Never before had I realized just how ‘lost’ the field of professional communication was within academia and thus the consequences of this for both faculty and students.
In terms of this ‘lost’ status, perhaps my favourite reading was Rachel Martin Harlow’s one in which she argues that professional communication’s “academic homelessness” within the “academic neighbourhood” (318) should be seen as a formidable strength rather than a mere weakness; I was really attracted to those words she chose to describe the current situation of the field. Simply put, Harlow alludes to the common idea that professional and technical communication has no one single home within the academic scope (319), which, admittedly, I was never really fully aware of until now. Rentz, Debs, and Meloncon also comment on this sense of homelessness, suggesting that the field of professional communication continues to be “largely invisible to those who explain what English is, does, and should do” (281).
One thing that stood out to me was in the section “Homelessness as Exigence” where Harlow articulates (through the notes on other scholars) on the importance of interdisciplinarity of professional communication. And so the more I read, the more I began to agree with and understand this concept. James E. Porter and Patricia A. Sullivan also comment on this interdisciplinary stance and I think they make quite a strong and valid argument, affirming that the “interests of professional writing are [indeed] interdisciplinary” (17) while academic departments seem to lack in flexibility to support “such an array of needs.” To my understanding, these needs, as noted by most of the authors in the articles we read, can include skills in many different facets of writing and communication, including, public relations, marketing, rhetoric and technical, narrative, media writing, journalism, advertising, etc., Again, what struck me as most provocative in Porter and Sullivan’s piece was how they explicitly state why this particular field is controversial within universities and academia – because “it threatens the status of departments” (18). Well said! They previously mention that in order for the field of professional writing /communication to occupy its own department, money is the key factor needed to support this. They utilize Michigan State university as their prime case in point; fundamentally, they assert that for students to thrive and hopefully succeed within the twenty-first century workplace, they need to acquire and learn multi-modal approaches to knowledge (18). I agree with this – I think with today’s advancement in technology and media outlets within society, the field of professional writing/communication can be of much use and a very desirable skill to have for the professional working world. Another note that I liked in this particular article was on page 19, Porter and Sullivan attest that they do not want to see professional communication “abandon its roots in composition,” citing that in the general scheme of things, communication studies, according to them, does not fully appreciate “writing as a practice…[as well as] written production, pedagogy, composition process,” all of which, among others, are what arguably make writing writing.
Pulling back to Harlow’s article and playing upon this concept of the interdisplinerity of professional communication, I think she makes a valid point that scholars within this academic filed publish in numerous journals and attend all sorts of conference (321). However, one thing that really stood out to me was the fact that many “do not always fully appreciate [their] expertise” (324), which I admit am guilty of doing also. Maybe it’s because I have little to no knowledge of this field of study or maybe it’s because it simply confuses me, but I hope by the ned of the semester to a certain extent omit these doubts/confuses and gain a good basis of knowledge on what it is all about and how I can apply it both personally and professionally.
Shifting gears a wee bit to Carolyn R. Miller’s article on A Humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing, I found this piece quite confusing at some points and couldn’t seem to grasp what her main point was, so I apologize if I have interpreted it wrong! But, from my reading, I think she is trying to tell us that technical writing essentially submits to reality as “technical and scientific rhetoric becomes the skill of subduing language so that it most accurately and directly transmit reality. On page 2, she explains the characteristics of both science and rhetoric and then I think she attempts to argue the merging of these two components (?!) One of the main things that threw me off and that I can’t seem to get to grips with is when she refers to the term of “positivism.” To try to understand what was being implied here, I looked at the web dictionary definition of this word and it told me that it is “a theory that theology and metaphysics are earlier imperfect modes of knowledge and that positive knowledge is based on natural phenomena and their properties and relations as verified by the empirical sciences.” (Merriam-Webster). Perhaps we could go over this in class as I am still slightly lost! Rather interestingly though, Miller herself poses a very important question – “Our definitions of technical writing leak badly. How can we teach a course, let alone a field of study, when we have no way to tell anyone what our subject matter is?” (4).
Another favourite read of mine was “Getting an Invitation to the English Table – and Whether or Not to Accept it.” I really enjoyed learning how their professional communication program came about and their strategies to remain a recognized and valued field of study. More specifically, the hard work and dedication it took the Univ. of Cinninati to get invited into the English department in the first place. I liked the background to it all as well as how they tell us the internal struggles or conflicts when it came to dealing with other departments. The first couple of pages gave me some shock – why was professional communication completely ignored/not even mentioned/not discussed (282) when it came to notable English publications. Yet, the figures proved a validating argument to support this field of study’s position within the department of English at university level. Moreover, I thought the various steps they highlight to the reader on what it takes of the field of professional writing to be ‘happy at the English table’ provides an informative and real perspective on the current situations. On a personal note, I think the inclusion of the word ‘studies’ is quite important when it comes to the involvement of professional writing/communication within an English degree, be that undergrad, grad, or doctorial. When students or the general public see the word English on an educational or academic level, it could be fair to say that many, if not all, of them instantly think of literature and all that fun stuff that they had to do in high school etc. So, by implementing the word studies beside it, a broader and perhaps more abstract way of thinking is brought about as theoretical, rhetorical, and professional connotations are fuelled. I know when I was applying ECU’s MA in English, one of the first things that appealed to me was the very fact that I had the option to concentrate in “English Studies” which entailed a nice mix of literature, rhetoric, and perhaps most importantly, professional communication ( I had no clue at the time what it was or what it meant but for personal and future professional reasons, I chose it!)