I've appreciated the moments of serendipity that comes from working in the same building as the bulk of my co-workers. From the just-in-time suggestion about a classroom activity or an insightful comment about how to refine a web search, it has been, by far, the best part of my short time here.
My colleagues Drs. Greg Wilson and Rachel Wolford recently published an article, "The Technical Communicator as (Post-Postmodern) Discourse Worker, with the Journal of Business and Technical Communication. In this article they continue to wrestle with the question of what it is technical communicators do and the extent to which the heretofore ubiquitous "postmodern" approach to positioning the technical communicator as subject in the workforce is still a valuable way to consider their position, the nature of their work in the economy. It showed up for me just as I was wrestling with Jeyraj's article about which I posted last time. They challenge my thinking in very productive ways.
Wilson and Wolford give a very useful overview of how and the extent to which "postmodernism" gave technical communicators the ability to "map the terrain," if you will, of the social, cultural, and economic dynamics with which this kind of "knowledge worker" had to contend.
Yet they note there is a substantial limit to the value of a "hermeneutics of suspicion" that po-mo theory advanced (Henry, 2006, is the exemplar here). Rather, the shift needs to be to one of "action" a "hermeneutics of situation," a post-postmodern perspective which Nealon (2012) proposes be an: "active engaged praxis within existing conditions" (p. 111, quoted in Wilson and Wolford, 2017, p. 18). This dovetails, according to Wilson and Wolford, with Gramsci's "war of position" whereby "all societal groups can engage in counter-hegemonic action to redefine the commonsense assumptions that constrain what is possible and sanctioned by the most dominant societal groups" (p. 18).
If postmodernism enabled us to position technical communicators "critically," (and here I think Jeyraj's positioning of tech comm knowledge workers as "liminal" still holds), the pivot to a "post-postmodern" provides a "theoretical base whose critique is generative and not suspicious" as well as built on a "set of skills that provide access to workplace discourse, and "a workplace whose interest in distributed efficiency coincides with a worker's interest in discourse authorship" (Wilson & Wolford, 2017, p. 21).
If the post-postmodern terrain is a space of discursive guerrilla warfare (to paraphrase and apply Gramsci here), then Wilson and Wolford propose mêtis as a tactic we teach students to use. A Greek term defined as "cunning intelligence" (2017, p. 22). Here Wilson and Wolford call upon Dolmage (2009), DeCerteau (2011), and Brady (2003) to flesh out what using this "flair, forethough, subtlety of mind, deception, cleverness, opportunism, and experience might mean for technical communicators (Dolmage, 2009, p. 5, quoted in Wilson and Wolford, 2017, p. 22) .
They see in Slack (2003) a gesture of what this might look like:
The lesson that is revealed for technical communicators by these lines of flight is, to my thinking, that technical communicators need, apart from the more obvious technical skills (basic writing and speaking skills for example) a finely tuned sense of what it means to negotiate the affective terrain within which their discipline is composed. (p. 205, quoted in Wilson and Wolford, 2017, p. 23)
Greg and Rachel's article came at a kairotic moment for me as I am trying to take advantage of this brief lull between the completion of my PhD and the full onslaught of obligations that beset tenure-track professors. Given my interests in Activity Theory and Actor-Network Theory I am all here for a focus on praxis and activity. I fully support the notion that "operationalizing" postmodern categories of critique is of limited value. But I think the suspicious "mapping" practices of critical theorists still need to be in the curriculum, tech comm or otherwise.
The implication of Nealon's claims that it might be possible to take "rampant commodification of fast, late, or just-in-time capitalism as a neutral beginning premise" (Wilson and Wolford, 2017, p. 15) doesn't sit well with me (Wilson and Wolford, to be fair, note it is "provocative"). And I may just be beholden to notions of value inherent to systems that may not be justified or warranted. There is something exciting, joyful, and potentially productively transgressive about the idea of mêtis.
But I am still gripped by the idea that we as writers, technical communicators, citizens, persons generally should be able to control our processes with precision. I'd be curious to see if or how you can "systematize" a pedagogy of mêtis. Because I am still obligated to meet learning objectives, to homogenize to one extent or another my teaching practices so that the commodity of a "technical communication education" can be assessed across students' experiences (ultimately by those who own the means of knowledge work production, if we are honest).
I will certainly need to keep wrestling with this. You should too. Read Greg and Rachel's article. Cite it in your published work, early and often. If you have thoughts, leave me a comment!