Thursday, February 23, 2006

Social movement, of a kind

This morning I was thinking about the rhetoric of social movements and how a text like Negotiating Difference tends to reinforce argument hope--the belief that argument is the only way that change happens (as a certain person last weekend asserted). And so I was thinking how a paper might be written that would argue for a more affective approach to the study of social movements, one that would understand what Grossberg calls "affective epidemics," one that wouldn't procede from an understanding of emotion (on the one, best-case scenario, hand) as some sort of add-on means of persuasion or (on the other, worst-case scenario, hand) as the means to manipulate a naive public in a degenerative public sphere.

And I was casting about in my mind for a recent example that might serve to show that what matters in getting change to happen is not so much the specific case that's made, but the possibility of affective overload. One example that occurred to me was Oprah's successful campaign to pass legislation to prevent the trafficking of children. What mattered in that case was, first, an affective engagement made possible by Oprah and her guests, and, second, a material overload of letters that swamped congressional letterboxes. It wasn't the "logic" of the guests or the good arguments put forth in the letters: it was the physical mass of all those messages.

And then I take a look at the blogosphere and see that Michael Bérubé is succeeding quite nicely in subverting the vote for the most dangerous professor: his readers are voting for him multiple times and have pushed him way ahead of the other 100 contenders.

It's a joke, but jokes have effects, too. And it's somewhat astounding to see the effects Bérubé's readers have had, practically overnight.

Not that you needed more evidence of the amazing social force of the internet. But there it is, all the same.


Marcia said...

Wow. Yes! I have nothing to add at the moment to your post, but I want to think about this more.

Nels said...

I'm teaching Rhetorics of Gender Activism right now, and you are onto something. I'm not sure what, but my head is swimming.

Donna said...

Hey, Nels: I'd love to hear more about your class. Does it have a website?