Date of Award:

12-2020

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

English

Committee Chair(s)

Jared S. Colton

Committee

Jared S. Colton

Committee

Avery Edenfield

Committee

Ryan M. Moeller

Committee

Jessica Rivera-Mueller

Committee

Christy Glass

Abstract

With the recent turn to social justice in Technical and Professional Communication (TPC), it is important to develop a variety of theories and methods that can address issues of power and oppression within TPC. Additionally, some of these theories and methods should work to engage resistant audiences and persuade them to not only be aware, but to also take meaningful action for change. Social justice efforts should also consider the intersectionality that occurs when multiple marginalizing factors intersect, compounding the experiences of oppression for those who fall into each unique category. In this dissertation, I present a theory and method of decorum that can help achieve each of these goals by shifting the lens of focus in social justice research from who to how. That is, decorum transfers the central point of concern from identity (i.e. gender, race, sexuality, etc.) to the specific ways in which marginalization actually transpires.

This shift occurs through what Hariman (1992) calls “symbolic display.”Symbolic display to refer to texts, language, acts, behavior, and notions of place that are embodied in practices of communication and aesthetics. Decorum, then, encompasses the unwritten rules and expectations that govern symbolic display. By focusing on symbolic display—and thus decorum—researchers can engage resistant audiences by removing the negative connotations that are often associated with identity politics while also addressing the intersectionality of people’s lived experiences.

To demonstrate how this theory and method can work, this dissertation presents a pilot study which focuses on the experiences of women working in the Utah tech sector. Placed within the larger context of the tech sector at large, this pilot study demonstrates the benefits, challenges, and implications for decorum as a theory and method of social justice research in TPC.

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