American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Making Profit, Making Play: Corporate Social Media Branding in the Era of Late Capitalism

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Thomas Mowen (Other)

Third Advisor

Lisa Hanasono (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Timothy Messer-Kruse (Committee Member)


This project is concerned with the forms of play that modern restaurant companies engage in online and the implications of them. I evaluate the strategies of corporate social media accounts through 3 critical lenses--postmodern theory, affect theory, and critical race theory. Using a combination of methods, including textual and discourse analysis, as well as grounded theory, I deconstruct the various strategies utilized by corporate social media accounts to connect with their consumers. My argument rests on the notion that these interactions represent a larger dialectic between consumers and producers of culture. Social media has impacted this relationship by increasing consumer freedom and agency. As a result, companies have found ways to adjust to this consumer freedom in different ways—through mocking and dismissal, or perhaps a viral social challenge as well as racialized performances. While on a spectrum, these strategies represent the anxiety of modern corporate representation in late capitalism.