Mapping Discourse in the Intellectual Dark Web: A Critical Computational Sociology

Sean Doody

Advisor: John G. Dale, PhD, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Committee Members: Nancy Hanrahan, James Witte

Online Location,
August 01, 2022, 11:00 AM to 01:00 PM


This dissertation studies an online fan community (“subreddit”) of the so-called “Intellectual Dark Web” (IDW) on the social media platform Reddit to understand the social and epistemological significance of the IDW within the social setting of what Jodi Dean calls “communicative capitalism.” Using deep neural language models, a novel topic modeling algorithm (BERTopic), and qualitative content analysis, this research offers a discursive mapping of the social, cultural, and political issues structuring discourse on the IDW subreddit. Across a sample of more than 400,000 Reddit comments, my exploratory topic model discovers 114 topics nested within 10 topical categories: Culture Wars; Governance & Political Institutions; IDW-Related; Platforms, Media & Information; Political Economy; Political Ideologies; Race & Ethnicity; Science, Knowledge & Epistemology; and Sex & Gender. Emergent from these ten categories are three overarching meta-themes: Sensemaking in Communicative Capitalism; Identity, Ideologies, and Social Justice; and Crises of Civilization. Through my mixed methods analysis, I argue that the chief social significance of the IDW is based in how, through its discourses, criticisms, and “sensemaking” practices, it provides a sense of reality to its constituents amidst the profound epistemic pessimism and social distrust foundational to communicative capitalism.