Miller & Shepherd, “Blogging as Social Action: A Genre Analysis of the Weblog”

Miller, Carolyn and Dawn Shepherd. “Blogging as Social Action: A Genre Analysis of the Weblog.” Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs. (18 pages)

Miller and Shepherd provide a concrete example based on Miller’s 1984 conception of genre. Specifically, Miller and Shepherd look at an emerging genre (at the time) of weblogs or blogs. This example, in particular, cues them into wider conversations related to writing in the 21st century. For example, they have a particular interest in the intersections of public and private as well as the normalization of mediated voyeurism and mediated exhibitionism. Toward the latter point, they see the moral neutrality of voyeurism and exhibitionism as kairos “that has shifted the boundary between the public and the private and the relationship between mediated and unmediated experience.”

Here, the authors note that an understanding of the emergence and evolution of genres would require a way to understand genre in relation to kairos. As they write, Kairos “describes both the sense in which discourse is understood as fitting and timely–the way it observes propriety or decorum–and the way in which it can seize on the unique opportunity of a fleeting moment to create new rhetorical possibilities”

Moving toward defining the blog as a genre, the authors note it’s function as substance, form, and pragmatic features. As per substance (or semantic content), the authors summarize the impressions of bloggers who explain that the content of the blog is a point of reference in classifying the blogs types. As per form, there are certain structural features that blogs borrow from other genres—such as dairies—that many bloggers believe gives blogs their unique traction or fitting for the current cultural motive. For example, the use of “reverse chronological order”, time-stamped and dated posts, and the linking of other blogs. Finally, the authors look at the pragmatic action that stems from the confluence of substance and form. They focus their attention, here, on the intention by many bloggers to self-disclose in order for self-expression and self-discovery: “self expression serves the intrinsic self-disclosure functions of both self-clarification and self-validation, enhancing self awareness and confirming already-held beliefs.” The highly public nature of blogs and the private intentions of self-discovery provide an interesting co-existence of seeming contradictions. Quoting a interview conducted by Nussbaum of a blogger, “he wanted his posts to be read, and feared that people would read them, and hoped people would read them, and didn’t care if people read them” (2004, p 35, cited in Miller and Shephard). Without answers, Miller and Shepard question, “how do these public and private purposes co-exist and even enhance each other as they seem to? …Is what is truly novel in the blog the ability to address simultaneously these dual yet mutlaly reinforcing purposes, to engage in self-expression in order to build community and to build community in order to cultivate self? Does the normalization of the subject-positions of the voyeur and the exhibitionist catalyze this new form of rhetorical action?”

In their discussion of this emergent genre, they also note the many ancestral genres that intertextually converge to support the emergence of this “new form of rhetorical action”; namely, they mention ship captains logs, commonplace books, Wunderkammer, and clipping services. What’s notable about these examples is the implicit connection assemblages and the inherent intertextuality of genre that is mentioned by Devitt. Finally, the authors then label the exigence—or recurrent motive—as the ongoing need, culturaly, to validate and cultivate the self. And further, this kind of motive is that much more complicated in private-public spheres.

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