Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. “Relocating the Value of Work: Technical Communication in a Post-Industrial Age.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johnson-Eilola, Johndan and Stuart A. Selber. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 175-94. Print.

  • JE begins the essay by noting that the transition to the information economy has provided a real opportunity to technical communicators as they are strategically situated at the intersections of technology, writing, and labor/economy.  He notes that we’ve come out of the industrial [1. Industrial information if you’re listening to Benkler.] economy and are working our way through the beginnings of life in the post-industrial age (176).  In this new atmosphere information is the primary commodity. . . . certainly products are still important; however, the real value (especially in financial terms) lies in information itself.
  • JE claims that redefining TC as postindustrial information work means resituating the work of the TC so that it straddles the boundaries that often separate corporate and academic conceptions of the profession.  He claims that Reich’s “symbolic-analytic worker”, a worker who engages in skills of abstraction, experimentation, collaboration, and system thinking, brings together technology, communication, and information in a way that is particularly well-suited to consideration by technical communicators (176).
  • Article trajectory: 1) drawing attention to the problem of TC as simply being in service to experts; 2) other examples of post-industrial workers; 3) definition of symbolic-analytic work; 4) locating TC scholarship & practice in symbolic-analytic work; and 5) define educational projects that might situate students to participate in this emergent economy (177).
  • JE acknowledges that traditional conceptions of the TC view it as a writing task charged with developing documentation for all areas of technological development and consumer how-to’s.  This is a problematic perspective as it positions the TC’er as a functionalist/instrumentalist cog charged with merely representing technological processes in the medium of language.  In this conception of TC, TC becomes a skill-based endeavor rather than an exercise in rhetorical acumen and rhetorical efficacy.  As a remedy, JE wants to resituate TC out of the discourse of efficiency and industry hack toward the discourse of TC as integral to the production of effective symbolic-analytic workers (178).
  • JE highlights the fact that positioning TC’ers as “support” not only limits the effectiveness and possibilities of the documentation, it also hurts the end users (178).  What JE is getting at here is that TC documentation can’t simply be skill based. . . especially in text-based TC documentation (ex.: How to create a resume).  Instead, successful TC occurs when users are provides not only skill-based instruction/documentation but also guidance in negotiating particular rhetorical issues (audience awareness, kairos, etc.).
  • JE identifies to main indicators of the shift from “efficiency and speed” to “connection and selection”: the shift from Fordist to postindustrial information economies and the flattening of corporate hierarchies (180).
  • JE notes that the shift from traditional capital in industrialized economies to financialized or externalized capital in the form of valuable knowledges is indicative of the transformations in capital in the 20th century (181).
  • JE highlights that the new postindustrial worker is engaged in a new type of service industry: symbolic-analytic work.  This new kind of work requires a facility with abstraction, information management, and information sifting. . . skills that TC’ers typically have but aren’t necessarily valued in the industrial era conceptions of work and labor in industry.
  • JE divides work up into the following categories:
    • Routine Production – this is what you think of when you think of work in the Ford Motor Company assembly line.  Workers who engage in routine production follow rules, remain loyal, and work accurately and quickly.  Efficiency is job 1.  TC is thought of in these terms when the job requirements are merely skill based: software expertise, layout acumen, etc.
    • In-Person Service – These folks perform a lot of repetitive tasks; however, they also have a direct interaction with the public.  This is common in TC when folks do interviews with experts or designers to understand how to create the instrumentalist documentation.  These also include folks like help desk workers – workers who read documentation but don’t revise it.  [2. Interesting to note that the help desk worker – through wiki software and other Web 2.0 enabled collective documentation – can now more directly engage in symbolic-analytic work by advances in technology.]
    • Symbolic-Analytic workers – These are the folks who broker information, work with symbols and information, and create reports, plans, and proposals.  They work online in teams and tend to be well-paid (debatable nowadays but true when JE produced this piece . . . the spread in literacies related to S-A work might be the cause of lowered wages for S-A workers).  Because symbolic-analytic work is primarily information based and immaterial a facility with language and language use is essential to being a successful worker.  As such, TC’ers are particularly well-suited to take on a new, more powerful role as innovators, not just “support.”  (183).
  • What are the new forms of education that will be integral to producing subjects capable of functioning successfully in the information economy?  Reich includes collaboration, experimentation, abstraction, and system.  How do these look in TC?
    • Experimentation:  this consists of forming and testing hypotheses about information and communication.  For TC, usability studies provide a great opportunity to experiment with new forms of information production, delivery, and consumption.  While traditional usability focuses on the ability to functionally use a technological object, JE recommends that we reconsider usability by conducting workplace ethnographies (Spinuzzi) as a way to discover how contextual factors allow workers to develop new ways of use to solve ad hoc problems.
    • Collaboration:  This allows for TC’ers to work together to solve complex problems across disciplinary boundaries.  To really get at how to do collaboration effectively, JE recommends we consider how power works in groups.  Doing so will allow TC’ers to teach negotiation techniques for tactical deployment in difficult workplace situations.
    • Abstraction:  This is a tough thing to teach as it includes the ability for the S-A worker to recognize patterns, relationships, and hierarchies in large amounts of information (186).  Moving beyond audience analysis to develop new ways of working, JE recommends that abstraction is made real through the structuration of data . . . or building systems of data that allow for ease of use and utility.
    • System Thinking:  This operates at the level above abstraction and requires S-A workers to recognize the relationships and connections between very broad, abstract systems.  In other words, this kind of work requires a step back to “look at larger issues in the system to determine how the problem develops and in what contexts it is considered a problem” (186).
  • JE has a couple of different projects that he believes will make TC’ers more relevant as S-A workers:
    • Connect education to work:  This means considering education and work in critical ways (as opposed to accommodating ways – 188).  So, by encouraging TC to get involved in the cocreation of new management processes we can shape the future of work for all S-A workers – management and labor alike.
    • Question educational goals:  This means questioning whether outsourcing our curriculums to corporate needs/desire for future workers is a great idea.
    • Question educational processes and infrastructures:  This means advocating and being receptive to distance education but also drawing attention to the importance of f-2-f education.
    • Build metaknowledge, network knowledge, and self-reflective practices:  This means acknowledging the role of networks and affiliations in the constitution of knowledge.  It also means that collapsing the role of teacher/student/user can help us move toward a more critical, power-aware notion of how we’ve come to be who we are (and how we can change that where we’ve come from).
    • Rethink interdiciplinarity:  Obvious.
  • In closing, JE reiterates that it is important to move toward TC as something that isn’t merely useful but is also valuable.  This means reorienting TC toward S-A work as this is the kind of work most valued in the emergent information economy.

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