The Just Use of Imagination: A Call to Action

The Just Use of Imagination: A Call to Action
Natasha N. Jones, ATTW Vice President
Miriam F. Williams, ATTW Fellow

“We must reimagine justice.” — Michelle Alexander (June 8, 2020)

Black folk are nothing if not imaginative. We have always employed the use of our imagination as a means of joy, creativity, innovation–and as a way to survive. Despite centuries of oppressions, we have always imagined a better America. From enslavement when we imagined routes to freedom through coded songs and quilts to Juneteenth where we imagined the realization of emancipation; from Black Wall Street where we imagined new ways to do business, build wealth, and support our communities to HBCUs where we nurtured the minds of future generations of imagineers. We’ve imagined it all. We’ve imagined for generations–in gospel, blues, and jazz, and in the poetry and art of the Harlem Renaissance; to civil rights movements where change-makers like Fred Hampton, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Malcolm X shared their visions of a reimagined America forged in the kiln of countless protests and uprisings that were prayerful, peaceful, liberating, violent, terrifying and everything in between. We’ve imagined leaders–from the Black Panthers who developed ways to protect our people, feed our people, and educate our people to Hip Hop and R&B artists that screamed “Fuck the Police” and called for us to get in “Formation.” We’ve imagined and implemented, produced and designed, fought and fled–from Stonewall to Pose, from Ava Duvernay to Assata Shakur. We’ve learned to imagine because we’ve been taught by the brilliance of Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, and Nikki Giovanni and championed by the formidable intellects of Angela Davis, Patricia Hill Collins, and Michelle Obama, who once said, “For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback” and also affirmed, “I’ve always loved my country.” From the designers, innovators, from the intellectuals to the quilters and cooks, to the farmers and the Fire Next Time that James Baldwin promised. And, as a child, George Floyd imagined being a Supreme Court Justice, while Breonna Taylor imagined becoming a nurse and buying her first home. Black people have envisioned it all. We have willed worlds into existence with our words, our songs, and our images. We have always seen a better America. Imagine that.

Despite this imagining, while America perceives itself to be a nation of imaginative thinkers, often the imagining of Black folks is not productively acknowledged, properly amplified, or respectfully appreciated. And while white America tends to focus on the “progress” of this nation through racialized lenses, Black America has had to grapple with the terrors and tragedies that have come out of the white imagination. White Americans have used their imaginations to create illusions that frame genocide, slavery, and Jim Crow as acceptable in service of the myths of the Land of the Free, American exceptionalism, and a great modern democracy. White supremacy and racism is what Toni Morrison calls “a profound neurosis that nobody examines for what it is.” She said, “White people have a very, very serious problem and they should start thinking about what they can do about it. Take me out of it.”

That “it” is an imaginative American illusion that has led us to this moment. In this moment of a 50-state protest against police brutality, a world-wide pandemic, surging unemployment and food insecurity, attacks on our elections from inside and out, and industry’s unwillingness to produce basic supplies for health and safety, it is time for us, for you, to dismantle the illusion, to employ a just use of imagination.

Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa E. Kirsch, feminist scholars and rhetoricians, defined the term “critical imagination” as “an inquiring tool, a mechanism for seeing the noticed and the unnoticed, rethinking what is there and not there, and speculating about what could be there instead” (p. 20). In fact, engaging critical imagination as feminist rhetorical practice, Royster and Kirsch (2012) assert that “such inquiry strategies allow us to engender an ethos of humility, respect, and care (p. 21). In this historic moment, when yet again the collective Black community is called forth to proclaim that our lives matter, that Black Lives Matter, we extend this idea of critical imagination to calls for justice and equality. As such, we call for the just use of imagination.

The just use of imagination does not solely rebuild and reform. Instead, the just use of imagination simultaneously supports the deconstruction and abolishment of oppressive practices, systems, and institutions. A just use of imagination allows for a rejection of legal, economic, social, political structures that are founded on exploitation, colonization, disenfranchisement, and marginalization. A just use of imagination recognizes that redress and remedy must follow behind a refusal to adhere to the confines and constraints of the status quo and this requires an acknowledgement that oppressive systems and institutions are indeed not broken or faulty, rather that they are working purposefully as designed–in support of white supremacist and racist ideas and ideals. In this way, a just use of imagination is not destructive, even as it seeks to dismantle, because using imagination in this way also calls for the replacement of oppressive practices with systems that are founded on equality, access, and opportunity. What can you imagine? And, how does this use of imagination not only shift perspective, but work to ensure the realization of justice and equality?

The just use of imagination is not just conceptual. It must be enacted. Without this enactment, a re-envisioning is relegated to the realm of fiction and future. The just use of imagination is applicable (in that it must be applied) and employed in our current realities in service of justice and equality RIGHT NOW, not later. John Lennon’s “Imagine” is fine, but a just use of imagination is steeped in reality and action. It is not navel gazing and hand wringing. Remember, Dr. King had a dream, policy initiatives, and plans. It is not decision-making trees and moral reasoning and pretending we don’t know right from wrong. In this way, the just use of imagination is a tool, rather than an ideological stance because it requires active engagement. The just use of imagination is praxis, where theory meets practices in service of re-shaping the lived experiences of marginalized and oppressed peoples. The just use of imagination cannot take up static residence in the heads and hearts of allies and accomplices. The just use of imagination must be transformative.

To be clear, Black folks have been imagining justice for centuries: imagining our streets without police and police violence; imagining preventative healthcare that is available and affordable to all of us; imagining that gardens replace food deserts; imagining that sustainable consumption replaces consumerism; imagining that the goal of education is inspiration rather than institutionalization; imagining that art and creativity inform our philosophy of life, and imagining that our lived, collective experiences of oppression will be understood as profoundly human, and as such, deserving of liberation, protection, and dignity.

We are tired.

Dismantling white supremacy requires your work. How might you make a difference? Just use your imagination.

Alexander, M. (2020, June 8). America, this is your chance. New York Times.

Royster, J. J. & Kirsch, G. E. (2012). Feminist rhetorical practices: New horizons for rhetoric, composition, and literacy studies. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University

ATTW President’s Call to Action

ATTW President’s Call to Action to Redress Anti-Blackness and White Supremacy

Dear ATTW members,

As the President of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing, I call on our non-Black membership to mobilize our (proximity to) white privilege and use our rhetoric and technical communication skills to redress anti-Blackness in our spheres of influence. Witnessing in horror is not enough. Acknowledging our white and light-skinned privilege is not enough. Reading and teaching Black authors is not enough. Being non-racist is not enough. These measures have not stopped the state sanctioned murdering of and violence against Black people in the U.S. nor have they led to systemic justice for the Black community. If they did, the families of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pop, and thousands of others before them would not be grieving and seeking justice for them. I ask that we confront our complicity in anti-Blackness and how we have personally benefitted from the institutions and systems that uphold white supremacy and then assess how we can use our personal agency and privilege to make anti-racist change.

I’m asking our ATTW membership—including our executive committee—to PLAN and DO at least three tangible things this summer that directly redress anti-Blackness in your spheres of micro, meso, and macro level influence, advocate for the human and legal rights of Black people, and support Black communities and organizations.

      • First, educate yourself on performative allyship and make a plan for how you will decenter yourself in your efforts to support Black communities.
      • Secure anti-racist partners who will hold you accountable to: doing the research on how Black communities are asking to be supported before doing the work; doing the work itself; and ensuring the work is intersectional and doesn’t re-center whiteness.
      • Prioritize Black voices on how to do this coalitional work and center and amplify their work when doing yours. But please do your homework before asking your Black relatives and friends for their assistance.

The NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and the Obama Foundation—among hundreds of other organizations—have offered specific suggestions for supporting Black people, organizations, businesses, communities, and Black-organized movements. (Perhaps one of our members would like to assemble a digital archive of such suggestions as one of their action items on their accomplice to-do list.) I also urge you to seek out local chapters of these organizations in your communities, donate (if you are able), and follow their lead.

Next, I would like for you to REPORT out those tangible anti-racist actions. What specifically did you do to intentionally redress anti-Blackness in your spheres of influence? How were those actions successful, or not, at the personal, organizational, community, and/or institutional levels? Why (not)? How can you package that work into useful, usable, and accessible templates and models for others to redress anti-Blackness in their spheres of influence? Which audiences and venues can benefit most from learning from your anti-racist work? Which platforms, media, and genres should you use for reporting that work and inspiring others to do anti-racist work? You can consider adapting and using this chart designed by the Michigan League for Public Policy’s 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge as well as contributing to this forum to track and discuss your progress. Note that the purpose of reporting out is not to seek affirmation, rather to participate in anti-racist skill sharing among your white and non-Black relatives and friends to inform and drive more productive action.

Please consider this an invitation to participate—and to do so in ways that move beyond the aforementioned suggestions. Though participation is not compulsory, I sincerely hope that you consider using your status as educators and public intellectuals—and rhetorical skills in civic and community engagement—to advocate for systemic justice for Black people at this kairotic moment in history. If you choose not to participate, please do so quietly, but also know that your choice is just as political as my choice.

I will report my own goals, actions, and results specific to redressing anti-Blackness in the communities to which I belong on social media and other venues. I will tag #BlackLivesMatter in all social media posts related to this anti-racist work, and I will add #ATTW when reporting on actions specific to our organization. As your President, I welcome your input, but please center the perspectives of Black people when offering it.

I offer my deepest gratitude to inaugural ATTW Amplification Award winner Temptaous Mckoy, ATTW Vice-President Natasha Jones, and ATTW At-Large member Laura Gonzales for your input on this call to action, for calling me in when necessary, and modeling how to call out and redress injustice in pro-Black and anti-colonial ways. I also appreciate ATTW Past-President Michelle Eble for your steadfast counsel.

Many thanks to those of you already doing important anti-racist work and to those considering this coalitional call to action. Black Lives Matter. All of them.

Angela Haas
ATTW President
June 2, 2020

CCCCs Technical and Scientific Communication Awards

Congratulations to the following recipients of the CCCCs 2019 Technical and Scientific Communication Awards. These awards were announced at the ATTW awards reception and the CCCCs awards ceremony on March 13 and March 15 in Pittburgh.

Outstanding Dissertation Award in Technical Communication
Julie Collins Bates, Illinois State University
“Toward an Interventionary Rhetoric for Technical Communication Studies.”

Best Book in Technical or Scientific Communication
Christa Teston. Bodies in Flux: Scientific Methods for Negotiating Medical Uncertainty. University of Chicago Press. 2017

Best Original Collection of Essays in Technical or Scientific Communication
Natalia Matveeva, Michelle Moosally, and Russell Willerton, Eds. Special Issue on Plain Language, IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 2017.

Best Article Reporting Historical Research or Textual Studies in Technical and Scientific Communication
Lilly Campbell. “Simulation genres and student uptakes: The patient health record in clinical nursing simulations.”  Written Communication, 2017.

Best Article on Pedagogy or Curriculum in Technical or Scientific Communication
Lynda Walsh. “Visual invention and the composition of scientific research graphics: A topological approach.”  Written Communication, 2018.

Best Article on Philosophy or Theory of Technical or Scientific Communication
Jordan Frith. “Big Data, Technical Communication, and the Smart City.”  Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 2017.

Best Article Reporting Qualitative or Quantitative Research in Technical or Scientific Communication
Julie Watts. “Beyond Flexibility and Convenience: Using the Community of Inquiry Framework to Assess the Value of Online Graduate Education in Technical and Professional Communication.”  Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 2017.

ATTW 2019 Research Methods Workshop Participants

The following graduate students and faculty participated in the 2019 ATTW Research Methods Workshop, “Using Narrative Inquiry Methods in Technical Communication,” led by Natasha N. Jones, University of Central Florida & Miriam F. Williams, Texas State University.

G. Edzordzi Agbozo Michigan Technological University
Sweta Baniya Purdue University
Lorelei Blackburn Michigan State University
Shanna Cameron University of Memphis
Ryan Cheek Utah State University
Chris Dayley Utah State University
Isidore Dorpenyo George Mason University
Tammy Gitto Valencia College
Laura Gonzales The University of Texas at El Paso
Cana Uluak Itchuaqiyaq Utah State University
Temptaous Mckoy East Carolina University
Ryan Murphy Purdue University
Mason Pellegrini Purdue University
Sarah Prielipp Michigan State University
Danielle Stambler University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Erica Stone Texas Tech University
Sean Williams Clemson University
Charles Woods Illinois State University

The Research Methods Workshops, offered since 2010, are an initiative of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing (ATTW) aimed at providing an opportunity for those entering the profession and those interested in developing more sophisticated research skills. Participation in these workshops is awarded on a competitive basis and constitutes a place on the ATTW program.

2019: Cheryl Geisler and Mark Zachry

Citation for Cheryl Geisler
Elevated to ATTW Fellow, March 2019
by Bill Hart-Davidson

Today we join a chorus of colleagues and organizations who have honored the career contributions of Dr. Cheryl Geisler by elevating Cheryl to the rank of Fellow of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing. Cheryl’s contributions to scholarship in the field are rich and copious. Her rigorous work has consistently served as a benchmark for investigations of the way experts and academics write, work together, incorporate technologies into their practice, and balance the demands of work with other aspects of their lives. As Cheryl’s own career advanced, she moved into a series of leadership roles in the institutions where she worked, including as Department Head and Dean. Her inquiry merged with her dedication to being a resource for those she was charged to lead, and today Cheryl is well known across disciplines for her outstanding work on faculty development, and especially in the area of making inclusive career paths for women in the academy.

The ATTW has of course enjoyed the benefit of Cheryl’s leadership to our organization as well. She has been the architect of our graduate student professional development efforts in ATTW during her more than ten years of service as chair of the Research committee. She created our research methods workshops for graduate students and advocated for ATTW to fund travel fellowships so students could attend these full day sessions with leading researchers in the field. She has sought out those scholars in the field whose work has been recognized for its methodological quality and novelty to lead these workshops each year, ensuring that our best researchers connect with graduate students in the formative stage of their own careers. We are deeply grateful to Cheryl for her dedication to this program and to the broader effort of making ATTW a professional home for students and faculty by supporting their learning.

We are, in truth, a little late to the party when it comes to recognizing Professor Geisler’s transformative contributions to the field of rhetoric, writing, and technical communication. You may know, for instance, that the Rhetoric Society of America has an award that recognizes outstanding contributions to mentoring. That award is named for Cheryl! The program she started at RSA to assist junior faculty in finding mentors who could scaffold their career growth – particularly when they were in institutions where they might be the only rhetoric or technical communication scholars in their department – have helped many, many people in our organization and in the field to grow successful careers.

There are many people in our organization who have Cheryl to thank for the trajectory of their own scholarship. Her talent as a researcher and scholar who has continually advanced knowledge in the fields of Literacy Studies, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication has also consistently expanded our field’s reach into new areas such as Human-Computer Interaction and Mobile Technology. With colleagues in computer science, Cheryl was among the first in our field in the mid-1990s to publish work on computer-mediated collaboration and design. In 2001, Cheryl led a “dream team” of researchers she dubbed the iText Working group to fashion a research agenda on “the relationship between information technology and writing” that remains relevant today. Also that year, six years before the iPhone was introduced, Cheryl had already begun researching and publishing on the ways mobile technologies – do you remember the Palm pilot? – were changing the dynamics of knowledge work and how these tools might shift the balance of work/life, particularly for professional women.

Cheryl’s 2004 research methods book Analyzing Streams of Language made rigorous analysis of verbal data accessible to anybody with Microsoft Office. The text offers a glimpse of what it is like to learn with and from Cheryl as a student in her classroom or as a colleague on a collaborative team. She moves back and forth between concepts and operational details smoothly, making sure that each analysis move is well-grounded in a theoretical rationale. Her passion for helping others learn to think like researchers is obvious on every page, just as it is when you talk to Cheryl in the hallway or after a panel session at ATTW. A colleague of Cheryl’s characterized this quality of her personality this way:

It has always been inspiring for me the way Cheryl works tirelessly and efficiently in all areas of her own career, holding herself to the highest standards of quality in teaching, research, institutional and national service. She does this, moreover, with true joy. You can see it on her face! The result is that Cheryl becomes a leader. Not because she seeks positions of power for herself, but because others recognize in her the qualities they most want to emulate. Cheryl is truly a leader by example, and her example is both inspiring and energizing.

Cheryl’s depth of experience in administrative positions, as a researcher, as an advisor to Ph.D. students and junior faculty, and as a teacher is nearly unparalleled in the field. This experience undergirds an organizational savvy that is remarkable. Evidence of this exists most obviously in the programs and alliances Cheryl has helped to build, ranging from formal structures such as the first Writing Across the Curriculum program at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute to ad-hoc collaborations like the iText Working Group. We want to note that, as a leader in these and other endeavors, Cheryl’s work often advances the reputation of the group over her own. And while it may be true that Cheryl’s work is motivated by broader interests than accolades for herself, today we want to make sure to say to Cheryl that we see you, we appreciate you, and we are deeply grateful to you for all that you have done and continue to do for ATTW!

Let us also acknowledge that while this award is overdue, we are thrilled to have the chance to honor Cheryl and to encourage all of our colleagues in ATTW to express their thanks and congratulations to her. You may find that as much as we have tried to celebrate her best qualities, we have understated them. Interpersonally, Cheryl not only offers wise counsel and guidance, she also challenges us to achieve great things. She has both the patience and confidence in our ability to learn from mistakes as well as successes. She is generous with her time and places a high value on one-on-one interaction as a way to pose and solve problems. Take as one bit of evidence the success of her former graduate students (some of whom are themselves ATTW fellows!). When you have your chance to talk with Cheryl, you’ll join the ranks of our colleagues who come away feeling honored that she holds you to a high standard with confidence that you can succeed.

We are honored to welcome Dr. Cheryl Geisler to the community of ATTW Fellows as a representative of the very best kind of colleague we could hope to have!

Citation for Mark Zachry
Elevated to ATTW Fellow, March 2019
Written by William Hart-Davidson

It is with gratitude and joy that we elevate Professor Mark Zachry of the University of Washington to the status of Fellow of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing. Mark’s scholarly productivity, national and international leadership have contributed in significant ways to the field and to our organization. And, of course, Mark has also played a strong role, as editor of ATTW’s journal Technical Communication Quarterly along with several award-winning collections of research, in shaping the overall research agenda of our field. His service also includes an impressive legacy as a teacher and mentor of students and colleagues who have themselves built successful careers in Technical Communication.

Mark is truly a research innovator in the field of Technical Communication. His careful theoretical work in pieces such as “Genre ecologies: an open-system approach to understanding and constructing documentation” published in 2000 and co-authored with Clay Spinuzzi is widely cited and deeply influential. Indeed, the genre ecologies framework proposed in that piece has gone on to become a generally accepted model in the field, though at the time the core ideas were quite new and disruptive of both theoretical and pedagogical approaches to genre. The central implication of the genre ecologies framework argues that the scope of research on written discourse must shift, dramatically, from a focus on relatively discrete communicative artifacts (texts) to a system of interdependent communicative actions. Not a subtle shift. It was a shift that literally demanded whole new research traditions in the field. And it turns out to have been an important change that presaged the networked, social-media saturated world we live in today.
But Zachry did not stop at arguing for such a shift from a theoretical perspective. Indeed, his earlier empirical and archival work had already adopted the systemic approach that would eventually be known as the genre ecology framework, producing insights that helped to demonstrate just where the fields’ research might go. Mark recognized that the transition would mean preparing researchers whose work had primarily focused on text analysis – ranging from close interpretive reading to more systematic corpus studies – to begin looking more broadly at human behavior, in group and organizational settings, without losing the systematic approaches that had brought rigor and value to textual studies.

Mark’s contributions also include outstanding service to ATTW. Mark served two terms as Editor of TCQ, including one as a co-Editor with ATTW Fellow Charie Thralls. During that time, Mark helped to modernize the journal’s review process as content-management systems became standard in academic publishing. He also worked to get the journal indexed more broadly, a move which helped to boost the journal’s overall quality, citations, and submission rate. Mark moved the journal with him from Utah State to the University of Washington, a process that allowed him to document processes and ensure that each subsequent transfer of the journal’s editorial home would be a smooth one. In short, Mark applied his own expertise as a technical writer and as a researcher of distributed work to our house organ, helping it to become the respected source of cutting-edge research it is today!

In the last ten years or so of his career, Mark has encouraged this kind of work by writing about research methods, mentoring graduate students in a highly-productive research group at the University of Washington. He has consistently published the best quality research in our field in journals and edited collections – for which his work has been recognized with awards for outstanding article and edited collection, among others. He has also led workshops and transformed curricula – most notably in graduate education in Human-Centered Design and Engineering. At Washington and Utah State, Mark built a reputation as an outstanding mentor and teacher. Mark has been honored for outstanding teaching throughout his career by the Society for Technical Communication with the Jay R. Gould award for Excellence in Teaching, truly one of our field’s highest honors.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Mark is among the most respected and valued members of the field of Technical Communication. This is all the more true for the way his work has pushed the field to become more interdisciplinary, to engage with allied areas of interest such as Human- Computer Interaction and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work.
For all of these reasons, Mark Zachary has had a transformative impact on our field and has more than earned recognition as a Fellow of the Association of Teachers of Technical Communication.