Tech Comm: Defined by Work Culture

This week’s readings seemed to bring about a number of thoughts and ideas on my part. I found Chapters 5 and 12 to be the most interesting since they deal primarily with cultural studies, rhetoric, and intersectionality. In Chapter 5, Agboka wrote mainly on how we as technical communicators should make ethical decisions and advocate for those whose human rights may be infringed upon. The writing within the piece studies intersections between the field of technical communication and basic human rights (166). Agboka notes that “while human rights education alone cannot eliminate human rights violations, it can certainly be instrumental toward the end” (187). Though Agboka breaks down the example of the memo created by Shell Oil Company and the Nigerian government to demonstrate times where technical communicators should intervene on the part of the oppressed, I couldn’t help but to find the reading incomplete. The entire time I read about how the memo—which is described in the text as a militarized document known for (rhetorically) justifying the terrorization of the Ogoni people—was constructed and implemented, I kept looking for an answer to the question of how we writers and technical communicators should respond accordingly to situations/documents that promote oppression, violence, and violations of human rights. In honesty, I found no answer. It is here that I began to think on two things in particular: 1) the origin and foundation of technical communications in relation to the cultural changes we hope to make within the field and 2) the discourse surrounding technical communication as certain theoretical frameworks (such as Queer theory mentioned by Cox in Chapter 12) shed light to flaws of ‘normality.’

(Note that all of this is an attempt to show where my mind has been during the readings as well as the past few classes; I’ll try my best to connect my thoughts. Feel free to chime in wherever you see fit!)

Earlier in the semester, we talked about how technical communication is closely associated with white-collar work. Now that we are examining the field from a more cultural-based perspective, I cannot help but to believe that this is where the dilemma that so many authors have brought up in their writing(s) resides: the field of technical communication (being a field which values writing that is goal-oriented and [ultimately] undeviating from original intent and purpose) has always been ethically and culturally white-washed. For years, technical communication and most of the professions within the field have adhered to the expectations of professional, white-collar culture. For example, technical writers are expected to do their jobs and do their jobs well, all while avoiding unnecessary confusion and conflict. An embodiment of these unspoken rules is an embodiment of what it means to be successful and efficient. Interestingly enough, Cox confirms this by stating how “we live in a culture where happiness and smoothness and efficiency as success are so expected that they seem to keep us from taking risks” (410). A few weeks ago, someone in class asked why scholars, researchers, and workers within tech comm are just now voicing their opinions and concerns on topics such as diversity, social justice, feminism, etc. The answer to this question, in my opinion, is that tech comm (just like any field/profession) has always been defined by its work culture. We are currently in a time where concepts and ideas that have always been perceived as ‘normal’ are being found insufficient and exclusive both inside and outside of work culture. Because of this, we are now being enabled with information that can help us identify gaps and solve problems that technical communicators have been faced with (but been silenced about) over the years. I find it pleasing to know that tech comm is finally at a place where people feel comfortable enough to study and critique that which is labeled “dominant” and/or “normative” (409), but I also think that it is necessary to begin configuring ways to ACTUALLY solve the many problems brought up in discussion and text. One question that I would like to ask is how can the word ‘professionalism’ be more inclusive in a society (and within the foundations of tech comm) when there are (clearly) restrictions to how the word is defined?

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