Making Matters Review

Erika Gifford, The University of Findlay

Agents, Agency and Assemblages

The book opens with a powerful analogy to ease the reader into Gruwell’s idea of the way that rhetoric interacts with the material. She discusses the way that Ada Lovelace built the first computer by looking to weaving machines and the cards weavers used to make the patterns in the cloth. Within Chapter One “Craft agency: An ethics for new materialist rhetorics,” Gruwell defines this idea as agency which: “is emergent, arising from entanglements between agents, human and otherwise” (p. 17). In other words, she says agency evolves as the human influences the weaving, and the weaving influences the human.

Gruwell ties this definition back to the way that material actors influence our own writing. This creates her idea of assemblage which: “highlights the dynamic agential groupings from which agency emerges” (p. 17-18). Meaning that assemblages of human and material agents give rise to agency. In other words, looking at these two ideas together, we can see how agency includes material objects, which are then included in assemblages. From this comparison, she makes the case for a stronger sense of citation ethics since there are more influences to our writing that need to be included in the assemblage: “From this perspective, citation is a matter of constructing assemblages. Constructing those assemblages ethically, according to decolonial and Indigenous scholars, means looking both within and beyond the academy to highlight and build textual and material relationships with epistemic partners and forebearers” (p. 25). While citation doesn’t end up being the main thrust of her argument, it helps highlight the importance she places on material actors and some of the ethical issues surrounding them.

Throughout the rest of the text, I kept coming back to the analogy of Ada Lovelace to help illustrate the way the author sees material actors influencing our compositions. Using the idea of a material weaving machine influencing the creation of the first computer, we can see how this material object gave rise to agency when put into context with other material and non-material actors, and how any discussion of the computer would be unethical without proper citation of the influence of the weaving machine.