Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2015

Access Restrictions


Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

American Studies

First Advisor

Laura Rigal

First Committee Member

Lauren Rabinovitz

Second Committee Member

John D. Peters

Third Committee Member

Kembrew McLeod

Fourth Committee Member

André Brock


This dissertation intervenes in the larger academic and popular discussion of hacking by looking at life hacking. In essence, life hacking presumes that your life is amenable to hacks the same way a computer system might be. As both a metaphor and a practice, life hacking occupies a popular but under-analyzed position in contemporary American culture. The recent broadening of the computer term “hacking” to encompass all of life’s activities suggests the degree to which people are increasingly thinking about everything in computational terms. Life hacking is important to attend to precisely because it reveals how the rhetoric of hacking and the subjectivity of the hacker have become normalized. This rhetoric and subject position carry particular valences, valences that are deeply rooted in Western culture, including especially a way of thinking about the world that David Golumbia calls “computationalism.” In a computerized world, hacking becomes the preferred “way of seeing.” But, significantly, it is a way of seeing that is in line with long traditions in U.S. culture of self-making and technofetishism. In order to show this, I trace life hacking’s metamorphoses through three critically important and interlinked realms—life hacking, digital minimalism, and prof hacking—before concluding by looking briefly at a fourth—pickup artists. This dissertation seeks to identify how these different instances of life hacking relate to each other, to trace how life hacking has changed over time, and to explain how life hacking broadly speaking is best viewed as an episode not only in the larger history of hacking but in the larger history of American culture.


hacking, life hacking, self-help, self-improvement, technology, work


vi, 227 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 211-227).


Copyright © 2015 Matthew A. Thomas