How to Make Your Child Sleep: Designing Rhetorical Experiences


  • Matthew Newcomb



rhetoric, design, new materialism, experience, Dewey, affect


I might give a variety of logical reasons to help my daughter sleep: being tired from swimming, that a sore leg will feel better, or that she will need lots of energy to play with friends. Consequences can be an argument too, like the loss of a stuffed animal if there are any more non-emergency calls for parents before morning. I might even pull out some sort of shameless (and ineffective) ethos-based plea about being the parent and knowing what is best for her. Rhetorical persuasion is a concatenation of moments and forces that are experienced as a unit – a unit with a persuasive quality to it or that creates new directions for speech and action. Similarly, rhetoric can also be understood as the production or design of those experiences. The design is always partial, as no one can control an experience, but the addition, removal, arrangement, and use of elements for the purpose of creating a particular quality of experience is an important rhetorical act. This design-oriented production of rhetorical experiences is a way of focusing on the human agents within a material rhetoric context that avoids relegating the non-human and the non-linguistic to the background. This paper brings design further into the discussion of rhetoric, adds a design-based angle to new materialism, theorizes rhetoric as an experience, considers John Dewey’s notion of experience and Brian Massumi’s work on affect in light of design and material rhetoric, and (of course) to help parents set up their children for a wonderful night’s rest.


Article received: April 20, 2020; Article accepted: July 1, 2020; Published online: April 15, 2021; Original scholarly paper

Author Biography

Matthew Newcomb

SUNY New Paltz, New Paltz, New York
United States

Matthew Newcomb (b.1975) is an Associate Professor of English at SUNY New Paltz in New York State. His publications include articles on argument theory, composition theory, environmental rhetoric, and design and composition. He has published in journals including College Composition and Communication, JAC, Kairos, enculturation, Rhetoric Review, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment, and Pedagogy. His current research focuses on the intersections of environmental and religious rhetoric. He spent ten years as a Composition Program Coordinator, and his teaching includes writing courses, composition theory, rhetorical studies, cultural studies, and literary theory.


Chapman, Jonathan. Emotionally Durable Design. Sterling, VA: Earthscan, 2005.

Clark, Gregory. “Rhetorical Experience and the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.” In Places of Public Memory: The Rhetoric of Museums and Memorials, edited by Greg Dickinson, Carole Blair, and Brian L. Ott, 113–35. Tuscaloosa, AL: U of Alabama Press, 2010.

Coole, Diane and Frost, Samantha. “Introducing the New Materialisms.” In New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics, edited by Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, 1–43. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010. DOI:

Cooper, Marilyn M. “Rhetorical Agency as Emergent and Enacted.” College Composition and Communication 62, 3 (Feb. 2011): 420–49. doi: 10.1080/07350198.2014.856730 DOI:

Davis, Diane. Inessential Solidarity. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010. DOI:

Dewey, John. Art as Experience. New York: Minton, Balch & Company, 1934.

Dewey, John. Experience and Education. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Dewey, John. Experience and Nature, 2nd edition. New York: Dover, 1958.

Dobson, Kelly. “Conversation: Materials.” In The Art of Critical Making: Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice, edited by Rosanne Somerson and Mara L. Hermano, 138–63. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2013.

Gibson, William. Zero History. New York: Penguin, 2010.

Hauser, Gerard A. “Afterword: The Possibilities for Dewey amid the Angst of Paradigm Change.” In Trained Capacities, edited by Brian Jackson and Gregory Clark, 233–48. Columbia, SC: U of South Carolina Press, 2014. DOI:

Jackson, Brian and Clark, Gregory. “Introduction: John Dewey and the Rhetoric of Democratic Culture.” In Trained Capacities, edited by Brian Jackson and Gregory Clark, 1–24. Columbia, SC: U of South Carolina Press, 2014. DOI:

Manzini, Ezio. The Materials of Invention, Translated by Antony Shugaar. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989.

Marback, Richard. “Embracing Wicked Problems: The Turn to Design in Composition Studies.” College Composition and Communication 61, 2 (2009): 397–419.

Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002. DOI:

Massumi, Brian. What Animals Teach Us about Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014. DOI:

Micciche, Laura. “Writing Material.” College English 76, 6 (2014): 488–505.

Preston, Jacqueline. “Project(ing) Literacy: Writing to Assemble in a Postcomposition FYW Classroom.” College Composition and Communication 67, 1 (September 2015): 35–63.

Purdy, James. “What Can Design Thinking Offer Writing Studies?” College Composition and Communication 65, 4 (2014): 612–41.

Rickert, Thomas. Ambient Rhetoric: The Rhetorical Attunements of Being. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013. DOI:

Seigel, Marika. The Rhetoric of Pregnancy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.

Shedroff, Nathan. Experience Design 1. Indianapolis, IN: New Riders, 2001.

Shedroff, Nathan. “Information Interaction Design: A Unified Field Theory of Design.” In Information Design, edited by Robert Jacobson, 267–92. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.

Somerson, Rosanne. “The Art of Critical Making: An Introduction.” In The Art of Critical Making: Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice, edited by Rosanne Somerson and Mara L. Hermano. 19–31. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2013.

Tell, Dave. “The Rise and Fall of a Mechanical Rhetoric, or, What Grain Elevators Teach us About Postmodernism.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 100, 2 (2014): 163–85. doi: 10.1080/00335630.2014.939992 DOI:





How to Cite

Newcomb, M. (2021). How to Make Your Child Sleep: Designing Rhetorical Experiences. AM Journal of Art and Media Studies, (24), 71–81.



Main Topic: How to Do Things with Speculative Pragmatism: Pedagogy, Politics, Philosophy