Date of Award

May 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

David Clark

Committee Members

Rachel Spilka, William Keith, Dennis Lynch, Ed Levitas


Actor Network Theory, Ambient Rhetoric, Composition/rhetoric, Creativity and Place, Innovation, Material Semiotics


There are unprecedented opportunities in professional and technical writing (PTW) and rhetoric research thanks to a contemporary expansion of rhetorical studies beyond the linguistic/symbolic and into the material, accounting for the rhetorical contributions of “nonhumans” (Latour Reassembling the Social). Material rhetoric frameworks such as Thomas Rickert’s ambient rhetoric and Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory, provide fertile grounds for PTW/rhetoric research that explores the diffusion of “rhetoric into material space” (Rickert xii) which has especially exciting implications for the study of place and how it embodies values and rhetorically shapes acting, thinking, and the entire spectrum of “human flourishing” (Rickert xii).

This renewed interest in the rhetoric of artifacts and how they unite to enact agency within material spaces correlates with an enduring PTW/rhetoric interest in the process that creates things: innovation. The rhetoric of innovation analyzes the complex communication process involved with generating, conveying, and transferring ideas into marketable technology products (Doheny-Farina; Akrich, Callon, and Latour).

This work, then, contributes to contemporary PTW/rhetoric research by applying commitments of rhetorical material-semiotics to innovation to understanding the context of innovation and the role of place in ideation. My underlying rhetorical interest within these spaces is the generation, communication, and dispersal of agency during ideation. I explore this process from three perspectives: how the designers of innovation spaces and workshop leverage material context to convey values of innovation; how the artifacts within innovation spaces enact agency upon facilitators and participants to shape their approaches to the innovation process; and how agency is symmetrically distributed across a network of human and nonhuman actants during real time ideation.

My project analyzes innovation workshops, brainstorming sessions, and strategic planning sessions, within eight material spaces designed to cultivate creativity through different material means. These spaces are diverse as are the sessions I observed, but, across all of them, I apply a mix of observation, interviews, and ambience descriptions in order to pursue the answers to my research questions and uncover insights about the dispersal of agency within innovation spaces.

My analysis of these spaces has numerous implications for PTW/Rhetoric scholars in its expansion of material rhetorics into space analysis; it also has implications PTW/Rhetoric teaching related to materially distribution of agency in the classroom space. Finally, it can help innovation practitioners such as interior designers, engineers, and industrial designers to rhetorically communicate their values of innovation and establish a culture of innovation in their companies through material-linguistic means.