The Specter of Internet Plagiarism

John Trimbur quote

Whereas once literacy crises responded to students’ (presumed) inabilities to read and write in traditional print forms, twenty-first century concerns focus on the repercussions of computer-mediated composing practices on literacy. While the production shift in communication—from print-based writing to computer-mediated composing—has impacted American culture substantially, one of the more significant effects has been on our discussions of intellectual property, ethics, and plagiarism, all imbricated in cultural anxieties about literacy in twenty-first century higher education. Trimbur’s (1991) discussion of literacy crises in "Literacy and the Discourse of Crisis" is a touchstone for the twenty-first century Internet plagiarism crisis. The alarmist tone and anxieties of “Johnny Can’t Write” have re-emerged today as “Johnny Won’t Write His Own Paper.”

Today, increased reliance on computer-mediated communication has resulted in a heightened awareness of plagiarism, what Rebecca Moore Howard (2007) has referred to as a “specter of Internet plagiarism” that hangs over the academy, threatening to undo the entire enterprise (p. 3). As higher education grapples with shifting paradigms regarding authorship and originality, Trimbur’s (1991) observation that literacy crises “condense a broad range of cultural, social, political, and economic tensions into one central image” (p. 277) reveals itself in this specter of Internet plagiarism, an image that reflects tensions regarding the role of collaboration in the academy; the meaning of authorship in a remix age; the impact of the widening digital divide; and the incorporation of plagiarism detection technologies in the classroom.

This webtext therefore interrogates twenty-first century literacy crisis discourses by focusing on conversations surrounding Internet plagiarism and the attendant use of plagiarism detection technologies, particularly To better ground a discussion of the Internet plagiarism crisis, I first provide a brief historical account of the rise of within the framework of previous research on Internet plagiarism. Next, I articulate the tensions inherent in today’s literacy crisis—the Internet plagiarism crisis—drawing on critical theories of technology as articulated by Andrew Feenberg to complicate the dominant depictions of Internet plagiarism and academic integrity in My overarching goal is to persuade readers that we must complicate the current conversations regarding plagiarism and plagiarism detection services through critical assessment in order to ethically respond to literacy crisis discourses that concentrate on these issues. As the epigraph from Trimbur's piece above reminds us, we must be careful not to ascribe neutrality to technologies—whether they be literacies or plagiarism detection services. Instead, we must always approach technologies with a careful eye toward how they construct dominant worldviews and manufacture consent among groups of individuals.

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