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Rivers, Nathaniel A. “Some Assembly Required: The Latourian Collective and the Banal Work of Technical and Professional Communication.” Journal of Technical Writing & Communication 38 3 (2008): 189-206. Print.

  • Rivers wants to address how collecting technologies into temporary and permanent strucutres to address the common world for the common good.  For Rivers, this should be the goal that technical and professional communicators should orient themselves.
  • In understanding what “science” means, Rivers notes how Latour has defined the term.  For Latour, “Science” is the “objective mirror to reality” whereas “science” is the “collecting of sensitivities in the formation of the common world” (190).
  • Using Mythbusters as a metaphor, Rivers hopes to demonstrate how technical and professional communicators work should be “not as the conveyors of scientific truths for the realm of human politics, but as enactors of scientific performativity in the construction of the common world” (191). 
  • In critiquing the space or function of technical and professional communicators until now, Rivers describes Latour’s deconstruction of Plato’s allegory of the cave.  For Latour, the technical/professional communicator has been reduced to a position of mere rhetoric.  She is used as a “tool for presenting the truths of Science and light of Nature for those shrouded in the darkeness of the Cave.”  In Rivers view, Science should be rethought of as science and the “Truths” of science and nature should be reevaluated to recognize their political, subjective and persuasive nature. 
  • In the allegory of the cave, two sides are established – the political and the natural (think the light and the projection).  In this relationship, technical communication has been envisioned as the method through which the natural can be conveyed to the political.  It’s THE conduit between the objective and the subjective.  Yet, for Latour, these distinctions are really irrelevant.  Instead of worrying about the “standard of objectivity” that the technical communicator must reproduce, it would be more beneficial to be attuned to the “collective economy of sensitivities” to understand what should be communicated.
  • To understand how this “collection” work happens, Rivers points to Latour’s description of the Kyoto meetings in 199X.  At this meeting, the scientists and the politicians were forced to meet on equal terms.  In this sense, the meeting was a return to “representation” in its “ancient political role” of space for litigators and orators as spokespersons in the agora (195).  All representatives are representatives and there is no division into the hierarchies of Science and politics. 
  • The work of the “banal” that Rivers vis-à-vis Latour describes next is the core of the new method that the author proposes.  Instead of falling into the traps noted before, technical communicators must collect the “numerous assemblages of humans and nonhumans that connect the common world with the common good.” In doing this work, Latour uses the metaphor of the “cloaca maxima” which is the multilayered, multichanelled sewage system.  While messy and tedious, the work of collecting is necessary.  For Rivers, “collecting” is the main work of the technical/professional communicator.  Rivers characterizes it as “the assembling of humans with nonhumans including designs, schematics, computers, interfaces, equipment, and various technologies” (197). 
  • In using the word “world” (from Old English a collapse of were (man) and ald (age), there is only man’s age – not the natural world and the political world.  Also, to collapse the subjectivity/objectivity binary, Rivers a la Latour recommends using “sensativities.”  In paying attention to sensitivities (remember the “placebo” effect from the Mythbusters example that Rivers provides), the researcher/communicator can get beyond the science/political divide.  What does it matter that a placebo doesn’t contain anything to make sea-sickness more tolerable?  The reality is that it is more tolerable.  It’s not about primary and secondary anything, it’s about intensities and sensitivities. 
  • To understand what sensitivities matter – instead of embracing a “anything goes” philosophy toward sensitivities, the sensitivities must be presented to the collective.  This is called “propositioning.”  If the collective agrees with the sensitivity – via the process of due process or “good articulation” – then the sensitivity becomes something. .. .. .. but what?  First, let’s see how that articulation is created.
  • The act of articulation is a connected saying of both the “facts of the matter” and the “matters of concern” ; hence, articulation dissolves the usual boundaries between demonstration and persuasion by noting how they are already connected – they’re all rhetorical in other words.  For Latour, articulation highlights how “the world is loaded into discourse.”  Hence, articulation is the means for deciding which sensitivities matter.
  • The work of articulation is undertaken by the spokesperson.  This is where rhetoric becomes particuarly important.  The spokesperson as a function is there to remind us that the political is necessary in all aspects of decision making (or collecting).  In this sense, the spokesperson will engage in “controversy”; however, that controversy will be a positive unit due to the oneness of the persuasion/demonstration – scientist/politician relationshipes (recall sensativities).
  • Everything mentioned above happens under the umbrella of “due process.”  This is the SLOW work of the technical communicator.  Rivers mentions Spinuzzi’s work on genres and genre ecology here to demonstrate the “due process” as MO.  For Rivers, due process “organizes spokespersons, manages conditions for articulation, and undergirds the creation of criteria for judging propositions.  The maintenance of due process is thus the rhetorical endeavor of (re)establishing the rules of the game for the collective; this is the rhetorical work that should be at the center of technical and professional communication” (203).
  • In closing, Rivers notes that technical and professional communicators shouldn’t see themselves as the intermediaries that traverse the ground between Plato’s cave and the “light”; rather, it is the “highly rhetorical” work that must address the sciences, but does not give complete political authroity to Science – it’s the work of formaing a collective world and the work of “connecting the common world and the common good trhough the work of collecting sensitivities as propositions” (205)

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