Hardy – Week 15 Reading Response – Longo and Britt

Early on in Longo’s chapter, I anticipated Foucault coming into the conversation about knowledge and power, and of course he didn’t disappoint. Longo uses Foucault’s ideas to situate technical writing in “systems of knowledge and power” that is “incomplete if the idea of culture is limited within one organization” (113). This view is particularly important when taking into consideration the invisibility of “good” technical writing and the ways in which it limits, excludes, or marginalizes “other” knowledges and cultures. As technical writers or teachers of technical communication, we should critique and interrogate what knowledges are privileged in the field, or rather which ones are legitimated, and look more closely at how technical writing practices “work to conquer users’ naive know-how and reformulate” practices into discourse (117). This idea of reformulation struck me as interesting because I previously encountered it in my studies of discourse analysis, particularly Ian Hutchby’s analysis of radio talk shows. In his study, he looks at how caller and host negotiate power relations, and one way hosts maintain power is through reformulating the caller’s agenda by glossing or summarizing it. In other words, the host tells the caller what he/she has already said but sets the caller up in a defensive position. I can definitely see how this same idea applies to technical writing. Power, in Hutchby’s view (drawing off of Foucault as well), is not a pre-existing feature of discourse; it emerges through the negotiation of power relations. In a way, technical writers appropriate or prescribe certain discourses that shape the users’ experience, therefore disregarding or avoiding taking into account the users’ native discourses. One way that we can address this problem is to limit the object of inquiry within a cultural studies research design. I thoroughly enjoyed Longo’s piece but, as the title suggests, she discusses possible approaches only. The application of such approaches are not entirely clear. Still, I think she offers some insightful ways to tackle manifestations of power and knowledge in technical writing in a practical and useful way by exploring  “ those silences, absences, and exclusions” that are hidden within the dominant discourse (126).

Britt offers some interesting ideas for thinking about how institutions operate within a larger theoretical framework. In short, she argues that technical writers should take the time to be familiar with social and cultural theories that can help them understand how institutions are in some ways “cultural agents entangled with other institutions (147). I immediately thought of the writing center as a microinstitution and its relationship to the larger academic institution as well as the more local composition classrooms, which is something I would do well to further explore later. Another thing I was drawn to was Britt’s definition of technical communication as “the means by which institutions define themselves and conduct their cultural work” (148). Wow. This makes so much sense. Institutions are able to develop, maintain, and reinforce their agenda through the technical writing they produce. Agenda might be the key word here. I think this is a way that certain institutional structures take shape; their discourse is brought into being through the genres and textual apparatus they use on a daily basis. I found Britt’s chapter less engaging than Longo’s; it was more of food for thought, in my opinion. Perhaps I didn’t see her contribution as valuable as Longo’s, but I do feel as though her work illuminates a conservative attitude toward preserving and upholding particular cultural agendas.

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