Network* writing

Depiction of a social network represented by sticky-notes on a white-board.

Figure 1: Social network in a course. (Põldoja, 2010)

Network* writing is concerned with the use of network structures to increase opportunities for communication and persuasion within networks. In this way, it is a counterforce to network* power. Where the “power” in network* power describes the “relational capacity to impose an actor’s will over another actor’s will” (Castells, 2009, p. 44), rhetoric rejects such impositions. Rather, rhetoric exists as the counterpart to coercion. Instead of forcing compliance, rhetoric persuades, “attempt[ing] to elicit the willing responses of an audience” (Walker, 2000, p. 314, emphasis added). Although network* power provides an analytical framework for understanding types of relations within networks, network* writing is distinct from network* power in that the former is fundamentally rhetorical and noncoercive.

Network* writing describes a range of rhetorical practices both with and within networks. Because networks operate according to the dictates of power that imposes one person’s—or network’s—will on another, the rhetorician must understand the workings of power within networks in order to craft effective rhetorical responses within those networks. Persuasion is still possible in situations defined by power imbalances, such as dictatorships (Walker, 2000, pp. 53–55) or a network dominated by a particular set of power holders. For this reason, network* writing includes writing practices intended to effect change within the constraints of a particular network.

Yet network* writing also includes practices that are designed to challenge the power of existing networks in a noncoercive fashion. I identify programming and switching with what I call writing networks, a practice that is distinct from other forms of network* writing in that programming and switching can enable the creation of new networks that challenge existing networks, undercutting their coercive power and providing opportunities for noncoercive persuasion.

Like other rhetorical theories, network* writing does not introduce a new practice or means of persuasion, but rather refocuses the attention of writers on an existing practice. “We say we live in a network among gatherings of people, ideas, and things,” Daniel Anderson (2010) wrote, “but always this saying emerges from a metaphor—the Web, the wetlands, the wheelbarrow.” Rhetorical theories are similarly metaphors, serving to place practices that already exist in a new light. As metaphors, programming and switching allow network writers to conceptualize the creation of network protocols and the coordination and cooperation of network structures as systematizable rhetorical tasks. By naming these activities, we open them to the processes of rhetorical invention, allowing them to become part of the conscious design of network communication. And by identifying the practices of effective network* writing it is easier for writing and rhetoric scholars to advocate for the place of this writing in rhetorical instruction.