Queen, “Transnational Rhetorics in a Digital World”

Queen, Mary. “Transnational Rhetorics in a Digital World.” College English. Special Topic: Transnational Feminist Rhetorics (May 2008): 522-528. (18 pages).

Queen seeks to expand feminist rhetorical studies by examining “how the modes of digital circulation matter in the mediation of relations among groups, communities, and nations” particularly because she notes that feminist rhetorical studies has not adequately addressed the ways that “this digital circulation often constructs and reinforces binary oppositions and rhetorics of superiority” (472). In order to make this argument, she first needs to make some key claims.

First, she begins by noting the paradoxical perception of internet technology as both connecting us to others as well as disconnected from users’ (communities’, etc.) material realities. As queen writes, many feminist activities use the internet as a means to connect, break down spatial and temporal distances; however, understanding internet technologies in this way also reinforces an idea of the medium as transparent: “as if digital technology functioned outside the temporal and spatial contexts of geopolitical relations” (473).

Second. she makes a distinction between field, network, and space. A field refers to the “cyberspaces through which an element passes as it circulates” (474). A network, on the other hand, refers to the interconnected relations among dispersed individuals and communities; spaces (see:  Reynolds) is a location of negotiation and tension of power relations. Field is a much more accurate conceptual basis for understanding digital circulation because it “describes the complex rhetorical actions that emerge from encounters among multiple ideologies and practices that are historically, geopolitically and culturally specific and that are inscribed in global relations among various communities” (474).

Third, she also makes important distinctions between digital and print technology: for example, electronic text has the potential to replace itself; they change not only because they are ephemeral—forming and dissolving simultaneously—but also because they are mobile: they circulate and in the process of circulation, they encounter and are transformed by other forces” (475). This lays the basis for her discussion of how text circulates and becomes re-contextualized as it moves in and out of various fields of meaning: links within hypertext, for example, “are the crucial rhetorical moves within electronic texts. Electronic texts change through the very linking of multiple fields” (475). Queen’s methodology of analyzing the work of RAWA (Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan) traces rhetorical texts as “continually evolving rhetorical actions that are materially bound, actions whose transformation can be traced through the links embedded within multiple fields of circulation” (476).

Between these three foundational claims, she looks to RAWA , particularly how their messages are circulated, framed, and delivered, oftentimes in a way that diffuses their agency in controlling their message. For example, their messages are often cross-wired with neo-liberal concepts of technology-freedom conflation. Such a conflation frames their access to internet technologies as a way to reach a network of (Western) women’s rights activists and to make encounters with them; however Queen notes that such transparency is problematic:

”’having access to women’s stories immediately and not having it filtered through the news media or other organizations is really helpful as a researcher,’ said K.K. Vickery, who is writing her USC thesis on international women’s rights” Vickery is not the only one for whom the computer screen is transparent. Most of us who use computer technology often take for granted its capabilities and its limits. It has become transparent in our lives. The reality, however, is that computer technology is filtering our information; it mediates our information to a profound degree. This mediation is most evident in the re-production by mainstream U.S. news and magazines of RAWA’s self-representations to mirror consumers’ neoliberal value systems” (479).

Queen looks at an example where the Feminist Majority receives criticism about the appropriation of the Afghan women’s struggle. Queen’s concern is the interpretative frame that changes as the appropriated texts circulate through “a wide variety of online spaces and how its ‘appearance’ in these various spaces changes its possible meanings” (482). Queen continues, “as the letter [of criticism of Feminist Majority] circulates in cyberspace, I argue, its kairotic moment, its intent, its readers, its meaning, its effect, and even, in this case, its author all undergo change” (482). Commenters who exists in different fields of rhetorical action continually transform text as it circulates within or across these fields. Hyperlink, in this process, takes a particularly important role in contextualizing and decontextualizing in the process of circulation: “the rhetorical action of delinking text from one context cannot be separated from the simultaneously rhetorical action of linking text to (an)other context” (485
 

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