Rethinking audiences in writing online

I’m planning to begin researching the way a teenage blogger conceptualizes her audience when writing online. This study necessitates some thinking about the concepts of authorship and audience in blogging.

I argue that the blog fosters a unique relationship between author and audience mainly as a result of the way that the blog structures communication. The kinds of communicative structures blogging platforms support include asynchronous communication by way of comment boxes and response to blog posts by other bloggers via interlinked blogs (in other words, the possiblity for interaction by potentially vociferous audiences), the ability of the Internet to allow for wider, possibly global dissemination of texts to invisible, anonymous, and heterogeneous audiences and at the same time a combination of known, offline audiences as well. None of these characteristics are new, but in the kind of combination made possible by the blog, they are unique to this platform (Fornas, et al. 2002; McMillan, 2002).

Although blogging as a part of so-called “Web 2.0” applications is thought of as an artifact of “participatory culture” as defined by Jenkins (1994, 2006), audiences have been thought of as participatory before blogging or Web 2.0 audiences. Levine (1991) reminds us that audiences in the 19th century and Elizabethan theater can be characterized as “…more than an audience; they are participants who can enter into the action on the field, who feel a sense of immediacy and at times even of control, who articulate their opinions and feelings vocally and unmistakably” (p. 167). These audiences could structure the course of a performance through their vocal feedback delivered as a performance unraveled.

Furthermore, while some have argued that later audiences for television were passive and less subjective consumers of mass culture (Chomsky), other theorists have disputed this notion (Foucault, 1980, holding that the discourse dissipates the power) and research has been done about the participatory nature of even television viewing (Hall, 1974, Morely, 1980; Ang, 1991).

In this case, I hold audience to be of two parts. For a blog, there is both a real audience which are those who actually read the blog (these readers might be known to the author online or offline or unknown “lurkers”) and an audience which exists in the mind of the blogger.

Ang’s analysis relying on Foucault’s notion of discourse to examine audience is useful to me in my attempt to describe how authors are conceptualizing their audience, this audience that exists within their heads. Ang argues that television producers view their audiences as somewhat homogenous and able to be classified and controlled through the use of particular discourses which position them as consumers in order to sell them products and services. However, the audiences constructed by these discourses do not exist organically and the real audiences for television programs end up a mismatch which are more agentic than the television producers attempt to make them.

Like Ang, I believe that blog authors construct a certain picture of the audience that they envision in their head through the discourse they use in their blog text. By uncovering the discourses of the audience developed by the blogger, I think we can know more about how the blogger conceptualizes her audience.

However, because blog audiences are not only discursively constructed but also exist in the “real world”, I will examine the blog comments and interview bloggers about evidence they have of “actual” audiences for their blog.

In addition to the theoretical basis hitherto described, this approach is also based on work by Ede and Lunsford (1984) wherein they challenged the previous dichotomous approaches to audience, audience addressed and audience invoked. Those in the audience addressed camp believed that tailoring writing to a specific audience is not just a real possibility but also the key to strong, successful rhetoric. Those who believe in the audience invoked, on the other hand, see audience as a “constructed fiction” (Ong). Ede and Lunsford argue that neither of these approaches is the reality of the rhetorical situation when it comes to audience. In the case of a blogger’s sense of who their audience is, I would agree with Ede and Lunsford that audience should be viewed as both real and concrete as well as existing within the mind of the writer.

What am I overlooking in my theoretical framework? I would appreciate any feedback.


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