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You don't need a weatherman to know which way the the wind blows.

Todd Gitlin (1998) has advanced the idea of 'public sphericules', segmented spheres of assimilation which have their own dynamics and forms of constitution. He argues that 'a single public sphere is unnecessary as long as segments constitute their own deliberative assemblies' (Gitlin, 1998, p. 173). ... Gitlin's view accords with the thesis of Barbara Becker and Josef Wehner (1998) who argue that interactive media support the formation of 'partial publics' - 'discourses characterised by context-specific argumentation strategies and special themes' (p. 1). Becker and Wehner still subscribe to the idea that traditional mass media have the central role of mobilising and institutionalising public opinion, but argue that interactive media is growing in significance as a space for the formation of 'pre-institutional' forms of public opinion.

Sphericules are self-forming 'partial publics,' as distinguished from targeted audiences or sub-groups selected by a mass media institution. Sphericules gather on their own motivation rather than being a community that pre-exists or is motivated by a mass media institution. The general argument is that interactive media - weblogs, wikis, twitter - allow sphericules to form on their own, without being mobilized or in some way sponsored by a mass media institution. A sphericule does not need an institutional participant, and does not rely on an institutional participant for its ongoing existence. This dynamic has been demonstrated repeatedly on twitter with the use of hash tags to create an ad-hoc communicative community around context-specific topic. #uksnow, or #change11.

A sphericule might include a mass media or institutional participant, and the status of that participant might be interesting to investigate. We might hypothesize that the control an institutional participant would have on a sphericule would be limited to that of any other participant - and dependent on the argumentative case it could make in the community. But does the mass media participant follow the same argumentation strategies and themes as the other members, or does that participant have special rhetorical status?

The idea is that a sphericule will have (or quickly develop? or import?) its own argument strategies. topical themes, register, stylistic moves, and even link strategies. Those are worthy of study for what they tell us about electronic rhetoric and how people act and interact.
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