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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Hardy – Week 14 Reading Response

I never thought that I would see hip hop pedagogy discussed within the context of technical communication, but Del Hierro offers solid reasoning for why hip hop offers technical communicators new insights “beyond the the traditional base of the field” (246). The rhetorical and cultural implications of hip hop as a technologically mediated genre is particularly interesting in that it serves to demonstrate how artists “make do” with what is available to them to express themselves and “create resistance and agency” (247). It also serves as its own means of social justice, especially for marginalized groups and youth culture. As a critical and pedagogical tool, hip hop offers teachers and students a new way into discussions about inclusivity and to build communities and alliances in a potentially radical transformative way, mostly because it acknowledges how traditional education “fails marginalized communities” (258). The digital booklet assignment proposed by Del Hierro is an interesting new take on a typical song analysis, which can be beneficial for students preparing to engage in a variety of disciplines, and I see this assignment as a valuable learning opportunity that fits neatly within the learning outcomes of FYC at ECU.

Edwards extends these ideas to race in the workplace by focusing more on language itself and its potentially injurious nature. She offers up Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a way of engaging with notions of race within the classroom and the field of professional writing by “interrupt[ing] the silences that exist with discussing, acknowledging, and dealing with the connections between race, racism, and power” (380-81). Using CRT as a lens in the classroom is valuable for discussions about language because “language use is never objective” and it can be used to critique and resist systems of oppression (385). Furthermore, emphasizing the kairotic nature of using such a lens can better serve teachers of professional writing to “disrupt trained ways of looking at race” in their course design and the documents used in the class (387), which I think is perhaps the most significant benefit of using CRT. As teachers of rhetoric, composition, and/or technical communication, we should constantly be seeking out alternative ways of breaking down an already broken education system and construct a space for students to participate in real life situations beyond the boundaries of the classroom.

Hardy – Week 12 Reading Response

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.

Hardy – Week 10 Response (Smyser-Fauble and Sackey)

While reading Smyser-Fauble, I couldn’t help thinking of Margaret Price’s keynote address at the Southeastern Writing Center’s Association Conference last month, and how a feminist disabilities studies approach can and should be used to analyze and intervene in the ways in which students are accommodated in an academic institution. Intervention, Smyser-Fauble states, is one of the most important responsibilities of a technical communicator (113), but we must first understand how and under what conditions these policies were conceived and implemented (99). Over the course of this semester, I’ve slowly begun to overlay the roles and responsibilities of technical communicators with WPAs and, more specifically, writing center administrators. Universal design, inclusivity, and accessibility in general have recently gained traction as topics of interest in the writing center field, but I fear we may be coming to interrogate these issues a bit too late. Even discussions about what accommodation entails or what language is used to describe accommodation procedures has been muddied and ambiguous. Certainly, we can confront these issues in the technical communication classroom, but how do we seize a kairotic moment to take action in the name of social justice? Where do we begin at our own institution? I think, even within the context of the writing center, defining what encompasses the term “assistive technology” is a good place to start. If, as Steph said in a class a few weeks ago, technology is an extension of the body, then isn’t technology, by definition, assistive? And, further, I wonder if “accommodation” is a problematic term that “others” people simply because it implies something is required to normatize (?) a person. When does being universally inclusive venture into corrective or remediative behavior? If those of you are interested in what Margaret Price has to say about inclusivity, her SWCA keynote can be found here: https://margaretprice.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/on-inclusivity-12-point.docx.

Donnie Sackey had me at the first mention of “global rhetorical citizenship” (204). Attending to local concerns are important, of course, but those concerns are inextricably linked to global ones, and we must recognize and understand the dynamics at work in that relationship. There is no clear delineation between local and global environments, nor is there any way to address one without considering the other.  Perhaps I am discussing these terms too broadly. The incident in Michigan discussed on page 207, for example, demonstrates how administrative and regulatory entities operate within tangled layers of bureaucracy that affect very specific, localized populations (the microcosm, if you will), but these entities permeate the macrocosm as well. To oversimplify, these relationships are woven into an elaborate tapestry that makes our job as technical communicators — as well as social/environmental justice advocates — all the more difficult. As with my other posts, I want to reiterate that when I read for this course, I’m always thinking about what we can do with this knowledge. Where do we go from here? How can we apply this straight away? The most practical place to start, in my opinion, is learning how to communicate local-global issues (of a scientific or pseudo-scientific nature) to targeted communities. I am reminded here of Jeffrey Grabill’s Writing Community Change: Designing Technologies for Citizen Action, which compliments Sackey’s argument extraordinarily well. Sackey  states that “science has to be willing to translate its research into forms that local communities can more readily understand and use for purposes that suit their collective goals” (211), which goes beyond just revising content in layman’s terms. A strong command of rhetorical knowledge is necessary for communicating to these discrete audiences how these issues affect them. In other words, we have to make this information accessible.

Hardy – Week 8 – Reading Response

Of the readings for this week, I was most drawn to Haas’s piece. I found her “mini-definitional” sections interesting. Race, rhetoric, and technology have no fixed meanings, so Haas defines them the way she understands them, which I appreciate as a reader. Authors should be upfront in the way they approach broad concepts and acknowledge their own interpretation as just one way of looking at things. My favorite bits include her framing rhetoric as a cultural techne and also “a result, a precursor, and a limit to productive knowledge making” (287), race as a “colonial rhetoric by-product” (292), and technology as a thing, something that can be isolated and known apart from a cultural context (290). Where these concepts converge can be tricky to address, but I think Haas approaches it properly by first looking at each one individually and then how those ideas rub up against each other.

In many ways, Haas’s article is a model to emulate; it’s sharply organized, accessibly written, and — oh, I like her voice, too — she addresses me as “dear reader,” an interesting rhetorical move on her part, but I digress — and the way she tackles the pedagogy section gives me a clear sense of what I should take away from this article. Her trials and tribulations of designing the course to make it viable and less “edgy” also gives me an idea of the kind of hurdles one goes through to create a course (294). It also helps me see what tensions or hostility can manifest in the classroom because of the volatility of the topics.  Trivia: Dr. Erin Frost makes a cameo (301).

Agboka refers to technical communication as a “virtuous field” (166), yet one that must consider the role human rights plays in shaping research and pedagogical approaches to technical communication (166). I found the author’s definition of rhetoric reductive, and relies perhaps too heavily a rhetorical analysis with too few implications for teachers of technical communication to consider. The most significant takeaway here, I think, is that technical documents can raise “ethical or human rights issues” even if our intentions are good (185), and we should strongly consider how we teach students about its rhetorical powers. As a result, students will be more civic minded and more capable of critical engagement with human rights issues outside the classroom.

Hardy – Week 7 Response

Haas and Eble start us off by introducing the complex relationship between technical communication and globalization, and they argue that these complexities are necessary for technical communicators to interrogate (3). Further, social justice frameworks can help us examine distributions of power—and imbalances in that distribution—from the technical communication courses. Combining the pedagogical with the theoretical, Haas and Eble’s forthcoming edited collection embodies the interplay between various camps, such as cultural studies, social justice rhetorics, and technical/professional/scientific communication, and the relationships between local and global contexts “on the macro-, meso-, micro, and even—literally—the cellular levels” (9, 13).  Just from reading the introduction, I can tell this collection is an ambitious project; it might just even be groundbreaking. There are many disciplinary boundaries challenged, or even threatened, by this kind of collection. Furthermore, I can see from the table of contents that contributors have the potential to disrupt existing notions of TPC and extend its application to other contexts that have not been explored previously. Reading the introduction energized me. I wanted to shout Yes! Yes! Absolutely! as I read because there is a great sense of urgency communicated here, and the authors grab out at the reader and say Hey, you — listen, this is important work and here’s why you should care. So many scholarly works are humdrum retreads of old material and offer little more than a fleeting insight. But this work has vigor and a lot of driving power behind it, and given its editors, this project is in excellent hands. I hope that this collection has great success and is well received across the discipline.

Hardy – Week 6 Reading Response

According to Blakeslee and Savage, writing is the only constant in technical communication (364). Their heuristic in this chapter offers some useful questions to consider with regard to the quality and quantity of textual production as part of the day-to-day tasks technical communicators face, which requires knowledge of genre conventions, rhetorical skill, and writing as a solitary and/or collaborative process (369). These observations, as I have said in previous posts, seem obvious to me, perhaps becomes of my training in writing studies. But to boil down what I think Blakeslee and Savage want the reader to take away is this: “everything is driven by the needs of audiences” (376). Regardless of the particular task at hand, technical communicators are developing content for use, and the users are of course the most important party technical communicators must consider. I would argue the users are significantly more important than the client for which the technical communicator writes or develops. This came up in class during our Gallery Walk — I believe it was Constance’s group. Certainly the client is paying for the technical communicator’s time and efforts, but ultimately, satisfying the users of the document is in a way satisfying the client. To put it another way, creating a document that is accessible and easy to follow will ensure fewer problems for the client to contend with.

 

Blakeslee and Savage further observe that technical communicators must “learn quickly and independently” (372). Although documents may be developed with the efforts of many, each communicator must find ways of managing his/her time, and they must be prepared to continue their education from the moment they begin work; they must be willing to learn constantly (381). Every writing task is unique with its own sets of demands, outcomes, and deadlines, which does not solely apply to technical communicators, but I think the authors are trying to emphasize something specific to technical communicators. Developing an instruction manual, for example, is not just one task; there are many micro-tasks that must be completed to arrive at that macro-task, which is a finished instruction manual. One has to manage tackling each micro-task, which requires learning to manage time at the micro and macro levels. Since the sample of twenty-four participants in Blakeslee and Savage’s study responded that at least a quarter of their time was dedicated to writing (373), I think it’s equally important to think about the temporal aspects of completing small writing tasks effectively and with regard for the greater project, especially if one values quality over every other aspect of his/her work.

 

Let’s take a walk across borders with Dr. Saint-Amant. His discussion about world-view reminds me vaguely of Burke’s terministic screens and figured worlds — what lens shapes the way we determine appropriateness and importance is a given context? Further, how might our behavior compromise our credibility outside of our domestic sphere? I think about these issues quite often because I do quite a bit of work with folks from all over the world. For instance, an executive board meeting for the European Writing Centers Association (EWCA) via Skype is comprised of people from Poland, Turkey, Greece, Germany, France, and the U.S. Although our lingua franca is English, I am very self-conscious about how I participate in the conversation and the documents I create for the association. Those documents, I might add, are for a global audience, and I fear what might be “rhetorically problematic” for my audience (483). Again, audience is stressed in this chapter by Saint-Amant, which he claims is crucial to sustaining our credibility for a global audience (484). I confess that I have very little cross-cultural training other than what I have learned from these types of interactions, but I have learned that politeness, courtesy, and respect are universal qualities to which audiences respond; however, the problematic part lies in how these qualities are enacted or communicated. I have had few cross-cultural communication problems in my experience, but perhaps more extensive cultural knowledge would help me considerably. Because of my work with the EWCA is for such a broad multi-cultural audience, I am unsure where to begin, but, as Saint-Amant states (echoing Blakeslee and Savage to a degree), there are many things a technical communicator must know about or learn in advance, including rhetorical knowledge and conventions of various genres (486). Although I bring a breadth of rhetorical knowledge with me, I am always learning new things and creating new knowledge to put to use.

Hardy – Week 3 Response

Porter attempts to show how rhetorical theory informs the work of the technical communicator. He explains the value and application of theory, but I think he perhaps spends too much of his efforts on theory. As a result, the rhetorical function of theory takes a back seat. His example with Max, in my opinion, fails to show how rhetorical theory can be successful applied in a given context (or maybe the example was not sufficiently explained with supporting details). Criticisms aside, I found it interesting that “technical communication has moved toward thinking more about process, action, and reception” (136). This shift indicates that the product (e.g. instruction manual) is no longer the only thing technical communicators have to work toward. Instead, there is a great deal of planning or prewriting the technical communicator must do in order to successfully accomplish his/her task(s), particularly with strong consideration for the rhetorical situation. Who is the intended (user) audience? What is the purpose of this document I have been asked to create? In what context will it be used? These are basic questions, of course, but I can see what Porter is trying to emphasize. Applying rhetorical theory in the creation of a technical document seems obvious to me because of my training and expertise, but I imagine this is where a lot of the tension in the product/process and theory/practice debates come in. If technical communicators privilege the document in question over their audience, then the likelihood of delivering an insufficient or semi-useful document is quite high.

Longo and Fountain draw our attention toward historical and cultural influences that technical communicators must take into account when developing materials for a particular purpose and with a specific audience in mind. The provided example of the nurse revising an ICU protocol (and the mention of Foucault) reminds of a recent research project I did for Dr. Erin Frost’s course on technology and embodiment. I closely examined the writing center’s client intake form as a cultural artifact and as residual document from the clinical era of writing center history. In this study, I was concerned with what the intake form asks student writers to embody, particularly whether the form makes students see themselves as patients to be treated. I had to take into account the organizational history of writing centers and their collective culture as part of my initial research, starting with the early writing clinics and writing labs that most contemporary writing center practitioners quietly swept under the metaphorical rug. Foucault’s The Birth of the Clinic was helpful in fleshing out how the writing center experience is still somewhat clinical (e.g. make an appointment, fill out an intake form, check in at the front desk, have a seat, wait, then you’re taken to the “back” where you’ll tell a “consultant” your concerns, and he or she will suggest a course of action for alleviating those concerns), but I digress. Longo and Fountain’s chapter helped me see I was investigating organizational history in order to analyze a technical document. Further, I can build upon my findings to improve the current intake form at ECU, thus revisiting that history (or is it histories?) to understand how this form has been used in the past and in what cultural and institutional context.

Hardy – Week 3 Response

When I first began reading Solving Problems in Technical Communication, I was immediately struck by Johnson-Eilola and Selber’s comment that “[t]echnical communication is no longer simply communication about technology; it is also often communication as and in technology” (1). This statement concisely shows that the field’s focus has changed over time, or rather it has expanded to include additional dynamics in the relationship between technology and communication. Dynamic, I think, is an important word to describe that rapidly evolving relationship to which technical communicators must adapt. If “the only constant in the field is change,” then adaptability is the most valuable skill a technical communicator can have outside of his/her expertise (2).

Like writing (and research), technical communication is messy and recursive, and there are a number of problem situations to which technical communicators must return and revise their heuristic before trying again. A great deal of thinking about the problem situation is involved, which is why heuristics makes so much sense as a framework for going back and forth between theory and practice. I haven’t had much experience with heuristics (other than washing clothes, perhaps), but the heuristic used to organize the book forced me to frame my own understanding of technical communication through the answering of questions in each quadrant, which was very helpful to me.

The text cloud heuristic described by Selfe and Selfe in Chapter 1 was, well, quite fun to work through. Knowing that this chapter was written by technical communicators made me even more conscious of the creative choices used to present the heuristic. The first three steps are concerned with identification, which leads me to think that much of the front-end work is largely constructed by thinking rhetorically about context, purpose, and audience. In other words, the first few steps involve thoroughly understanding your goal and the process you will use to arrive there (or rather the problem you will attempt to solve). With research, the interpretive part is, I think, the most fun, and the text cloud is a great example of visualizing the frequency of and relationships between particular terms and the patterns they reveal. Selfe and Selfe observe that the text cloud and other visual presentations help technical communicators (and their “user” audiences) to make sense of large datasets (41). Infographics are one example that has become increasingly popular (and creative) over the years, and there are now a number of free, web-based tools for creating them with ease, using a simple UI. I assume that text cloud generators are probably easy to find and use as well.

Hart-Davidson describes three work patterns of technical communicators: they “work as information designers,” “user advocates,” and as “stewards of writing activity in organizations” (51). I liked the author’s heuristic for technical communicators to become better user advocates. They should constantly reevaluate their work based on the intended users/audience, and if possible, get them involved in the process and listen to them closely (62). This kind of close involvement, however, does require strong curating/organizational skills, but what are common methods for keeping such content collections organized? The user forum mentioned in the example (62) provides little context for how this might work, so perhaps this is something we can revisit in class. But I am definitely adopting Elena’s user-advocacy work patterns as my new office pin-up poster: “listen, participate, curate, create” (66).