Call for Papers: Posthuman Praxis in Technical Communication

Things matter. And so do objects. In the past few decades, scholars across disciplines have developed theoretical frameworks like posthumanism (Hayles, 1999; Haraway, 1991), object-oriented rhetoric/ontology (Boyle & Barnett, 2014; Bryant, 2011), new materialism (Coole & Frost, 2010; Bennett, 2010), and Actor-Network Theory (Callon, 1999; Latour, 2007) to articulate and acknowledge the agency and importance of materiality and nonhuman actants. But relatively little work, with some important exceptions like Spinuzzi (2003), Knievel (2006), Graham (2009), and Potts (2014), has explored the implications of these theories for technical communication practice, research, and teaching. In their TCQ special issue on posthumanism, Mara and Hawk (2010) claim that envisioning technical communication as a posthuman practice opens up more possibilities for rhetorical action. We agree. As such, this collection follows Mara and Hawk in their broad definition of posthumanism as “a general category for the theories and methodologies that situate acts and texts in the complex interplays” among humans and nonhumans and that highlight the role of materiality in these interplays (3). But how exactly does attention to nonhuman, material agents shape, reconfigure, improve, and/or challenge our practice of technical communication?

This collection calls for studies that focus on technical communication practice informed by posthuman theories, broadly conceived. Because practice can dissolve the boundaries of terminology, we are less concerned with “camps” or theoretical allegiances and turn instead to research that demonstrates the implications of these theories for practice. Posthuman rhetorics are valuable for the field of technical communication not only as new ways of thinking but better ways of doing. It is with this practitioner ethic that we seek studies, researches, and projects revealing how attention to posthuman theories and methodologies have actually improved technical communication practice and have indeed opened up more rhetorical possibilities for those researching, teaching, and practicing technical communication. In other words, this collection is a call for studies of posthuman praxis.

The editors welcome 500 word proposals that address, challenge, or respond to one or more of these questions:

  • How has the shift towards posthuman theories shaped, changed, improved, or confounded the practice of technical communication? How do technical communicators practice differently given the recent attention to nonhuman actants and materiality?
  • What research methods or methodological approaches most effectively integrate or incorporate posthuman theories? What kinds of studies specifically  can illustrate the results of such methods and methodologies?
  • What sites of technical communication practice require or benefit from attention to material systems or nonhuman agents? How might these benefits be articulated?
  • How might current or common technical communication teaching practices be challenged by explicit attention to posthuman theories? How might collaborations, texts, and deliverables be re-examined in light of what these theories have to offer students?

In short, we are looking for ways in which attention to posthuman theories practically help technical communicators grapple with emergent agency in practice-based settings. This collection seeks contributors with a wide range of theoretical, pedagogical, disciplinary, methodological, and epistemological approaches. As such, proposed projects could:

  • Offer original research, accounts, or studies of nonhuman actants in traditional sites of technical communication, like organizations, the public sphere, workplaces, or classrooms, or in interdisciplinary areas like health/medical communication, gaming and multimedia studies, environmental studies, or risk communication;
  • Revisit, re-write or re-analyze an existing research project or data set in light of its non-human actants or new theoretical frames;
  • Develop a theory of posthuman praxis that is grounded in practice or research.

The deadline for submissions is September 15, 2014. Decisions about proposals will be made by November 1, 2014. Final chapters will be expected by June 30, 2015. Please attach submissions as a Word file and email to Kristen R. Moore ( Questions about the collection as a whole can be directed to either Daniel Richards ( or Kristen R. Moore (

[PDF: Posthuman Praxis CFP]

Daniel Richards, Old Dominion University
Kristen R. Moore, Texas Tech University

Teaching as Attitude: The Staying Power of John Dewey

My thoughts on the relevance and power of John Dewey, just in time for Labo(u)r Day.

Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed.

"Example is notoriously more potent than precept." —John Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916)by Daniel Richards

We have all heard of John Dewey.

The native of Burlington, Vermont, (1859-1952) has been on U.S. stamps; he protected academic freedom by co-founding the American Association of University Professors (AAUP); his articulation of inquiry undergirds most student-centered and service learning teaching approaches; he was one of the foremost contributors to the development of (despite his disdain for the term) Pragmatism, perhaps America’s greatest contribution to philosophy; and he most likely occupies a full shelf in your university library, having written copiously for over sixty years on pretty much everything, from education to politics to anthropology to social psychology to aesthetics to ethics to communication. There is perhaps no one more prominent within the American educational consciousness than Dewey.

But do we really know John Dewey?

Writing from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, Dewey is usually—and rightfully—associated with thinkers from a wide variety of…

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Contribute to a new podcast on pedagogy

Kyle Stedman is precisely the individual who should be doing this podcast.

Transmedia Me

Greetings! I’ve recently agreed to host and produce a new monthly podcast on pedagogy. Fun, right?

Though the podcast will focus on pedagogy, it will probably especially also cover the other things I’m interested in: digital technology, multimodal assignments, rhetorics of sound and music, intellectual property, fan studies, and kind of everything else, as long as it connects to teaching in some way.

What I Need

For my firstest episode ever, I need your help. I’d like to collect short audio clips from amazing post-secondary teachers around the country (world?) answering the following prompt:

What do you do online to prepare for your classes each semester? What digital tools do you use? What spaces do you set up for yourself and for your students?

Do you have something that you could share in a one-minute audio file (max)? (I bet you do. You think you don’t, but you do. You’re amazing.)

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CASDW Dissertation Awards for 2014

Canadian Association for the Study of Discourse and Writing/Association Canadienne de Rédactologie

I am pleased to be able to announce the winners of this award..

For the Best Dissertation in Rhetoric, Writing Studies or Discourse Studies in 2013, the winner is Ghada Chehade. Honourable mention goes to Meaghan kittle Autry and Daniel Richards. The committee had this to say:

“As a committee, we reviewed five dissertations that together projected a very bright future for the the field of writing and rhetorical studies. The dissertations differed widely in subject matter and methodology but were uniformly strong. It was a difficult decision—the words “dead heat” were used several times— but in the end we have awarded the CASDW 2014 Dissertation Award to Dr. Ghada Chehade for her thesis, “Anti-Terrorism Discourse and the War on Dissent: A Critical Analysis.”

Dr. Chehade analyzed official documents surrounding terrorism in Canada using Critical Discourse Analysis, and ultimately argues that these anti-terrorism texts discursively criminalize dissent. Her challenging and…

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The Importance of Causality in Flood Risk

As a pragmatist, I am tempted to think that the problem of flooding can be communicated and addressed without having to invoke the terms climate change or global warming. That is, I want to say something like: Regardless of whether or not we disagree about why the earth is warming, surely we can agree that Hampton Roads VA is ill-equipped to handle any variation in sea-level rise. I mean, look–it never has been historically and it still isn’t today:


But while avoiding climate terminology and focusing on the effects of sea-level rise might seem effective as a way to pass legislation (it has–just ask former VA governor Bob McDonnell), even the most cursory glance at reader comments on related stories relates the notion that simply not uttering “climate change” in discussions of flooding in local regions is not sufficient to change the mind of those opposing the implementation of adaptation and mitigation measures. The connection to the initial causality, to the reason why climate is changing is integral to the discussion of even basic adaptation measures, such as levies or road construction projects.

It is tempting to focus solely on the “what are we going to do” question (especially since the two images above are from a hurricane [in 1933] and normal rainfall). But it’s important to note here that “getting things done,” as evidenced by the article linked above, is broken up into two categories: passing legislation and changing people’s minds. The pragmatist approach of extracting climate change terminology worked for passing legislation, but it won’t necessarily work for individuals.

Making arguments with equations, figures, and images: Writing in STEM

Equations as arguments.


by Alexandra Cavallaro and Andrea Olinger

“Do problem sets count as writing?”

This was the question we asked Michael Loui, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). His answer: a resounding yes. “It is actually a form of writing,” he said, “with diagrams and equations and all of that.”

Although students in his ECE classes might not be writing whole paragraphs in response to their homework problems, each solution needs to set up a chain of reasoning, to weave together words, symbols, and diagrams to make an argument. The kind of writing we see in problem sets shows up in the many different kinds of writing engineers do, such as technical specifications and documentation. Critically, this kind of writing also gives students opportunities to make their thinking and learning visible—something not possible from automatically graded multiple-choice homework.

One of Michael’s favorite problems, which he created for an introductory engineering…

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Assessing Blogs

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The Professional Writing Online course I teach asks students to craft a blog that positions themselves as a niche specialist in their industry or field of choice. The objective for the students is to learn about digital ethos in a social media environment by actually practicing it themselves.

Great. Fun. Blogs. These blogs are instantiations, equal parts their envisioning and my structuring. That is, while the students chose the content of the blog and the ends to which they were put (i.e., research blogs; blog for their small business; academic “expert”; etc.), they are in many ways the result of what I think a strong blog is: an aesthetic instrument (in the Deweyan sense, of course). These blogs are social tools: they are virtual artifacts stemming from personal motivation (read: obligation) and have an attached social function. Yet, they are also artistic expressions, the result of a series of aesthetic design choices on behalf of the student. These artistic pieces, occupying public space, serve a function. In many ways, blogs that have the exigence of professionalization (Middlebrook) blur the lines between art and instrumentalism, embodying both an explicit social function and digital tool as well as being the result of design choices to be experienced in publics.

But if you think the amount of fun I had with this assignment resided in theorizing blogs from a pragmatist perspective, you are wrong: it was assessing that was fun and, of course, challenging. Many question arose: How do I assess a tool that is both a written document and a design document? Can I hold my students responsible for the design choices they have made if I am teaching this project in the context of a professional writing course in which students, from outside the classroom, must learn the technical skills of WordPress blogs in 5 weeks or less? How do I assess blogs in such a way that communicates to the students that these blogs are envisioned as artistic creations that have a social obligation to serve a function (ends determined by the student) in publics? Here’s the rubric I came up with.

Politics of rubrics aside, the fact of the matter is that I needed a concrete way to communicate to students, with whom I did not have the privilege of meeting face-to-face for 2.5 hours a week, the nature of a blog and what a strong blog incorporates. I’m not sure I did this right, but my rubric, highly specific to the project outlined above, is my best effort to make sense of assessing blogs that have the distinct purpose of professionalization.

“Democracy is a Design Problem”

There are many ways to think about user experience in terms of the designing of interactive documents. One of the more high-stakes but simple examples are voting ballots. If you’re looking for a case to use in a technical communication course about how failures in technical communication have profound political and sociological ramifications, you might consider the case of the 2000 election, with Palm Beach County and Theresa LePore. Students can consult Civic Design, specifically the Field Guide for Designing Usable Ballots. Stewart Brand’s articulation of “pace layers” might serve as a good framework for how technology moves faster than policy changes.

This post was inspired by the work of Whitney Quesenbery, as presented at the 3rd Annual Symposium on Communicating Complex Information (SCCI) at East Carolina University.

Postmodernly Mapping the Course

Mapping the course can, in my experience, really help students conceptualize what is taking place over the 16-week duration of the course. It also helps with integrating some humor into the course, in the case of my map, which is (intentionally?) hilarious. This course map is for a graduate course in Professional and Technical Writing Pedagogy. (Click image to enlarge.)

ENGL 775 Course Map