Sunday, February 7, 2010

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

Chapter six begins with the claim: "... we have come to see that rhetorical purpose in workplace settings is in large part institutional rather than individual... and ideological rather than merely communicative" (114). This claim stuck with me as I worked through the case study of social workers’ writing activities at a large hospital. Particularly, how does that claim and the following statement jive with the net worked organization described by Spinuzzi: "The hierarchical structure of organizations creates economic and political semblances that work against shared goals and the continual growth of specialization" (114). In Spinuzzi we observer, I think, just the opposite—net workers constructing documents to fit organizational needs. While these documents (such as the spreadsheet that Fred maintained at Telecorp) could be classified under broad generic categories, they were constructed by individuals to meet specific organizational requirements. If Fred's spreadsheet was developed as a response "to what [was] perceived socially or collectively as sameness in situations," it was unique to his perception but designed to perform a specific organizational function.

Further into the chapter, I was more confused about what possible suggestions the authors could have in regard to teaching writing to undergraduates. In fact, they seem to complicate the problem of teaching writing by not directly addressing how or why we should engage students in genres that promotes particular ways of knowing and acting in complex socio-rhetorical environments. It seems the best we can do is generalize, which brings us back to extremely static and traditional treatments of workplace genres. While genres may be somewhat stable (120-122), I don't know that they're stable enough to teach even as simple documents through which to consider a standard set of requirements, environments, networks, etc. And yet, as I write this I'm thinking about the way I used generic documents to orient engineering students to design and development methodologies.

Dias et al. conclude, "So, although it might well be possible and even desirable to show students copies of workplace texts, and to have practitioners talk to students about the participation in those texts, the lived experience of texts is impossible out of their enactment" (134). Maybe this is why we feel we've done something particularly useful with WRT 407--embedding the writing instruction in such a way as to enact the design and development experience in the academic laboratory. Yes, the writing is shaped by the situatedness of the activity, but it is an activity that the engineers will perform time and again upon leaving the academy.

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