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“Working consensus” and the rhetorical situation

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Abstract

Examining uptakes of the &#8220;homeless blog&#8221; (a weblog written by a person who is experiencing or has experienced homelessness), this essay investigates constraints facing marginalized rhetors in their attempts to address rhetorical exigencies in innovative ways via &#8220;online genres.&#8221; Such rhetors face an environment of public meta-discourse in which readers may mischaracterize their texts according to analogous or &#8220;antecedent&#8221; (Jamieson 1975) genres. This essay proposes that to understand how rhetors negotiate constraints on their social action and build consensus about their discourse in such conditions, it is useful to consider public meta-genre as informed by &#8220;face-work,&#8221; Erving Goffman&#8217;s (1955; 1959) theory of how subjects engaged in self-presentation negotiate &#8220;working consensus&#8221; (Goffman 1959), provisionally-agreed-upon understanding of situations and participants. Five months ago, Barbieux, started a Web log about his life (TheHomelessGuy.net). His goals for the &#8220;<i>blog</i>&#8221; were modest. Mainly, he wanted to show people a different side to homelessness. &#8230; The blog started as a whim. He&#8217;d heard about <i>blogging, the diarist-style writing that has swept the Web</i>, through friends. (emphasis mine) (Luo 2003, Mar. 17) A few weeks ago, Anya Peters was homeless and living in a car, &#8230;. Her contact with the outside world was through <i>an online diary</i>. But this <i>blog</i>, published under the name of Wandering Scribe, was picked up by readers around the world and has provided a remarkable way out of her homelessness. She has written her own <i>escape story</i>. The story of her homelessness and her previous life is going to be turned into a book, with a publishing deal signed and the hardback scheduled to reach the bookshops next Spring. (emphasis mine) (Coughlan 2006, May 31) [Gary] Trudeau draws a street person going to collect his e-mail at the public library, where addresses had been handed out free to the homeless. Looking for potential employers&#8217; responses to his job resume, he posts an address that puts the hype about the universal democracy built into the technoscientific information system into perspective: lunatic@street_level. (Haraway 1997: 6)

References

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