Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2001

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

Duck, Steve

First Committee Member

Fitch, Kristine

Second Committee Member

Potter, Jonathan

Third Committee Member

Biesecker, Barbara

Fourth Committee Member

Hirokawa, Randy


This thesis focused on presentations of an e-commerce business opportunity to people interested in a multilevel marketing business. Participation in a multilevel marketing organization can be described as a legitimate business activity where individuals can earn a living while enjoying the benefits of independence, autonomy, and being part of a business team. A second, equally plausible way to describe the business is as a get-rich-quick or pyramid scheme in which individuals learn techniques of persuasion and how to exploit personal relationships in order to maximize profit. Given these alternative descriptions, the primary research question for this project concerned the identity problems managed by current business owners as they built up the first kind of description of the business while simultaneously undermining the second.

A series of business plan presentations and training sessions of a multilevel marketing organization were audio and video-tape recorded in the United Kingdom and the United States and transcribed. These meetings were analyzed by means of a rhetorical discursive action approach. This perspective is informed by principles of conversation analysis (i.e., how participants accomplish social actions through talk on a turn-by-turn basis), rhetorical concerns (i.e., how versions of the world are built up and undermined in relation to alternative, rival versions), and fact construction (i.e., how descriptions of events are formulated to be true, objective, and disinterested).

The analysis demonstrated that various conversational practices were used to construct the e-commerce business as legitimate and as a vehicle to fulfill the audience members' dreams and goals, while countering the notion that the business involved processes of selling, persuasion, or convincing. Some of the devices used to accomplish this effect included managing informality of the meetings, positioning the audience as intelligent, reflective people who would not fall prey to a sales pitch, and showing how business techniques grew out of a larger ethic of personal relationships and connections.

The study concluded with a discussion of the importance of analyzing actual interaction; training and pedagogical implications; future avenues of study; and ethical, political, and critical implications raised by this thesis.


ix, 208 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 202-208).


Originally submitted as XML files, available as supplement. Reconfigured into PDF August 2016.


Copyright 2001 Walter John Carl III

Additional Files (32770 kB)
Audio and Video files (33028 kB)
Original XML files

Included in

Communication Commons