Cover image for Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics: Attention and Deliberation in the Early Blogosphere By Damien Smith Pfister

Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics

Attention and Deliberation in the Early Blogosphere

Damien Smith Pfister

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2014

Rhetoric and Democratic Deliberation

Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics

Attention and Deliberation in the Early Blogosphere

Damien Smith Pfister

“In Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics, Damien Pfister tells a compelling and consequential story of the rise of the blogosphere from an obscure technology to a powerful mode of communication capable of unseating senators and revealing the horrors of war. Pfister focuses on key moments in the early blogosphere to explain how it has remade public discourse, reframed emotion, and reconfigured expertise. He adroitly blends contemporary analyses of public discourse with innovative interpretations of classical rhetorical terminology. Pfister’s book offers important lessons for scholars in rhetoric, deliberation, and technology studies, as well as anyone interested in learning how the blogosphere has produced a powerful connection between deliberation in public squares and personal computer keyboards.”

 

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  • Table of Contents
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In Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics, Damien Pfister explores communicative practices in networked media environments, analyzing, in particular, how the blogosphere has changed the conduct and coverage of public debate. Pfister shows how the late modern imaginary was susceptible to “deliberation traps” related to invention, emotion, and expertise, and how bloggers have played a role in helping contemporary public deliberation evade these traps. Three case studies at the heart of Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics show how new intermediaries, including bloggers, generate publicity, solidarity, and translation in the networked public sphere. Bloggers “flooding the zone” in the wake of Trent Lott’s controversial toast to Strom Thurmond in 2002 demonstrated their ability to invent and circulate novel arguments; the pre-2003 invasion reports from the “Baghdad blogger” illustrated how solidarity is built through affective connections; and the science blog RealClimate continues to serve as a rapid-response site for the translation of expert claims for public audiences. Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics concludes with a bold outline for rhetorical studies after the internet.

“In Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics, Damien Pfister tells a compelling and consequential story of the rise of the blogosphere from an obscure technology to a powerful mode of communication capable of unseating senators and revealing the horrors of war. Pfister focuses on key moments in the early blogosphere to explain how it has remade public discourse, reframed emotion, and reconfigured expertise. He adroitly blends contemporary analyses of public discourse with innovative interpretations of classical rhetorical terminology. Pfister’s book offers important lessons for scholars in rhetoric, deliberation, and technology studies, as well as anyone interested in learning how the blogosphere has produced a powerful connection between deliberation in public squares and personal computer keyboards.”

Damien Smith Pfister is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction: Three Challenges for Public Deliberation

Chapter 2: Rhetorics, Public Spheres, and Digital Networks as Cultural Technologies of

Publicity

Chapter 3: Flooding the Zone after Trent Lott’s Toast

Chapter 4: Ambient Intimacy in Salam Pax’s Dear Raed

Chapter 5: Translation and Shallow Quotation on RealClimate

Three Challenges for Public Deliberation

A crowd gathers for a public debate on government surveillance programs. As the debate begins, the speakers present basic arguments about the ethics and efficacy of new surveillance technologies. Each delivers carefully crafted witticisms primed to undercut the opponent’s arguments. Those clever barbs are, to the chagrin of the audience, the only original part of the debate. Neither advocate advances an argument that transforms the way people understand the controversy. There’s no middle ground sought, no concessions made. At times, the debate devolves into outright bickering, especially when the debaters cross-examine each other. The arguments themselves recycle the standard talking points and shopworn arguments of two retrenched, polarized, and predictable sides. The audience leaves with a gloomy sense of the controversy’s intractability and the grueling banality of public deliberation.

A city council considers demolishing and rezoning part of an old neighborhood to clear the way for a new shopping development. Affected residents band together and initiate a grassroots letter-writing campaign to influence the city council vote. In letters to city council members and the local newspaper, they explain their fear that corporate monoculture will dominate the rezoning and threaten the historical buildings that give their community character. The editor selects a few of the letters, featuring them alongside letters by citizens who are more supportive of the rezoning plan. A newspaper article reports on the budding controversy, though the reporter’s dispassionate tone muffles the dynamic energy of the neighborhood residents. The council members follow the conversation in the local paper, but they decide that the residents’ concerns about changing the character of the neighborhood are, in the end, not reasonable. When compared to the city economists’ calculations showing the tax revenue accruing from the new development, the residents’ objections seem too inchoate—warm and fuzzy feelings pay no bills. The council votes to rezone.

An energy company considers building a nuclear power plant to accommodate soaring electricity demand. As part of a public relations effort, the company organizes a series of community meetings designed to dispel concerns about the safety of nuclear power. Local environmental groups protest outside the meetings to rally public opinion against the energy company’s plan. Their tables feature brochures and charts showing how non-nuclear, renewable energy sources would provide safer, cleaner energy and boost job growth in the area. Familiar elements of protest populate the scene: chanting and singing, theatrical skits and puppet theater, fired-up speeches and heated conversations. In covering the protest, a local television news story features a back-and-forth between a representative of the environmental group voicing concern about nuclear energy, followed by a response from the energy company’s scientists. The scientists shoot down each of the citizens’ arguments, responding to each claim with counterevidence and a greater command of the technical jargon of energy policy. With so much trained expertise and lived experience, as well as the accouterments provided by credentials, the scientists appear more credible and knowledgeable than the protesters. The energy company resists the citizens’ entreaties and goes nuclear.

These three allegories—plausible composites of familiar democratic activities enacted through a range of media—draw attention to a trio of longstanding challenges for public deliberation. The first example highlights the challenge of invention. The well-worn grooves of the controversy interfered with the debaters’ invention of novel lines of argument that could otherwise set the audience off on a shared quest for illumination. The debaters simply parroted familiar arguments. The second example underscores the challenge of emotion. Concerns expressed by neighborhood residents were dismissed because their “feelings” did not register in the “rational” parameters set by the city council. The intense but ineffable emotions surrounding neighborhood preservation could not compete with the tangible replenishing of the city coffers. The third example suggests the challenge in democratically incorporating expertise. The scientists’ arguments trumped citizen objections through technical reasoning. No surprise here, as judgments about complex problems by specialists are often privileged.

Though the familiar, the rational, and the specialized help manage the complexity at the heart of contemporary life, making these values paramount stunts democratic deliberation. Were these values sufficient for governance, citizens would be satisfied with variants of Plato’s philosopher-kings making decisions on their behalf. Most citizens wisely reject this autocratic model, as human history is a bloody trail of cautions about commonplace, reason-driven, and expert discourses gone awry. But deliberation fares no better when uncritically privileging the inverse: the creative, the emotional, and the nonexpert. Without some familiar arguments, public discourse becomes illegible to audiences. Without a clash of reasonable propositions, demagogues too easily fan base emotions. Without specialized knowledge, deliberation devolves into the exchange of uninformed opinions. Democracy’s trick is to balance the creative with the familiar, the emotional with the rational, and the public with the expert. In other words, healthy democratic public cultures temper routinized institutional logics with innovative arguments, blur the distinction between reason and emotion, and stimulate conversation between experts and publics. The three opening allegories can be refigured as enduring questions for public deliberation: How can arguments be creatively invented to advance public debate on controversial issues? How can emotion in public life be usefully integrated into decision making? How can experts and nonexperts jointly deliberate without the domination of technical reasoning?

The persistence of these questions suggests that challenges related to invention, emotion, and expertise are constitutive of democratic public cultures. Negotiating these challenges successfully means that decisions made in democratic cultures receive legitimacy—in other words, citizens accept that judgments are fair and for the public good. Traditionally, citizen participation generates this democratic legitimacy, as their involvement in iterations of communicative performances check institutional preferences for the familiar, rational, and expert. In predominantly face-to-face societies like the Athens of antiquity, where the voice was the primary medium of expression, a culture centered on oratory developed to assess competing opinions. In the more complex societies of the past few centuries, face-to-face contexts were supplemented by the mass media of print, film, radio, and television. The mass media functioned as attention gatekeepers, circulating for public consideration what they endorsed as valuable contributions to the ongoing conversation and, conversely, locking out perspectives perceived to be dragging down the tenor of public debate.

Even as these three opening allegories usefully orient attention to the democratic challenges of invention, emotion, and expertise, they are historical anachronisms. To be sure, all three of these activities—oral public debate, letter writing to newspapers, and marching in the streets to shape television coverage—are part of the contemporary repertoire of democratic practice. But missing from these allegories is an account of how these practices are now embedded in a web of internetworked media: web pages, blogs and microblogs, podcasts, video sharing portals, social networking sites, wikis, and much more. In a maturing, networked public sphere, live public debates spark parallel argumentation on blogs and microblogs. What used to be letters written to newspaper editors are more likely to appear as comments threading off a news story. Social protests are coordinated and publicized through an intermeshed web of blogs and social networking sites. Internetworked media respond to, and further stimulate, fundamental alterations in contemporary public deliberation. Changes already under way in the political economy of the mass media accelerated with the advent of digital mediation. One effect of the diffusion of digital media technologies has been to destabilize the conventional journalistic stimulants of democratic discussion. Another effect has been to produce an exponentially more information-rich media ecology that overwhelms traditional communication filters. Yet another effect is that citizens, experimenting with new communication technologies, have introduced novel rhetorical practices that do not fit squarely into received theories of democratic deliberation. What is now known as the blogosphere is a central part of this broader story.

The Ascent of the Blogosphere

Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics: Attention and Deliberation in the Early Blogosphere explores how internetworked media influence public deliberation in an era of information abundance. Specifically, this book examines how citizens exploited the expressive possibilities of a new media genre— weblogs, or blogs—to craft collective attention patterns. Coming after the first wave of static web pages in the 1990s, but before the widespread diffusion of the more hyperconnected web represented by Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter (founded in 2004, 2005, and 2006, respectively), the early blogosphere represents a formative moment for digitally networked communication and deliberation. Blogging went from a trifling curiosity in the late 1990s to the new normal between 2001 and 2006. As it became more popular, the “communicative intercast” of posts, hyperlinks, trackbacks, and comments among the multitude of blogs began to be referred to as the blogosphere. One reason for the ascendance of the blogosphere is that blogging is a genre supportive of many subgenres. Many blogs resemble public diaries, spanning a range of topics drawn from everyday life. Other blogs are more thematically driven, hosting conversations on every imaginable topic: electoral races, legislative wrangling, opinion poll tracking, business news, celebrity gossip, music reviews, film criticism, cooking tips, drinking tips, sports insights, traveling tales, and many, many other subjects. Blogs now serve assorted stakeholders in specific discourse communities: lawyers read blogs dissecting Supreme Court decisions, do-it-yourselfers follow blogs detailing home improvement projects, graphic designers flock to blogs that document Photoshop disasters, and, of course, there are blogs that serve citizens’ desires to argue about civic affairs. The flexibility of blogs in form and content led to their rapid rise, with tens of millions of active blogs across the world now participating in the communicative hubbub of public life. More significantly, the basic architecture of blogging—a unique, permalinked, and time-stamped post with dedicated, threaded comments—now prevails across internetworked media genres. For example, social networking sites mimic blog architecture by allowing easy publication of posts with comments attached to each status update. Even institutional news sites (the “old” broadcast media) now integrate commenting features on individual articles. The blog, departing from the print metaphor that resulted in early web publications being referred to as web pages, is one of the first native genres of the internet.

Bloggers are not the only networked intermediaries now influencing public argument and democratic deliberation. The blogosphere interfaces with web pages, wikis, podcasts, video sharing portals, microblogs, social networking sites, and a panoply of other networked genres. This communication network—a network of networks—constitutes a complex ecology that interacts with more traditional broadcast media, such as newspapers, books, radio, film, and television, as they too become networked into a converging, digitized circuit of communication. Rather than tackling this contemporary web of influence, Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics examines early episodes in blogging’s history. This kind of documentation is important, given the fast-paced movement of networked public culture. “When it comes to technology,” historian of Silicon Valley Leslie Berlin explains, “the focus is always forward, and the notion of pausing and taking a breath and seeing where you came from—there’s just not time for it.” Narrating a recent history of the blogosphere details the development of a new media genre but, more importantly, it also chronicles the early emergence of the networked public sphere. By examining how bloggers engage in new modes of public address to shape deliberation, I hope to illuminate how the challenges of invention, emotion, and expertise are negotiated as the mass-mediated public sphere fades in favor of an inter-networked public sphere.

Early moments in the history of the blogosphere exert outsized influence in how citizens imagine the democratic potential of new technologies. They become part of the mythos of the blogosphere, subtly shaping subsequent citizen participation. Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics analyzes three of these archetypal deliberative episodes.

The investigative and interpretive work of Glenn Reynolds, Josh Marshall, and Atrios in the wake of Senator Trent Lott’s controversial comments about Senator Strom Thurmond. In December 2002, Trent Lott made what were widely seen as remarks sympathetic to segregation in a birthday toast to Strom Thurmond, the 1948 Dixiecrat candidate for president. Lott’s comments roiled several prominent bloggers, who connected dots from the senator’s past that portrayed him as an unapologetic advocate for racial discrimination. The institutional media eventually picked up the story, building hydraulic pressure for Lott’s eventual resignation as Senate majority leader. Glenn Reynolds characterized his blogging during this episode as “flooding the zone,” implying that blogging saturated public discourse by working the controversy from every imaginable angle. The metaphor of flooding the zone signals the intentional capacities of the blogosphere.

The narration of life in prewar Iraq by Salam Pax. In early 2003, before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, a cosmopolitan Iraqi citizen going by the “nom de blog” of Salam Pax detailed his experience of living on the precipice of war. The visceral, raw posts published by Salam Pax—who became, in the short history of the blogosphere, the most linked-to blogger ever—gave a highly personal view of the invasion. Salam Pax’s blogging produced what another blogger called “ambient intimacy,” a constant cycling of affect into public life. The metaphor of ambient intimacy gestures to the recuperated role of emotion in the networked public sphere.

The intervention by RealClimate bloggers in public discussions about climate science. In late 2004, a group of climate scientists formed a blog dedicated to providing scientific context for news stories about global warming. The scientists refute editorials published by deniers of anthropogenic warming, comment on popular culture artifacts that enter into the climate debate, and translate key scientific developments related to climate change for a public audience. The scientists at RealClimate participate in translation, or “shallow quotation,” to transfer highly technical scientific claims into public spheres of argumentation. Shallow quotation, best represented by the offset pull quotes that bloggers use when citing other websites, aptly describes how knowledge claims move between expert and public discourse communities.

These three case studies were chosen in part because the broadcast press, which had a bias toward blogs with a civic focus, magnified their centrality through extensive coverage. Structural inequities that preceded networked media are reflected in the limited diversity of participants at the heart of these case studies—a reminder that the networked public sphere is not one free of power. Nonetheless, these three deliberative episodes are disruptive inflection points of the kind that punctuate the history of democratic practice. Often coinciding with the introduction of new communication technologies, these inflection points spark democratic iterations that introduce alternative ways of envisioning and negotiating the challenges of invention, emotion, and expertise.

Some of the early speculation about the implications of blogging for democratic practice was predictably—and ahistorically—breathless. “The revolution will be blogged” sloganized what promised to be the death knell for the broadcast mass media and the birth of a new mode of citizen participation. While situating the intercast of bloggers as a site of deliberation that breaks with tradition is tempting, the term “blogosphere” is etymologically situated in a longer and richer historical trajectory. A key popularize of “blogosphere” justified the portmanteau by noting, “the root word is logos, from the Greek meaning . . . human reasoning about the cosmos.” The idea of “sphere” as indicating range or influence comes from the early modern European context, as in “sphere of influence” and “public sphere.” The origin of “blogosphere,” then, invites a historical-critical theorization of deliberation in internetworked public cultures through comparison to the two prior sociopolitical formations it etymologically references. Ancient Athens and the European bourgeois public sphere are rich historical predecessors, analogues, and foils for understanding contemporary deliberation. These cultural formations, too, faced changes stimulated by the interaction of new information technologies and democratization. In the classical era of Athenian democracy, writing amplified the activities of the agora, where a privileged class of citizens conversed in a space that supported the circulation of news and opinion. Later, at the onset of what became known as the modern age in western Europe, the circulation of print publications supported an even more extended conversation about the issues of the day. The parallels to contemporary times are apparent, given how the new medium of the internet encourages the kind of lateral, argumentative communication usually thought to sustain democratic public life.

However, bloggers’ contributions to negotiating the democratic challenges of invention, emotion, and expertise receive decidedly mixed reviews. In terms of invention, blogging is often identified as activating citizens’ argumentative energies and unique competencies as they connect with fellow deliberators. But it is also perceived as producing an unmanageable noise-to-signal ratio in public communication, contributing nonsense, invective, and repetition to an already crowded mediasphere. Blogging is also analyzed through the vocabulary of emotion. The ease and personalization of blogging affords an unequivocal reveling in the partial, subjective, contingent self. That blogs are so often personal is one of their most compelling features. But some skeptics see that feature as a bug, as bloggers are often considered too emotional and uncommitted to the standards of rational-critical debate supposedly institutionalized in journalistic norms. Discourses of expertise are also yoked to blogging. Some bloggers are recognized experts in their field, contributing deeply informed running commentary on breaking news. But bloggers are also often seen as dilettantes, shallowly treating issues they barely grasp and mangling complex controversies with ham-handed postings. Almost every criticism of blogging is a criticism lodged throughout history against the art of rhetoric: it is excessive bloviation, emotional venting, and inexpert prying. It is sophistry instead of real knowledge. These uncharitable interpretations of blogging elide the potency of rhetoric in even internetworked public cultures. The promise of rhetoric has always been to satisfactorily, if contingently, manage the challenges surrounding invention, emotion, and expertise at the heart of democratic public life. Thus, one goal of this book is to make the association between rhetoric and blogging more explicit: to use the rhetorical tradition to show how blogging shapes public deliberation and to use blogging to identify features of networked rhetorics.

Networked Rhetorics and Networked Rhetorical Imaginaries

Invention, emotion, and expertise are, not incidentally, keywords of the rhetorical tradition, loosely linked to the classical triumvirate logos, pathos, and ethos. Logos, pathos, and ethos are elementary terms in the rhetorical lexicon, conceived in the classical context as modes of proof that speakers could draw upon to press their case. 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 ones. For example, citizens are participating in new genres of communication, like blogs and mash-ups, in tandem with 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.

Networked media is a vastly preferable term to “new media,” “digital media,” “social media,” “participatory media,” “multimedia,” or “multimodal media.” “New media” is terrifically imprecise. What’s new about a technology that is now thirty years or older, depending on when the counting begins? The “old” mass media of film, radio, and television, by swapping analog for digital technologies and absorbing networked architectures, further complicate the referent of “new media.” “Digital” risks overdetermining the importance of the technology at the expense of appreciating the cultural uses of the medium. The significant part of digital mediation is not the nature of the technology but the kind of networking logics that it enables. “Social media” suggests that media was antisocial before the internet, which, despite the old saw that television breeds passivity, is demonstrably untrue. Media—from the voice to the television and internet—are necessarily at the heart of human sociality. “Participatory media,” given the actual numbers of people producing and interacting with content, is more hopeful than descriptive. “Multimedia” smells like the 1990s. “Multimodal media” is suggestive, as it hints at how modes of communication like sound, image, and text converge through digital media technology. However, it implies that prior media systems were in some way unimodal, which is unsupportable given the nexus of word, sound, and image in the oral world. Even print blended word and image. “Networked media,” as a truncation of internetworked media, reflects a core dynamic at work in new digital technologies with a more optimal balance between richness and precision.

Networked rhetorics, then, indexes a set of communication practices under the conditions of internetworked mediation. My use of the plural “rhetorics” implies a multifaceted phenomenon that stretches beyond the account I provide here about the blogosphere. There have always been rhetorics, not just a rhetoric, and understanding the communication dynamics of a new media system requires a recognition of the multiplicity of rhetorical practices and theories that undergird them. As a heuristic, though, “networked rhetorics” provides an alternative to “digital rhetoric” in thinking about how digital media technology and rhetoric can be theorized together. “Digital rhetoric” is an evocative rubric, but a gentle shift in emphasis toward the networked provides another angle of vision to apprehend patterns of contemporary communication. Much as the “digital” in digital media privileges the technology, so does the “digital” in digital rhetoric privilege the media technology, resulting in an intense focus on how digitality reworks delivery. As obviously important as that particular canon of rhetoric is, digitally networked media technologies bear on rhetorical theory in many other ways as well. “Networked rhetorics” focuses attention on communication practices rather than technologies. My colleague Val Renegar once affirmed this contrast to me by noting, “I don’t feel digital, but I feel networked.” Precisely. The rubric of “networked rhetorics” accounts for that feeling better than “digital rhetorics.” It is the elevation of the concept of “networks,” rather than the mere digitality of rhetorical practice, that challenges predigital theories of rhetoric and public deliberation.

A fast-developing vocabulary of terms indicates the profusion of networked rhetorics. Part of this lexicon is populated by the names of new genres of communication, like blogs, wikis, and social networking sites; part of it includes hybridized concepts like the “networked public sphere” or “flash mob”; and, as this project demonstrates, part of it is reflected in figurative language that appears in the meta-talk about internetworked communication. A metaphor used to characterize blogging is what initially attuned me to the broader significance of this new genre. Like many people, I first learned of blogging in the wake of Trent Lott’s toast to Strom Thurmond. This particular episode connected several of my longstanding interests: innovative communication practices spurred by new media technologies, argumentation about civic controversies, and the career implosion of retrograde Southern politicians. As I followed the controversy, I ran across the term “flood the zone” used by blogger Glenn Reynolds. Without having a definitive sense of what the phrase really meant, I grasped that it captured something vital about the flow of argument in the blogosphere. It hinted at the ability of bloggers to publish quickly, from many disparate perspectives, allowing them to saturate the field of public discourse, commandeer public attention, and thus shape public opinion.

Flooding the zone, alongside the metaphors “ambient intimacy” and “shallow quotation” derived from the two other case studies, is part of the unfolding networked rhetorical imaginary. A rhetorical imaginary refers to how a culture imagines the role, function, features, norms, and values of communication. It is the collection of conceptual terms—the grammar— that constitutes the landscape of communication practice in any particular public culture. Rhetorical imaginaries function as implicit interpretive frameworks that citizens draw upon to understand and participate in the conventions of public communication. They are the communicative analogue of social imaginaries. For Charles Taylor, a social imaginary encapsulates “the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations.” In formal and informal cultural performances, individuals are drawn into a complex matrix of imagined relations with other citizens, institutions, ideologies, networks, and objects. If, as Taylor explains, “the social imaginary is that common understanding that makes possible common practices and a widely shared sense of legitimacy,” then citizens invariably find themselves embedded in a cultural milieu that is so pervasive it is difficult to imagine an alternative. A social imaginary is often premised on useful fictions: fictional, as how we imagine our relations with each other is not necessarily how they actually are; useful, as these imagined relations nonetheless provide shared understandings that interpellate individuals into communities, however uneven and dysfunctional that process may be.

The emergence of new imaginaries both manages and consolidates broader changes. The modern social imaginary, as a historical phenomenon, shifted public imagination toward new ways of negotiating the political, social, and economic changes accompanying modernity. The concepts of the public sphere, the sovereign rule of the people, and a price-competitive market were alien to earlier generations of Europeans, habituated to believing that dynastic authority channeled divine will, that the people existed to serve the throne, and that barter was the only vehicle of economic exchange. Yet the shifting social imaginary naturalized these new practices of modernity in a way that completed the transition away from premodern arrangements. A social imaginary functions to do just this—to adapt people to changing practices of interrelation. Our senses of self and culture are both funded and constrained by these shared imaginings. While a social imaginary directs attention to the social, every social imaginary is underwritten by a rhetorical imaginary. The “market,” “public sphere,” and “sovereign people” referred to actual social practices in the early modern era, but were established as keywords in the modern firmament only with the powerful rhetorical act of naming. Naming congeals a practice by orienting our attention to a phenomenon. These rhetorical innovations consolidate practices as meaningful categories of experience, illustrating Robert Asen’s observation that “collective imagining may function as a background process or it may be engaged actively” in thematizing nascent conventions.

Social imaginaries and, by extension, rhetorical imaginaries are neither static nor singular. The social imaginaries that constitute cultures are regularly revised as critical inflection points reshape public imagination. The events of September 11, 2001, for example, required U.S. citizens to recognize that the familiar state-to-state conflict that shaped so much of modernity was being supplanted by the rise of networked extremists. These destabilizations of the imaginary also occur with new media technologies because, following Marshall McLuhan, the diffusion of a new medium “alters the pattern of interdependence among people.” New media amend, and sometimes alter wholesale, a culture’s imaginary by making possible new practices that gradually “come to count as the taken-for-granted shape of things, too obvious to mention.” The practices made popular by blogging include instantaneous publication, easy “sampling” and “remixing” of digitally networked discourse fragments, and an inter-threaded commenting system that supports many-to-many communication on a global scale. Bloggers actively interpreted these new practices as they became evident, but as blogging became normalized, these practices receded into the rhetorical imaginary. They simply became part of the culture. Part of the task of Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics is to recover these practices by examining early episodes where the potentiality of blogging was made sense of by participants. By connecting how the affordances provided by networked media change practices related to the invention of public argument, the role of emotion in public life, and the exercise of expertise, I aim to theorize a shift in sensibilities as people participate in, make sense of, and enact new modes of thinking, feeling, and being. While none of the changes I document in this book are as dramatic, perhaps, as the concepts of citizen, market, and public sphere, they are fruitfully read as microrevolutions in the networked rhetorical imaginary that perhaps adumbrate broader shifts to come.

Four Principles for Studying the Blogosphere

As a result of broad cultural, economic, political, and technological changes, the modern imaginary is transforming into a networked imaginary. But new forms of imagined relations hardly announce themselves as such. Alterations to imaginaries are in some way unknowable, since they are inherently abstract, accreted from loosely related practices and sedimented in opaque layers of historical time. How, then, might the networked rhetorical imaginary be critically explored? Four principles guide my analysis in Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics.

The significance of blogging, and the broader networked public sphere, can be appreciated by toggling between panoramic analysis of broad cultural formations and fine-grained exploration of specific communicative practices. I explore invention, emotion, and expertise in internetworked cultures through

the context provided by rhetorical theories emanating from classical Greece, early modern Europe, and the late modern culture of the United States. Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics participates in the “zooming and hovering” of what Debra Hawhee and Christa Olson call pan-historiography, “simultaneously posing big-picture questions and fine-grained ones.” This approach has an affinity with rhetorical critic Kenneth Burke’s method of circumferential analysis. Burke, whose spirit pervades this project, recognized that “one may place the object of one’s definition in contexts of varying scope.” Expanding or contracting the circumference invariably shapes analysis in heuristically powerful ways. At times, I focus on a single blog post, or a single comment on a blog post, drawing a circumference so tightly around an object of analysis that a reader might reasonably ask, “So what?” At other times, I dramatically expand that circumference, drawing analogies between historical periods to situate blogging in a longer historical trajectory of media technology and rhetorical practice—to which a reader might reasonably object that I am playing too fast and loose with diverse stretches of time. The promise of adjusting circumference is in the potential to strike a balance between appreciating blogging on its own terms and situating blogging in larger patterns of communication and culture. I hope the reader can approach the circumferential movement with charity, looking for how micro-and macroanalysis of blogging both informs our understanding of media, rhetoric, and deliberation and stimulates imaginative amendment, extension, and dissension.

Theories of blogging and the networked public sphere must be developed with a pragmatic spirit. Drawing on the rich rhetorical imaginaries of the classical and early modern eras does not imply any kind of progressive evolution that situates the contemporary networked moment as inevitable or ideal. While the internet is certainly introducing substantial changes to human communication and culture, I disavow the utopian strain that plagued much early and popular speculation about internetworked media. Instead, a pragmatist vein grounded in the rhetorical tradition streaks through Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics. In this spirit, each case study illustrates how the affordances of networked media stimulate deliberative legitimation processes while simultaneously producing new problematics for public culture. The binary sensibilities inherited from the modern imaginary produce “deliberation traps” that frustrate citizens’ participation in public argument by, as each respective case study demonstrates, privileging institutional agenda-setting, conceptualizing reason as distinct from emotion, and lionizing expert opinion at the expense of public engagement. Bloggers’ unique rhetorical practices play a role in evading these late modern deliberation traps. Yet while rhetorical activity in the networked public sphere dodges some traps, new ones are being set as the networked sensibilities I detail are co-opted or taken to extremes. The final section of each case study chapter thus examines how flooding the zone has been co-opted by institutions to frustrate democratic deliberation, how ambient intimacy creates a propensity for oversharing, and how shallow quotation can run amok.

Representative anecdotes of blogging contain the emergent lexicon of the networked rhetorical imaginary. In my moment of scholarly curiosity about the Trent Lott episode and “flooding the zone,” I picked up on what Burke calls a “representative anecdote.” A representative anecdote is a richly allusive but condensed story or example that, like the rhetorical figure of synecdoche, is a part standing for a whole. Part of the premise of this book is that blogging is a representative anecdote of the networked public sphere: understand blogging (the part), and we understand the networked public sphere (the whole) better. The tradition in rhetorical studies of analyzing “great speeches,” such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” or John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, recognizes these moments as representative anecdotes of prevailing attitudes, hidden assumptions, privileged modes of proof, dominant metaphors, and cultural preferences. Although representative anecdotes necessarily reduce the richness of a particular phenomenon to bound the analytical field, effective ones possess scope to range beyond the specific instance. So, while a focus on the blogosphere as a representative anecdote of the networked public sphere does reduce the complexity of the contemporary networked media ecosystem, my concentration on the underlying affordances of networked media provides the necessary scope to be useful in comprehending larger shifts in the networked rhetorical imaginary. The value of the representative anecdote is not merely to provide a detailed case study, but to develop a vocabulary that allows us to understand and adjust to changing times. “When the emphasis of society has changed,” Burke states, “new symbols are demanded to formulate new complexities, and the symbols of the past become less appealing.”

The three case studies at the heart of this book were chosen precisely because they function as representative anecdotes that organically produced or popularized a novel conceptual term constitutive of the networked rhetorical imaginary. Flooding the zone, ambient intimacy, and shallow quotation signify new sensibilities related to invention, emotion, and expertise. By elevating these native terms as tools to explore communication patterns in the networked public sphere, I adopt an emic stance that seeks to theorize networked rhetorics from the inside out rather than uncritically applying communication templates from other rhetorical imaginaries. In identifying a vocabulary for how people persuade through networked media, I follow a tradition in rhetorical studies of thermalizing communication patterns to better understand their functions and critically interrogate their use. The process of naming new rhetorical phenomena, in turn, expands the communicative repertoire citizens may draw from to influence public deliberation.

Metaphors of communicative practice mark cultural sensibilities. Each of the indigenous conceptual phrases emerging from the case studies is a metaphor—unsurprisingly so, for the presence of new practices is often revealed through metaphoric language. The genesis of each of these metaphors is slightly different. Flooding the zone was thematized in the process of blogging about Lott’s toast; ambient intimacy was coined as the broader internetworked ecosystem grew; and shallow quotation (a term borrowed from Charles Willard) is my own supplement to translation metaphors that accompanied discussion of RealClimate. Metaphors often abbreviate representative anecdotes into a supercharged discourse bundle, drawing attention to similarities and dissimilarities between two things being compared. In Burke’s whimsical phrasing, they clarify the “thisness of a that, or the thatness of a this.” Because, as George Lakoff and Mark Johnson underline, “new metaphors are capable of creating new understandings and, therefore, new realities,” we must take metaphor seriously. Metaphoric criticism, a kind of rhetorical criticism that explains how metaphoric figuration shapes belief, knowledge, and action, involves peeling apart the metaphor, seeing how it came to be, what it signifies, and how it works, as well as who employs it—and to what ends.

The metaphors at the heart of each case study reflect how bloggers implicitly developed strategies that disrupted conventional attention routines and pivoted public focus to pressing issues. Attention is a crucial democratic resource in information-rich, internetworked public cultures that feature media flowing from mouths, mobile devices, computers, tablets, televisions, newspapers, books, radios, films, and even everyday objects. Citizens must concentrate the attention of others lest their public discourse become lost in a datastream of undifferentiated fragments jostling for position. While blogging, like any communicative practice, can distract attention from topics that deserve more discourse, Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics examines cases when bloggers successfully marshaled public focus on issues meriting more intensive deliberation. Each case study chapter, then, analyzes these organic metaphors for what they imply about how patterns of networked communication focus attention. To put the networked metaphors of invention, emotion, and expertise in context, I add a wrinkle to metaphoric criticism by turning it on rhetorical theory itself. Rhetorical theory throughout history is dominated by metaphoric language. Thus, in each case study, I trace metaphors used to describe invention, emotion, and expertise at key points in the history of rhetorical theory. This metarhetorical analysis of the metaphors of rhetorical theory.

Three Challenges for Public Deliberation highlights a rich and variegated history of theorizing about communication. A metarhetorical analysis gives insight into the varied ways in which a culture envisions or conceptualizes rhetoric itself, which provides context for understanding the changes in rhetorical practices manifested in the contemporary metaphors of flooding the zone, ambient intimacy, and shallow quotation. The next chapter explores three cultural technologies of publicity: rhetorics, public spheres, and digital communication networks. These cultural technologies coalesce, sustain, structure, and transform attention. I then turn to each of the case studies, in chronological order, beginning with the aftermath of Trent Lott’s toast, turning to Salam Pax’s pre–Iraq War narration, and concluding with RealClimate’s engagement with climate science. In the final chapter, I consider how more contemporary developments in the networked public sphere create the conditions for what I call “hyperpublicity,” which I see as potentially undermining the spirit of play that might otherwise support rhetorical experimentation. I also propose a research agenda for networked rhetorics, identifying six loci for the continued development of networked rhetorical theories to inform citizen participation and strengthen the deliberative practices that constitute the networked public sphere.