Going Public in an Age of Digital Anxiety: How Students Negotiate the Topoi of Online Writing Environments

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 1-1-2019


Though composition studies has long sought to leverage new technologies of literacy to help students go public, we remain anxious about our ability to do so, as students commonly enter our classrooms already composing for diverse public audiences in a variety of digital contexts. Yet students, too, are often anxious about these new modes of composition, which circulate in a destabilized rhetorical environment where traditional understandings of authority, argument, and audience no longer hold. This article identifies five topoi of this new rhetorical landscape—presence, persistence, permeability, promiscuity, and power—describing the anxieties and affordances they present for student writers, the dispositions toward writing they foster, and the challenges and opportunities they pose for composition. This framework provides a critical vocabulary for compositionists seeking to help students negotiate emerging networked publics.