that, it appears in timely fashion just as questions about power, control, national security, market dominance, and ethical conduct in the digital world are more than ever in question.”

Philip Schlesinger, University of Glasgow

Table of Contents


1 Philosophical Tweets
2 What Twitter Really Is
3 “Following” Makes Twitter’s Social Structure
4 “Almost Everything You See Today in Twitter Was Invented by Our Users”
5 Referential Complications
6 Twitter’s Content and Twitter’s Context
7 Twitter’s Constitution and Twitter’s Shape
8 Digital Institutions
9 Digital Language
10 A Natural History of Digital Institutions
11 Since We Make These Digital Institutions . . .


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