Messy Rhetoric: Identity Performance as Rhetorical Agency in Online Public Forums
Abstract: Our essay draws from a study of interaction in a large and active online public forum. Studying rhetorical activity in open forums presents a number of methodological and conceptual challenges because the interactions are persistent, nonlinear in terms of when and how participants engage, and engagement often happens via textual fragments. We take up two issues related in this essay: one is the methodological challenge of how to study engagement in open digital places. We take up that issue by way of the example study featured here. The second issue is more conceptual and concerns how identity is leveraged as a form of rhetorical agency in these conversations. We argue that in the context of open forums like Science Buzz these identity performances are crucial as rhetorical agencies, creating space as they function to move discussion.