An inscribed history for TC – a blessing and a curse

Is having an inscribed history (or a set of them) important to forming our discipline? If so, why? If not, why? What form of disciplinary history would you prefer to see?

I find this question to be quite significant in general but more so, now, after having read several of the selections in Central Works. Clearly, there is a need for a history to establish a discipline, to give the discipline a foundation, to give it reason for existence, to allow for extrapolation and future development. Further, an inscribed history establishes patterns, processes, and theories that validate the discipline. However, the inscribed history itself may stand in the way of progress because of how and by whom it was written.

Rutter clearly advocates the need for an inscribed history of TC to give it context and to link it to “the tradition of humanistic rhetoric”. (p. 22) Rutter’s primary goal in this essay is to make a case for the human perspective over the technological perspective and to advocate the need for theory to validate practice. Rutter walks the reader through various periods of consciousness and concludes that the human, not technology must stand in the foreground. As humans we should remember that, ”science and technology progress by means of spasmodic change, serendipitous discovery, and imaginative flexibility”.

Durack’s essay specifically points out the problems with an inscribed history that illuminates the discipline from a rather narrow perspective. As with any history, the writer(s) of it determines what is to be considered significant and what is not. The writer of this history himself is biased by a certain perspective (and blinders), usually the one prevalent in the society he lives in at the time he writes. Durack does a fantastic job providing many examples of gendered perspective pointing to a very gender biased classification of activities by men and women. She points out the many uses of technology by women that, even today, are not considered technology (e.g. operating a sewing machine) (p. 40-41) and, thus, do not enter the consciousness of the discourse, perpetuating the prevalent biased perspective.

Durack’s assertions dovetail with Lay’s hypotheses regarding the omission/lack of women as creators of knowledge. If a certain activity is not regarded technical or involving technology, the resulting knowledge (tacit mostly) will not enter the corpus history of technical writing.

Tebeaux contributes to the history of TC by providing examples and contexts of technical writing by women and for women during the Renaissance in Britain. Interestingly, she finds that the renaissance author’s assumption must have been for men and women to possess the same degree of literacy (here: reading skill). The examination of a shorter period in greater depth contributes greatly to the overall history is that it provides context (so coveted by these scholars).

Having an inscribed history is essential for a discipline. Rutter cites Kuhn’s crisis. There has to be a recorded discourse thread that documents the birth, flourishing, and dying of paradigms, theories. (p. 25) Kuhn’s definition of science involves “mindsets, expectations, and paradigms” much more than a product of facts. A development needs to be visible to valorize the discipline and to provide motivation for new scholars. The history is necessary to validate workplace activities as adding value, i.e. as meriting salary (Durack’s point of what merits salary is one to be taken quite seriously).

A final thought: Rutter says, “The threat posed by the electronic revolution will abate only when the faculty of judgment is informed by a philosophy comprehensive enough to harness the technology at our disposal.” (p. 23) We might be looking at the very beginnings of this harnessing process with the emergence and flourishing of Social Media in both, in the private sphere and in the workplace. Clearly, they form some kind of ‘fitting response’ (Lloyd Bitzer, 1968) to the exigence of the rhetorical situation present. Carolyn Miller and Dawn Shepherd examine the blog as one of these Web 2.0 technologies that not only respond to a particular rhetorical situation but also the emergence of a new genre. (http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere/blogging_as_social_action_a_genre_analysis_of_the_weblog.html)

The history I would like to see is one that is adaptable to change when new knowledge is uncovered, one that is inclusive and cognisant of its shortcomings, yet stands to distinguish the discipline from others.

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