Overview Sentence: Circulation is the means, modes, and movements through which information is shared with others. Circulation encourages the remix and reuse of information by readers as part of a digital economy of circulation. Keywords: Circulation, means, modes, movements, medium, delivery, rhetorical velocity, bots, algorithms, distribution, remix,recycle, cultures of circulation, multidimensional, economy of circulation
Historical Roots The technologies with which we work and communicate are evolving rapidly and challenge scholars of Rhetoric to reinterpret long-established rhetorical canons from a new perspective. The term “circulation” is one example of an existing rhetorical term whose definition must be reassessed in our digital age. Simply put, circulation describes the means,modes,and movements through which information is shared with others.
Historically, circulation has been considered an afterthought of Rhetoric, which values deliveryas one of the most important canons; however, in our internet-driven world, circulation takes on a new life and can no longer be considered a secondary factor when composing text. Across the expansive terrain of the World Wide Web, circulation decides what, when, and how content is shared or used. Other factors affect circulation as well, such as medium (e.g., webpage, PDF, etc.), rhetorical velocity, and bots or algorithms. From a contemporary viewpoint, circulation refers to both the methods and means used to share knowledge and the potentiality for that material to be distributed, repurposed, or remixed.
Theoretical Grounding James Porter defines circulation as “the potential for [your work] to have a document life of its own and be re-distributed without your direct intervention” (214). However, it is important to distinguish circulation from delivery as the two are related but individual concepts. Porter explains, “Digital distribution refers to rhetorical decisions about the mode of presenting discourse in online situations…Circulation is a related term that pertains to how that message might be recycled in digital space” (214). In sum, delivery focuses on the choices writers make about how to share their work while circulation refers to the movement or life that document can take on after the delivery stage.
Circulation, then, means that whatever you have written can and may be dispersed, repurposed, and/or reproduced. In theory, every document or text that is created for public consumption is subject to circulation, and the unifying and limitless nature of the internet allows for circulation to happen at inconceivable speeds. Moreover, the act of circulation grows more complex as we analyze how and where it occurs.
Application/Praxis Establishing where and how circulation happens, authors Benjamin Lee and Edward LiPuma coined the term “cultures of circulation,” which complicates the simple definition. They explain, “recent work indicates that circulation is a cultural process with its own forms of abstraction, evaluation, and constraint, which are created by the interactions between specific types of circulating forms and the interpretive communities built around them” (192). In other words, circulation is not just an act through which information is distributed; it also dependent on an ecology where members exchange and interpret information through a variety of forms (i.e., mediums). Lee and LiPuma ground circulation as a multidimensional process affected by culture and interpreted within a particular community.
The form or medium of a text can influence its potential for circulation within culture. For example, Doug Eyman’s book Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice is available both in print and online. The print version is limited by its mode because one would need to have physical access to the book to see the information within, and circulation of the book exists only through its tangible copies. On the other hand, the online version exists ubiquitously through the internet and can be accessed by anyone with internet access, from anywhere, and at anytime. As a result, it is substantially easier to circulate the online copy of his book because the movement occurs intangibly and can be sent and/or received within seconds. Additionally, the online version of Eyman’s book exists in HTML format, which provides further options for sharing, repurposing, or reinterpreting. When reading the book online, readers can interact with one another through comments sections and annotations. Eyman’s choice of publishing his book through this medium (HTML) allows more readers to access the information inside, facilitating dialogue between his readers in the notes/annotation center. Likewise, in his book, Eyman writes, “Circulation makes the rhetorical object available for appropriation, thus increasing the use value.”
Additionally, by publishing the book through an online medium, Eyman is participating in what he explains is an “economy of circulation.” Eyman cites Porter in his explanation of the economy of circulation and quotes, “If the basis of a digital economy concerns (a) the development of ‘information’—and not just information as a static product, but more important the transformation of information into useful knowledge; and (b) if the digital economy concerns the delivery and circulation of information via social networks in ways that create value for users, then writing teachers, communication scholars, and rhetoric theorists certainly have a lot to offer this discussion.” Hence, the fact that his book is easily accessible for digital circulation means that its value increases the more it is read, used, and/or interpreted. This type of digital economy fosters an online discourse community where members work together to transform the information.
Implications and Predictions Circulation of a document can be a calculated move. While one can publish information through a medium that encourages circulation, it is not always easy to predict whether that knowledge will be circulated. Authors Jim Ridolfo and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss explain how to use circulation more effectively, elaborating, “The term rhetorical velocity… means a conscious rhetorical concern for distance, travel, speed, and time, pertaining specifically to theorizing instances of strategic appropriation by a third party.” Ideally, to encourage circulation, authors should ask themselves how they anticipate that others will share or rewrite their information and produce their work through means that enable and encourage these acts of circulation.
Understanding circulation is important in order to recognize those instances when it is being influenced not only by humans but also by nonhumans—namely through the use of bots and algorithms. To explain, we know that computers can be programmed to complete an infinite number of tasks, and bots or algorithms are programs specifically meant to “aid” circulation in place of an actual person; yet, the reality is that these bots/algorithms can either be programmed with dubious intent or may unintentionally evolve gaining negative attributes. Take, for example, Timothy Laquintano and Annette Vee’s article, “How Automated Writing Systems Affect the Circulation of Political Information Online.” They write, “we examine the shift from human editorial processes to algorithmic ones and the operations of bots in social network ecosystems, two critical phenomena in the circulation of fake news online. We argue that knowing the robots are with us is critical for understanding writing and reading in our current landscape.” The use of these bots had a profound impact on the circulation of fake news and specifically came into focus around the time of the 2016 United States presidential election. Laquintano and Vee explain that realizing these bots are a part of our online ecology helps us realize their power and how to interact with them.
In sum, while former methods of circulation were limited by tangibility, current forms of circulation are evolving all around us and require scholars to analyze their value and usage to better inform our discipline, studies, and classrooms. Circulation, like many other terms in the rhetorical canon, needs a metaphorical dusting off, a polishing to reveal new meaning in the digital age.
Eyman, Douglas. Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice. University of Michigan Press, 2018, dx.doi.org/10.3998/dh.13030181.0001.001.Accessed 21 Mar. 2018.
Laquintano, Timothy, & Annette Vee. "How Automated Writing Systems Affect the Circulation of Political Information Online." Literacy in Composition Studies [Online], vol. 5, no. 2, 2017, 43-62. Accessed 21 Mar. 2018.
Lee, Benjamin “Cultures of Circulation: The Imaginations of Modernity.” Public Culture, vol. 14, no. 1, 2002, pp. 191–213., doi:10.1215/08992363-14-1-191.Accessed 21 Mar. 2018.
Porter, James E. “Recovering Delivery for Digital Rhetoric.” Computers and Composition, vol. 26, no. 4, 2009, pp. 207–224, doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2009.09.004.Accessed 21 Mar. 2018. Ridolfo, Jim and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss. "Composing for Recomposition: Rhetorical Velocity and Delivery." Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, vol. 13, no. 2, 2009. EBSCOhost. Accessed 21 Mar. 2018.