Blyler: "Taking a Political Turn: The Critical Perspective and Research in Professional Communication"

Blyler, Nancy Roundy. “Taking a Political Turn: The Critical Perspective and Research in Professional Communication.” Central works in technical communication. Ed. Johndan Johnson-Eilola & Stuart A. Selber. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 268-280. Print.


Originally published in Technical Communication Quarterly 7.1 (1998): 33-52.



Like that she includes explanation of funding!




Freire-ian influence-- not skills-oriented instruction. Cites scholarship that "professional communication pedagogy ought to enable students to learn about the ''network of social relations on the job''" (269).


"Given these calls for reorienting our research to include a political dimension, I believe the time has come to consider alternatives to our traditional descriptive, explanatory approach. In this article, therefore, I suggest that a perspective found in other workplace- and education-oriented disciplines--the critical perspective--presents us with a viable and useful alternative" (270)


The Critical Perspective


"In order to foster empowerment and emancipation, critical researchers redefine a number of aspects of the research process, including--again, for my purposes--the relationship between researcher and participants and the goal of research" (271).


Relationship Between Researcher and Participants


Crit/Descriptive is the objective observer.  Instead, options include collaboration. "Knowledge is ''generated via a dialectic'' between researcher and participants--where the participants (Mumby, Communication 146)--not the researcher--arrive at research questions that matter to them and search for the answers they require" (271). Critical research done WITH, not ON a group. So-called "politics of disclosure" (272). "self-understanding" and "self-articulation"


Research Goal


Primary goal of descriptive/explanatory is "to better understand, in an objective fashion, the phenomena being studied, using either quantitative or qualitative means" (272). Critical researchers "are deeply concerned about issues of ideology and power" (272). Foucauldian view/ social constructivism, Freire-ian in approach to power structures and domination.


Examples of Critical Research


Cross-disciplinary, cross-theory, cross-methodology. Commonality = "interests in redefining the relationship between researcher and participants and achieving an emancipatory goal" (273).


Feminist Research


paints as interested in "interrogat[ing] existing methods of inquiry," "examining questions other than those studied in traditional social science analyses," "and doing so in alternate ways" (274). "Passionate scholarship"-- rejects notion of value-neutral, objective, etc. Emancipatory goal (emancipatory "thrust"? really?). Feminist ethnography more observer-participant. Frame to construct research questions in accordance with desires of oppressed group. Questions notions of ''others.'' Feminist sociological work... uses example of establishing a "liberation narrative" (275).


Radical Educational Research


Influenced by Freire (yay!). Collaborative. Analyze mode of the dominator. Often ethnographic.


Participatory Action Research


combines education and sociopolitical action with research to form three stages  or emphases (276): experiences, projects, and problems. Subject/subject.


Implications of Adopting the Critical Perspective


reconsideration of assumptions. not about being objective/dispassionate. rethink choices of research questions and sites for research.


Research Questions and Sites


often dictated by the sponsors/ (business and organizations). That''s not enough. Not suited to all situaitons. Address questions that participants want to have answered. Often organizations may be reluctant to research when result can be situation where management and labor alike benefit (277).


Ownership of Research Results


to critical researchers, belong to participants. practicality in age of fulfilling publishers/etc.?


Funding for Research Initiatives


names possible centers open to critical research/ collaboration/ emancipatory goals. However, do not discount possibility of educating organizations (278).




critical perspective presents significant challenges and opportunities-- especially for empowerment.