As my reading began with Nancy Roundy Blyler’s and Charlotte Thralls’s “The Social Perspective and Professional Communication,” my first question was, do divergent social theories represent different personality types? I understand the concept of differentiating schools of thought in order to understand them, but I found the social constructionist, the ideologic, and the paralogic hermeneutic views as parallels for the assertive, the aggressive, and the passive personality types that operate pretty fluidly inside each individual, depending on their role in society.
As a year-old grad student, I often fluctuate between the social constructionist and the paralogic hermeneutic ways of thinking. In my social constructionist self, I feel strongly that knowledge is a “consensual . . . socially justified belief” (128)—I often take each piece of information about a certain field, say digital humanities or professional communication, and build upon my overall definition of the norms, values, and beliefs of that field. I’ve already gathered from the emphasis on the Challenger disaster in class and from the emphasis on staying true to the original text in my digital humanities internship that the current field of professional communication does not render practicality and humanity mutually exclusive—ethics are important to academically-trained professional communicators. A truth I feel is pretty static.
As a student, I also arrive at knowledge in paralogic ways in which truth changes depending on the “agreement reached with other communicants through the process of interacting” (137). For instance, while forming a definition of good poetry, my conceptions often change depending upon who I am conversing with. Jim and Mary Ann will often say divergent things about a certain poem, and I agree with them both in that moment of communication. Multiple definitions of poetry, of the publishing industry, of rhetoric co-exist depending on the conversation/the context.
My ideologic self tries to stay in check because it is easy to become bitter about the “unequal, exclusionary social order embedded in hierarchical relations of power” (133). But I do have an example: in a sociology independent study with a male research partner, I completed a discourse analysis of how the godless are portrayed in the media. While presenting our findings at an undergraduate research fair, browsers would often listen to me intently as I explained the overall project, then direct questions only to my male counterpart. After my initial spiel, I was nearly ignored for the rest of the presentation, unless I piped up, which then might have been construed as a negative quality in a woman. I was forced into the identity of “female” (or maybe “short”; my partner was indeed tall . . .), and I recognized how people unconsciously see men as leaders, even though I took the lead in the presentation. In my professional pursuits, I must negotiate how much I want to appear feminine, whatever that means, and then try not to do that, or to do that, in order to appear powerful . . . It’s all very confusing.
To summarize, my mind categorizes the social theories like this: social constructionist=assertive meaning-making; paralogic=passive meaning-making; ideologic=aggressive meaning-making.
What do these connections mean to the field of professional communication? I think we must prepare to reach broad audiences with our research and our “symbolic-analytic” tasks that require more decisions on the part of the communicator (Johnson-Eilola 182). Comprehension processes fluctuate depending on many factors: we may target a particular audience one day, but that audience may shift meaning-making strategies the next, and a miscommunication occurs. The answer, then, is to try to strive for that ethnographic text that Mary M. Lay calls for—to expose as much of the truth so that readers can make up their minds by objectively examining subjectivity (153).
Or, another method of appealing to broad audience is practicing visual rhetoric. Johnson-Eilola calls for this when he shifts the emphasis from simple user-manuals to multi-part guides that not only provide instructions for use but also for “broader tasks” for which the user might emply (180). Visual art provides a very specific, concrete view that opens up a world of pleasing abstraction for the viewer to bring to their interpretations of the world. And Johnson-Eilola echoes this sentiment: “everyday instances of technical communication such as interface design . . . and cartography . . . contribute in fundamental ways to how a user thinks, communicates, and acts in the world” (179). The piece of communication, then, is not overly-tailored to a specific user but instead inspires a certain thought process the professional wants the user to practice. By achieving versatility through visual design, the user is taught how to use, and innovation can occur.
Johnson-Eilola, Jonathon. “Relocating the Value of Work.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Suart A. Selber. New York: Oxford, 2004. 175-190. Print.
Lay, Mary M. “Feminist Theory and the Redefinition of Technical Communication.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Suart A. Selber. New York: Oxford, 2004. 146-159. Print.
Roundy Blyler, Nancy, and Charlotte Thralls. “The Social Perspective and Professional Communication.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Suart A. Selber. New York: Oxford, 2004. 124-145. Print.