My questions are primarily related to the readings in Creswell.
As I read all three chapters I began by trying to design my own
dissertation ideas within the provided frameworks.
1) My primary confusion is with Creswell's knowledge claims frameworks. I
am not sure how or why he chooses these four knowledge claims categories.
Are there more? It seems as if one could define others though I can't
think of specifics. In addition, I am not sure the boundaries between
these categories are as distinct or as simple as Creswell seems to
indicate. For example, a pragmatist approach defined as "problem-centered"
seems to incorporate all the other claims. After all isn't an
advocacy/participatory knowledge claim attempting to solve the problem of
inequality? And isn't a constructivistic claim attempting to solve the
problem of postivism? I can see my own dissertation research drawing on
all four knowledge claims to make its case. More discussion will help.
2) In general, I understand that there will be greater detail in the
ensuing chapters, but I'm missing clarity on certain terms and definitions.
What is grounded theory (p14)? What are quasi-experiments (p13), how do
structured interviews (p14) classified under quantitative methods differ
from interviews (p17, Table 1.3) under qualitative methods? How do
integrative, theoretical and methodological reviews differ (p32)? Perhaps
some concrete examples will assist me.
3) With regard to the articles we read: how does scientific writing relate
to technical writing? Miller addresses this issue, but Connors seems to
unconsciously combine them and Dobrin traces the association of technical
writing with scientific use of language? More discussion on this issue
will be helpful.
What I remember best about our group* discussion last week is our contemplation of this question:
Is the researcher necessarily obligated to an "advocacy/participatory" approach, particularly if that researcher is a public intellectual (as some bloggers consider themselves to be)?
I'm remembering this best because it was one of my questions. However, we did discuss a couple of other questions, and I hope that other group members will add to what I've posted here.
*I'm terrible with names, and apologize to the other members, who were all wonderful.
Firstly - I'm assuming this is how we're to post weekly discussion questions?
Having been absent from academia for quite a few years, and new to the direct study of rhetoric, in and of itself, I'm finding myself having to grapple with some lower order/foundational considerations. Please bear with me for a week or two as I figure out once again how this part of the brain works.
As I read Miller's discussion about rhetoric's irrelevancy for science, "Rhetoric relies upon 'artistic proofs,' those which are created by the art of the speaker or writer. Science has to do with what Aristotle called 'inartistic proof,' facts or artifacts which exist independently of human intentions and emotions and about which deliberation is unnecessary," (p.50) I was drawn to the fact that such a view is inherent to a rhetoric of science's own - by assuming and trying to persuade that there is anything concrete and out there that science can itself rely upon, and to advance it's own theories and studies of that assumption. How can a positivist claim, at any time, that their views are independent of rhetoric, that rhetoric is irrelevant, when the epistemology of science itself requires a rhetoric to advance itself among its practitioners? Call it what you want - positivist, scientific method - but this is clearly a view of the world with it's own inherent rhetoric, is it not?
Miller is critical of the statement I cited, and goes on to state that, "Science is, through and through, a rhetorical endeavor." This wouldn't be a wholly radical statement now, but for some historical perspective, I suppose in the history of science, I'm curious if this article generated any sort response or stir from the scientific community when it came out in 1980?
All of my discussion questions from the first week reflect epistemological anxieties. (Mine, perhaps?)
Several statements seem problematic. In Chapter 1 Creswell discusses of the
relative strengths of mixed method research strategies compared to purely
qualitative or quantitative strategies. She states that using a mixed
methods approach may "neutralize" the biases inherent to the individual
methods. Is this a valid assumption? Or might the biases instead combine
additively to increase the bias of the study findings?
As well, Creswell instructs qualitative researchers to "use the literature
sparingly in the beginning of the (research) plan in order to convey an
inductive design" (p. 33; my emphasis). If in their qualitative study the
researcher had proceeded deductively after an extensive review of available
literature, is it ethical, or good intellectual practice, to couch the
study post-hoc in inductive terms?
In his discussion of the truth claims of scientific writing and the lack of
truth claims in technical writing, Dobrin states, "If the statement about
salt were found in technical writing. it still would not make a universal
truth claim; it would be contingent, referring only to this salt at this
time in these circumstances" (p. 110). Why is this true? Are the readers
less likely to believe objective claims about the world if they read them
in technical manuals compared to scientific articles? Is this because of
the more respectable ethos scientific articles command? Do readers
recognise this provisionality of truth in technical communication, perhaps
recognising "degrees" of objectivity and "degrees" of objects corresponding
to the "degree" of discourse (scientific versus technical) they're reading?
How does this provisionality increase or decrease the alternity of
technical writing, if at all?
In reading the three articles, our group (Zoe, Anthony, Lynda, Jen N. and Merry) noted that the same kinds of debates continue today in the fields of Rhetoric and Technical Communication. At the same time, contemporary debates are more complicated than those examined in the articles: these articles were written as RSTC was emerging as a distinct field with academic departments and funding independent of English and Literature. Advances in communication technologies (primarily those related to the Internet), the changing character of undergraduate education (especially the increasing size and diversity of that population) in relation to TC service courses, and the increasing focus on a participatory/advocacy theoretical orientation have shifted the age-old TC debates. Several of us noted that the growing pains of RSTC mirror those of English Departments over a century ago, or, as Lynda pointed out, Womenís Studies Departments two decades ago: the same struggle for recognition as an academic discipline, the same competition for scarce university resources, the same exercises in professional boundary maintenance (i.e. X counts as a valid RSTC research program/graduate course/method of inquiry/epistemological assumption/publishing venue but Y does not).
We talked for a while about the use of jargon and its gatekeeping function within discourse communities. Although the Dobrin article attempted to rehabilitate jargon for this use, the teachers among us were uncomfortable with encouraging our students to use jargon similarly. On the subject of teaching, Jen N. also wondered whether it was better to teach students the conventions of different genres, or to teach TC in a more holistic way. The subject of professional boundaries also segued nicely into Lyndaís reflections on the temptation to situate oneself within a single theoretical orientation (postpositivist, constructivist, etc.) Lynda (and, I think, some of the other group members) believed that boxing oneself into a single theoretical perspective would limit oneís ability to deal with the overlapping categories and nuanced situations researchers frequently face.
In addition to myself (Zoe), two other group members (Anthony and Merry) posted separate perspectives on our group discussion. As a group we spent a lot of time discussing Dobrinís statements on truth claims in science and TC. Both Merry and Zoe explore that issue further in these individual postings.
To me the most interesting discussion in my group (Anthony, Zoe, Jennifer, Lynda, and Merry) was about truth claims. I thought that was a helpful way to distinguish between scientific writing and technical writing. Science writing is claiming a truth about the world. Technical writing addresses more specific applications and doesn't have to prove each point. It assumes a lot of truths that other scientific writers would take pains to prove. This difference helps explain the reason the writing would occur, the practical application of the writing, and why there are different expectations for the writing in the two different areas.
The lines, of course, are not clear, but a theoretic understanding--like a science writer might give us--helps me place the specific, practical, technical writing. I have done a lot of practical technical writing and realize it has some very different expectations than scientific writing. Our reading and our discussion helped me articulate value of each--a very valuable thing for a technical communicator to do.
We also talked quite a bit about how the "field as a whole still grapples with a self-definition," as Grace was asking about. We felt that these issues were still very relevant today. I think technical communicators have an especially troublesome image problem outside of the profession. Many of our co-workers are pretty fuzzy about just what it is that we do and do not characterize it as creative or fulfilling.
I found our discussion with our group about ethics and advocacy very thought-provoking. When conducting research for a field like rhetoric, our concern has to be with the ethics of ethnography. For example, which approach better suits our aims--ethnography where we participate fully with the people we study, ethnography where we linger or lurk but do not participate at all, or ethnography where we participate to the extent that we are present but not entrenched in that group's norms? We also have to balance what is most advantageous for our research, where we presume to gather the most data. In the quantitative methodologies, this separation from people is of utmost importance. Disciplines with a history of more quantitative methodologies who then turn to ethnography (I would imagine) choose the approach which assumes a full separation from the "subjects." In rhetoric, especially in such things as genre research (read C. Berkenkotter's and T. Huckin's Genre Knowledge in Interdisciplinary Communication), it is important to have a close relationship, at least at the interviewer/interviewee level. This close relationship is integral to gathering "rich" data, or data that allows multi-directional analysis.
I think in internet Research, there seems to be more of a phenomenological approach to ethnography--the chat room, the dating site, the usenet group, and others--are a phenomenon. To study phenomena, you must be separate from them. As a result, I think most internet research strives to use the most separate approach possible. This creates problems, however, when dealing with sensitive information. Be it support groups, dating sites (with personal information), or professional discussions, there is always the chance that individuals may resent an invasion of their privacy if you publish a resulting report.
Further, if you are studying a groups with particular understandings (such as emotional support, participation, etc.), is it ethical to not be a contributing member of that group? Since you do not fulfill the conditions for entering that group, is it ethical to be there? Conversely, does pretending to be involved in the group ethical? Seemingly, there is no "right" way to do it. Most of these challenges with methodological approach have to be decided on a case-by-case basis and, following, be approved with an IRB (I think) form. So even if you think what you're doing is ethical, there is a chance the board won't.
We (Grace, Mike, Salma, Smiljana, and Kenny) discussed primarily the ways that the Miller and Dobrin articles articulated a very social-constructivist stance, while the one by Connorís was more difficult to place ideologically. Though I (Kenny) thought that his use of gender-based metaphors throughout seemed conservative and ideologically-telling (For example, he mentions the masculine profession of engineering versus the perception of English teachers as practitioners of an Ďeffeminateí knowledge. These gendered metaphors, obviously, were not created by Connors, and they do in fact exist in technical communication and in human culture, in general. Admittedly my own queer-social-constructivist ideological world-view is implicated in that reading of Connorís article.).
We also wondered what type of call-to-action article would be written about the field today. In other words, where are we now in relation to a more humanistic and social-constructivist conceptualization of the field? How far have we come? Are their research questions and research subjects that we have yet to explore? We saw that some perspectives mentioned by Creswell, like race, sexuality, and disability, have yet to be fully and consistently explored by technical communication research (which is not to say that there is no tech. comm. research in these areas). We wondered what this means for us as graduate students of technical communication, who are entering a field which has in no way exhausted the possibilities of new, engaging research.
Again in relation to both the Miller and Dobrin articles we mentioned the stylistic and rhetorical differences of their pieces, particularly Dobrinís use of a very self-consciously philosophical argumentation. The two writersí reflections on their work, namely what was happening in their academic careers when they wrote the essays, offered a nice lens through which to view the rhetorical choices they made. For example, Millerís more direct style matches her very real concerns of being fresh out of a Ph.D. program and teaching in an English department that was wrestling with those very issues addressed in her essay. Lastly, I remember our discussion of the difficulty of balancing our world-view and our pedagogy. Supposing we do agree with Miller and Dobrin, and we are more inclined to social-constructivism, how do we bring this into the classroom? If we agree with Millerís critique of the postpositivist assumptions behind what we teach about style and audience, how then should that reflect the way we teach style and audience in our own courses?
(I fear that I am only remembering the issues and topics that I found most compelling. If so, I do hope that another member of the group will correct me.)