What’s civic about technical communication? Technical communication and the rhetoric of community

Ornatowski, C. & Bekins, L. (2009). What’s civic about technical communication? Technical communication and the rhetoric of community. Technical Communication Quarterly, 13.3: 251-269.

Ornatowski and Bekins, in this 2009 article, question the role of community in technical and professional communication research and practice. The authors are concerned with the way community has been haled as a romantic and essentializing term, calling instead for a radical, “symbolic/rhetorical” view of community for technical and professional writers. Like Grabill and Simmons (2007), the authors here note Habermas and his conception of the “technocratic consciousness,” which speaks to the quality and character of decision-making in an era of vast technological, environmental, and global change. Ornatowski and Bekins note that a phenomenon has occurred in technical communication scholarship, one that seeks to “civil-ze” research in this field, remove it from its relationship to industrial-bureaucratic systems, and place a greater emphasis on human issues. A fear identified by the authors here is that community can often be haled as an uncritical, god-like term with assumed positive outcomes.

To conclude, Ornatowski and Bekins offer a symbolic/rhetorical view of community as a discursive construction. In a sense, the community is a rhetorical construction of the researcher, one that is instructive and critical, in turn accounting for our role within communities and the actual impact our work has on them (and them onto us). This article is especially important for me as I hope to engage in community-based scholarship that is thoughtful, critical, and in the best interest of communities instead of researchers.