Audiences listen to speakers for three reasons, according to Aristotle (qtd. in Burke): to hear advice about the future, to pass judgment on a past action, or simply for the sake of interest in a subject. And yet, Ratcliffe observes that Aristotle didn’t explain HOW to listen (p. 20). Now, how do these audience rationales weave their way into technical writing discourse? Or, as Dr. Lewis asked in class, how could technical writing be taught with rhetorical listening as a goal? My limited experience has me somewhat stymied as to how this question can be fully answered. We discuss traditional notions of rhetoric (audience, ethos, etc.), but I had not considered gender or race as having a strong presence in the technical writing curriculum. Nevertheless, I typed “gender technical writing” in a search bar on my Internet browser and found this list of works pertaining to using nonsexist language:
- Christian, Barbara. “Doing Without The Generic He/Man in Technical Communication.” Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 16 (1986): 87-98.
- Council of Biology Editors. CBE Style Manual. Bethesda: Council of Biology Editors, Inc., 1983.
- Dodd, Janet S., ed. The ACS Style Guide: A Manual for Authors and Editors. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society, 1986.
- Martyna, Wendy. “The Psychology of the Generic Masculine.” Women and Language in Literature and Society. Ed. S. McConnell-Ginet, R. Borker, and N. Furman. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1980.
- Miller, Casey, and Kate Swift. The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing For Writers, Editors and Speakers. New York: Lippincott & Crowell, 1980.
- Nilsen, Alleen Pace. “Winning the Great He/She Battle.” College English 46 (1984): 151-157)
Unfortunately, I do not have time to peruse all of these sources, but the gist of the idea is that writers should make an effort to not assume (not disidentify?) gendership of the reader. Author Jenny R. Redfern notes that “replacing every he with he or she attracts even more attention to gender and defeats your purpose. This predicament merits special attention in scientific and technical writing, where any ambiguity is unacceptable,” (http://www.rpi.edu/web/writingcenter/genderfair.html).
I think Ms. Redfern’s advice may apply Ratcliffe’s techniques outlined on p. 26: promoting understanding of self and other; proceeding within an accountability logic; locating identifications across commonalities and differences; and analyzing claims as well as the cultural logics within these claims function. The proposal and formal report assignments can benefit from these techniques, as discussed below, but along the way to research, I came across this course description: “Race, Class, and Gender in the Professional Workplace” an advanced composition course taught by Dr. Engles at Eastern Illinois University in 2006. If only I had his syllabi!
Pedagogically, the aim to discuss race, class and gender in the workplace sounds like an ideal, lofty goal, similar to Ratcliffe’s goal of listening rhetorically, and I am intrigued by her question on p. 53, How may scholar/teachers in rhetoric and composition studies navigate the modern/postmodern divide so as to theorize reformist concepts of identification, disidentification, and non-identification as places for rhetorical listening? One way would be to embrace Burke’s notion of identification, that of persuading [a man] by identifying your ways with his (p. 55). Another would be to introduce the above arguments for bypassing gendered writing (technical writing privileges objectivity, after all).
This leads me to our ENGL3323 assignments for writing an internal proposal and the consequent external (or formal) report. This is a collaborative assignment. Relentlessly, I tell my students to invoke a shared context to set the stage for optimum results ~ in fact, they are using their available means of persuasion (Aristotle) to identify with a decision-maker’s ways (Burke). This is where Burke’s argument for consubstantiality shows up: If we truly want to understand each other, we need to express or assume some shared experience or values (p. 20).
In the internal proposal assignment, my students are encouraged to use this identification by writing sentences to the decision-maker that indicate a mutual desire or outcome: improvements, eliminations, assessments and so on. Perhaps this addresses Ratcliffe’s statement that consubstantiality “signifies a place of bridged differences and common ground, a place form which to act for common cause,” (p. 55). The differences in the proposal can be found in many of my students’ initial introductions (“OSU has a problem because not all professors use D2L” or “ABC company should initiate this program to eliminate its current problems”). The writers do not understand that a shared context can pave the way to better communication. After we discuss what a shared context means, students rewrite their comments to reflect their perceptions of the reader. Not ideal, as we know, but a starting point for increasing awareness about other people’s feelings, knowledge and attitudes. Some proposals involve politics (city ordinances, civic clubs) while others advocate for awareness (campaigns for the public or for OSU students); any type of proposal benefits from writers realizing that the “key rhetorical process through which poets and ordinary people attempt to persuade others,” (p. 55) is identification. Perhaps the collaboration of the teams of three could be asked to write various versions of a shared context, based on their understanding of what commonalities and differences they may share with their decision-maker/reader.
Now, I insert a part of Steve Pederson’s post because I cannot say it any better (without his permission due to the hour, and my shaking from the earthquake while I am writing):
“In traditional Aristotelian rhetoric, persuasion is the goal. This poses a very one-to-one dynamic, where the speaker persuades an audience.
In Burke’s re-evaluation of Aristotelian rhetoric, he presents a theory of identification that complicates this simple one-to-one dynamic, highlighting the symbolic and non-symbolic forms of communication based in identifications (which precedes persuasion). In this way, the identification that exists between the speaker and the audience creates (in an idealized sense) a symbolic realm of shared space (aka “consubstantiality”).”
I submit that “shared space” could be “shared context.” Now my challenge is to further develop a lesson plan or perhaps guidelines that will help technical writing students become aware of their differences in knowledge and their assumptions about their audiences so that they will incorporate rhetorical listening into their written texts. Does anyone have $64.00?