September 25, 2004

Tension between management and labor

To me one of the most interesting things about Longo's book was her discussion about the tensions between management and labor, specifically how technical communiation can work as a way to control labor--to have them internalize the system, report on co-workers, and keep them "happy" and in their place.

It seems to me that technical communication can be used as just one way to reinforce class distinctions and an oppressive attitude by management toward labor--the attitude that labor is a natural resource to be exploited. This is the same attitude that encourages workers to believe that their work isn't valuable and by extension, that they are not valuable as workers or as individuals. It's a way of internalizing the system, ensuring that there will be enough cheap labor to exploit. If workers don't believe that their work is valuable and that they deserve a living wage, then they won't demand it. They get locked into a position where they cannot get ahead and their individual needs and lives are not valued.

I think this book would be very valuable to anyone involved in the labor movement in helping to understand some of the tools of oppression in the work place. I had always thought of technical communication or organizational communication as being kind of benign. I think Longo's book was very illuminating about this issue.

Posted by north015 at 1:10 PM

blurring lines between science and industry

I may be more of a product of corporations than many people in this program, or at the University. I worked in a research and development group. Tensions between science (recruiting more subjects, giving more time to analysis or testing, the ideal) and industry (considerations about time to market and cost of development, the practical) were very real. Wrestling with those tensions and balancing them in a way that allowed valuable work to be done was interesting and satisfying. I was glad to hear Bernadette Longo acknowledge the good jobs and money industry supplies. I was also glad that Kliemann ended her article with a note that corporate work can be interesting and satisfying.

The idea of placing research projects in a larger cultural context is interesting to think about. Industrial research seems to straddle some of the lines we have drawn between science and industry. Because the research takes place in a particular time and the end products are sold to people who live in a particular social context, that context is perhaps more explicitly influential on what research gets done and what products get developed.

Does anyone else have experience working with research in the corporate sector rather than an academic sector?

Posted by renda003 at 10:49 AM

September 22, 2004

Week Three posting

Question: How can we think about the idea of habitus within emerging technologies, especially those tied to the scientific method?
Ex: In stem cell research, the "technology" is a human product with (like any technology) implicit values and attached sociopolitical conditions and ethical ramifications. In such a provocative topic, how can we practice technical writing?

My comment for this week is below.

While for other technologies (such as a new software piece) the idea of habitus is more prevalent (some genres are highly regimented, predictable of standardized, what we might call 'stable genres'), technical writing in provacative technologies, especially those with a history of traditional scientific writing (such as technologies coming out of a biological writing tradition) seems problematic. On one hand, we can focus on the technology itself, attempting to write neutrally, making comparisons to things familiar for the reader, using the "teach to learn to do" model, and practice an explanatory approach to interpret SME language. These are some of the principles we learn pedagogically in technical writing classes (the principles of which are still taught). However, not all technologies fit easily into this prescriptive model. In this case, the technology is still a "product," which, while not gender or value-neutral, still seems very separate from the people who created it or the issues it might create. In this case, when we deal with life products, such as stem-cell lines or glow-in-the-dark bunnies, can we ethically refer to them in a value/gender-neutral way? Reading Katz for the second time in conjunction with Bernadette's book, I had to wonder whether our society as it stands now could ever refer to genetic products neutrally--could we distance ourselves enough from the "object?" Would writing this way come across much like the Nazi tech comm of transferring victims of genocide to extermination camps? Would writing this way even be appropriate for our society? When previous methods no longer fit the technology, I wonder if we can challenge our own habitus, especially in "techtific" (technologies who have strong ties to scientific method) fields where both tech writing and scientific writing have strong presences.
I really enjoyed Bernadette's book, as the apparent tension between technical writing movements demonstrated to me what could be going on now. It seems that we, even as scholars, tend to treat technology as one thing, both in pedagogy and in practice. It is still the object to be described, the artifact to be explained. Perhaps naturally the technology will outgrow its boundaries and force a new style of technical writing. How can we, however, initiate change as tech writing teachers? How can we teach creative approaches and still retain basic form and rule?

Posted by tsch0070 at 1:31 PM

Question about a complex method

If objects that seem ‘invisible’ to research (because they are culturally ubiquitous, &c.) are actually objects that silently support the dominate culture, then these mundane objects are worthy of study on the grounds that they have an important position in the cultural power structure. So, to study such objects, you must make those objects strange; you must juxtapose those objects and their contexts with another culture (or with another period of time in which understandings of the dominant culture were different) in order to create a tension that you can study.

Studies that use this methodology, it seems to me, face several challenges:

- How do you construct legitimate cultural models of appropriate scope (for either the initial culture or the compared culture)?

If you are studying scientific drawings, for instance, you would, of course, have to choose a specific type of drawings or a specific image group as an exemplar (unless you had a staff of hundred and a hundred million dollar grant). There are a number of institutions and environmental factors that influence (and audiences who are influenced by and thereby influence) the construction of such drawings. Since those audiences probably don’t conveniently line up in one to one correspondence today and in sixteenth-century Europe (or, to use a culture example, in the United States and in China), how do you make sure that your construct of sixteenth-century Europe includes all the contributing factors and describes and weights their contribution appropriately?

This of course assumes you have already answered the more fundamental questions:

- How do you choose an exemplar and how does your choice of exemplar limit the claims that you can make over similar objects?

- And how do you choose a comparative culture and how does your choice of comparative culture limit the claims you can make in a broader institutional setting?

Posted by kmiec004 at 9:45 AM

September 21, 2004

Ethos and The Humanities Writer

Even though I have been aware for some time, I was amazed as I read Bernadette Longo’s Spurious Coin just how sensitive the rift between the humanities and science can be to scholars and professionals alike. In her telling of the history on technical writing, a defeatist tale is told of the technical writer. At best, one is transparent and efficient, an elegant machine to be managed for optimal transcription of ideas generated in the higher realms of science, management, and technology. There is no glory, perhaps a certificate of appreciation will be generated by a graphic artist down the hall. This will be good, for a T.A. Rickard states, “comfort of the many is preferred to the glory of the few” (142). This practical form of art will be your reward. Whether the certificate was made for you or is just another stylized pre-formatted celebration printed off the same ream of paper through the same printer is irrelevant since authenticity is no longer a concern (125). It does not matter who prepares the certificate, it only matters whose signature graces the gloss (117). Given this reading, there should be no surprise then that technical writer should sit on a little stool called apologia and be pleased with the scraps that fall from the big tables of science, management, and technology. Just how difficult it is for Longo to take technical writing beyond this ludicrous tale is telling. It is not for lack of effort or ability that Longo struggles, I argue it is for the simple lack of ethos.
While a lack of ethos can be blamed for the demise of many efforts, whether it be a drunkard trying to convince you he was nearly being drafted by the Vikings in 1972 before being injured or a Communist Party candidate running for the U.S. Senate in 1956, this case is poignant because Longo would seem to have every reason to be credible except that she is not a “producer” of science, management, or technology. She is a Professor of English. Because Longo is from the field of English [I didn’t know she was in the Rhetoric Department when I wrote this], she has to be meticulous in the construction of the history of technical writing in order to garner enough credibility to put forth a few recommendations in conclusion. Compare it to Rudy having to overcome being so small by having tremendous dedication just to get in on a play at Notre Dame. Interestingly, our literary tales are filled with the underdog, often in cases such as Star Wars, we find a young Luke Skywalker steeped in Jedi (occult) training up against the forces of evil and technology. If we trace this tangent and the history presented in the book, we find science and technology in the time of Agricola attempting to separate from the “books of secrets” and “occult teachings” (32, 34). To borrow from cinema, Agricola’s 16th century marked the departure of Darth Vader (Anikan Skywalker) from Luke Skywalker’s life. Sure they were to meet, but with sabers instead of compassion. If Longo could cite Rudy and Luke Skywalker (giants in the literary realm) as proof of the need for a humanistic technical writing and a rejoining of the humanities (Luke Skywalker) and the sciences (Darth Vader), the argument could have been neatly framed in a short essay. Since scholarly preference is clearly on the side of established principles and reviewed publications, Longo sticks to the likes of Foucault and Derrida instead of Rudy—probably not a bad idea.
The contrast in its true black and white is what a Professor of “Science” with similar views to Longo can “get by with” without lengthy prefacing. Straight from the University of Wisconsin, Professor of Botany Tim Allen delivered one of my all time favorite quotes, “inefficiency is a virtue.” Scandalous. “Put more strongly, science is not about finding out the truth. Science is about socially acceptable perception” (Heirarchy Theory 75). Allen, while not necessarily in line with all of his peers, is able to be a whole lot more bold with a lot less bibliography than Longo because he sits at one of the aforementioned “big tables.” Allen concludes Hierarchy Theory with a statement, “New questions, not new truths, guide the path of science” (197). If ever there was a preeminent role for the technical writer in the sciences, this question should pull back the curtains to reveal a certain state waiting to be taken. Perhaps start with a little popular culture, a little quiz on preferences, challenge the scientists, managers, and techies as to why we cheer for Luke Skywalker and Phrodo, Rudy and Rocky, and you better grab a pencil to start some humanistic technical writing. Call it destabilizing, supplement, or some other fancy term, but the effect is the same—the question and thus the torchbearer of ethos has shifted.

Posted by tayl0464 at 5:29 PM

Old Fears about the Instability of Text

I'm not officially posting this week, but I couldn't resist adding something regarding Longo's cultural history of systematic management and communication textbooks. The anxieties that oral vs. written text can create for managers, teachers and students were shared in the late 14th century by Geoffrey Chaucer. He wrote a poem to his student/secretary, Adam, chiding him for his careless copy errors:


ADAM Scrivener, if ever it thee befall
Boece or Troilus for to write anew,
Under thy long locks thou may'st have the scall* (= *scab )
But after my making thou write more true!
So oft a day I must thy work renew, composing
It to correct, and eke to rub and scrape;
And all is through thy negligence and rape.* (= *haste )

Posted by nyssa003 at 11:50 AM

September 14, 2004

Week 2 ?'s-Marv

Well, I just lost my nearly completed entry, so here is a condensed one...

Q1: The APA directly and others indirectly cite 'competence' as key ethical consideration in research. Being new the formalized realm of research and having wide ranging interests and always finding myself diving into new ones, am I being bold, an ethical minimalist, or just a harmless fly who lacks the wisdom of an old owl if I delve into a research project that is "over my head?" Q1a: If I do such a project, to what extent is it my ethical responsibility and to what extent is it the responsibility of a supervisor (whether it a board, advisor or mom and dad)?

Q2: The Belmont Report (p.10 Gurak/Lay) talks about justice as a key principle in the ethics of research, stating justice is based on the question, "Who ought to receive the benefits of research and bear its burdens?" Should I then be asking myself if "cows" ought to be the benefactor of my research while "sheep" get the short end of the stick? Substitute different terms and then flip-flop and serious ethical problems do emerge. While many marginalized person proponents (MPP's) like the idea of research to support their cause, the same MPP's find the flip-flop to be inflammatory. This is not a new argument just turn into Rush Limbaugh sometime. The question I have, is that if the ought question invariably leads to finger pointing, is it a viable principle for the ethics of research?

Sorry, only slightly condensed.

Posted by tayl0464 at 2:00 PM