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Announcing Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics

Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics: Attention and Deliberation in the Early Blogosphere will be published November 2014 in the Rhetoric and Democratic Deliberation series by The Pennsylvania State University Press. It will be on the tables for the centennial meeting of the National Communication Association in Chicago, IL. You can pre-order it from Amazon or Powell’s.

NMNR coverNetworked Media, Networked Rhetorics examines key episodes in the early blogosphere to theorize how new, digitally networked intermediaries influence public deliberation. A short passage from the first chapter succinctly articulates the thesis of the book:

“Rhetoric is a technê, a productive craft or art; it is also dynamic, changing with technological innovation and cultural needs. A new communication technology necessarily changes the nature of the technê, as entrepreneurial rhetoricians leverage the novel expressive possibilities afforded by a new medium of communication. Similarly, rhetoric’s scope and function fluctuate with changing cultural conditions. In some cultures, it is conceived as primarily pertaining to producing oral and civic discourse; in others, it is considered a metahermeneutic for all symbol use. As rhetorical practices change, they create new communication problematics that, in turn, require a recasting of old rhetorical theories and the generation of new rhetorical theories capable of explaining rhetoric’s revisioned scope and function. With digital media technology, citizens are layering new genres of communication, like blogs and mash-ups, on top of more recognizable forms. These changing conditions of mediation merit the development of a ‘new rhetoric’ capable of guiding public advocacy and deliberation in contemporary times. Networked media spur networked rhetorics.”

Three case studies in the book provide opportunities to theorize networked rhetorics. First, I spotlight bloggers’ investigative and interpretive work in the wake of Trent Lott’s quasi-segregationist toast to Strom Thurmond in December 2002. In this chapter, I demonstrate how bloggers use the affordances of digital media to invent argument—logos—on civic issues. Second, I focus on Salam Pax, an Iraqi who blogged, in English, during the prelude to the 2003 Iraq War. This case shows how pathos infuses blogging, especially in contrast with the flat affect of the institutional press. Finally, I study the rhetorical interventions of climate science bloggers at RealClimate, a science blog started in 2004 that provides rapid response to climate science stories in the traditional press.This chapter demonstrates how expertise, one of the constituents of ethos, becomes more participatory in many-to-many communication environments.

The key contribution of Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics is to theorize rhetorical practice in the context of digitally networked media. The rhetorical tradition has powerful resources for explaining persuasion and argument, but it must be adapted and updated to account for the rise of a networked system of media. The term “digital rhetorics,” which has been most intensely developed by scholars of digital media in English, provides one rubric for understanding rhetorical action in an era of digital mediation. I coin “networked rhetorics” as an alternative way of thinking about the connection between digital media technology and rhetoric that emphasizes the communicative dimensions of this technological change. This distinction may strike some as too subtle to be meaningful; however, part of the argument of my book is that rhetoric is an art of attention and that the words we use shape how we theorize phenomena. For example, as I argue in the book, the emphasis on digital rhetorics has resulted in a primary emphasis on how digital technologies impact message delivery. But rhetoric’s purview extends far beyond just delivery of information: rhetoric involves invention of argument, use of emotion, claims to credibility, appreciation of cultural contexts, and audiences. Thus, a shift in emphasis from “digital” to “networked” draws attention away from the technological and toward the communicative dimensions of new media genres, providing a different angle of vision to apprehend contemporary rhetorical action.