Spurious Coin and "An Approach for Applying Cultural Study Theory to Technical Writing Research"
I put these two pieces together because they seem to me to be parts of the same general project that Longo was working on in the late 90s and early 00s. In some ways, "Approach" helps clarify some of the methodological questions that certain of my classmates raised during class last week.
Chapters 3 through 8 of Spurious Coin take us from Locke to the 20th century struggles over knowledge and power as read through technical writing text books. Some of Longo's stuff reminds me of James Berlin's history of composition instruction in the 20th century, but Longo does much more with her topic, I think because of the cultural approach she is taking, plus the main thesis that "technical writing is the mechanism that controls scientific systems" ("Approach, p. 54).
The invisibility of technical writing as a control mechanism reminds me of the project I am contemplating for 5776. It seems to me that technology writ large can also be an invisible mechanism working to perpetuate ideology and privileged forms of knowledge and ways of knowing. In fact, I think I'm moving towards this as a way of framing and understanding my dissertation project. "Approach" helps to do more with this. If technology becomes invisible through ubiquity, then one way to make it visible again should be the cultural approach as outlined by Longo in "Approach." In fact, Longo points to "The Object as Discourse" (p. 66) as one way to outline a cultural studies object. I've been playing around with the idea of technology as text. I'm not sure where I want to go with this, but there are a couple of things I'm leaning towards:
- Viewing technology as text. I think this words really well for digital technologies. Without the text (i.e. software) computers are just objects that do absolutely nothing.
- Understanding technology though text. This may be more amenable to a cultural approach, because we can talk about software, related software, the collaboration surrounding the software, documentation, and so on, in ever-widening circles of discourse practices.
In Human+Machine Longo writes: "If, as technical communicators, we make decisions based only on our understanding of activities and not the cultural contexts in which these activities are embedded, we run the risk of proposing documents and systems that do not fit well with the organization where we work and our goals for the future" ("How are cultures and activities related?"). It's interesting to read this after reading Spurious Coin and "An approach for applying cultural study theory to technical writing research." The first two seem to be to be aimed at giving the technical writing researcher tools for uncovering power relationships in organizations. I think this approach is meant to emancipatory. The quote above seems to me not to be concerned with power relations in organizations. I think the rest of the article is highly concerned with power relations, so this one quote almost seems out of place. But as I write about it, I guess it makes sense: If the point to the cultural studies approach is to better understand oppressive power structures, it stands to reason that this perspective should not be checked at the workplace door. Perhaps Longo is indicating that these approaches need to be taken to work by technical communicators in order to have more effect in the work-place world>
- Can taking a cultural-studies approach to technical writing make people better technical writers? How does that work?
- What place should cultural studies have in undergraduate technical writing instruction? What should that look like?