Longo’s work in exploring how best to create a rhetorical research study of institutional/corporate writing is actually proving useful in two of the three projects I am working on this semester. The idea of using cultural studies isn’t really something that would immediately come to mind when working with a lot of technical communication subject and artifacts, but over the course of the semester, it’s become ever clearer that each corporation, institution, and organization is absolutely its own culture, so when you can finally start seeing these spaces in that way, then it seems much more obvious that cultural studies would be an excellent way of examine their communication practices, and we also established this semester, that because of the structural nature of these spaces/cultures, their communication practices within their own systems, and those they engage other such spaces with (even the public), is technical communication. It’s all weighted with specific protocols, measures for adequacy and success, language, standards for interaction with outsiders, and methods of establishing, translating, and transmitting value.
These ideas are particularly interesting when one considers the many differences between the technical writing by and for the public in maker spaces, DIY blogs, videos, and other media, and even in handwritten instructions offered on family recipe cards, or laundry instructions for problematic machines, or the proper way to walk their dog for dogsitters. Though most of what we have been working with focuses on political, economic, and industrial cultures, I believe it could be fascinating if not ultimately useful to conduct research on the hows and whys of individual public structures of technical communication.
……………Tangent time…….I can remember seeing handwritten instructions left for guests down in Duck and Corolla when I was a housekeeping inspector that covered everything from trash procedures to security protocols to rules for interacting with the local flora and fauna. I was always struck by how different they seemed to be from place to place, and that those written by owners from New York or New Jersey seemed to be very differently worded from those written by owners from Texas or Arizona, or the fireman from New York who left especially detailed instruction for things like the fire suppression system, the smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, and even evacuation plans that covered fires breaking out in numerous parts of the property. I also remember having to help more than one set of guests figure out what they were doing wrong in following the instructions or needing info consistently left out, like where the breaker boxes were, and how to vacuum the house before leaving when they could only find the hose and attachments and didn’t want to go out and buy a vacuum (the vacuum system was built into the walls, so you attached the hose through a special panel in the walls of each room)…….
…..If I had had these courses before I quit that job, I could have done some very interesting research into public technical communication documents. So many documents shaped by embodied experiences influenced by the jobs they did or the struggles they had faced in figuring things out. So many different cultural value systems set forth through the construction of technical documents………
One method suggested by Longo for applying cultural studies to the technical writing practices of institutional/organizational spaces is “reflect(ing) on the following five themes: the object of study is discourse, the object is studied in its cultural context, the object is studied as historically situated, the object is ordered by the researcher for the purposes of the study, and, therefore, the most important relationship in the study is between the object and the researcher” (124). It’s interesting how this works into bias, but suggests also methods of reducing bias. In working with technical documents created by organization that have spent decades or centuries inundating the public with proper protocols (CDC, WHO, and ARC) in times of fear and crisis, its important to consider their patterns of inclusion and exclusion, how legal issues and politics have infiltrated technical discourses within such organizations, and how that effects the rhetorical choices technical writers make when drafting documents, especially protocol documents.
My apologies for only writing about Longo, but I didn’t take use an app to take notes on the other chapters, and don’t have the book at hand 😦 Perhaps I can do the rest before Thursday. Cheers!