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Gender as a variable in writing studies–presentations and paper accepted

14 Feb

As I noted back in November, I’m presenting “Gender as a variable in writing studies: Ethics and methodology” at the Writing Research Across Borders IV conference in Bogotá, Columbia, on Thursday, February 16. While preparing for WRAB, I wrote an article that has been accepted to appear in the peer-reviewed conference proceedings of the First Workshop on Ethics in Natural Language Processing in conjunction with the 2017 conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (EACL 2017), in Valencia, Spain. I’m traveling there to give that paper in early April. The article, titled “Gender as a variable in natural-language processing: Ethical considerations,” draws on similar principles as the WRAB presentation, but focuses on research in natural language processing.

Below are my slides and bibliography for the WRAB talk. Underneath that is the abstract and pre-print version for the EACL paper. (I’ll post the link to the official ACL anthology for the final paper when the proceedings are published.)

Slides for WRAB

Bibliography for WRAB

Abstract and pre-print for EACL paper

Researchers in natural-language processing (NLP) and related fields should at- tend to ethical principles in study design, ascription of categories/variables to study participants, and reporting of findings or results. This article offers an ethical framework for using gender as a variable in NLP studies and proposes four guidelines for researchers and practitioners. The principles outlined here should guide practitioners, researchers, and peer reviewers, and they may be applicable to other social categories, such as race, applied to human beings connected to NLP research.

Empirical research into legal comm’n & professional status of LRW faculty

20 Jul

I was delighted to finagle an invitation to speak on a panel at the Legal Writing Institute in Portland on July 12, during the meeting of the LWI Professional Status Committee. The committee met in a plenary session with a larger audience and conducted its business, and then we panelists were asked to comment in short form (two minutes each) on an angle or issue relating to the professional status of legal research and writing faculty. (For readers outside the legal academy, teachers of communication in that field face status challenges similar to those faced by teachers of writing in the broader academy 25 or even 40 years ago.)

Kirsten Davis at Stetson Law (also on the panel) has talked about posting our comments, and I think that’s a grand idea. The others on the panel were Ken ChestekMary Beth Beazley, and Ruth Anne Robbins.

My comments (as I prepared them, possibly slightly different than those I delivered):

Thanks for letting me share my thoughts today! I received my PhD training as an empirical researcher in rhetoric and composition. Though I’m teaching rhetoric and technical communication outside the legal academy in a tenure-track position at Georgia Tech, I did previously teach legal writing for eight years at University of Minnesota.

I want to share two thoughts–one a recommendation and one a caution–about the role of research for legal communication faculty.

My first thought is that legal communication faculty should engage in empirical research into legal communication. Here, I’m speaking of the professional communication practices of lawyers, judges, and others outside the classroom. Your should engage in this research for at least two reasons.

First, quality teaching in any field is motivated by systematic empirical and theoretical consideration of what is being taught. We cannot rely only on our own practical experiences, though they are very valuable. Our individual experience is limited in scope, and our years in the classroom can insulate us from knowledge of new developments. We must systematically examine what is being done in the field in order to prepare our students for it.

Second, the professionalization of legal communication faculty demands that they make the subject of their instruction the object of their research. The professionalization of writing professors in English (and other) departments and the broader academy accompanied the focus those professors put on research into writing: moving away from the old model where writing teachers published articles and books on Shakespeare and the Romantics, for example–literary research–toward a model where writing teachers publish research on writing processes, contexts, and products.

But my second thought is a caution about my first. In these other departments, the focus on research that examines communication outside the classroom (and the ‘professionalization’ of those researchers) has resulted in a devaluing of classroom and pedagogy research. I have been warned by mentors not to do classroom research, that it will harm my job prospects and tenure and promotion case. I’m continuing to do that kind of research anyway, but it’s less of a focus for me.

So, even if you take my recommendation to research outside the classroom, I hope you resist the temptation to devalue pedagogical research.

Thanks!

(I elaborated on some of this in my presentation on qualitative research the next day)

Readings for 8011 for November 29

29 Nov

This week we’ll have a visit from Drs. Tom Reynolds and Patrick Bruch to talk about research in pedagogy. We had several readings to prepare for this discussion. Here they are:

Herndl, C. G. (2004). Teaching discourse and reproducing culture: a critique of research and pedagogy in professional and non-academic writing. In J. Johnson-Eilola & S. A. Selber (Eds.), Central Works in Technical Communication (illustrated edition., pp. 220-231). Oxford University Press, USA.

Young, I. (1990). Introduction. Justice and the politics of difference. Princeton  N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Connors, R. J., & Lunsford, A. A. (1993). Teachers’ Rhetorical Comments on Student Papers. College Composition and Communication, 44(2), 200-223.

Reynolds, T. J., & Bruch, P. L. (2002). Curriculum and affect: a participatory developmental writing approach. Journal of Developmental Education, 26(2), 12-20.

The Herndl and Young pieces are conceptual ones. Young’s is an intro to her book on justice. Herndl’s, written about the same time (early ‘90s, the cite above is to an anthology), makes an argument for research into the cultural and ideological issues in technical communication.

Iris Young’s intro chapter makes the argument that discussions of justice need to move away from questions of “distributive justice” (who gets what) to discussing questions of “social domination and oppression,” which impact folks who exhibit differences particularly. She claims that she is not offering a theory of justice, that to do so she would have to decontextualize justice (3-5). She presents her view of critical theory (5-7), but also critiques views of some critical theorists (7-8). She outlines what she’ll do in the rest of her book. Some claims she plans to make and support:

  • Chapter 1: She argues for the move from distributive justice (the “primacy of having”) to questions of oppression and domination (the “primacy of doing”).
  • Chapter 2: She defines oppression and puts it in the context of “politics.”
  • Chapter 3: She takes up the (de)politicization of social issues. She offers Pitkin’s and Unger’s definitions of politics.
  • Chapter 4: She argues that “impartiality…denies difference.”
  • Chapter 5: She discusses “some implications of modern society’s denigration of the body.”
  • Chapter 6: She argues for “principles and practices that… identify liberation with social equality that affirms group differences….”

Questions/comments: Why can a theory of justice not account for contextual matters? I’d like to read Chapter 5, as I think the academic mindset also denigrates the body. (The notion that all knowledge is mediated by language denies embodied knowledge and emotional knowledge, which are rarely articulated.)

Herndl’s article also embraces critical theory. He repeats that mantra that “knowledge is socially constructed or legitimized (an important distinction) through language and rhetorical activity” (p. 221), without discussing the important distinction he pointed out. His article discusses the tension in technical communication between reproducing dominant discourse. He argues that TC research should address power and ideology issues in the contexts of TC work; he singles out McCarthy’s study of DSM-III (not the later one) for talking about how DSM III shapes psychiatric discourse without addressing the power and ideology that inform that discourse. Herndl adds his own (purely speculative) thoughts: that the DSM III is motivated by power of insurance companies and legal concerns.

Herndl acknowledges that teachers of technical writing cannot set up their resistance against students’ instrumental intentions: Students believe they want to enter the professional discourses that their courses purport to prepare them for; they do not want the teacher telling them to resist those discourses.

Question/comment: This seems to me to be the central issue. Why can’t we show them all the doors, and let them decide which to walk through?

The Reynolds/Bruch article recounts survey research they did with students in a “developmental writing program” at the University of Minnesota’s (now defunct) General College. They discuss their approach of making “literacy work” of the class, where the students write “full-length essays” but also “study the place of writing in creating academic and other kinds of knowledge” (p. 13). “[A]n integral assumption of the curriculum is that student writing is real writing, that is, it is a part of the larger society and its various social forces and opportunities” (p. 13).

They administered a survey to students, asking them what they thought the focus of their class should be and what they thought the focus of it was. The three categories were “critical thinking,” “academic writing skills,” and “writing process and problem solving.”

This study was interesting in that it married quasi-quantitative methods (there are issues with any effort to generalize these results to students outside the U of M) with critical theory; I presume the journal in question favors educational research (which is often pretty quant or qual/quant oriented).

Question: The questions on the survey instrument appear inconsistent. Why?

The Connors-Lunsford article presents the results of a review of teacher’s “rhetorical comments” on some 3,000 student papers. This descriptive study suffers from a few methodological flaws (representativeness of sample, no accounting for intercoder reliability, etc.), but it provides an interesting picture. In a way, it’s a bit like the Reynolds-Bruch study: Connors and Lunsford examine the quantitative results, describing the “central tendency” of the sample they reviewed. But they also have the coders give an impressionistic review of the papers they looked at; that results in some understanding of the “tails” of the bell curve, including some extreme examples of nice and nasty instructor comments.

Question: Has this study been reproduced? Why not do it now? It would let us see whether their results hold true now (more than 20 years later).

Note to Lee-Ann: I forgot to post this before class today. Only doing it at 5:44p.m. I would not object to being docked for points on that basis. -BNL

Reflections on October 4 readings for 8011

3 Oct

A critical turn

Most of this week’s readings come out of the cultural or critical studies orientation. (Blyler and Thralls and Blyer explore this orientation in general terms; Longo employs it in her history of technical writing.) The only exception is Smagorinsky. I’ll share some observations about the first three, along with some questions I have about the critical/cultural orientation. Then I’ll consider Smagorinsky briefly.

Blyler

Blyler, N. (1998). Taking a political turn: The critical perspective and research in professional communication. Technical Communication Quarterly, 7(1), 33-52. (Page number here refer to Johnson-Eilola, J., & Selber, S. A. (Eds.). (2004). Central Works in Technical Communication (illustrated edition.). Oxford University Press, USA.

Blyer here sets out to argue that “research in professional communication ought to take an increasingly political turn.” (269) She argues that a move to critical research should follow the move to critical pedagogy, which has shifted from merely providing students tools to be tools to providing them insight into power relationships, etc. (269)

She identifies critical research and researchers as sharing the following characteristics:

  • “Critical research… aims at empowerment and emancipation.” (271) Critical researchers’ primary research goal is to “’free individuals from sources of domination’… and to effect social action.” (272)
  • Critical research holds that “researchers and participants are at once ‘partners’… and co-learners engaged in their common research process.” (271)
  • Critical researchers agree they need to understand and articulate their own positions and they also need to transform their research to “unlearn[] accepted ways of thinking.” (272)
  • Critical researchers are interested in ideology, defined as “’the interpretive frame within which each social actor is able to make sense of the practices in which he or she and others engage in the process of social interaction.’” (272)
  • Critical researchers believe that the research results belong first and foremost to participants. (277)

The critical nature of this research creates some problems. In research generally, “[r]esearch questions… are often those that sponsors want answered, and research frequently takes place at sponsors’ organizations.” According to Blyler, this might lead critical researchers to select “questions and sites more amenable to the critical perspective—those that involve marginalized groups…” (277) How do these researchers avoid their views being skewed because their perspectives are formed from a limited number of vantage points; isn’t this analogous to the “non-response” bias of surveys? I think the same question is raised where Blyler argues that funding for critical research needs to come from organizations traditionally aligned with its goals or from ones that can be persuaded to be aligned with its goals. (278)

Thralls and Blyler

Thralls, C., & Blyler, N. (2002). Cultural Studies: An Orientation for Research in Professional Communication (Chapter 10). In L. J. Gurak & M. M. Lay (Eds.), Research in Technical Communication: (pp. 185-209). Ablex Publishing.

Thralls and Blyler set out to provide an overview of shared concerns of scholars employing a cultural studies orientation, identifying both the rich variation in their approaches and the approaches most likely to be fruitful in TC research. (186) They explore the “formulation, or version, of cultural studies” that “reflects a line of development in current cultural studies informed by feminist and poststructuralist perspectives,” one that rejects “essentialist” and “reductionist” conceptions of culture. (187)

The focus of cultural studies, they assert, are “articulations” or “linkages” (189) – the contingent relationships of “practices… to other practices, reconstructing connections across practices, including the relations of terms, texts, and practices to a wider network of historical institutions, discourses, and social structures.” (188)

They provide a useful overview of the shared concerns of cultural studies (185-86):

  • “political effects of social practices”
  • “belief that culture—its objects and practices—is complex.”
  • “concern… with the social practices and social discourses of everyday life.”
  • “agency and social action: how people can intervene to change social and discursive practices.”

Thralls & Blyler assert that if technical communication researchers want to “rearticulate” their practices to come into line with a critical studies orientation, they need to

  • “complicate and more rigorously contextualize what they examine”
  • “view the researcher as always already positioned”
  • “endorse empowerment as the goal of the research”

The authors maintain (201) that empowerment as goal can be achieved “(1) through analyses—written largely for academic audiences—of relations of power and (2) through participatory research, where the researcher and the participants collaborate as coinvestigators in the research process.”

They summarize benefits of cultural studies research (205):

  • Complicating and contextualizing research “enables them to view these entities in a richer and more complex way, thereby increasing their understanding of the world.”
  • Cultural studies “furthers initiatives [in tech comm research] already underway” like opposition to “objectivism”
  • Allows incorporation of the political into research agendas

I have mixed feelings about incorporating the political into research agendas. The authors really do not establish the extent to which cultural studies actually confers them. But I think I need much more exposure to works by folks adopting this orientation before I can make my own assessment.

The authors acknowledge (206) that there are complications in critical studies research:

  • Cultural studies’ “belief in the instability of truth problematizes any easy connection between research results and the desires of research sponsors to obtain concrete and lasting answers”
  • Cultural studies’ “commitment to empowerment may complicate both access to research sites and funding”
  • “[D]espite cultural studies [sic] call for self-reflexivity [bnl: is there a different kind?], academic colonization of objects of and participants in research projects remains a challenge.”

Longo

Introduction, Chapters 1 & 2: Longo, B. (2000). Spurious Coin: A History of Science, Management, and Technical Writing. State University of New York Press.
Longo’s states the purpose of her book in the introduction (xiii-xiv): tracing the “development of the system of knowledge and power that technical writing controls in the late-20th-century United States.”
She also sets out the objectives for this week’s two chapters this way:
  • Chapter 1 “explores a selection of studies in technical and professional communication to illustrate how this cultural history can explore silent voices within traditional objects of inquiry.” (xiv)
  • Chapter 2 begins “to construct a social history of technical writing and textbooks as cultural artifacts” and discusses Francis Bacon. (xiv)

I’ve taken a lot of notes regarding Longo’s historical accounts. But here, I’m really interested in identifying some of my questions.

Longo describes research by McCarthy & Gerring (6), who conclude that DSM IV had the following effects: (a) further solidfying dominance of the biomedical model of psychiatry… (b) maintaining the status of psychiatry (c) achieving acceptance of psych as a high-status profession among competing disciplines. I wonder seriously what epistemological stance could allow them to conclude that on the basis of a cultural studies analysis (or really on the basis of any analysis). I can see trying to identify those as objectives of the drafters of DSM, but drafters often do not get their ways with reality, even if they do get them with their texts.

Long says (21) “scientific knowledge dominates in 20th-century United States”. Is this really true? Think of belief in UFOs, ghosts, etc., embracing of non-scientific thinking like opposition to evolution.

Longo cites (42) Robert Faulkner in saying Bacon “was concerned with reforming and securing the governance of the state as much as improving the condition of its inhabitants.” “It is an art of managing people [with the promises of improvements in their lives] that Bacon set out as much as a project for dominating Nature.” I wish Longo had offered more support for this claim at this point, as I think it’s central to her arguments about science and power.

My questions about the critical studies approach in general

I had a couple other thoughts after reading the cultural/critical studies materials for this week:

Blyler (270) says “the critical perspective is concerned not with describing and explaining a given aspect of reality, but rather with discovering what that aspect of reality means to social actors.” I wonder whether and to what extent the former is a necessary condition for doing the latter effectively. Why should I be interested in your assessment of why X is so, when you have not done anything to establish that X is so?

Blyer (270) talks about how the researcher must disclose her stance (political, etc.) to participants and in the research. Can researchers really disclose their stances, invite subject to participate, and expect that the participants in studies will be peers? Couldn’t this just be a charade where the researcher maintains her power position but pretends as if she does not?

Thralls and Blyler (194) say “cultural studies believe that change and empowerment are always possible.” I wonder: Given the cultural/critical tradition’s stance regarding the enactment of power relationships, why would its adherents believe this? Assumption? Wishful thinking? Illusion perpetrated on them by the dominant discourse?

Longo (8-9) notes Katz Ethic of Expedience article and says (at 9) “Katz clearly placed current technical writing practices in contests for power and knowledge legitimation, a research outcome that … could not be accomplished with conservative description alone.” (My emphasis.) I wonder: Katz does not really demonstrate anything with his study… he makes and implies pretty broad claims, but he does not back them up. Isn’t a problem with this sort of research that it finds bogey men because it is necessarily not anchored to “conservative description” – in other words, it is freed from needing evidence and causal chains so that it can make whatever statements (a) sound interesting and (b) are consistent with the researcher’s views? Conservative description may not a sufficient condition for a thorough understanding of any subject, but isn’t it a necessary one?

Longo (12) says of a study by Stephen Doheny-Farina that it “does not question why the text includes the information that it does and not other information that would be equally possible to include.” Longo asks (19) “Why has common sense about technical writing taken the form it has when other forms of common sense were equally possible?” (Emphasis in both cases is mine.) I wonder: How do we know in a given case, whether other information really was “equally possible to include” or whether “other forms of common sense were equally possible”? I feel I need to see this kind of research conducted and more of the results it offers to assess it; but its claims to authority seem dubious to me now.

Smagorinsky (397, see below) says “impressionistic data reports often involve selectively chosen data designed more to confirm a researcher’s preconceived thesis than to mine the data exhaustively to understand what they suggest or reveal.” I wonder: In light of this problem cropping up in quantitative and qualitative research, how can we rely on the results of critical studies methods to provide meaningful research unless their authors exhaustively itemize what they did and did not consider in the process?

Smagorinsky

Smagorinsky, P. (2008). The Method Section as Conceptual Epicenter in Constructing Social Science Research Reports. Written Communication, 25(3), 389 -411. doi:10.1177/0741088308317815

In this little article, Smagorinsky argues “that greater attention to the Method section [in social science research reports] would strengthen the account of the conduct of the research for the benefit of both author and readers and serve as the nexus for other sections of the paper’s organization and alignment with one another.” (390)

I don’t have much to say here about this article, though see my question arising from it in the critical/cultural questions section above. I took some notes from it, but I have every intention of stapling my copy of this into my copy of Marshall & Rossman and rereading it carefully before conducting my own social science research.

Reflections on this week’s readings for 8011

19 Sep

This is my reflective memo for this week’s readings in 8011 Research Methods in S&TC.

Barton & Eggly

Barton, E., & Eggly, S. (2009). Ethical or Unethical Persuasion?: The Rhetoric of Offers to Participate in Clinical Trials. Written Communication, 26(3), 295-319.

One conclusion of this study: That researchers seeking informed consent from cancer patients to take part in clinical trials make “regular and rhetorical use of unethical persuasion” from the perspective of bioethics.

This is a broad conclusion in light of the researchers’ methods: They coded written transcripts of 22 interviews between patients and their oncologists that were recorded with the participants’ permission. Interestingly, nowhere does the study say how many doctors were involved, though we know it’s at least two.

They coded statements by physicians for valence with regard to three issues: Purpose of study, benefits of study, and risks of study. Valence was positive, neutral, or negative for each statement regarding these issues. Based only on the article, I have reservations about the approach to coding. I’m not saying it was bad, I just don’t feel the article provides enough detail to form a conclusion.

But the big problem is with the inference the researchers make: Based on these 22 observations, they conclude, “Physicians regularly present purpose, benefits, and risks with a positive valence.” “The data and findings from this study… clearly indicate that… normative neutrality is not characteristic of the discourse of trial offers.” Stunning, really.

Questions I’d like to ask the authors:

  • Did you seek confirmation of your coding method (its reliability) by providing a code guide to a third party and asking them to code a couple of the observations? The method described seems very unsystematic.
  • Why did you not address the limitations of the study at the points where you were making claims about the inferences drawn from it?
  • The statements reprinted in the article appeared largely devoid of the types of details often include in oral discourse analysis and recording. Were these removed for the article, or were they not present in the transcripts? Wouldn’t an analysis of the pragmatics of the situations have yielded a richer result?
  • How can examination of isolated statements by the doctor, without considering the manner in which they responded to patient comments or questions, determine whether the doctor was positively valencing participation in the trial?

Breuch et al.

Breuch, L. K., Olson, A. M., & Frantz, A. (2002). Considering Ethical Issues in Technical Communication Research. In L. J. Gurak & M. M. Lay (Eds.), Research in Technical Communication: Ablex Publishing.

This useful article provides a sort of checklist of ethical issues when planning a research project, but also provides a rationale for “actively reflect[ing] on ethics while conducting research,” advice that next week’s reading in Marshall and Rossman will echo. The high-level checklist here:

  • Understand the importance of research ethics
  • Review relevant ethics literature
  • Identify ethical issues in advance
  • Meet the requirements of IRBs
  • Don’t stop thinking about ethics once you actually start conducting the research.

Katz

Katz, S. B. (1992). The Ethic of Expediency: Classical Rhetoric, Technology, and the Holocaust. College English, 54(3), 255-275.

I generally like this article, and I agree with Katz that we need to imbue the practice of tech communication with an ethic that considers a variety of values. But I have some reservations about the soundness of Katz’s arguments.

Katz uses an example of technical writing by a Nazi bureaucrat to illustrate a problem he calls the “ethic of expediency” and then argues that this same ethic of expediency undergirds Western “technological capitalism.”

His contentions:

  • Aristotle embraced the ethic of expediency (EoE). Katz does not discuss this very fully and mentions but dismisses contrary views without much elaboration. I’m not confident that he has supported this claim well.
  • The Nazi regime combined the EoE, enshrining the notion that it was ethical and good to seek efficiency, even if solely for the purpose of greater efficiency.
  • His argument constitutes a “critique of the EoE that underlies technical communication and deliberative rhetoric, and by extension writing pedagogy and practice based on it.”

Some questions I have:

  • Katz contends that it “is well known that to perform well in a professional organization, writers must adopt the ethos of that organization.” Am I left wanting to see support for that claim merely because I am new to the field?
  • Katz says in “our own culture,” “science and technology become the basis of a powerful ethical argument for carrying out any program.” He continues: “Technological expediency actually subsumes political expediency and becomes an end in itself. Progress becomes a virtue at any cost.” Why does Katz not offer more concrete examples of this in “our own culture”? The examples of airline safety are rhetorically charged, but he does not actually consider the ethical calculus that underlies them – what is the cost of a single life to the rest of society? How should that cost be ‘allocated’ to those taking the daily risks associated with living?
  • Katz frequently begins paragraphs and sentences with phrases like “obviously” and “it is clear that….” Am I unreasonable for being skeptical about the claims that follow those expressions?
  • It strikes me that there are many examples of modern resistance to “technology at all costs” and “expediency at all costs” – for example, reactions to human cloning, “death panels” (though they would certainly be efficient),

Marshall & Rossman Chapter 2

Chapter 2 of Marshall, C., & Rossman, G. B. (2010). Designing Qualitative Research (Fifth Edition.). Sage Publications, Inc.

In this chapter, Marshall and Rossman identify the genres of qualitative research. They divide them into two broad groupings: “Major genres” and “critical genres.” Though they treat the major genres – ethnography, phenomenology, and sociolinguistics, in an engaging way, they spend a lot more time and energy describing the critical and emerging genres.

On the one hand, I could chalk M&S’s strategy up to the need to explain the critical and emerging genres more because folks are less likely to be familiar with newer genres. On the other hand, I’m concerned that this suggests that the “major genres” are growing less relevant. The latter possibility is troubling for me, as I see myself likely more situated among the more “traditional” methods. Of course, I’m interested in ideas of action and justice, but I’d like to start with more than a hunch before choosing a course of action or an object of my efforts to promote justice.

Miller

Miller, C. R. (1979). A Humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing. College English, 40(6), 610-617.

Miller’s article is a pleasure to read; I can see why it is so frequently cited. She argues that the positivist epistemology of modern science and technology lead to four features of pedagogy in TC that are undesirable.

  1. The subject of TC is not, or is poorly, defined.
  2. Pedagogy in the field emphasizes “form and style at the expense of invention.” She does not like that we teach “recipes.” This illustrates that tension between teaching students what they need to succeed, i.e., an understanding of how to adapt to genres and conventions, and teaching them to see the possibilities of shattering genres and conventions.
  3. Pedagogy emphasizes plain, objective language. I wonder, though, whether this is not the same type of problem as the last.
  4. The “tendency to analyze audiences in terms of ‘levels.’” This is the notion that we must tailor the reading to the reader’s capacity to understand the objective reality. I don’t sense that in the pedagogical experiences I’ve had in the field so far, though. Was this a bigger problem in 1979?

I do have some questions:

  • I’m still struggling with the notion that positivist epistemology precludes a nuanced view of language and technical communication; that it eschews an understanding of audience and rhetorical situation. Based on this article’s claims and those of Berlin (1987, cited in an earlier post) about the subject, I’m inclined to brush up my understanding of the modern take on epistemology. (I can’t think of a thing I’ve read since Locke that would illuminate me on the subject…)
  • I’m uncomfortable with the notion that the “new epistemology” of “cultural anthropology, cognitive psychology, and sociology” “makes human knowledge thoroughly relative and science fundamentally rhetorical.” I recognize the impact of what those fields have contributed in terms of undermining many claims to authority and Truth, but I also feel that there is a middle territory, one where sense perceptions and subjective conceptions can share the epistemological field. (Thus, another reason to review my understanding of epistemology.)
  • C.M offers this: “We can define scientific writing as written communication based within a certain community and undertaken for certain communal reasons. Technical writing occurs within a somewhat different community for somewhat different reasons.” Does this provide a workable disciplinary definition?

Great quote: “If rhetoric is irrelevant to science, technical and scientific writing become just a series of maneuvers for staying out of the way.”