The Complex Example of Online Search: Studying Emergent Agency in Digital Environments




Rhetorical agency in online search is not a straightforward proposition, emanating from either users or algorithms. Rather, agency emerges from assemblages that form and disassemble throughout the search session. Specific entities that coalesce into such assemblages include users, environments, technologies, networks, hardware, software, corporations, ideologies, and data structures. This paper proposes Levi Bryant's [11] onto-cartography as a framework for depicting emergent assemblage agency across four aspects of online search: 1) search and its results page; 2) the content of search results; 3) the searcher's research literacy; and 4) the ambient environment of the search session. The paper suggests methods to be used for studying emergent agency and encourages technical communicators to engage in studies that identify and trace rhetorical agency, especially in post-human assemblages of human and nonhuman actants.

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Copyright © 2017 Association for Computing Machinery. This article first appeared in SIGDOC '17 Proceedings of the 35th ACM International Conference on the Design of Communication.

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