Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Gerard A. Hauser

Second Advisor

Peter Simonson

Third Advisor

John P. Jackson

Fourth Advisor

Jens Kjeldsen

Fifth Advisor

Lori Emerson

Abstract

We live in a time when varieties of aesthetic mediation saturate our everyday lives. Personal expressions of taste, too, are nearly ubiquitous. In the digital realm in particular, these things are pervasive: people streaming music and movies, sharing photos over social media, posting links to their favorite fashions or designs, writing reviews of books. Tinker with some buttons and now even amateurs can perform sophisticated edits of photography, record music in their bedroom, produce their own movies. How common it now is for someone to “like” something or “pin” it, to “share” or “rate” it, to “comment” or “review” it. The evidence is clear: our ventures into public life today are colored by unprecedented opportunities for ordinary people to express themselves creatively and to weigh-in about their aesthetic tastes. This realm—where the production of aesthetic cultural goods converges with public discourse about the tastes and ideas that these goods implicate—is the realm of the cultural public sphere, and it is the subject of this dissertation.

The rhetorical tradition dating to antiquity shows that discourse plays a central role in democracy, particularly as citizens come together as publics to discuss matters of shared consequence. All public spheres are rhetorically constituted. Yet, rhetoric always takes place within an ambient ecology of affects, located in bodies and transmitted socially. Affectability is what makes rhetoric and its capacity for salience possible. This study attempts to envision the cultural public sphere, and the rhetorical sociality by which it is constituted, as composed of affective and communicative ecologies alike. Attending to affect poses a special challenge for rhetoricians because it requires moving away from the comfort zone of symbolic registers and toward something far harder to trace. One goal of this project is to recover for rhetoric studies the importance of affect by exploring the ways aesthetic mediation can inspire—and function as—vital modes of public participation in our digital world.

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