Sunday, February 7, 2010

760: on dias, et al. worlds apart, part i

I like the way the authors present a range of different theories through which to consider two central questions: 1) what are the functions writing performs in the workplace, and 2) how do socio-cultural settings shape writing practices in the workplace?

Throughout the survey of theories and the descriptions/definitions of academic writing, I was asking myself, “If we don’t’ regard university education as preparation for the workplace, then what is university education for? Maybe it’s a definition of the “workplace” that complicates this for me. Yes, “…writing practices in the university do not translate into effective writing within the work setting” (5). Is it the practices or the genres in which these practices are exercised?

With those smaller nagging questions aside, I finished part one with a bigger question: When we teach writing in the university, what are we teaching? Can we address what the writer is doing in the workplace (26) without understanding (or perhaps predicting) the “subject’s orientation and motivation” in different contexts? When we teach writing, are we necessarily “tying the contextual to the social, by seeing texts as ways of doing things with words…” (43)?

“Because writing is acting, it is highly contextualized…” (3). Yes it is, and I think this is the most difficult aspect of teaching workplace writing in the academy – of establishing or creating appropriate contexts in which students write and communicate. “…a full understanding of writers’ processes and products cannot occur without close reference to their place and role in their particular contexts” (9). If what people need to learn is to engage in the activity (28), how do we replicate or create the environments in which those activities occur? Simulated work environments only go so far in the classroom. I’ve yet to see a classroom simulation that replicates the “density and complexity of the intertextual connections within which writers” operate in the workplace (37). It's the "close reference" were we seem to fail in the classroom.

I’m trying to jive this more focused concept of situatedness with the activities of the net worked worker. The socio-economic network is in constant flux, which implies shifting contexts in which net workers perform their activities. How then is it possible to teach contextualized writing when the contexts are always changing relative to the network and the net work? Writing in the workplace is “… regularized but not fixed; fluid, flexible, and dynamic; emerging and evolving in exigency and action; reflecting and incorporating social needs, demands, and structures; and responsive to social interpretation and reinterpretations of necessarily shifting, complex experiences” (23). As we noted in the study of net workers at Telecorp, “…writers rely on situation-specific knowledge in the preparation of texts” (8). The interconnected nature of net work – the cross-disciplinary, non-specialized activities—require “individuals to write as members of a group ... writers often work with others in preparation of texts within a wide variety of co-authoring arrangements…” (9).

One clue to teaching contextualized writing: teaching genre grounded in rhetorical analysis. “…it ties the textual to the social, sees texts as action and texts as in dialogue with each other…” (19). I’ve had this described in less formal ways by a number of writing teachers.

Regarding activity theory and the skills needed of the symbolic-analytic worker—the modern technical communicator: “… it is the subject or subjects who interpret what activity they are involved… the action of reading, depending on the goal, can realize the activity of play, or work, or learning (24-25). Can we substitute any net work activities for “reading” and make the same claim?

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