Weblog Project 2009

Background reading


Miller and Shepherd set out a straightforward introduction to why weblogs would be interesting to digital rhetoricians:

The weblog phenomenon raises a number of rhetorical issues.... [O]ne of the more intriguing ... [is] the ... intersection of the public and private that weblogs seem to invite. As David Weinberger has observed, the confessional nature of blogs has redrawn the line between the private and the public dimensions of our lives (2002). Blogs can be both public and intensely personal in possibly contradictory ways. They are addressed to everyone and at the same time to no one. They seem to serve no immediate practical purpose, yet increasing numbers of both writers and readers are devoting increasing amounts of time to them. The blog is a new rhetorical opportunity, made possible by technology that is becoming more available and easier to use, but it was adopted so quickly and widely that it must be serving well established rhetorical needs. Why did blogging catch on so quickly and so widely? What motivates someone to begin—and continue—a blog? What audience(s) do bloggers address? Who actually reads blogs and why? In short, what rhetorical work do blogs perform—and for whom? And how do blogs perform this work? What features and elements make the blog recognizable and functional? Miller and Shepherd.

The rise and presence of weblogs raises a load of rhetorical issues. For this project, we'll start with a descriptive survey and some common background reading. Each group will focus on one issue they find intriguing and that might yield interesting and insightful results.

How we will proceed

Form groups of 2 - 3. Each group takes on a topic that they develop further.

Focus on Rhetorical Strategies

For this project, we're not looking at the expressive nature of blogs nor the personal growth they might enable. Those questions would use a psychological search model. We're looking at the rhetorical aspects of weblogs: how they work rhetorically, or how they do rhetorical work. Our focus is on the message rather than the messenger; on the ethos rather than the personal identity of the ethos-maker. Keeping this focus takes discipline and the development of a new way of thinking about these matters. Art historian Laurie Fendrich puts it this way:

The disheartening truth — a truth most often swept under the rug of aesthetic pleasure — is that while portraiture teaches us about the human range of emotions and character in general, no specific portrait can reliably be said to reveal the inner life of its subject. Instead, great artists have the daunting ability to deceive us into believing that they have painted the heart and soul of a person. When we are moved by a specific portrait, then, we are unwittingly moved by the artfulness of the artist rather than the personality of the sitter. See the persuasiveness of portraiture.


Focus on individual or small collaborative blogs: not those written for corporations or media, but written by single individuals or small groups. These may be topical blogs, filter blogs, or personal/professional blogs. Collective blogs will be topical or filter. Language Blog, for instance.

We'll need to consider the rhetorical context blogs operate in. We can do this as a group in class, drawing on Rettberg and other readings.

Some possible topics

Cover 3 - 6 months of posts. Don't work with every post. Use select ones: selected methodically.

Looking for patterns
Looking at play of context and text
Looking for rhetorical affordances: length of post, categories, ...
Looking for the parts in analysis

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