In “The Body: An Abstract and Actual Rhetorical Concept”, Karma Chavez critically examines how rhetoric historically privileges certain abstract bodies, i.e. white, cisgender, able-bodied, heterosexual males, while invisibilising actual ones based on gender, race, ability, and sexual orientation. By introducing the concept of the “textual stare”,[1] Chavez provides a lens through which the rhetorical field metaphorically stares at bodies that diverge from the normative standards, laying them subject to “unusual scrutiny”.[2] I intend to argue that Chavez’s urging the field to acknowledge and address its biases, to expand its scope to include a wider range of bodies and experiences, and to critically engage with the material realities that inform rhetorical practices can be effectively addressed through the prism of posthuman rhetoric. It explores how identities, subjectivities, consciousness, and experiences are shaped by and through bodies that are increasingly intermingled with technology, digital environments, and other nonhuman aspects since the body is “a site of exponential material meaning”, the borders of which “always vulnerable to rupture and renegotiation”.[3]

Although Sharon Crowley laments that the “liberal-humanist model of the speaking subject”[4] has prevailed in the rhetoric and composition landscape, and Jay Dolmage complains that “we have not acknowledged that we have a body”[5] in the field, there has been an increased focus on the soma in rhetorical studies, which is in no small measure indebted to posthumanist reorientations. This has led to the emergence of a number of works on bodily rhetoric by scholars such as Debra Hawhee, Casey Boyle, Anne Frances Wysocki, to name but a few. Most recently, Knoblauch and Moeller’s edited collection Embodied Rhetorics reminds us that “there are no disembodied rhetorical projects, only our own failures to recognise and/or acknowledge the impacts of bodies on our epistemologies.”[6]

In a posthuman age, where the boundaries between the digital and the corporeal seem to increasingly blur into a seamless continuum, bodily rhetoric has undergone a profound transformation. No longer confined to the flesh, the body in rhetoric expands into the cybernetic realm, upending our orthodox interpretations of identity, agency, and ethics. This metamorphosis is lucidly captured by Kristie Fleckenstein. She adopts Lewis Carroll’s “bread-and-butter-fly”,[7] a creature that lives and dies by dissolving into the very substance that sustains it, to note that “we live as and amid boundaries that materialise, shift, and disappear only to rematerialise in new forms.”[8] The body, in this cybernetic discourse, is both a site of constraint and a canvas for infinite reconfiguration where the self is fluid and unremittingly revisited by its interactions with the digital other. The body is not an isolated entity but a node in a network of relationships that transcend the physical. This tunes into Casey Boyle’s statement that “relations precede individuals”.[9] In other words, it is connections that forge selves and bonds that shape beings. It is the myriad connections we form that sculpt the essence of who we are. We are incessantly dematerialising and reforming through our engagements with the digital and physical worlds. Or perhaps, following Haraway’s understanding of becoming-with, “ontologically heterogeneous partners become who and what they are in relational material-semiotic worlding”.[10]

In the context of network culture, our bodies are not simply biological entities but function as interfaces that facilitate the interaction between the digital and the physical. Jennifer Bay, drawing on Lev Manovich, highlights how “in almost every environment, we interact with some kind of screening device that mediates our experiences”.[11] This interaction prompts a reevaluation of our selves and transforms our perception of the body from a mere physical presence to a medium that both absorbs and reflects digital information. As we navigate this terrain, we become part of Deleuzo-Guatterian assemblages which “constitute continuously shifting relational totalities comprised of spasmodic networks between different entities (content) and their articulation within ‘acts and statements’ (expression)”.[12] This means that we are hybrid beings that move through the world, tethered to devices that extend our senses and selves into the virtual expanse. This collective embodiment also heralds a new understanding of rhetoric, one that combines the verbal and visual and become a networked phenomenon.

In this vibrant landscape, we are also called by Casey Boyle, who advocates for expanding the definition of the body, to encompass the entangled ecosystems and external environments with which bodies interact and form relationships. He argues that “any two forces that relate are themselves a body”,[13] viewing bodies as open systems engaged in constant interaction with both human and nonhuman entities that emphasise their perpetual state of change and evolution “such that they are always unfinished, mutable and in dynamic processes of becoming”.[14] Boyle speaks of a transmuted body not as a boundary but as a bridge, a dynamic conduit for the flow of ideas, emotions, and energies that define our shared human experience.

No longer seen as a static entity, the body thus transforms into an active site filled with interactions and potentials. In fact, it is more accurate to refer to this as “body drift”, because it is impossible “to speak today of the body as a cohesive singularity”.[15] As these bodies move through cyberspace, they undergo transformations, assume new identities, and engage in a continuous process of redefining themselves. In doing so, they move away from their original, purely biological essence towards more fluid and expansive expressions of being. Likewise, Nancy Tuana’s “viscous porosity”[16] nudges us to venture beyond the corporeal bounds of our flesh into a domain abundant in hybridity. This concept disrupts deep-seated boundaries between nature and culture and emphasises the fluid and permeable nature of bodies. It suggests that bodies are not fixed entities but are instead open and receptive to continuous exchanges with their environments. The term ‘viscous’ implies a certain resistance to flow, however. It indicates that while these interactions and exchanges occur, they are not without their complexities and frictions. Porosity further denotes the capacity of bodies to absorb influences and elements from their surroundings to manifest the interconnectedness of human bodies with both the natural world and cultural constructs.

To add another new tier to this complexity, Christine Daigle’s concept of “transjectivity”[17] suggests that bodies are shaped both by their material reality and their subjective experiences. It posits that all beings are interrelated through a network of relationships with themselves, with others, and with collective entities, which explains how bodies are continuously moulded and refashioned by the ongoing interactions and influences they encounter. It contests conventional understandings of bodies as discrete, self-contained units, and instead shows that they are dynamic assemblages affected by and affecting their surroundings. Bodies understood as processual also echo AnneMarie Mol’s notion of the “body multiple”,[18] which marks a shift from viewing bodies merely in terms of their physical form or biological functions to entities being constantly in flux and defined by a blend of the possibilities they embody and the functions they enact in the world. This shifts the main focus on the questions of “what bodies can do, [and] what bodies could become”.[19]

Moreover, Stacy Alaimo’s concept of “transcorporeality”,[20] or, boundary-less bodies understood as beings that are entwined with the wider ecological and material networks, prompts a reconsideration of how we perceive our bodies not as separate from but as integral to the environmental and material contexts in which they exist. To complete this conceptual mapping of embodiment and posthuman rhetorical studies, PhEmaterialism (a combination of Ph, for posthuman, and feminist new materialism) reformulates bodies as not being pre-discursive entities but as emerging from the entanglements of material and discursive practices since embodiment “dissolve[es] the boundaries staked between traditionally binarised and hierarchically organised concepts including nature/culture, body/mind and human/nonhuman”.[21]

In conclusion, Karma Chavez’s call for a “textual stare at the rhetorical scholarship”[22] thus finds a resonant answer in transcending prescriptive conceptualisations of the body as a singular somatic entity within posthuman rhetoric. It invites us to embrace a more inclusive and interconnected understanding of embodiment and envisions the body as complex interfaces that mediate our interactions with the digital and physical worlds. This represents an ever-evolving amalgamation, ceaselessly influenced by and influencing its engagement with technological advancements, digital landscapes, and nonhuman elements. Posthuman rhetoric therefore inherently recognises humans as biocultural beings whose bodies are “increasingly conceived as hybrid”.[23] It deconstructs valorising certain ideal body types or appearances over others and exposes the arbitrary nature of such standards which serve to exclude individuals who do not conform to them. In doing so it paves the way for a view of rhetoric that is attuned to the complexities of contemporary bodily existence and expands its analytical scope to include bodies that have been historically marginalised or “invisibilised”.[24] This also chimes with Guthman and Mansfield’s contention that “there is nothing about the body that forms a solid boundary—or threshold—between it and the external environment”,[25] and concurs with Elizabeth Grosz’s notion of “volatile bodies” [26] that are in a perpetual state of pliability and hybridization. Posthuman rhetoric thus helps dissolve the binaries that have classically governed our understanding of bodies and makes room for recognising the intermeshed nature of existence, where bodies cannot be neatly categorised based on dichotomous distinctions such as gender, race, ability, or sexual orientation. By reconceptualising embodiment beyond the humanist and essentialist notions that have historically dominated rhetoric, posthuman rhetoric brings to the forefront the experiences and realities of bodies that defy established categorisations.


[1] Karma R. Chavez, “The Body: An Abstract and Actual Rhetorical Concept”, Rhetoric Society Quarterly 48.3 (2018), p. 246.

[2] Chavez, “The Body”, p. 248.

[3] Jessica Ringrose and Alyssa Niccolini, ‘PhEmaterialism’, in: Michael A. Peters and Richard Heraud, eds., Encyclopedia of Educational Innovation (Singapore: Springer, 2020).

[4] Sharon Crowley, “Body Studies in Rhetoric and Composition”, in: Gary A. Olson, ed., Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2002), p. 177.

[5] Jay Dolmage, “Writing against Normal: Navigating a Corporeal Turn”, in: K. L. Arola and A. F. Wysocki, eds., Composing (Media) = Composing (Embodiment): Bodies, Technologies, Writing, the Teaching of Writing (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2012), pp. ix-x.

[6] William P. Banks, “The Body’s Turn in Rhetorical Studies”, in: Abby Knoblauch and Marie E. Moeller, eds., Bodies of Knowledge: Embodied Rhetorics in Theory and Practice (Louisville: University Press of Colorado, 2022), p. ix.

[7] Kristie S. Fleckenstein, “Cybernetics, Ethos, and Ethics: The Plight of the Bread-and-Butter-Fly”, in: Lynn Worsham and Gary A. Olson, eds., Plugged In: Technology, Rhetoric, and Culture in a Posthuman Age (Cresskill: Hampton Press, 2008), p. 3.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Casey Boyle, Rhetoric as Posthuman Practice (Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2018), p. 62.

[10] Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), p. 13.

[11] Jennifer L. Bay, “Screening (In)formation: Bodies and Writing in Network Culture”, in: Lynn Worsham and Gary A. Olson, eds., Plugged In: Technology, Rhetoric, and Culture in a Posthuman Age (Cresskill: Hampton Press, 2008), p. 25.

[12] Alexander G. Weheliye, Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), p. 46.

[13] Boyle, Rhetoric as Posthuman Practice, p. 60.

[14] Lisa Blackman, The Body: The Key Concepts, 2nd edn (London: Routledge, 2021), p. 120.

[15] Arthur Kroker, Body Drift: Butler, Hayles, Haraway (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), p. 2.

[16] Nancy Tuana, “Viscous Porosity: Witnessing Katrina”, in: Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman, eds., Material Feminisms (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008), p. 201.

[17] Christine Daigle, “Transjectivity”, in: Rosi Braidotti, Emily Jones, and Goda Klumbyte, eds., More Posthuman Glossary (Bloomsbury Academic: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2022), p. 150.

[18] Annemarie Mol, The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice (London and New York: Duke University Press, 2002).

[19] Blackman, The Body: The Key Concepts, p. 2.

[20] Stacy Alaimo, “Transcorporeality II: COVID-19 and Climate Change”, in: Rosi Braidotti, Emily Jones, and Goda Klumbyte, eds., More Posthuman Glossary (Bloomsbury Academic: Bloomsbury Publishing), p. 147.

[21] Ringrose and Niccolini, “PhEmaterialism”, p. 2.

[22] Chavez, “The Body: An Abstract and Actual Rhetorical Concept”, p. 248.

[23] Samantha Frost, Biocultural Creatures: Toward a New Theory of the Human (Duke University Press, 2016), p. 18.

[24] Chavez, “The Body: An Abstract and Actual Rhetorical Concept”, p. 246.

[25] Julie Guthman and Becky Mansfield, “The Implications of Environmental Epigenetics: A New Direction for Geographic Inquiry on Health, Space, and Nature-Society Relations”, Progress in Human Geography, 37.4 (2013), p. 497.

[26] Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism (Indiana Univ. Press, 2011).