Critical/ Cultural Studies in STC Research (plus an article on Methods sections)
Ok, perhaps it wasn't really necessary to try to sum up this week's in a snappy title. But I did find them to be cohesive, in a cumulative sort of way. I started with the Blyler article, which advocates for critical (which I read as radical) research in STC. I enjoyed the challenge that this article brings, especially as I am looking at my own research and trying to push it a little further than it has gone in the past. In fact, Timothy O. and I have been talking about how to frame research so that it does more than just apply an analytical tool to a sample. One thing I didn't understand from Blyler's article was a minor point, but she claims that ideology exists outside of the mind (not sure of the page number). This seems to me to be incompatible with a social constructionist view of language => knowledge. Again, I don't know if this a major point worth picking on too much, but it points to some of the inconsistencies that we seem to create for ourseleves in rhetoric/stc. (I was similarly disoriented by our discussion of positivism followed by what I felt to be a reificatino of a highly positivistic scientific method as applied to clinicial drug trials.)
Another issue I have with Blyler is that she seems to ignore what (for me) is a major reason researchers in STC don't do more radically critical research: cognitive dissonance. In other words, I think it is difficult to do research that illustrates the complicity that technical writing has with oppresive economic systems and then go to teach a class such as 3562W. Clearly it's crucial that we do so, especially so that we can follow through on our ethical responsiblities, but it seems that steeping ourseleves in critical research could make us ask uncomfortable questions about the ethicality of our chosen field and our roles in the field.
Next I read the Thralls and Blyler article. This article suggests taking a cultural studies approach to STC research. I found this article very helpful; it kind of took the aspirations I took from the first article and helped place them on an articulate-able foundation. In other words, I felt like the first article encouraged me to take a critical approach to research, and the second article gives me some ammunition for defending such an approach.
I read the Smagorinsky article next. He argues that we need to do a lot more with our methods sections. He writes from the point of view of an article reviewer, but his advice seems very helpful for someone on the other side of the relationship. In fact, he argues that the Research Question need to hold all of the parts of an article together (as Lee-Ann has told us in class.). Smagorinksy writes a lot about coding schemes and grounding them in your theory, rather than just saying "I read the data. I coded the data. And here are my results." This could also be useful in terms of justifying the grounding of coding schemes in theory.
Finally, I'll write a little about *Spurious Coin*. I've read the first half of this book twice now, and I feel like I'm getting more out of each time I read it. I skimmed the first two chapters for class, and I see now how Bernadette is answering challenges like Blyler's and Thralls & Blylers above. In fact, this helps answer a question I had as I was reading Thralls & Blyler, namely "How can we take a cultural studies perspective of a object of study that exists only in text? (As opposed to the kinds of human interactions they seem to writing about -- workplaces, etc.) Bernadette does this by placing her objects of study in a historical cultural context.
First she justifies doing so in the first chapter by examining a number of studies that have or have not taken the a critical/cultural perspective. I especially appreciated her thought experiment on what Katz's "The Ethic of Expediency" might have looked like had taken an uncritical social constructionist approach to the Just memo. In chapter two, she begins to outline the historical precedents to engineering text books and how these precedents have served to help determine what knowledge is privileged and how that knowledge came to be privilieged and in some cases came to be discarded as superstition (e.g. divining rods).
* What are some ways to push back on my own research. How can I use what I learn from applying existing theory to my object of study to push theory back or try to move it further?
* How is ideology socially constructed? Especially in 2010, what roles do texts play in creating ideologies? How have technological texts stepped in to fill the vacuum left by treatises and manifestos?
Longo, B. (2000). Spurious Coin: A History of Science, Management, and Technical Writing. State Univ of New York Press.
Nancy Blyler. (2004). Taking a Political Turn: The Critical Perspective and Research in Professional Communication. In J. Johnson-Eilola & S. A Selber (Eds.), Central works in technical communication. Oxford University Press.
Smagorinsky, P. (2008). The method section as conceptual epicenter in constructing social science research reports. Written Communication, 25(3), 389.
Thralls, C., & Blyler, N. (n.d.). Cultural studies: An orientation for research in professional communication. In Research in technical communication (pp. 185-209).