Despite its hifalutin title, this is not a theoretical or (primarily) political essay. It's rather meant as an idiosyncratic primer on the "fediverse" for friends and colleagues (particularly in academia) who have heard about or are looking for "something different/better than Twitter/Facebook/etc." Caveat: IANAE, but after a few weeks dipping my toes into the fediverse I find that I can answer some basic questions at least provisionally. Everything I offer here was gleaned from web searches (I use DuckDuckGo, at present), from trying things out, from watching other people do things, from talking to friends, and from reading especially these posts:
Ruth Kitchin Tillman. “Overview of Mastodon & Why I Like It.” Ruth Kitchin Tillman (blog), November 14, 2017.
Seth Kenlon. “A Beginner’s Guide to Microblogging on Mastodon.” Opensource.com (blog), April 6, 2017.
You may find reading them first to be more rewarding that continuing below the fold here immediately.