Emergent Arguments: Digital Media and Social Argumentation
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This dissertation proposes a new framework for understanding how argumentation and rhetorical action unfold in digital space. While studies in the field of rhetorical theory often address new discursive practices in spaces like Twitter and Facebook, they do not always assess the ways that the platforms themselves can influence the forms and conventions of argumentation. Similarly, the field of new media studies has attended to the structural and technical components of digital platforms, but rarely views these details through a rhetorical lens. Thus, this dissertation combines the two disciplines by approaching its thesis from two angles. First, it employs major scholarly and theoretical work from the field of rhetorical studies to determine the ways in which digital rhetorical practices align with or differ from previous ones. Second, it combines new media scholarship with close readings of digital texts, in order to examine how argumentation functions across different media platforms. This interdisciplinary approach provides unique insight into the ways that media platforms and rhetorical practices coevolve. The dissertation’s central term, “emergent arguments,” marks an epistemological shift away from the idea that an argument resides within a single text or narrative. Instead, arguments emerge from sustained and engaged interactions with digital communities, from explorations of hyperlinked trails of information, from patterns of images, words, and datasets. In digital space, knowledge is constructed communally, meaning that argumentation takes place in collaboration with a community. The project follows closely with the work of Aristotle and Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, where argumentation is an inherently social act driven by cultural context and shared knowledge. The dissertation builds upon this premise by claiming that digital media make this sociality visible, traceable, and more dynamic than previous communicative platforms. It ultimately argues that in digital space, meaning itself is social, intertextual, and multimodal.