Professional Writing

Writing conference website screenshot


This post contains some (still rather disjointed) notes and ideas from the 2014 Maryland Conference on Academic & Professional Writing, which I recently attended. It was a useful conference, and I was especially excited about presentations by Anne Wysocki and Jeanne Fahnestock.

Wysocki’s presentation was “A Beauty for Informing Digital Bodies.”
  • She suggested that writers must learn to see our senses as contingent. Otherwise, we are actively pretending disembodying is possible.
  • She questioned the alignment of sight with reason, pointing out that  cultures exist that do not epistomologically and ontologically ground themselves in the sense of sight.
  • Wysocki cited Meunster (love her work) to talk about a sensory commons.
  • If we change our media, our senses then also change.
  • Aesthetics bridge cognition and sense perception, are grounded in engagements with the world, change over time and place, and are evaluative.
  • A field to keep an eye on = neuroaesthetics
  • Wysocki argued that logos grounds most graphic design education
  • She also argued that function presupposes gratification (in so functioning). That is, if we see something as functional, it’s because we are gratified by it.
  • Texts move us; they affect us bodily.
  • A question: How do we teach aesthetics, the art of resonating bodies, when our longstanding rhetorical categories don’t seem to get to this?
  • The visuals accompanying Wysocki’s talk were fascinating. She showed a series of discrete screens, each of which cycled continuously among relevant images. These often supported points she was making about patterns, such as a set of images from children’s books and educational materials about the five senses.
  • One participant asked a smart question about arguments for synesthesia, and she contextualized it in recent racially charged violence. (As in, a person hears a certain types of music and then “sees” a gun.)

Jeanne Fahnestock’s presentation was The Once and Future Discipline: The Rhetorical Core of Academic and Professional Writing

Fahnestock utilized course catalogues to show when and how technical and professional writing became incorporated into our educational systems, and how it came to look like the discipline we know now. She also argued for a wider view of origin stories for the discipline:  “We have this hugely long tradition if we just change our circumference a little bit.” Fahnestock also spoke on specifics (that are inflected by disciplinary investments) of professional writing lore; for example, she took up the question of why  brevity often gets equated to clarity. In the Q&A, she noted that this has to do with the rise of efficiency experts and journalistic readability formulas, among other historical endeavors.



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