Making Matters book cover

Making Matters: Craft, Ethics, and New Materialist Rhetorics by Leigh Gruwell (2022), Utah State University Press. Reviewed by Ashley M. Beardsley

Food for Thought: Brunch and a Book Review

I have been posting food pics and the occasional selfie on Instagram since 2012. In my first food post, I shared an image to show off that I learned how to poach eggs (Beardsley, 2012). The post received zero likes, but I remember being impressed that I did it. It didn't bother me that there was no engagement, and I continued creating media traces of what I ate and where I traveled, but more importantly, I used Instagram to chronicle learning how to cook and follow other cooks—both professional and self-taught—to learn how to live with dietary restrictions. Although not overtly political, I added hashtags to share and communicate "significant social experiences" (Leaver & Highfield, 2018, p. 43) linked to my attempts to make allergy-aware food.

But what do food and Instagram have to do with this book review? Leigh Gruwell's (2022) Making Matters: Craft, Ethics, and New Materialist Rhetorics reinforces that craft and new materialism are not restricted to physical or digital entities. Instead, they are fluid and move between in-person and online spaces to establish intraconnections and bring awareness to ethical obligations and political commitments. Gruwell calls this "craft agency," and implementing it impacts how teachers, administrators, and scholars utilize new materialism and feminism.

Like Gruwell, I view craft as a material, process-oriented practice that moves between physical and digital environments, intricately involved in making and remaking the world (pp. 31–32). I approached Making Matters as a scholar interested in food rhetorics and craft. In discussing food rhetorics, I draw on scholarship that argues that food defines culture and identity and the prioritization that the so-called "domestic arts" (like cooking and knitting) place on collaboration and sharing (Frye & Bruner, 2012; Julier, 2013; Kish & Contois, 2022; Presswood, 2020).

Although food is not a craft Gruwell mentioned, craft agency directly applies. In Chapter 1, Gruwell states, "What we need, then, is to embrace new materialism's interest in the material but to do so in a way that also sees the material as always and inevitably political" (p. 29). Research on foodways—food's social, political, and cultural qualities—is a way to do this work. The "material," in this case food, is always and inevitably political. Even if you are unaware, there are politics behind who made your food, where it came from, and so forth. I offer this connection to food rhetorics throughout this book review because Making Matters incorporates craft into new materialism in a way that can and should be applied to study rhetorical artifacts in general. Gruwell tasks us to use craft to pay more attention to ethics and power, and I encourage readers to embrace this call to action to create a critical awareness of our work as a field.

Conclusion and Audience

Ultimately, Making Matters provides an approach to new materialism that critically recognizes power dynamics between human, nonhuman, digital, and material intra-actions, connecting scholarship from new materialist rhetoric, feminist rhetoric, and craft. Notably, the book's strength is Gruwell's contribution of the term "craft agency," "the material intra-actions from which rhetorical agency emerges and posits that agents' ethical obligations and political commitments lie in the entanglements formed with other agents" (p. 35). Craft agency enhances new materialist rhetoric (Chapter 1) and draws attention to human and nonhuman materiality and power (Chapter 2) while recognizing the shortcomings associated with craftivism (Chapter 3), digital platforms (Chapter 4), and in-person activism (Chapter 5).

Across chapters, Gruwell weaves scholarship together, introducing readers to new materialism while highlighting craft agency's nuances. Thus, graduate students and those looking to learn about new materialism for the first time are a primary audience. Chapters 1 and 2 provide robust overviews of new materialism, feminist rhetoric, and craft that establish a foundational understanding for new and early career scholars.

Additionally, Making Matters offers readers ways to reinvigorate their teaching, administrative, and scholarly approaches. Chapter 6 is geared toward showing administrators how to apply craft agency to create more equitable power dynamics, so WPAs might find this chapter the most applicable. Overall, Gruwell provides starting points that show how craft can inform writing studies, making the book useful to the field.

Navigating This Webtext

Throughout this webtext, I provide chapter summaries alongside my application of craft agency as a teacher/administrator/scholar because a book review about craft networks should be written with the author showing how they build intraconnections in physical and digital spaces. The Application page explains how I implement craft agency as a tenure-track faculty and writing center director.

This review's design is loosely modeled after Ravelry, Gruwell's case study for Chapter 4. I took inspiration from the website's pattern pages which feature images of the finished crafts. The webtext can be navigated using the dropdown menu in the navigation bar at the top of the page, or readers can choose which chapter to start with after reading the brief statements below the images.