Lay, Mary M. “Feminist Theory and the Redefintion of Technical Communication.” Central Works in Technical Communciation.” Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 146-59.

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Summary: Explores intersections between work in feminist theory and ethnographic studies of collaborative writing in technical communication to illustrate contributions a feminist framework could bring to the field. Argues that feminism’s critique of scientific positivism, the myth of objectivity, and the androcentric bias of science and technology calls for a critical redefinition of the field of technical communication.

Notes:

  • Lay notes in her introduction to the piece that when it was originally published in 1991, it represented both the beginning of her own engagement with feminist theory and the first time that feminism had been brought to bear on technical communication, making the piece simultaneously naive and brave
  • Defines feminist theory according to three overarching characteristics: the celebration of difference, theory activating social change, acknowledgment of scholars’ backgrounds and values, inclusion of women’s experiences, studies of gaps and silences in traditional scholarship, and looking to new sources of knowledge
  • She also highlights three major debates/questions within feminist theory that technical communication must also grapple with when it engages feminism: Should we emphasize differences between men and women? Should we attribute these differences to culture or biology? In light of the first two questions, do we promote or resist binary oppositions?
  • Characteristics of feminist theory align with work already being done on ethnographic research on collaborative writing by tech comm scholars. Looking to women’s knowledge could shed even more light on these group dynamics and provide new models for collaboration that could help people break out of gender roles.

Quotable Quotes:

“As the distinctions between science and rhetoric disappear, truth is defined as agreement within a community, not as discoverable and describable reality, technical communication then offers culturally based perceptions to the audience, rather than objective information and data.” (151)

“As feminists attach the last vestiges of scientific positivism within science and technology, technical communication must also let go of the ethos of the objective technical writer who simply transfers information and accept that writers’ values, backgrounds, and gender influence the communication produced.” (156)

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