Black Feminist Epistemology, Feminist Disability Frameworks, and Narratives in Tech Com

Jones and Walton’s argue that technical communicators must adopt theories and practices that make social justice their primary aim, focusing on direct action that can lessen inequities in the populations we work with. They define social justice research for technical communication as a practice of exploring “how communications, broadly defined, can amplify the agency of oppressed people–those who are materially, socially, politically, and/or economically under-resources” (337), thereby authorizing technical communicators to take on the role of an “author” (Slack, Miller, and Doak, 2006), one who articulates and rearticulates meaning and relationships in a given context. Jones and Walton focus on the power of story as the primary mechanism of meaning-making through both the production and analysis of narratives of possibility in technical communication contexts and outline four elements of narrative (identification, reflexivity, historiocity, and context) that they believe are essential to helping technical communication scholars understand their and their participants’ lived realities and the agency they have to change them. What I wonder about here, though, is about their Western understanding of story, one that seems a bit restrictive in the focus on Aristotelian conventions like main characters, climax etc., and I wonder how “little narratives” (Bamberg and Georgakopoulou, 2008) might open up even greater possibility for action that isn’t dependent on “climactic” (read: male-centered) language. Similarly, Leah Ann Bell’s work on storytelling for social justice could be added in here to help us explore positioning and privilege and flesh out the idea of the “antenarrative” with richer understandings of stock stories, resistance narratives, and transformational narratives. Hmmm… this piece, however, gives me the frame I need to write about my work with X-ray Goggles, though, and how I use Mozilla tool to help students hack the web to write new techno-narratives. I’m going to hold onto that for later article fodder.

I first read Moeller’s piece in Dr. Frost’s class last semester and quite liked the way she uses FDS (although I can’t not think about “feminine deodorant spray”) to demonstrate how “race for the cure” rhetorics operate on a normalizing logic of bodies that are efficient and expedient. I really appreciated the moves that Moeller made to position herself in the analysis as she shows how she has been personally affected by breast cancer and praises the larger goal of the Komen for the Cure foundation while arguing that the means by which they achieve their goals have real and harmful impacts on the bodies that the foundation is working to help. Following Katz (1993) and Ward Sr. (2010), she interrogates the expediency of medicalized rhetoric that stigmatizes lesbians, women without children, and women with disabilities, arguing that Komen for the Cure’s website design uses a retrofitted approach (323) to account for bodily difference, using outdated information to backwards accommodate for those who don’t fall into the default category of straight, white, American, middle class, able-bodied, cis-gendered “woman.” Her work reminds me of Welch and Scott’s (2014) critical material feminism in that a FDS framework “asks students, to not just pay attention to what is present, but what is absent, as well, and what and how that absence says to real, material bodies (330). Framed as a question on page 333, this is a directive to remember that communication is not just discursive; it is a technology to extend the body that has lived, material effects on our own and others’ bodies.

Finally, Kristen Moore’s chapter “Black Feminist Epistemology as a Framework (for)? Community-Based Teaching” is one of the best pieces I’ve read so far in technical communication scholarship. Moore carefully lays out Black Feminist Theory, tracing its genealogy through hooks, Lourde, Smith, Ogunyemi, and most notably, Hill Collins, to argue that BFT “acknowledge[s] rather then suppress[es] Black women’s experiences, theories, and knowledges” (268). In doing so, she calls technical communication scholars to refuse objectivist notions of the field and recognize four key components of BFT: the importance of lived experience, dialogic knowledge production, an ethics of care, and personal accountability that values the relationship between knowledge-making and claims to knowledge (275-276). In the Terms of Use section, Moore does a beautiful job of situating her own claims to knowledge and arguing for why she, as a white woman, should make knowledge through a BFT framework, stating that reciprocity was a key component of her research with Vortex Communication in which she picked up Hill Collins (2012) call to unify activist scholars to upend the white supremacy of technical communication. I love that Samantha Blackmon urged her to use a BFT so that she wasn’t “laying…white theory on Black bodies” (274) and her discussion of “mindfulness, critical reflection, and care” (274), ideological commitments at the heart of her research. I found her critique of participatory design interesting as well as I’m currently working on a critique of open learning rhetorics that calls bullshit on the idea that everyone has equal access to power structures once we open the proverbial door to information. I’ll be using her quote, “I, too, am a supporter of participatory design, participatory action research, and the many approaches to teaching students to ethically engage with communities, but these approaches fail to adequately integrate theories that raise awareness of the suppression and oppression of particular groups of people in the community of the academy” (277) as it gets at the ways “open” and “participatory” ignore unequal distributions of power and resources that are explicitly taken up in a social justice framework.

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