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Rhetorical Analysis of Literary Culture in Social Reading Platforms


DOI: 10.7771/1481-4374.2244

Vlieghe, Joachim; and Rutten, Kris. "Rhetorical Analysis of Literary Culture in Social Reading Platforms." CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 15.3 (2013).

p.2: In their article "Rhetorical Analysis of Literary Culture in Social Reading Platforms" Joachim Vlieghe and Kris Rutten present a case study of the discourse surrounding literary phenomena that are emerging within social media. The case study is part of a methodological exploration within literacy studies whereby the social media's transformative effects on literary literacies are studied by focusing on language as symbolic and situated action. Vlieghe and Rutten have identified unique social reading platforms based on a prolonged study of the social media environment. The analysis of the developers' discourse on social reading platforms shows how developers are formulating new instructions on how to talk and to act in relation to literature by changing the scope of concepts related to literary phenomena within the "social media" system. -- Highlighted apr 21, 2014

p.3: Based on his empirical study of concepts relating to literary phenomena, Schmidt concludes that "in 'modern' societies, the acting possibilities of actors in the social system of literature are institutionally distributed onto four action dimensions: production, mediation, reception, and post-processing" ("Systems-Oriented" 124). He argues, however, that descriptions of media systems are only provisional because every new medium affects people's opportunities for social participation by changing or replacing existing acting possibilities, as well as adding new ones. In order to study the transformative effects of new media, Schmidt proposes to examine and compare the uses and meanings of concepts related to media phenomena in and across various media systems. -- Highlighted apr 21, 2014

p.4: The data presented in this article have been obtained through online participant observation in social media environments between September 2011 and June 2012. All source material and initial observations have been recorded and documented in an online weblog maintained by Joachim Vlieghe (http://joachimvlieghe.tumblr.com). The recorded sources contain texts and audio-visual material produced by developers to describe "social reading." -- Highlighted apr 21, 2014

p.4: An important reason for this is, of course, the fact that the platforms do not embody a physical and temporal environment. Instead, social reading platforms represent virtual or projected environments. The absence of distinct physical features of social reading platforms interferes with the developers' attempts to define the "scene" or to determine with certainty the different scenes of individual users form which the platforms are typically accessed. -- Highlighted apr 21, 2014

p.5: Developers use the concepts of "space" and "place" to construct a recognizable and comprehensible metaphor which describes the social reading platforms and everything that they entail: services or tools [agency], endeavors [purpose], algorithmic and user-generated content [act], and people [agent]. The metaphor of the social space is used to celebrate the lack of physical determinants and idealizes the potential for diversity and anonymity as a stronghold, rather than a weakness of the social reading platforms. It stresses the importance of spaces that give everyone the opportunity to interact socially based on personal interests, regardless of when and where and without discriminating based on physical appearance or social position (see Meyrowitz 118). -- Highlighted apr 21, 2014

p.5: Their non-physical nature alters "those aspects of group identity, socialization, and hierarchy that were once dependent on particular physical locations and the special experiences available in them" (Meyrowitz 125). -- Highlighted apr 21, 2014

p.6: In fact, explicit self-references made by the developers are very scarce, though not entirely absent. When developers do refer to themselves, they do so through the social reading platform. This means that the name of a social reading platform is used interchangeably to refer to the elements "scene" and "agent." Thus, a first strategic point of ambiguity is revealed. By using the name of social reading platforms to refer to both scene and agent, the [scene-agent] ratio becomes an ambiguous one. As a consequence, the only way to learn about the developers' perception regarding their contributions to the literary system is through their descriptions of the affordance of the social reading platforms. -- Highlighted apr 21, 2014

p.6: As such, a second strategic point of ambiguity is revealed. The [scene-agency] ratio becomes ambiguous when the concept of "space" is employed to denote two different things: an environment that enhances democracy or a means that enhances discussion (Papacharissi 11). The ambiguity of the [scene-agency] ratio thus suggests that social reading platforms could be perceived as social spaces for confrontation and conflict, not for confirmation and comforting. -- Highlighted apr 21, 2014

p.7: Social reading platforms focus first and foremost on people's shared interests and passion for literature. They are sounding boards for expressing engagement with a particular literary work or towards the field of literature through creation and communication (see Gee, "Semiotic Social"). -- Highlighted apr 21, 2014

p.7: Developers' often refer to communities or community formation to stress the shared engagement (i.e., interest and passion expressed through participation).In earlier work, we pointed out that communities formed in social media environments through shared engagement can be understood through Benedict Anderson's concept of "imagined communities" (see Vlieghe, Bourgonjon, Rutten, Soetaert). Based on a close study of nations and nationalism, Anderson has pointed out that "all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact are imagined" since their members "will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them" (5-6) Following Anderson, the concept of "communities" is used by developers to refer to an intricate network oloosely affiliated people who poses diverse knowledge, experiences, and perspectives on literature. Stated differently, the concept of "communities" is used to refer to social groups as a type of shared resources that brings new insights both to individuals and to the domain of literature as a whole (see examples in Figure 3). -- Highlighted apr 21, 2014

p.7: Terms relating to the theme of "discovery and exploration" [purpose] are found frequently in relation to all 18 sources. In nearly all cases they are accompanied by terms relating to the themes of "interest and passion" [purpose] and "sharing" [act]. -- Highlighted apr 21, 2014

p.8: As a consequence of the ambiguity between the [scene-act] and [scene-purpose] ratios, a distinction between both — i.e., where one aspect serves the other — is rarely found. In many cases, it is suggested that a taste in books reflects a taste in friends or "the company we keep" (Booth) — and vice versa.Thus, social reading platforms feature two different, yet strongly related kinds of "taste fabrics" which denote networks of interests (see Church and Hanks; Lui, Maes, Davenport). One focuses on books while the other focuses on people. The most important affordance of social reading platforms is thus to offer users a means to explore and keep track of these taste fabrics which facilitates the discovery of new books and new people (see examples in Figure 4). -- Highlighted apr 21, 2014

p.8: Before we continue to discuss the roles related to literature as they are described by developers, we summarize the above presented findings concerning the phenomenon known as "social reading": the developers' discourse on "social reading platforms" is characterized by three strategic points of ambiguity. The first point of ambiguity deals with themes relating to the element "agent" and allows developers to obscure their role and position within the media system as designers of social spaces. The second point of ambiguity deals with themes relating to the element "agency." The ambiguity arises when the social reading platforms are characterized as open social spaces that welcome diversity and confrontation, instead of closed niches for preselected members. The third strategic point of ambiguity focuses on the elements "act" and "purpose." Here, the ambiguity is used to stress the networking and archiving function of social reading platforms, which facilitates the creation, visualization and exploration of personal and social taste fabrics related to literature. -- Highlighted apr 21, 2014

p.9: This emphasizes the interactive or collaborative aspect of literary production. In relation to the mediator, the developers accentuate the themes of "controlling and managing" [act], "discussion" [purpose], "efficiency and effectiveness" [purpose] and "choosing and selecting" [act]. Accordingly, the argumentative and managerial aspect of literary mediation is underlined -- Highlighted apr 21, 2014

p.9: This echoes the idea that "meaning-making is an ongoing process [that] does not end at a pre-ordained place" (Du Gay, Hall, Janes, Mackay, Negus 85). In other words, the presentation of social reading platforms as social spaces for confrontation stresses the spiraling effect of the literary system as a "cultural circuit" (Du Gay, Hall, Janes, Mackay, Negus 85). As such, the developers relate their descriptions of social reading platforms to the discourse on remix culture, which is strongly connected to the rise of social media and user-generated content. The discourse on remixing suggests that "the interdependence of our creativity has been obscured by powerful cultural ideas, but technology is now exposing this connectedness" (Ferguson http://vimeo.com/14912890 ). By stressing this idea of connectedness or intertextuality, thdevelopers' discourse enhances the idea that everyone in the literary system is involved in the postprocessing of literary texts. Stated differently, within social reading platforms everyone involved in the literary system becomes a post-processor. -- Highlighted apr 21, 2014

p.10: In conclusion, based on a pentadic analysis of the discourse on social reading platforms, we show how developers are formulating new instructions on how to talk and to act in relation to literature by changing the scope of concepts related to literary phenomena within the system of "social media."By applying the technique of pentadic cartography we locate three strategic points of ambiguity in the developers' discourse on social reading platforms. A first point of ambiguity shows how literary phenomena are being redefined in terms of continuous "post-processing" which transforms the relationships between "production," "mediation," and "reception." A second point of ambiguity specifies how developers attempt to reduce notions of hierarchy within the literary system. And the third point of ambiguity indicates that developers draw on the democratic potential of social media environments to present social reading platforms as social spaces that thrive on affinity (i.e., shared passion related to literature) which is expressed through active participation and networks of taste (i.e., shared interest).Our findings suggest that developers are creating the foundations for a literary and social media system which recognizes the multiplicity and complexity of what it means to be literate in everyday life. Literacies are the result of people's involvement in multiple and overlapping communities of work, interest, affiliation, and so on.s the New London Group suggests, the challenge today is to create spaces where local and specific meanings can be created and wherdifferent communities can find their own voices without promoting excessively specialized subcultural discourses which lead to individualism and seclusion.Our analysis of developers' discourse suggests that social reading platforms are an attempt to create such spaces. Developers of social reading platforms problematize formal and institutionalized roles and practices related to literature by explicitly reinforcing informal networks of people and tastes. -- Highlighted apr 21, 2014

p.10: future research should attempt to document changes in people's perceptions of roles and practices resulting from active involvement in social reading platforms and determine whether users of social reading platforms identify with aims and efforts of developers. -- Highlighted apr 21, 2014