On Celebration and Compliance, Reflection and Resistance

Call for Proposals (Deadline extended to 3/6/2023)
June 7-9, 2023

This year’s ATTW conference marks the 25th annual meeting of the Association of Teachers of Technical Communication and the 50th anniversary of the Association itself. As such, it offers us time and space for reflection (on our successes, progress, and promise; on our shortcomings and unmet goals and inadequacies), renewal (of our commitments and communities), and revision (of our practices and purposes). In other words, it is a time to honor and reconcile our histories and amplify counterhistories as well as (re)imagine and (re)build our futures. We believe that it is only as our inheritances interface with our current goals that we can co-create projects “adequate to the complexity” of our world(s) (Royster 2000).

Participating in complex worlds is inherent to our work as technical communicators and teachers of technical communication. Indeed, we might say it is our unique work to confront that complexity in order to make it manageable: interpreting and organizing information, reframing unwieldy processes, identifying points of—and reducing barriers to—access, and so forth. The tensions between complexity and simplicity are nowhere more evident, and nowhere more  important, we argue, than in the world-rendering practices of compliance, a concept which shadows our work and haunts the field. While we seek compliance to ethical standards, we also critique the ways it calcifies ethics. While we expose the limits of compliance to norms, we insist on compliance to workplace and community safety and access. Accordingly, this conference focuses on issues of compliance, understood broadly, inviting presentations and workshops that foreground its central–and complex–role(s) in our work.

Colloquially, compliance is “the act of obeying an order, rule, or request” (Cambridge Dictionary). This act is codified in safety procedures and human resources processes. It is ubiquitous in bureaucratic and legal systems and technical and professional communication practices of all kinds. In the corporate sector, technical writers tasked with overseeing compliance are meant to ensure that documentation supports procedures to manage security and risk (McNely 2019). In health and medical contexts, compliance often refers to whether or how well a patient follows a physician’s advice (Stone 1997). In risk communication, compliance documentation and practice regulate and adjudicate possibilities for safety and harm (Evia and Patriarcha 2012). In teaching, compliance might mean adherence to university policies and investment in approved assessment practices. Generally, compliance has connections to obedience, piety, regulations, and discipline and thus also invokes their opposites: reluctance, resistance, and refusal. 

Often stereotyped in terms of only passive obedience, compliance took on new public meanings in 2020 as we sought to comply (or not) with complex and changing public health information and advice during the outbreak of the Covid pandemic. Compliance, in this context, was not an act of uncritical obedience but an indication of conscientious community care. With this reframing, the simple equation of compliance with complaisance, conformity, or concession begins to break down because compliance is never simple but, instead, imbricated in the complex relations among information, communication, and livability. 

As one example of the complexity of compliance: it not only helps us articulate and manage risk, but it also distributes risk, responsibility, and liability. Thus the same regulations that protect workers from harm also protect organizations from lawsuits. Compliance around Covid made abundantly clear that this distribution is never disinterested but gets meted out in patterned ways, sticking, as Sara Ahmed might say, to the most vulnerable, exacerbating inequities (2004). This is because while often understood to be an individual matter—as if we make individual choices to comply or not—compliance both emerges from and creates effects within systems. My compliance to safety procedures impacts the safety of my team. Your compliance to HR regulations impacts the liability of your institution. 

In addition to indicating an act, however, compliance also indicates gendered, sexualized, racialized, ableist, nationalist, and otherwise normative attitudes differentially expected and disciplined. That is, while airport security measures are on their surface universal, some bodies always find themselves subject to extra screening (Al-Khateeb 2020). While voting is the ostensible right of citizens in the US, some voters are subject to literacy tests (Jones and Williams 2018). While gatherings and protests must ostensibly comply with public ordinances, only some groups are met with police force. And while compliance to workplace standards of professional conduct is seemingly mandated for all, only some bodies–their dress, their hair, their “tone”–are marked out of compliance (Gutiérrez y Muhs et al. 2012; Ahmed 2012; Haywood 2018; Hull, Shelton, & McKoy 2019).

In its appeals to safety, standards, and risk mitigation, compliance regulates embodied actions and attitudes, prescribing acceptable and appropriate acts against those that may be risky, and offloading risk in patterned ways (Sauer 2003; Scott 2003). In this way, compliance offers rhetorical cover to actions that preserve the status quo and indicates the limits, as (ATTW Vice President) Laura Gonzales has suggested, of allyship (2022). Indeed, the moments when actions and attitudes and bodies are marked unruly or out of compliance reveal who is willing to stand by those actions and stand with those bodies and who is protected by norms of compliance. 

As we respond to the need to shift from allyship to co-conspiracy (Love 2019) articulated by (ATTW President) Natasha Jones and Denise Troutman, from making commitments or identifying risks to sharing the burden of those commitments and redistributing risk (2022), we must unsettle and disassemble how we conceive of compliance and of whose compliance we conceive. To whom and what are we compliant and why? When and for whom does compliance feel required? When and for whom does compliance seem optional? How can we share the burdens of compliance? Undermine its violence? But also, and importantly, how can we learn to comply, to co-conspire, when it’s our turn to listen to and learn from others?

Not despite but because of its complications, compliance demands our careful attention and critical questions. As we reflect on our histories and imagine our futures, then, we might use this concept to ask: 

      • Who (and what interests) benefit(s) from–or is protected by–compliance? Who is exposed and/or harmed by compliance?
      • Compliance always matters, but in what venues is it implicit? In places where it is explicit, how is it articulated and with what effects? 
      • What are the (conceptual, practical, political) limits of compliance in specific contexts? How do they enable and constrain our perceptions, practices, and actions?
      • In what ways is compliance (mis)represented when understood as adherence? As resistance?
      • In what ways does history frame issues of compliance? Honoring the traditions of the past can be seen as complying with a certain version of the world: In what contexts might we pursue this affordance of compliance (as tradition)? When and how might we seek alternatives?
      • How does compliance intersect with our pedagogies? Learning outcomes? What does compliance look like in the classroom and how can we complicate it with/for students?

With these questions in mind, we invite proposals for (individual and panel) presentations and workshops for the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing’s 2023 conference that invite attendees to grapple with the complexities of compliance. 

Please submit proposals here no later than Feb. 28, 2023 March 6, 2023 (deadline extended!) @ 11:59p (Pacific time). Any questions can be directed to conference co chairs, Erin Clark Frost and Kellie Sharp-Hoskins via the conference email address:

Proposal Format

      1. Individual Proposals (for ~10 min presentations) – 250 words
      2. Panel Proposals (3-4 presentations organized around a specific topic, 8-10 mins per presentation) – 500 words
      3. Workshop Proposals (75 minute workshops oriented toward participation and action) – 500 words

We encourage all proposals to articulate a disciplinary and/or cultural exigence (citing relevant literature where appropriate), specific argument (or hypothesis), and potential takeaways (i.e. what audience members can expect to learn or do). Whereas presentations primarily showcase the research, expertise, and contributions of presenters through accessible knowledge sharing practices (followed by interactive discussion or Q&A), workshops should invite attendees to participate and co-construct knowledges through activities, discussions, or other practice-based means. All presentation and workshop leaders should also consider how their work invites, affirms, and responds to attendees’ lived experiences and literacies.

Conference Timeline

March 6 Proposals Due by 11:59 pst (uploaded here)
April 3 Acceptances sent to participants
April 17 Draft of Program
May 1 Open Registration

June 7 – 9 ATTW 2023!


Ahmed, Sara. On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life, Duke, 2012.

Ahmed, Sara. The Cultural Politics of Emotion, Routledge 2004.

Al-Khateeb, Mais T. “Toward a Rhetoric Account of Refugee Encounters: Biometric Screening Technologies and Failed Promises of Mobility.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 51, no. 1, 2020, pp. 15-26.

Evia, Carlos and Ashley Patriarcha. “Beyond Compliance: Participatory Translation for Safety Communication for Latino Construction Workers.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication, vol. 26, no. 3, 2012, pp.340-367.

Gonzales, Laura. Personal Communication. Oct 2022.

Gutiérrez y Muhs, Gabriella, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. González, and Angela P. Harris. Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia, Utah State, 2012.

Haywood, Constance. “Headwraps and Hoops in TPC: Decolonizing Professionalism through Dress and Work Practices.” Association of Teachers of Technical Writing, 2018, Kansas City, Kansas, USA. 

Hull, Brittany, Cecelia Shelton, and Temptaous McKoy “Dressed by Not Tryin’ to Impress: Black Women Deconstructing ‘Professional’ Dress.” Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics, vol. 3, no. 1. <>.

Jones, Natasha, and Denise Troutman. “More Mourning: On Patrick Loya, Co-Conspiratorship, and Support for Black Faculty, Staff, and Students.” ATTW Blog, 19 Apr 2022. <>.

Jones, Natasha, and Mirriam F. Williams. “Technologies of Disenfranchisement: Literacy Tests and Black Voters in the US from 1890 to 1965.” Technical Communication, vol. 65, no. 4, 2018.<>.

Love, Bettina L. We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and The Pursuit of Educational Freedom. Beacon, 2019.

McNely, Brian. “Under Pressure: Exploring Agency–Structure Dynamics with a Rhetorical Approach to Register.” Technical Communication Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 4, 2019, pp. 317-331.

Royster, Jacqueline Jones. Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Change Among African American Women. Pittsburgh, 2000.

Sauer, Beverly. The Rhetoric of Risk: Technical Communication in Hazardous Environments, Routledge, 2003.

Scott, J. Blake. Risky Rhetoric: AIDS and the Cultural Practices of HIV Testing, Southern Illinois, 2003.

Stone, George C. “Patient Compliance and the Role of the Expert.” Journal of Social Issues, vol. 35, 1979, pp. 34-59.