From prompts to share, update, and retweet, social media platforms increasingly insist that creating widespread circulation is the operative goal for networked writing. In response, researchers from multiple disciplines have investigated digital circulation through a number of lenses (e.g., affect theory, transnational feminism, political economy, public sphere theory, and more). In rhetoric and writing studies, scholars have argued that writing for circulation—i.e., envisioning how one’s writing may gain speed, distance, and momentum—should be a prime concern for teachers and researchers of writing (e.g., Gries, 2015; Ridolfo & DeVoss, 2009; Porter, 2009; Sheridan, Ridolfo, & Michel, 2012). Such work has suggested that circulation is a consequence of rhetorical delivery and, as such, is distinctly about futurity. While a focus on writing for circulation has been productive, I argue that that writing in circulation can be equally productive. Challenging the tendency to position circulation as an exclusive concern for delivery, this project argues that circulation is not just as an end goal for rhetorical activity but also as a viable inventional resource for writers with diverse rhetorical goals.
To make this case, I construct a methodology of assemblage to retell stories of tactical rhetorics. Grounded in the cultural notion of metis (an adaptable, embodied, and wily intelligence), the framework of tactical rhetorics seeks to describe embodied practices that pull materials out of circulation, reconfigure them, and redeploy them for new, often political effects. Blending historical inquiry with case-based methods, I assemble an array of stories that include practices of critical imitation, collage, tactical media, remix, digital hijacks, and protest bots. In retelling these stories, I show how tactical approaches are inventive in their attempts to solve problems, effect change, or call out injustice.
In the process, my project pushes toward a critical circulation studies, where scholars investigate how circulation gatekeepers (e.g., YouTube’s Content ID) influence the flows of discourse in networked publics. My project closes by articulating directions for future circulation studies research and pedagogy, including calls to pay attention to ecological understandings of writing, as well as to infrastructures of circulation and ethics of (re)circulation.