Pervasive citizenship through #SenseCommons

Boyle, C. (2016). Pervasive citizenship through #SenseCommons. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 46.3: 269-283.

Boyle surveys the role of information systems and how they can inform rhetoric as a sort of systems theory. The author uses a rhetorical-theoretical approach—one of theory-building—to present a new take on citizen engagement in the context of smart cities and connected citizens. As such, the article is not presented in the form of a traditional research study. Instead, it attempts to describe how deliberative democracy is being replaced by the #SenseCommons, a rhetorical concept to describe how cities—and avenues for public participation—are being transformed with technologies (sensors, wearable devices, and systems) that rely on user-generated content.

According to Boyle, #SenseCommons is a “reference for pervasive information spaces that use big data analytics to combine unlikely partners of civic and commerce, public and private” (pg. 278). Traditional rhetorical appeals become messy in a #SenseCommons. Instead, “continuous rhetorical tactics” leverage human subjects, multiple human subjects, and the human as object whose body, mobile device, and movements contribute to a system of sorts in the #SenseCommons (pg. 278). Boyle’s piece is especially important for my project because it describes the work of citizens in a networked world. According to Boyle, “Instead of the common sense of rational citizens arriving at conclusions through deliberative debates, sensor and networked technology are shaping the conditions through which we sense a commons” (pg. 282). While the article is useful, it also does not truly account for the ways that citizens engage in a deliberative democracy. Citizens may well sense a commons through the material conditions of mobile technologies and networks, but they are still engaging in deliberation every day—either in physical spaces, orally with friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, and engaging in public discussions on social media, article comments, and online forums. The #SenseCommons, if anything, is augmenting those democratic practices while also adding an element of state surveillance.