Tagged: Wilson

Getting Over Agency with Wilson and Bosley

Since this week’s readings revolved around the topic of “Pedagogy”, I imagined, after reading the papers, how I would go about implementing some of their ideas – namely Wilson’s and Bosley’s – into my composition classroom. My fiancé, who is in the Geography department, is a teaching assistant for an introductory course in human geography, and the professor teaching the class had students look at maps from countries around the world. After having students look at the maps, the professor had the students discuss the differences between the maps, and try to determine what, or who, created those maps so that they were all so different. What the professor for that class did, then, was have students examine maps for “cultural assumptions” in much the same way that Johnson-Eilola did for his class (as explained in Wilson [89]). Since my fiancé had already seen this method used in a classroom, and she told me that it was used very effectively, I imagine I could do something similar in my class. I worry, though, how effective such a method would be for a writing classroom unless I had already covered important concepts like visual rhetoric with my students; they might revolt, as they’re so prone to do, against the activity if they didn’t find it important to them, students in a writing classroom.

I have tried having students discuss their own “sanctioned, cultural behavior[s]” (Bosley 473) in class. I was easily able to cover these kinds of issues in my class because a student of mine, on one random Tuesday afternoon, volunteered that one of the papers we read for a Feature Article assignment seemed like it was “written by a girl” (and they said this in a very, very condescending way). Unfortunately, the discussion that followed this unseemly comment went about with only a little bit of success. I did, just as Bosley warned, have to “deal with resistance to cultural integration” (473) with many of my male students, who found my modest objections to their anti-feminist commentary incorrect. I also had to “deal with” students who either didn’t want to even address the issue, or just didn’t think the problem was worth discussing in a Composition and Rhetoric class.

Just as a reminder to everyone: I don’t mean to write so overly negatively about teaching composition students. Some of my frustration stems from my own inexperience with teaching the subject, an inexperience that is all the more exasperating because I desperately – desperately – want to move some of my students. On the bright side, I do now have experience to learn from, and in the future, I might be better able to implement some of these teaching ideas in later semesters.

Another reason my post may seem negative is that I had some problems with the Wilson article in general. When Wilson first defines “agency”, he claims that it is “the ability to act in one’s own interest” (73). To me, this sure seems more like the definition for a word like autonomy; the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) definition for “agency” is, actually, “A person or organization acting on behalf of another, or providing a particular service” (here’s a link to a list that contains the OED link from the WVU Library website), and this definition seems little like Wilson’s. Later on in Wilson’s paper, he states that:

It also remains questionable whether writers who understand their place and know to whom they are writing are critical thinkers with agency or merely more efficient cogs in the corporate machine. 78

Wouldn’t a writer who is an agent generally be a “cog” for a machine since they act “on behalf of another”?

I guess the idea, though, is that there is not real “ability to act [completely] in one’s own interest” these days. We – instructors and students of writing – will have to “articulate [ourselves] as invaluable to the function of the company” (84) for which we work, and we will always be cogs to a machine – but we can always be cogs on a higher tier of the machine. And that’s the point of Wilson’s and Bosley’s activities: Since we live in a postmodern world, where our perceptions are shaped by “cognitive maps”, we need students to realize that they, whether they realize it or not, operate according to “sanctioned, cultural behavior[s]”. The fact that it’s tough for me to get some of these ideas across to my students is something I’ll just have to, for the time being, get used to. I myself forget that that an idealistic idea of autonomy may not exist – even for me, an American WASP – so it’s not worth getting frustrated with my students when they have trouble grasping the idea of a “cognitive map”, or that their behaviors might be “sanctioned” by the world around them.


Works Cited

Bosley, Deborah S. “Cross-Cultural Collaboration.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. pp. 466–474. Print.

Wilson reading

6. Agency Before the ‘Overt’ Change

During our first ENGL 605 meeting we were asked to raise some questions regarding what goals we had for the class, how the class will hopefully help us meet some of our academic and professional expectations. I remember asking something similar to, “How can we research and examine cultural concerns through the eyes of a technical communicator? Can technical communication and culture coexist in an academic, practical, and useful way?” (I have previously considered the two exclusive). As someone interested more in the ‘communication’ rather than ‘technical’ element of our enterprise, I was mightily pleased with this week’s readings.

Certainly Greg Wilson’s “Technical Communication and Late Capitalism : Considering a Postmodern Technical Communication Pedagogy” was no exception. Examining the capability of agency within the professional capacity and discourse of technical writing, Wilson depends on Robert Reich’s three-tiered hierarchy of the postmodern working world to help transplant and sustain the technical communicator’s role in an industrial position out of the world of rote practice onto the shores of local and global change (We are again under the reich of Reich. I am coincidentally going through a Reich phase. Go figure).

Though Wilson’s article was uplifting in a few ways, there appeared a deeply tacit classist ring underlying Reich’s hierarchical system as used by Wilson. When Wilson claims, “At times when a company is overtly trying to change the way it does business, employees have opportunities to articulate themselves as symbolic analysts,” I’m sure he speaks only of those employees who have the opportunity to metamorphose into symbolic analysts—those mired in routine production service, and to a much lesser extent an in-person service, are not equipped to mobilize themselves (85). In this light, is Reich’s model apt for class criticism? Or perhaps, the reality is that harsh, that we will, and have, worked in an economy whose rewards are mirrored by one’s class and Reich’s model reasonably follows.

Classist or no, a perhaps more apposite question might sound something like, ‘When do we know when a company is ‘trying to change the way it does business’?” That is, when do we know to assert ourselves to a symbolic analyst position if we are currently not occupying one?

Wilson points out that, “The obvious implication of Reich’s classifications is that if workers want job satisfaction (and if not job security, perhaps lasting market- ability), they either need to train for a job in the symbolic-analytic category or rearticulate their job in terms of symbolic analysis. In other terms, meaningful agency is most available to workers in the symbolic-analyst category” (84). So when do we recognize change to enact a rearticulation?

I would argue that instead of waiting for the company to “overtly [try] to change the way it does business” (emphasis mine), technical communicators with hopes of being symbolic-analytic workers (or technical communicators already in that position and hoping to register themselves in its higher echelons) should -and here’s where this comes full circle- use systems thinking to distinguish when to (re)articulate (85). To not wait for the overt overhaul, but rather, the micro and local change. Depending upon how an industry/corporation is organized, maybe this quiet, not overt, change is departmental. But by, “learning to see the world not as discretely compartmentalized units but more as a web of interrelated and overlapping elements,” we can distinguish from Modernist notions of linear and hierarchical change to Postmodernist notions (87-88). Growing webs spinning with opportunities for agency (by way of Reich’s four principles) giving rise to dynamic, system-analytic behavior, not maps.