Marie Moeller tackles the intersection of technical communication and medical rhetoric with a Feminist Disability Studies (FDS) approach to advocacy work, which “calls attention to bodies that comprise the margins, to the disempowerment and disfranchisement of various populations of individuals often found outside of or bastardized by the cultural ‘norm’” (304). Technical communication itself, in her opinion, is inherently some form of advocacy because it moves people toward (or encourages them to participate in) action through language. The framework employed here is further used to examine nonprofit advocacy organizations and the ways in which they adopt “medical technical communication to forward normative cultural narratives about bodies” and marginalize those bodies on the periphery (307). In prior courses, particularly Dr. Frost’s course on Rhetoric, Technology, and Embodiment, I have been exposed to issues with medical rhetoric to some degree, including how reductive articulations of bodies manifest in medical technical communication related to technologies that penetrate the body, such as ultrasound and X-ray. Bodies, in other words, are often treated as the same — a one-size-fits-all approach — which limits our understanding of the nuanced, and sometimes extreme, differences between bodies and further complicates how those bodies are diagnosed and treated. Technical communication is complicit in shaping the way we perceive, critique, and exclude the body.
Moeller’s discussion of advocacy rhetorics particularly interested me. With regard to the Susan G. Komen foundation, one can see how those in the nonprofit sector use the “racing for the cure” metaphor to further “manage bodies” in the public sphere by appealing to those who can financially contribute to their cause (317, 318). In the technical communication classroom, interrogating the ideological underpinnings of these advocacy organizations furthers students’ understanding of how metaphors socially and politically (re)construct bodies and the potential consequences of their use.
Jones and Walton suggest ways of using narrative as a tool of critical inquiry that can be used for approaching social justice in the technical communication classroom. They present four capacities of narrative (identification, reflexivity, historicity, and context) that can be studied in isolation or in relation to each other (340). Constructing collective identity, facilitating reflexive practices, interrogating “historical (mis)representations,” and understanding context through stories help shed light on dominant ideologies and who/what is being privileged in those narratives (350). As an instructor, I found the provided heuristic useful, but having students produce multi-vocal narratives and sharing and reflecting on those narratives seems like something I would be more pedagogically inclined to implement. My biggest critique of first-year writing, if I may digress for a moment, is that much of the writing done in and for the course is acontextual, forcing students to write in “mutt genres” that have no bearing outside an academic writing classroom (Wardle). Although I am a supporter of Writing About Writing (WAW), I feel that first-year composition students could benefit from writing about social justice issues and for authentic audiences who have the ability to enact change. Using narratives as an entry point to these conversations about privilege and inequity would supplement the kind of advocacy and awareness so desperately lacking in purpose-driven writing. Perhaps that is biggest critique: writing should also serve a purpose and not simply as a means of evaluation.