Mara and Hawk: "Posthuman Rhetorics and Technical Communication"

Mara, Andrew, and Byron Hawk. “Posthuman Rhetorics and Technical Communication.” Technical Communication Quarterly 19.1 (2010): 1-10. Web. 12 Sept. 2010.

 


 

While this piece is not an article per se but an introduction to a special issue of TCQ, it offers an overview of posthumanism and its clear application to the field of technical communication. Posthumanism is defined as "a general category for theories and methodologies that situate acts and texts in the complex interplays among human intentions, organizational discourses, biological trajectories, and technological possibilities" (3). Simply, it extends the postmodern contexts of language, power,  and social construction  to encompass biological systems, organizational structures, and technology. Mara and Hawk argue that technical communicators have a special understanding of this situation, as they need to navigate these complex and often at-odds biological, mechanical, and social interactions. Mara and Hawk cite Foucault''s theorizing the end of man in The Order of Things as the earliest reference to the concept of posthumanism. Mara and Hawk argue that there are "two strains of posthumanism, one focused on culture and the other on complex systems," and both strains are found within technical communications scholarship. For example, Slack et al.''s work is referenced, as it acknowledges a variety of systems (human, genre, audience, organizational structure, technology itself) as instrumental in creating meaning. These observations have given rise to such new theories as the attention economy (Lanham) and the symbolic-analytic economy (Johnson-Eilola).

 

Although this article is rather dense at times, the references alone read as a "Who''s Who" of modern scholars (including Latour, Deleuze, Foucault, and Spinuzzi). Mara and Hawk''s rationale for using the lens of postmodernism is well-reasoned; as they note, "ever since the first social organization, the first use of fire, and the first development of language, humans have lived in, beside, and as hosts of systems" (2). And ever since then, technical communicators have strived to help others make sense of it all.