The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Colloquium Archive

Melissa Forbes

Name: Melissa Forbes, English Department

Presentation Title: "Inventing the Virtual Public: The Comment Section Reimagined"

Date: November 19, 2015

Abstract

Scorned, maligned, and significantly understudied in rhetoric and composition, online comment sections are often viewed as the place where reasonable discussion goes to die. But: just because comments are not doing what people may have hoped for does not mean they are not doing anything important, and this presentation aims to re-orient discussion of comment sections to focus on the work they are doing rather than the work they are not. The presentation breaks down into two parts. In the first, I analyze the comment section as a discursive space, teasing out the elements that separate it from other similar spaces and using examples from women's pop culture blog Jezebel to illustrate the rhetorical consequences of those differences. In the second, I propose as an alternative to the metaphor of the public sphere that of the virtual public, a framework that foregrounds comments' textuality and focuses on the artifact being built through commenter interactions. Drawing on works by Robert Glenn Howard, Jeff Grabill and Stacy Pigg, and Carolyn Miller, I point to the potential value of writing studies approaches in understanding how and why these spaces matter.