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Making Future Matters: An Introduction

Rick Wysocki and Mary P. Sheridan


This collection and its authors both extend and challenge what matters in and to our scholarly work. Indeed, a key theme running throughout its chapters is the concept of mattering, of finding ways not only to understand but also to enact what matters to our discipline. An attention to these concerns was by design. As we began the process of co-editing this collection, we each serendipitously found ourselves engaging the new materialist feminism of Karen Barad who, arguing that “Language has been granted too much power” (132), writes:

Material conditions matter, not because they "support" or "sustain" or "mediate" particular discourses that are the actual generative factors in the formation of subjects, but because both discourses and matter come to matter through processes of materialization and the iterative enfolding of phenomena into apparatuses of bodily production. (244)

We were moved by Barad’s call to resist easy divisions between discourse and materiality. And we were inspired by the complex possibilities of mattering. Our words (or images, videos, design choices, and all communicative practices) matter, are matter, and contribute to the ongoing materialization of the world.

Attending to materializations and materializing means considering the ethics of how we direct our work relating to the types of interventions—or, to use Barad’s terms, “agential cuts”—that are enacted in and by that work. Media theorists Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska offer a way to do so. In Life After New Media, these authors take up Barad’s contributions to re-configure the concept of mediation, framing it not as a discrete phenomenon or event but rather as “all-encompassing and indivisible” (xv). Positing mediation as a “theory of life,” the authors examine the ethical nature of what and how we “cut” the focuses and practices of our work (xv). To the question “What does it mean to cut well?”, the authors respond:

a good cut is an ethical cut, whereby an in-cision is also a de-cision. Cutting well therefore means cutting (film, tape, reality) in a way that does not lose sight of the horizon of duration or foreclose on the creative possibility of life enabled by this horizon (82).

In other words, ethical cuts in knowledge-making are attentive to their decisive character, aware of themselves as materializations in and with the world, and are attentive to their dynamic and creative processes of mediation and becoming. This collection demonstrates various ways to make such cuts, and, in so doing, to suggest ethical ways our teaching and scholarship can come to matter.

Some of the authors assembled here explicitly advance new-materialist positions; some do not. Regardless, they all cut well. Drawing our attention to the ways that our work contributes to what Laurie Gries has referred to as consequentiality, where the “meaning of matter is constituted by the consequences that emerge with time and space via its relations with other entities” (Still Life with Rhetoric 4), these authors guide us toward possibilities within Rhetoric, Composition, and Writing Studies that foreground consequentiality, calling us to look beyond the horizon of discursive and text-based modes of knowledge-making and to bolster or even, at times, reckon with our own disciplinary, world-making practices. As these authors point out, while there is much to celebrate within and outside our scholarly worlds, work remains to be done.

Much of this work addresses our participation in the pressing concerns around us, even as we do so in various topics and through diverse methods. Two early essays focus overtly on how methodological frames materialize our research in ways that shape how we understand possible futures. Tapping new materialist feminist conceptions of disclosure, Mary P. Sheridan articulates how researchers make sense of—and, by extension, encourage—certain worlds. In particular, Sheridan calls for us as teacher-researchers to attend to the cuts we make, illustrating the consequences of this cutting in her ongoing research at the Digital Media Academy, a local summer camp for rising middle school girls from low-performing public schools. Assembling multiple locales into a national project, Laurie Gries explores how visual rhetoric scholars can contribute to efforts to track the recent surge of swastikas surfacing across the United States. To do this, Gries develops data activist tools that trace not only this recent spike in swastika reportings, but that also forward visual rhetoric methodology that explores the consequentiality of this work.

Other essays pull us back to the classroom, highlighting how these spaces are shot through with values that call for unpacking. Octavio Pimentel’s manifesto first highlights our field's lack of engagement with the histories that allow pervasive societal racism to continue and then suggests alternative forms of engagement. In particular, Pimentel calls on our field to listen, and to redress such damaging articulations in our current writing classrooms. Paul Prior draws our attention to the entanglements fostered by Common Core educational metrics that ignore the diverse pathways to learning and, in doing so, inaccurately posit theories of learning that can make certain people and practices illegible. Prior uses a lifespan case study to contrast two models of development to demonstrate how such models matter far beyond any individual educational metric.

The final three essays foreground a theme shared across the edited collection by calling our attention to the consequentiality—and, at times, dangerous consequences—of embodiment and identification. Melanie Yergeau explores how disciplinary articulations surrounding digital rhetoric often erase disability from our privileged rhizomatic canons. To expose and counter the ways such entanglements exclude histories, people, and practices, Yergeau offers neuroqueer rhetorics for invention. Reconfiguring what Barad might identify as the "conditions of possibility" emerging from her research into 1960s/1970s lesbian separatism, Jacqueline Rhodes engages in a "think-practice" about how to pursue the generative uncertainty of becoming—a move that helps Rhodes explore how to theorize differently so she can act differently as well. Such a move, Rhodes argues, highlights the need to re-think, to make new cuts, in our ethical entanglements with others. Finally, Steve Parks explores what apparatuses make "the truth" legible in his collaboration with Syrians for Truth and Justice. Examining what our field can learn from and offer to human rights activists employing transnational frameworks, Parks investigates the possibilities, and limits, of such expansive undertakings to effect change.

Individually and collectively, the keynote essays in this webtext explore the responsibilities and consequences we encourage when making knowledge with people and things in ways that materialize or occlude future matters. In doing so, these essays attend to how we can make our work come to matter.

The multiple respondents explore diverse ways these generative chapters can be taken up. Gesa E. Kirsch examines different through lines that shape what it takes to make our teaching and scholarship matter. Like the essays themselves, Kirsch balances the concerns and hopes for such ventures, all the while encouraging us to engage in the needed work that the keynote essays articulate. Layne Porta Gordon and Jaclyn Hilberg each illustrate that project as they pursue “ways to move forward” in activist scholarship. Gordon explores the methodological lenses we use when we partner with, research and understand community projects while Hilberg pairs keynote texts to explore the potential of using digital environments to materialize and re-examine systematic racism.

Patrick Danner and Rick Wysocki also examine the consequences of how we materialize our research. Danner focuses on political action, exploring the ways certain data visualizations create the conditions for differing “realities” and, therefore, different social policy; Wysocki focuses more locally, highlighting how the often invisible labor of digital composing and editing occludes the embodied materiality of such work.

Michelle Day and Caitlin Ray extend this attention to situated, embodied aspects of our material-discursive research practices. Highlighting the absent-presence of unmarked trauma (Day) and able-bodiedness (Ray) that run through the essays, each provides frames to help us (re)see the people and practices of our research.

Finally, Chris Scheidler and Keri Mathis call for new ways of imagining spaces and ourselves in certain spaces. Scheidler explores how a new materialist orientation can shape our thinking about space and future spaces, and Mathis reads across the keynote essays to forward an experimental, embodied understanding of curation that uses archival lenses to cut the essays in this collection in new ways.

These authors, and this webtext itself, seek to creatively re-think the boundaries and consequentialities of our scholarship, echoing Rosi Braidotti who, when describing her interventions into new materialist thought, commented that “feminist engagement with concepts need not be critical but can be inventive and creative. In other words, experimenting with thinking is what we all need to learn” (19). These authors enact and inspire new modes and practices of thinking, even as many of them deliver incisive (and necessary) critiques of our contemporary landscape in and outside the field. Further, the collection itself—as a digitally-mediated, circulate-able text—reflects an attention to how we might extend the reach of our mattering. Following Cheryl Ball’s argument that digital scholarship should move beyond telling and toward showing—that is, producing, creating, experimenting, and playing with and through digital media—Making Future Matters seeks to expand the bounds of our disciplinary work and our habituated ways of knowing and being toward under-explored materializations that matter. It is, to use the terms taken up by Jacqueline Rhodes, a “think-practice” that aims both to highlight the inseparability of being and knowing in the world and to differently materialize arguments with the hopes that such differences may come to matter. In this way, this collection can be read as enacting a series of cuts that (re)negotiate the boundaries of our work.