Refusing Somnambulistic Faith in Neutrality

Six weeks in, and I finally feel like we’re doing graduate level work in tech com! After reading a tech com dissertation this weekend, and wondering if I were really reading a dissertation and whether there was, in fact, any real research methodology or methods, I’m thrilled to get to Critical Power Tools and theorize the communication models that are at work in our understandings of the field and of what it means to be a technical communicator.

While Scott, Longo, and Wills (2006) introduction was vast and broad (as introductions tend to be), I did appreciate their defense of theory for technical communication and their insistence that techcom theory should be praxis-centered/production-oriented and non-imperalist in its tendency toward ethical action. The authors argue that by cross-pollinating cultural studies and technical communication, we can pay attention to both discursive and extra-discursive or material production and reproduction, understanding the ways technical communication participates in a struggle for meaning and is complicit in maintaining the status quo and/or in diffracting or subverting different kinds of inequities.

After reading St. Amant’s “What do Technical Communicators Need to Know About International Environments?”, Scott, Longo, and Wills’ introduction was an empowering call to action as it seemed to permission technical communicators to disrupt as opposed to learn andto conform to particular cultural (and perhaps oppressive) norms that exist in particular places in time with particular groups of people. While I think St. Amant’s cultural exploration heuristics are helpful for understanding how to examine and effectively mimic or reproduce culturally-specific genres, genre expectations, genre arrangements, and forums (genres in settings), the chapter doesn’t open the possibility of intervening in any of those cultural formations, constructing a technical communicator as a translator of information, one who mediates meaning at some form of the translation process by negotiating the power dynamics between communicators and receivers. For St. Amant, the big question seems to be “when” is it most efficient to translate– at the invention stage or later in distribution and delivery of the package?

Reading Slack, Miler and Doak (2006) makes St. Amant’s positioning as an acolyte of the translation view apparent. The authors outline the move from transmission, to translation, to articulation views of the role of a technical communicator, showing how authorship is only is available in the latter model where individuals or groups can remix meaning and in doing so, intervene in ongoing and dynamic relations of power that are often crystallized in genres. This chapter is extremely helpful in understanding the genealogy of tech com and offers other ways of knowing, doing, and being as a technical communicator who isn’t just concerned with “ethical neutrality of thee ethics of capitalism” (43). As such, the authors show how meanings which are always constellated and dynamic can come to be fixed or stagnated through power relationships and the “tenacity” (39) of particular associations between people, objects, media, organizations, etc– think Standard Written English here. What a tenacious investment people have made in that particular identity constellation!

Since I’m working with the “identity” of maker spaces (and by extension makers) in my dissertation, I think this chapter will be useful for articulating the ways that particular actors, like high-tech cutting edge technologies such as 3D printing, come to be seen as indicative of maker spaces because they are the idea of “progress” incarnate and pulsing through the makerspace identity. In order to “disarticulate” those meanings, we have to see be able to glimpse the other people, places, objects, processes, histories, etc. at work in these spacesm and my research methods of aleatory game play are, I think, working toward that kind of disarticulation. My goal is to move beyond the sexiness of the object to understanding of maker spaces as places where technical communicators (experience designers) can and do intervene in science, literacy, and technical knowledge gaps well-documented in particular groups.

 

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