the project:

in the networked public sphere, what shape does argument take?

I offer this question as a way to broach the unwieldy topic of this webtext: digital argumentation. To use the phrase "digital argumentation" already asserts a claim and a certain theory of argumentation. This project intends to develop the implied claim and suggest the importance of a theory of argumentation suited for a generation of digital media users and consumers. When the public sphere of print media and radio, television, and cinematic broadcasts shifted to the networked public sphere of ubiquitous digital devices and (for most individuals) ubiquitous Internet access, something about argument changed. More aptly, something about the way people find, read, watch, record, and participate in arguments changed. While some of these changes are positive, as Yochai Benkler and Howard Rheingold maintain, missed participation opportunities (from record-breaking low voter turn-out to the decline in teenage bloggers over the last decade) are concerning.

The Internet enters, disturbs, and constructs the shape of arguments in the networked public sphere. To miss this point is to become a passive individual living and breathing within an atmosphere of argumentation. While a networked public has more choices and more opportunities for participation, they also confront distributed and subliminal arguments compelling them to think or act a certain way without considering consequences or alternate choices. In the hypermediated pace of daily life, the public sphere begins to look more like an atmosphere — enveloping public opinion and fostering something like a climate that can be adjusted by those in power. The atmosphere is a confusing realm in which cultural myths are taken as truth and technologies for argument go unnoticed. The goal of the project is to draw attention to the importance, especially for college writing students, of studying arguments alongside digital media theory and praxis. A course in digital argumentation would prepare students to be critical observers and participants in the networked public sphere.

about the project

I wanted to find a starting point for this project without envisioning a conventional printed essay as my destination. This webtext is what I came up with as an alternative to the essay form. The topic seemed to necessitate this choice, as did my commitment to making this (ongoing) research project part of the public sphere from the first draft onward. I first tested designs, colors, and font styles, and then composed text as I played with the code in Dreamweaver. The process was ultimately distributed across multiple software programs, and without a doubt each platform authored my composition in different ways. As this project is ongoing over next semester and beyond, I hope that you will check back on it later, email me suggestions, or forward the link to a potentially interested friend!

about the author

I am a first-year Ph.D. student in English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. My degree focus is Media, Cinema, and Digital Culture. I have an MA in Literary Studies from UT-Dallas and an MFA in Poetry from UNLV. I'm originally from Warren, Ohio. I know very little about any of the code I am using, and I basically screw things up until I can't fix them. And then I start over.

Comments and suggestions are welcome. Email: sullivan.rachael [at] gmail.com. Visit my evolving and possibly devolving personal web site.