October 26, 2012

Public Secrets and Miller's Situated Action

Sharon Daniel’s hypertext essay “Public Secrets” can be viewed as an example of what Carolyn Miller defines as a genre, that is, a “typified rhetorical action based in recurrent situations” (Miller 159). Allow me to unpack this definition before I proceed. A rhetorical action occurs as a response to an exigence, or social need that creates a social motive and gives purpose to the rhetor. A rhetorical situation is referred to as recurrent when it can be commonly defined and categorized (typified) based on its similarity to other situations. Miller refers to these social constructs of situations as social knowledge.

“Public Secrets” is a response to an exigence expressed by women in the Central California Women’s Facility, the largest women’s prison in the country. Their need was for the injustices they experience to reach the public eye, for the public secret—a secret that the public chooses to keep safe from itself—of a corrupt incarceration system to be exposed, and, ultimately, for justice. Such a need created a social motive for Daniel, and gave her the purpose, as rhetor, of her rhetorical action. This rhetorical action aimed to fulfill the needs of these women by allowing their voice to be heard.
This situation is recurrent because the incarceration system is not a singular, objectified entity, and rather a broad network of institutions operating within society that the public is well aware of (yet chooses to turn a blind eye to). The incarceration system can be categorized as a public institution, regulated by the law, and upheld by the judicial system. What is problematic in this categorization is that it lends itself to the conviction that because such an institution is reglated and upheld by the law and judicial system, it must be as efficient and justified as it can be. What the public may not be aware of, however, is the extent to which these institutions challenge the idea of justice and partake in corrupt practices involving manipulation of power.

Public Secrets, as a hypertext essay, is placed in a frame that creates a dichotomy between inside and outside, bare-life and human life. The frame draws the viewer’s attention to the issues at hand and allows the viewer to place themself in two positions simultaneously—that of the outside looking in and that of the insider looking out. The frame also contains an algorithmic arrangement, mathematically organized in a way that best communicates the intended message of the piece. 


Joel Bergholtz said...

You say this situation is recurrent because of the vast multitude of facilities, meaning it is constantly occurring across the nation. I would challenge your idea of recurring, and say you have perhaps taken it too literal. I could be wrong, but I believe when Miller says, “typified rhetorical action based in recurrent situations”, she is saying the typical rhetorical action- or response- to these recurring situations. So, the recurrent situation would have to be the women being in prison, and our typical rhetorical responses to this recurring situation is to say, "Well, these people are criminals, they need to be in prison." Along with the assumption that because it is a government facility they are taking full care of their occupants. This recurrent reaction we have to the situation keeps things how they are, it allows us to keep our "public secret". If we identify this recurring response we, the public, have fallen into by means of actually hearing these women's actual voices tell their stories, we can break the recurrent situation, the public secret, and the form we unknowingly have been participating in and realize the atrocities that are occurring.

michelle reyes said...

When you mentioned that the situation with the prison is recurrent you mentioned how the issues mentioned are streaming across all prison facilities. I did not think of it in those context, but I am glad you did it adds on to the recurrent situation more and more. Your conclusion was also very enticing to me. Actually I really appreciated how you began with breaking down the terms in the beginning and then related them to the essay. It made it really easy to link what parts of the essay you derived at these conclusions. But again back to the fram work. I think the essay did a really good job of letting us as readers put our self in the position of the imprisoned and at the same time we have the out sider view. it really calls upon attention to the problems with the help of that arrangement or narrative.

Katie Latchford said...

I think she is correct in saying that imprisonment is a recurring situation-- after all, it takes the repetition of something to create a rhetorical situation, and many women have been imprisoned. There is a difference between a rhetorical action and response, because the action causes the response. For example, the action is doing something illegal that warrants a prison sentence. The response is imprisonment. Or, many women are getting imprisoned, and the response is the multitude of opinions on the public prison system. One view is that of the system, to keep things the way they are. Another view is that of the prisoners, which is what Daniel is exposing as their response to being in prison. In Miller's essay, she states that there are problems when there is confusion between situations and responses. According to Burke, and in ages of “marked instability,” patterns aren’t widely shared and motivation can be “liquid” where a situation can be familiar to someone but not someone else, and this is where genre can be problematic (158). This, I think, is where Daniel is working from because the response to women in prison is problematic, and the voices of those in prison must be exposed to grasp a concept of their points of view to the response of federal action for their crimes.

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