[Intro Holiday Music]
[Ryan Weber] Welcome to 10-Minute Tech Comm. Those jingle bells mean it’s time for our second annual holiday spectacular and we’ve got a great show for you today. We’re here to celebrate the magic and warmth of the holidays and the things that bring us together, like technical communication. The holidays are a time when a lot of people think about making the world a better place and helping out our fellow human beings and our next guest talks about just that.
[Natasha Jones] I am Natasha Jones. I’m at University of Central Florida in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric, and I study technical communication and social justice and activism and narrative.
[Weber] Her recent article, “The Technical Communicator as Advocate: Integrating a Social Justice Approach in Technical Communication” was recently polished in the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. And the article is helpful because not only does it advocate for technical communicators to take on advocacy roles but it also provides definitions for key terms that help us understand if we’re meeting our goals or not.
[Weber] Alright, well welcome to the show Natasha. I really appreciate you joining us today and just wanted to start with you know you wrote a recent article about how the technical communicator can function as an advocate, can work toward social justice as part of their work, whether their scholars or practicing technical communicators or both. So, to start with, just how do you define social justice and advocacy as it relates to the technical communicator.
[Jones] Well, that was really a difficult task initially and I did not undertake it alone. A colleague and co author of mine, and on a couple of other articles, her name is Dr. Rebecca Walton, she’s at Utah State University. We define social justice in technical communication research and pedagogy as a way to investigate how communication kind of broadly defines, including all types of tech, can amplify the agency of oppressed people, those who are either materially, socially, economically, or politically under-resourced in some way. And so it was really important for us to start thinking about what social justice was in tech comm was because there was no kind of foundation and we had all these scholars saying, “Yes social justice, social change, advocacy,” but no baseline of, “Okay, what is that and what does that mean to the field?”
[Weber] That’s important because when you’re working towards a goal like that you have to have some kind of definition or metrics or something that you can strive for.
[Jones] Right, absolutely, and so the way we see it is the advocacy is a part of social justice because the goal is to work with and collaborate with groups in order to take action and then power. So, advocacy has to be truly collaborative and not this kind of savior complex and not hierarchical at all. So, we kind of see that social justice definition guiding the actions of those who want to act as advocates.
[Weber] Great. You mention a savior complex, can you define what that is a little bit?
[Jones] I can define it in kind oflaymen’s term how I understand it.
[Jones] Not scholarly.
[Jones] But what I see as a savior complex is those whether researchers or any other group that wants to rush in and say, “Hey, we’re going to help you do this,” or “We’re going to do this for you,” or “Here’s a tool, now pull yourself up you know by your bootstraps.” So, there’s really no kind of collaboration, there’s no really kind of critical thinking about context and positionality, it’s wanting to kind of hand someone a tool or an idea or do something then going in thinking that it fixes things.
[Weber] IfI understand right, kind of a related problem in that it’s still oppressive in that it’s saying, “We know what’s best for you. We know how to fix your problems.”
[Weber] It’s not really collaborative, it’s not really working with oppressed people, it still kind of keeps that hierarchy in place.
[Weber] Great, well so a consistent theme in your article is that technical communicators must consider, this is a quote, “The unquestioned norms, habits, and symbols that promote oppression.” So, marginalization, disenfranchisement, and disempowerment. How can we do this?
[Jones] Okay and so that, the unquestioned norms, habits, and symbols, that’s actually me quoting Iris Young.
[Weber] Oh okay, great.
[Jones] Yeah and so Iris Young she wrote a piece called “The Five Faces of Oppression,” where she talks about oppression as this umbrella term for these different contexts and types of things that happen to different groups. Iris Young said that it includes anything from like violence to exploitation to marginalization, and a couple of other things. So, for me coming from Iris Young’s work and thinking about what don’t we question? What do we just take at face value? What do we assume as technical communicators? It comes-it becomes important for me to actually start asking those questions. Like, whose voices do we acknowledge? Who is included? Who have we silenced? Who can access this? Or who can understand this and who can’t? And so as technical communicators we talk a lot about audience, we teach our students a lot about audience. So, thinking about audience on a more critical level, and seeing who is actually included in our audience and who’s excluded. That doesn’t mean that our audience is mostly has to always include everybody, I just think it’s important to have that awareness of who’s voices we privilege and who’s we don’t.
[Weber] Great. Can you give maybe a-is there a concrete example of a way that we could look at that or do that kind of work?
[Jones] Yes, I can tell you how I do it. I like to do it through narrative. For instance, I have a study that I worked on that talked to Black business owners and basically I wanted the Black business owners to talk about their experiences in entrepreneurship. How they started up their business, and really talk about some of these dominant ideals about Black business not being profitable, not being sustainable. Black businesses not being supported so thinking about some these dominant ideas, these kinds of unquestioned norms, right?
[Jones] And these institutionalized ideas and habits and implicit bias, and what I did is I asked them to share their stories about becoming entrepreneurs, functioning as business owners, and what I tried to do is give them a voice to talk about how they were successful and how they’ve existed, and how they figured ways around the system, or they used different kinds of maybe stereotypes to their advantage in their business.
[Weber] Oh interesting, yeah.
[Jones] So giving them a chance to say like, “Yeah we see this. We understand this but here is how we make it work. Here’s how we become successful. Here’s how we empower ourselves.” So, I think narrative is really powerful because then it’s truly this collaborative experience where you’re talking with someone and you’re making meaning and you’re talking with them about how their making meaning, and you’re-they’re explaining things form their perspective and then you guys are able to actually share a story. You’re able to share a story for them or with them and so I like narrative as a way to kind of concretely push the boundaries, or ask some of those questions, or show what other folks are thinking, feeling, their perceptions, their background, their knowledge. Inclusivity, right? Making sure more people, more voices are included. And there’s this feminist concept of giving voice and then the complete opposite of that is silencing, so I like to think that narrative, well I do think, that narrative has the potential to give voice and-and then challenge some of those norms and ideas that are damaging to different groups.
[Weber] Any other ways that you can recommend that-practical ways that technical communicators either in academy or working, can do the kind of advocacy and social justice work that you’re talking about here?
[Jones] Yeah, I think that for me, my mind goes right to the academy, because that’s my positionality.
[Jones] So I really like service learning and civic engagement types of coursework with my students. Having them pair with community organizations and introducing them to different organizations that are actually doing the work to talk about different things, marginalization, or talk about race, or talk about the innocence movement, the wrongfully convicted, those kinds of things. That’s one of my areas of interests. So, I think that those types of projects can-in classes can help to push students and us to start thinking about how some of that work can be done. As far as practitioners, I think that most are probably aware that they are advocates of the end users and just being aware and pushing back, which I know is difficult in professional context. And I don’t want to assume like, you know, I can go in and say, “Hey you need to tell them this,” but just being aware and thinking through ways that for instance for usability or user experience testing, they can involve a wider group of people. Think about who’s included for whatever test, or app, or thing they’re designing. How it works in different contexts. Who’s able to access those? So, thinking about some of those questions in practice as well as pushing my students to think about it in pedagogy.
[Weber] You know you mention service learning and of course technical writers have those skills as well.
[Weber] To write and communicate and can put them into practice in an organization as well, right?
[Jones] Right, right, and definitely working with different subject matter experts and different experts in the group. Just maybe raising questions that others might not think about.
[Weber] Well thank you so much. I really enjoyed talking with you today.
[Jones] Thank you. I really appreciate it.
[End of Interview]
[Weber] Lastly, I wanted to bring you some New Years’ resolutions for practicing technical communications scholars and academics. It’s an important time to think about what we want to do next year and hopefully even accomplish some of our resolutions, if we’re lucky.
[Jacob Moses] What’s up lovely 10-Minute Tech Comm folk. My name is Jacob Moses. I’m hosts of the Not Boring Tech Writer podcast, and my New Years’ resolution for 2017 is to continue to remind myself that my work does not define me in any industry, technical communication included. It’s going to be those days when everything is going dope. Everyone is showing mad love to the documentation and then on the flip side inevitably there’s going to be those days where things just are not going as well, but either way no matter how the days go in 2017, I’m going to continue to remind myself that my work does not define me. All is well but just keep trying my best to create a better product for my organization. And that’s it y’all. Happy 2017.
[Craig Wright] Alright, this is Craig Wright, at Stray Goat Writing Services here in the UK. My resolution for 2017 is to learn more about using Map Cap Flare to fit content into Zendesk and also relooking and learning more about DITA and other types of structured content.
[Lars Soderland] My New Year’s resolution is to spend more time doing creative work with the tools that I teach in the professional writing classroom, like Photoshop and InDesign. That and dedicate my life to listening to the 10-Minute Tech Comm podcast. Lars Soderland, Western Oregon University.
[Weber] I want to thank all of our special guests for sharing their resolutions with us this year. As for me, my 2017 resolutions for the podcast are to continue to improve the audio and sound quality, to finally feature an episode about creating effective user help, and to include a more diverse array of guests, including a few international guests. Stay tuned to see ifI accomplish any of these resolutions in 2017, and we hope that you have a happy and tech comm filled holiday.