Defense Date


Graduation Date

Summer 2006


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Communication and Rhetorical Studies


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Calvin L. Troup

Committee Member

Kathleen Glenister Roberts

Committee Member

Richard H. Thames


deliberative democracy, public discourse, public sphere, publics


This project considers the ways in which ordinary citizens engage in public discourse. This work is guided by what Michael Schudson calls the triumph of democratic sensibilities--the expectation that everybody owns public life. A politically active citizenry is, therefore, vital to a healthy democracy. Further, this inquiry assumes a rhetorical view of civic engagement, arguing that participation in a democracy is more than merely casting one's vote. Consequently, it is essential to identify and evaluate the vehicles by which individual citizens can take part in discursive civic life.

The challenge to healthy public spheres of discourse in contemporary American society lies in large part with the domination of public discussion by professional communicators, thereby relegating everyday citizens to the private sphere and creating a communicative disconnect between citizens and their government. Yet, while the cacophony of professional communicators has muffled the sound of vernacular voices, it would be a mistake to assume that conversations of everyday citizens are not taking place. Vernacular voices are simply operating under the radar.

The media domination and professionalization of public discourse has caused everyday citizens to seek out non-traditional venues to discuss matters of public importance. The Internet appears to be one such venue. Through an investigation of politically-focused interactive discussion forums, this project seeks to explore the Internet as a venue for vernacular voices to more fully participate in public spheres of discourse and, thereby, more fully engage in the democratic process.