Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Carl Herndl, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Marc C. Santos, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Meredith Johnson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Thomas Rickert, Ph.D.


agency, Bruno Latour, digital rhetoric, new materialism, Reddit, Twitter


Agency is a foundational and ongoing concern for the field of Rhetoric and Composition. Long thought to be a product and possession of human action, rhetorical agency represents the most obvious connection between the educational and theoretical work of the field and the civic project of liberal arts and humanities education. Existing theories of anthropocentric rhetorical agency are insufficient, however, to account for the complex technological work of digitally enmeshed networks of humans and nonhumans. To better account for these complex networks, this project argues for the introduction of new materialist theories of distributed agency into conversations about agency within Rhetoric. Such theories eschew the distinction between rhetorical and material agency and instead offer a way of accounting for action and change that makes room for rhetorical and material interventions as well as human and nonhuman participants. I take as my site the social media aftermath of the 2013 bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The digital networks of human users and nonhuman spaces (especially Twitter and Reddit) produced specific tangible effects: #BostonHelp helped stranded runners and tourists find food, shelter, and ways of communicating with family and friends, and Reddit’s /r/findbostonbombers forum enabled and fueled hurtful speculation about an innocent missing student. The strength, impact, and endurance of these networks leads me to three important conclusions: rhetorical/material agency must be distributed across a network of human and nonhuman participants; human intention no longer functions as an appropriate measure of the success or failure of rhetorical/material agency; and responsibility – like agency – must be distributed across networks’ human and nonhuman members.