Winsor: "Ordering Work: Blue-Collar Literacy and the Political Nature of Genre"

Winsor, D. A. (2000). Ordering Work: Blue-Collar Literacy and the Political Nature of Genre. Written Communication, 17(2), 155-184. doi:10.1177/0741088300017002001



written about 15 years after Doheny-Farina''s. Claims that for past 15 years, field has dealt with intertwining of text and social structure in terms of genre.


Winsor states that "part of the social action implicit in using or recognizing a genre is political" (156). Genre encourage/discourage actions but people in organizations do not have equal rights to authorship of all genres/ texts produced equally regarded as genres. Argues that the social system perceives the text''s function to be/ visibility of users.


Specifically studying the work order.


The Study




Conducted summers of ''96 and ''97 at engineering center of AgriCorp. In ''96 observed 3 engineers as they wrote at work; ''97 observed 3 techs as they carried out work orders. Maps space slightly.




Lab techs: Gary, Jim, and Rich


Explains how she got volunteers through HR; union blessing. Observed each participant for 3 2-hour periods for a total of 36 hours, varying times of day/days of week.  Took field notes, asked questions during observation. Taped interviews with engineers (not techs, whose time more restricted) (161). Over 100pp single spaced field notes. Read multiple work orders, collected other docs. Received participant validation.


The Work of Technicians and the Hierarchical Division of Labor


Agri-Corp valued theoretical, symbolic knowledge (162) in engineering design center. Tech''s task is to turn material reality into data.


Issue of "can''t read/refuse to read instructions" (Winsor locates at uneven distribution of power). Often engineers didn''t know what to expect from techs/ union issues. Environments (engineers at carbeted cubicles, techs in uncarpeted areas with cement floors). tech''s time more regulated than engineers. Cites Foucault: engineers could exercise governing gaze while techs could not.


Techs had some agency in writing reports, but engineers did not see techs as authors.


Work Orders As Generic Textual Tools


Work orders constitute a genre (she establishes how on 164-65). Provides examples on 166-68. Argues that genre not in formal common features, but in "the social action they repeatedlyperformed" (169). "Work orders, then, are aimed at shaping the technicians'' actions and, by means of those actions, shaping the physical devices they work on so that data can be gathered" (169).


The Process of Issuing Work Orders


Official vs. manifest. Sometimes improvised.


Supplementing the Written Work Order


meant to trigger work, but relationship between work orders and work not straightforward (172). Interpretive nature of instructions indicates degree of tech''s agency. Writer cannot anticipate all contingencies. "Do all other work required for completion of this order" (175). Technicians actively participated in the creation of social system in which they worked (177).


Technicians'' Texts and Definitions of Genre


tech''s texts less visible than work orders; organization less aware of tech''s literate activities than it was of the engineers''. Was writing happening. tech''s signs seen as individual''s  (178). The cautionary signs-- not seen as part of genre.




Work orders-- texts shape techs'' actions, but techs ultimately control their own activity.


Exercises of power but not necessarily "pernicious" (180).


Writing is an important means of creating and maintaining social system''s order. Successful writer must be able to read social situations.  Individualized notion of literacy not enough.


"Genre is a profoundly political force" (181).