CCCC 2001 in Review: C.25 Taking Ethos to the Streets: The Collision of "Street Crud" and Cyberculture on the Digital Highway

Chair: Mike Pennell

Mike Pennell presented "Ethos in Cyberspace: Lessons from Fraternity Row."

How does ethos take shape on the web? Pennell echoes Aristotle's understanding of ethos as ideas that mediate the private and public and asserts that visual design contributes more to our understanding of a text's ethos that previously thought. Pennell uses Patricia Sullivan's "Practicing Safe Visual Rhetoric on the World Wide Web" because Sullivan makes the point that senses of uncertainty encourage "safe" visual rhetoric. Pennell suggests that social fraternities do not typically collect good images in media and cites local examples at Purdue. Pennell analyzes fraternity web pages as a "safe visual rhetoric" intended to spin a sense of the fraternity's ethos that is more positive. Safe design, in Pennell's point of view, eliminates movement, streaming video, animation, etc., and foregrounds what Pennell calls "safe information." The fraternity's web page becomes an interactive flyer with links that are informative (i.e., a link to a fraternity's values and what it means to be a value driven fraternity) rather than using complex video displays. Pennell thinks that the safe design may hint at the implication of a more wild lifestyle but notes that those hints are subtle and more traditionally designed. He stopped at the point that web design was an important way fraternities present their public and private ethos.

Meredith W. Zoetewey presented "Ethos in Cyberspace: Lessons from the Researcher's Fieldnotes."

The main challenge of cyber-research according to Zeotewey is access. Distinguishing between availability and ethos, Zoeteway focused on the idea that ethnographers' participant observer status are still bound by their offline identities and as researchers, they may be unaware of a discourse community's need for good will or resemblance to the group. Credibility is hindered, for example, in a graduate student's research into an online skinhead community because of the researcher's academic or scholarly voice. The ethos of the researcher not expressing emotion or preference shows good will toward their subjects but may inhibit discourse and access to research. Some researchers can't study their topics without changing their online voices and according to Zoeteway (who uses Susan Zickmund's "Approaching the Radical Other: the Discursive Culture of Cyberspace for support), that may violate the researcher's own ethos. Can an ethnographer study groups that do not reflect her ethos? Zoeteway wonders if the Internet provides ways for ethnographers to overcome ethos-based research conflicts. Is there a different sense of space that allows online ethnographers to do research without compromising their sense of ethos? Logging on or just lurking is insufficient to obtain what Zoeteway calls "true" participant-observer status. She wondered about the ethical constraints of ethos in cyberspace and set up good questions.

Julie Woodford presented "Ethos in Cyberspace: Lessons from the Lunatic Fringe"

Strategies for the creation of ethos analyzed on the web made Woodford think about translating Aristotle's sense of ethos into visual dimensions of the rhetoric of the web, but Aristotle didn't shift into cyberspace very well for Woodford. Safe visual rhetoric (using Sullivan's "Practicing Safe Visual Rhetoric on the World Wide Web") for Woodford means web design based on print. Woodford asserted that nothing is free of rhetoric and idealogical vacuums do not exist. Woodford echoed Sullivan's belief that visual rhetoric is under studied and focused on social reification (what ever that means…) to suggest that more analysis of good will and good character is needed to reconsider ethos and authority on the Internet. Safe design, Woodford cautioned, can be a way to offer fringe thinking more credibility. Classical rhetoric still works for Woodford, she concluded, when applied to design and analysis of web pages. Woodford concluded that she is still uncertain how to study this problem. [WH]

Go To: CCCC 2002 in Review Home