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Date Permissions Signed


Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type

Masters Thesis

Department or Program Affiliation


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Cushman, Jeremy

Second Advisor

Metzger, Mary Janell

Third Advisor

Loar, Christopher F.


The recent rise in new materialist thought brings with it the often employed and rarely defined term “attunement.” Attunement appears in texts as early as Donna Haraway’s Simians, Cyborgs, and Women (1991), and as recent as Rhetoric Society Quarterly’s forum with Bruno Latour (2017). In Lynda Walsh’s interview with Latour, for example, she states, “An inability to attune is a rhetorical failing.” Laurie Gries, in her response to the interview, picks up Walsh’s claim in order to emphasize the centrality of attunement for what I view as a set of emerging ethical and methodological perspectives called new materialist rhetoric. Walsh and Gries forward what seems to be an ethical maxim: “attune or fail.” Such a simple maxim cannot encompass the vast employment of attunement, but framing attunement as a maxim highlights the importance of attunement for the rhetor to respond ethically. In rhetorical scholarship, attunement surfaces alongside ethical claims with a specific concern about how a rhetor interacts with their material entanglement. As I argue in this project, attunement is an ongoing practice where one responds to their material entanglement, nudging and inventing further responses that hopefully produce harmonious resonances and productive consequences. Attunement as an ethical practice, then, is first of all rhetorical, insofar as it foregrounds relationality over prearranged individual/group action; it is a complicated and complicating ethical practice; and it also serves as a framework for the ways several influential philosophers, rhetoricians, and ethicists have wrestled with responsibility, intentionality, and positionality. To do so I demonstrate how attunement cuts through the pre-disclosed tasks of classical ethics, I explore how posthuman practice informs attunement, I investigate echoes of attuned ethics in historical texts, and finally, I conclude that attunement as an ethical practice surfaces the ways in which our own practices contribute to what comes to matter and to mean in the world.




attunement, new materialisms, entanglement, practice, positionality


Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subject – LCSH

Psycholinguistics; Rhetoric; Materialism




masters theses




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