Spatial, Decolonial, and Queer Rhetorics in the TechCom Classroom

The three chapters we read this week from Hass and Elbe’s manuscript demonstrated particular ways that cultural rhetorics impact the values, activities, and practices of technical communication and the technical communication classroom. And while Hurley, Agboka, and Cox all facilitated rich discussions of techcom pedagogy, each focused on slightly different aspects of their teaching, showing how particular critical theories can bring about exigence in course offerings, provide inspiration for particular kinds of assignments, and help us rethink the design of classroom structures, relationships, and experiences.

Hurley’s piece on the spatial turn in technical communication was particularly interesting to me as I study maker spaces and hadn’t thought to considered theories of spaciality. Duh! I like that she reminds us that space is not an empty container but a set of ever-forming and un-forming relations, and those relations are what I’m interested in. Working with LeFerve, she outlines a tripartite understanding of space that includes perceived, represented, and experienced dimensions (137) and argues after Soja for attention to “thirdspaces” (138) that offer potential for remaking relations. Interestingly, the term “thirdspace” is often used to discuss para-curriculuar spaces such as museums, after schools, and community centers, places where informal learning can be transformative for young people, and I never knew exactly where that term came from or its implications of use. I think this will be an important frame for my research and for situating this research in the field. I’m totally impressed with the ways Hurley traces out the scholarship on space in technical communication, and I’m interested in following some of those breadcrumbs in my annotated bibliography. Finally, and back to my original point about pedagogy, I like the ways her research was able to translate into course design to promote other research as the intersections of geography, technical communication, and critical theory, and I look forward to the day when I’m in a space to do the same. I also love starting my first class with a mapping activity, often something about mapping our writing lives, to see how students have historically negotiated difficult or compulsory writing spaces, have created space for self-sponsored writing, or have worked at the “borderlands” of formal and informal writing. A big part of my job in Foundations writing is to help students make writing visible to themselves and others, and mapping provides a way to do so.

While I found Agboka’s piece less useful for my own research, I enjoyed reading it because it spoke directly back to this notion that technical communicators should accommodate to the cultural milieux when working in global contexts. Instead, she argues that technical communicators need a deep understanding of human rights issues to be able to negotiate and resist (environmental) racism and colonial hegemony. Her example, like Katz’s piece on the Nazi death machines, shows how technical communicators become complicit in the mediation of these spaces. I like the way she used rhetorical analysis to examine technical communication documents, but I found her explanation of rhetoric to fall a bit short by focusing only on means of persuasion. Finally, her classroom examples were less concrete than the others, but I think she’s right to argue that technical communicators need time and support to engage human rights issues and focus on the the particular issues that they will encounter in particular contexts.

Finally, Cox’s piece outlined a queer rhetorics approach to techcom, focusing on the need for intersectionality in the classroom as we avoid the “ghettoization” of feminism, (dis)ability studies, racial, gay and lesbian issues, etc. I love the way Cox uses Halperin here to make queer politics easily accessible to these readers, and I can see the tentativeness and baby step-approach to offering just a few commitments, including a refusal of happiness and success. I think it’s interesting that these are introduced as useful in a classroom context and not in a work-place of civic context because that’s going to be a harder sell. What does failure look like in tech com practice? Might it be linked to Agboka’s refusal to be complicit? What’s obvious here is that Cox has mobilized queer rhetorics to rethink the relational space of the classroom and in failing to be the “sage-on-the-stage,” has opened other possibilities for agency and reconfiguration of relationships, and there is much, much more to be done with queer rhetorics and theory for technical communication practice.

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