Fall 2020, 50.5, pages: 305-320
“Sharing a World with Others”: Rhetoric’s Ecological Turn and the Transformation of the Networked Public Sphere
This essay investigates the extent to which an “ecological turn” in rhetorical studies—a turn toward systemic understandings of circulation and material interrelation—enables us to understand the ways that rhetors transform the networked public sphere. The essay argues that while ecological models have helped attune us to the complex, ever-shifting interrelations that constitute networked environments, they have demonstrated limitations. Specifically, ecological models have deemphasized (1) the historical specificity of rhetorical ecologies, (2) the role that social imaginaries play in structuring rhetorical ecologies, and (3) the ways that rhetors collectively invest in transforming rhetorical ecologies. Drawing on a qualitative study of activism on Twitter, this essay advocates the development of an infrastructural politics, an approach that emphasizes the ecological qualities of public rhetoric—dispersion, complexity, and emergence—while also attuning us to the collective and ethical dimensions of practicing rhetoric in today’s networked public sphere.