Unflattening TechCom

So I’ve been reading Nick Sousanis’s graphic theory book, Unflattening, and much of what I saw in this week’s readings was about “unflattening” our approaches to technical communication.

In Porter’s chapter, he argues for a the usefulness of theory as a means of constructing multiple approaches or ways of seeing challenges. He notes that techcom has historically taken an instrumentalist view of a problem-solving by focusing on the document or text as opposed to the text-in-social context view that brings rhetoric more fully to bear on composing practices. He argues that by focusing our attention on a text or document in this way, we are unable to invent solutions that may lie outside of the boundaries of a single document or genre as we see the problem in one static and flattened way. More recently, and especially with the focus on UX, he notes, we’ve been able to build other ways of knowing and doing that focus on actions, processes, and dialogic negotiations of meaning, brining multiple ways of knowing into a more three (four or five?) dimensional view of tech com work. To help us reimagine practices, he lays out a DEPPA model, but this framework is not very interesting or novel as it is basically a pared down version of design thinking. So while I think his explanation of what theory is and can do is really useful, his theoretical model falls a bit short. Also, while I’m making a critique of this chapter here, I have to ask– why’d he decide to pick on the queers in his critique of “usable theory?” It seems that he’s outlining a model of performativity for techcom that it just so happens was articulated by one of those erudite and “useless” theorists he names on page 127. Awkward.

Longo and Fountain offer another way of unflattening the field by looking at those historical moments of techcom that are running wild and free in socio-cultural contexts. In other words, that small, marginal area of techcom that exists outside of profcom that we mapped on the board that might not been so small or marginal after all. One way that we flatten the field is by lumping all techcom into the profcom bubble, but when we look back through the traditions, we see that techcom has always existed in popular culture. I am eager to read Johnson’s tracing of techcom from prediscusive to discursive as orality and apprenticeship models of techcom can get lost when we shine the light back through our techcom traditions if we are, as Porter argues, only looking at the flat plane of genre. Longo and Fountain offer another heuristic for unflattening history, and I think it is useful for understanding the historical context of how problems have been solved in particular times and places, but I also wonder if strategic forgetting (think Halberstam and the Queer Art of Failure) might be important to unyoke past, present, and future to invent new ways to solve old, wrinkly problems. What else might we see if we bracket off some of that history? What opportunities might exist if we introduce a more playful approach to techcom that highlights the aleatory possibility of the past/present/future?

Finally, Mehlenbacher works to trace out the challenges of working in an open, distributed, and flattened workplace, using flattened to mean the fluidity of roles and positions in contemporary work environments. In this case, to unflatten might mean to consider the particular understandings a variety of colleagues and users will need to interact within and outside of a “genre ecology” (203). as the positivistic role of knowledge communicator moves into a “sociotechnical mediator” (194), one who negotiates multiple understandings of and interactions with people, objects, histories, uses, etc. We can hear echos of Miller in this perspective as Mehlenbacher underscores the complex and dynamic ways users interact with texts and communication systems, making the case for understand specific experiences that can’t be contained in simple knowledge transmission models of communication. So while I don’t know much about UX and where the field is with the theory/ practice of it, I wonder how phenomenology, specifically queer phenomenology, an orientation that acknowledges the co-emergence of objects and identities, might flesh out UX along axes of users’ spatial, temporal, embodied, and relational interactions with technologies, including the “technology” of technical communication. Hmmm…..


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