Rhetoric’s materialist traditions and the shifting terrain of economic agency
Soon after David Ricardo institutionalized Adam Smith’s theory of economic equilibrium between supply and demand, Karl Marx asserted that there was ‘no greater error’. Marx offered a materialist counter-assertion that used the lived experience of workers for its scientific grounds. In doing so, he initiated a materialist tradition, reproduced by rhetoricians such as Dana Cloud and James Aune, that locates agency within workers and those who advocate on their behalf. Offering ‘another materialism’, Ron Greene borrowed from Foucault to proliferate the relationships between discourse and power. Agency, from this point of view, takes the form of biopolitical labor that circulates throughout the entirety of life. Further problematizing such relationships, new materialism—positioned in the philosophical openings of the biological and physical sciences highlighted by such thinkers as Donna Haraway, Karen Barad, and Jane Bennett—transferred agency to spontaneous assemblages. My chapter surveys these materialist traditions and their evolving sense of agency as a springboard to my own position. Specifically, I will argue for a layered materialist conception that views the entangled bodies and cyborg assemblages of new materialism as the rhetorical content for an anti-capitalist agency that abandons neither the racial, gender, and sexual divisions grafted onto that materiality nor the particularities of the economic milieu in which they unfold and operate.