#Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes

The previous section is just a glimpse at the link between Speech Pathology and social media. We will revisit this, but first let’s look at how social media acts as a communicative channel, and theories behind this. In doing so, we can better understand how pragmatics is shaped in this medium.

Since the first blogs of 1994 (Gardner, 2010) and the spread and increased use of the internet, we have become connected to others on a global scale. Social media sites have become a genre of what boyd, 2011, describes as ‘networked publics’. Publics are “a collection of people with common understanding of the world, a shared identity, a claim to inclusiveness, a consensus regarding collective interest” (Livingstone, 2005).

Theories Behind Publics

Before delving into the notion of ‘networked publics’ it is important to recognize the functions of publics. Similar to Halliday’s functions of language, boyd describes three domains of the functions of publics – civic, cultural and social.

For political theorists, such as Jurgen Habermas focus is on the civic functioning of publics, and the potential accessibility of spaces and information to ‘the public’, and the creation of a shared “public sphere”(boyd, 2011; Habermas, 1991). These theorists dispute the cultural significance and validity of depoliticised publics that focus on cultural utilisation. This is not the view of all political theorists. Craig Calhoun, 1992, argues that Habermas’ view is ‘naïve’, in believing identities and interests are established within the “private world and then brought fully formed into the public sphere” (boyd, 2011; Calhoun, 1992). Feminist Nancy Fraser also disagrees, stating that “publics are a site for discourse, opinions and are arenas for the formation and enactment of social identities” (Nancy Fraser, 2004).

Alternatively, cultural perspectives see ‘publics’ as being comparable to ‘audiences’, in that it is a “group bonded by a shared text, whether it be a worldview or a performance” (Livingstone, 2005). Michel de Certeau, 2002, suggests that the “consumption and production of cultural objects are intimately connected”; in which Henry Jenkins, 2006, furthers attributes this notion to the creation and broadcasting of media. ‘Publics’ within the cultural perspective also allows for creation, distribution and engagement of shared culture and knowledge through social dialogue and exchange, as well as through responses through media (boyd, 2011; Ito, 2008).

What is a networked public?

“Networked Publics are publics that are restructured by networked technologies. As such they are simultaneously (1) the space constructed through networked technologies and 2) the imagine collective that emerges as a result of the intersection of people, technology and practice.” boyd, 2011, p. 39.


The ‘networked publics’ created by social media have the same functions as other publics (face-to-face, groups, one-on-one) however; there are distinct affordances that shapes how people engage in the online environment due to way that it is structured by technology (boyd, 2011).

Habermas’ objection to the cultural perspective of ‘publics’ is not due to the differences in language use for interaction, but rather the notion that the media popularizes the wrong kind of content. This can also be applied to networked media, as what is usually popular, or “trending”, is usually funny, mean, embarrassing or bizarre (boyd, 2011). In this, what is popular on social media is not always what the individual wants, but rather what the collective audience chooses.

It is this idea of the audience choosing that brings us to the ‘relevance theory’.

The relevance theory suggests an utterance is no more than a ‘schematic indication” of a speaker’s intended meaning and that the relevance of an utterance is determined by its cognitive effects (Wilson & Sperber, 2012; Scott, 2015). The greater the cognitive effect, the greater the relevance; but also the smaller the processing effort required to derive these effects, the greater the relevance. The two interact simultaneously as a ratio (White, 2011; Sperber & Wilson, 1996; Goatly, 1997). This applies to both face-to-face communication, as well as communication on social media.

These theories conclude that technology structures interaction, and consequentially pragmatics, on cultural social levels. Networked technologies reorganize how information flows and how people interact with information and each other (boyd, 2011, p.41). For example, a tweeter is likely to be communicating with an ‘invisible’ audience, in a collapsed context. This shapes the utterance, not only in social terms, but also in terms of how the tweeter ensures their message is understood (boyd, 2011; Scott, 2015).

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