When speaking of network rhetorics, one is fundamentally speaking of network writing, and vice versa. Writing is intimately bound up with rhetoric because rhetoric has always depended on the commitment of an argument to a medium. An appeal is not an appeal until it is performed, and the details of that performance depend not only on the specifics of the appeal but upon the affordances and constrictions of the medium in question. For example, the oral communication practices of the Greeks and Romans were the primary medium for, and primary influence on, western rhetorical theory and practice (Fig. 1).
The arrival of digital technologies, along with the subsequent proliferation of new communication media enabled by these technologies, has brought new attention to the connection between networks and the rhetoric/writing they support. Network writing and networked rhetorics are intimately bound up with digital networks, and as such a theory of either must make use of new tools to address the unique characteristics of the rhetorical situation presented by digital networks.
If one wanted to search for the terms ‘network’, ‘networked’, and ‘networking’, she or he could use the ‘*’ or “wildcard” operator to find them all at once, as in ‘network*’ (Fig. 2). This operator is used in searches to stand in for any unknown text within a search string. Here I have adopted this convention to indicate the range of networked behaviors that are accounted for within broader network theories. For example, I argue for the importance of writing that does not simply follow and operate within the logic of networks—writing within networks—but also shapes and creates the networks where writing occurs—writing with networks. Like other writing, this network* writing is rhetorical and, as I show, understanding the multiple manifestations of this writing allows rhetoricians to craft rhetorical actions that are network-centric.
In this webtext I examine the interrelations between digital networks, writing, and rhetoric, exploring how manifestations of network* power (Castells, 2009) provide inventional possibilities for argument and persuasion within networks.
To view writing in this way, we must to some extent let go of traditional understandings of what counts as writing, particularly our focus on individual texts. Where writing and rhetoric scholarship has long understood communication to be complex and situational (Hawk, 2004), we have only recently begun to recognize that the rhetorical affordances of networks encompass not only traditional forms of writing delivered via network structures, but also the act of writing networks into being. Consequently, in this text I use the term writing broadly, referring not only to appeals committed to paper or screen but the practice of performing appeals in any medium using the inscription practices of that medium (Bogost, 2007, p. 24). Recognizing that a particular appeal does not exist prior to its performance—prior to being written, in the sense I have described—allows us to treat writing not as being separate from or an adjunct to rhetoric, but consubstantial with it, and this writing/rhetoric is influenced by the medium in which it is performed. Embracing this interdependence will change how we teach and practice both writing and rhetoric.
About this Webtext
This text is divided into three main sections. The first provides background information related to networks and some of the terminology I employ in the other sections. The second is a case study of PageRank, a Google search algorithm that I argue is an influential instance of network* writing. The third outlines the taxonomy of what I call network* writing and provides examples of writing that generates new networks.
I have designed these sections to be read in the order of the reader’s choosing. Those readers familiar with network theories may wish to skip the first section. Those who are primarily interested in the case study or network* writing sections can explore them individually. To facilitate this method of reading, where background information or a foundational argument are necessary for the understanding of a particular passage, or where information on one page can illustrate or illuminate a particular argument on another, I have included internal links to the section of this webtext where the reader can find that information or argument.