Ethics and Narrative?

Ethical Practices in Technical Communications

Jones and Walton discuss narrative as a tool for Social Justice research. “In this section, we extend previous research, connecting narrative as a mechanism for social change with narrative as an instructional tool to help students understand the impact of their writing on diversity and social justice” (338). They go on to elaborate on the four capacities of narrative: identification, historicity, context, and reflexivity. At the root of their argument is that storytelling is a valuable tool for both learning and connecting with the social issues around us. They also point out that ethics are understood within the social and cultural context of use. No communication is neutral; thus, the ethics around them becomes fluid based on intent.

The technical communicator as narrator has a great deal of power. They (we?) choose what information is presented, how it is framed for comprehension, and what persuasive element is addressed. Unlike rhetorical communications, technical communication has the power to change lives on a global scale. For example, take the Zika virus ravaging the Americas and Caribbean. On the CDC website, there are specific articles designed to educate travels on everything from what the Zika virus is to how to use insect repellent and avoid bug bites. That information is packaged in a way to be easily accessible and logically placed (travelers planning for overseas trips visit the CDC website for advisories daily) as well as easily used (the language is not complex or scientific). Now, take the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown after the tsunami devastated Japan and the resulting health crisis. That information can be found on the World Nuclear Association’s website. The historical data on the event is easily understood and manageable; however, the resulting health issues are not. No where in this does it say that the US Military required active duty members and their spouses to sign a waiver against legal action in the event future outbreaks of cancer, sterility, or any other medical condition not yet identified and associated with radiation exposure. It does not mention the dependents who were removed from the islands as a protective message. Scientific American took up the cause and wrote a brief article about the environmental impacts in January 2014; however, there isn’t a lot of depth to it.

As technical communicators championing Social Justice, shouldn’t this tory be told? Shouldn’t the information be packaged in a way that can benefit the public masses? What is the ethical obligation? We, after all, aren’t scientists. (I’ll call to point Dr. Sackey’s work)

I’ve, of course, ventured off topic. Narrative has power. We can ask ourselves why until the three-headed fishes wash up, but the bottom line is this: why aren’t communicators joining teams to help drive social justice initiatives or is the approach reactionary?

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