Grabill, Jeffrey T. “The Study of Writing in the Social Factory: Methodology and Rhetorical Agency.” Critical Power Tools: Technical Communication and Cultural Studies. Eds. Scott, J. Blake, Bernadette Longo and Katherine V. Wills. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2006. 151-70. Print.

  • In this chapter Grabill wants to draw out the relationship between research methodologies in tech comm/professional writing and cultural studies (151).  G. sketches a disciplinary context wherein “critical” TC/PW researchers and cultural studies theorists share a desire to address “problem spaces.”  As such, Grabill aims to employ a method that combines the “rhetorical study of culture (a boundary between rhetoric and Anthropology) with a rhetorical understanding of institutional practices (the purview of TC/PW).
  • Grabill notes that Herndl and Nahrwold (“Research as Social Practice: A Case Study of Research on Technical and Professional Communication” – WC, 2000) have provided a nice critique of instrumentalist research that simply documents workplace interactions.  Turning to the critical, G. notes that while the purposes and goals of research has changed for many (We “take sides” in our research), coming to a resolution about how to do critical work ethically is a real challenge.  This turn toward the critical has resulted in a problmatizing of research in TC/PW – moving it away from instrumentalist documentation of writing in professional contexts toward the critical.  Such a shift requires new stances that are openly political. . . these stances must be incorporated into the research methodology for any project (153).
  • G. makes a distinction between method and methodology, highlighting how any methodology is comprised of three components: the ideological (theory of human relations), the practical (how people actually constitute relations with each other), and the method (tools and so forth) (154).  This move is especially important as Grabill doesn’t want to confuse method with ideology (or let ideology infect method)
  • G. demonstrates that cultural studies – a la the Birmingham School w/Hall – provides the “structuralist” paradigm of research methodology (not to be confused with structuralism, this paradigm is abstract and explicitly concerned with ideology and discourse.  It stands in contradistinction to the historiographic/anthropological perspective that is concerned with particulars and situatedness).  G. claims that cultural studies is usually perceived as a reading method in our own discipline – a method that he doesn’t think is all that valuable for TC/PW work (no more interpretations!).
  • G.’s conception of culture is that it is not “found” by the researcher; rather, it is created 1) by the individuals in/of the culture; and 2) by the researcher making sense of the cultural moment (reference Citron, 157).  This isn’t to claim that the writing of culture (ethnography) is the cure-all; rather, it means that it’s deeply problematic and rhetorical in ways that must be accounted for by the researcher.
  • G. claims that for TC/PW research to make sense of the relationship between textual production and wider culture, we must understand that tech/prof. writing as “communicative labor” (a combination of Marx’s “sensous labor” [labor that is “nonproductive” like eating, dancing, singing, etc.] and Habermas’ communicative action) takes place in diverse cultural and institutional contexts and enable more than just functional tasks (158).  This means making sure that we’re conducting rhetorical studies of culture, not textual studies of production (ibid.).
  • Grabill claims that there are new ways of understanding rhetorical agency in institutionalized spaces by locating research over a larger range of institutions and taking culture as the central problematic in the research process.  To do this, G. claims we must engage not only method (as tools for research) but also “practices” (in de Certeau’s sense: knowledge-rich situated maneuvers that are tactical.  Here’s G.’s list of research practices:

o    Initiation:  where do studies come from?

o    Access:  how do I get permission to do my work? (gatekeepers, sponsors, etc. – this is an intense ethical negotiation).

o    Participation (with sponsors, clients, all those impacted; in planning, design, method, analysis, and communication)

o    Studying up:  studying one’s client or sponsor as well

o    Local politics:  mediation, advocacy, relationship building and maintenance, community and political mapping

o    Communication (as a day-to-day research practice itself as well as in myriad settings during the research process regarding ‘non-research issues’ – all in addition to the communication of the research results themselves).

o    Sustainability (161).

  • Grabill is arguing (163) that we need to design our research studies for particular audiences that tend to be more specific than (and lay outside of) the discipline.  [I wonder how Latour would feel about this?  Is there something unethical about this setup?  Are we determining what we find by setting out on this rhetorical trajectory?]
  • Grabill advocates using the practices as a cycling mechanism that inform the research methods and ideology of the research project.  This allows for new agency inside the process of research, making it a more ethical, more just, and more sustainable process.
  • “My point is to show that location matters and to point out as well that a methodological framework such as the one Sullivan and Porter outline might provide the heuristic tools necessary to imagine professional and technical writing research that works in the problem space of communicative labor within a wide range of social institutions” (166).  With respect to practices themselves, however, there is really something deeper at stake:  these practices are an important way in which research relations are constituted, and they are knowledge-producing.

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