Monday, November 18, 2002

Oooh! I know you've been waiting with bated breath for my post about this Miller article. I should provide a bibliographical citation--Miller, Carolyn. "Learning from History: World War II and the Culture of High Technology." Journal of Business and Technical Communication 12 (1988): 285-315.

Here goes: Miller explains that while there has been serious study of the rhetoric of science, the rhetoric of technology has not been studied as much, and she goes on to describe the differences and similarities between science and technology in impressive detail, reviewing the historical developments leading to technological culture: mostly Taylorism and Fordism (think assembly line, interchangeable parts, etc.), but also very significant changes brought about by World War II. The war brought industry, government, and academia together in a way they had never been grouped before. For example, the government started giving money to foundations like the National Science Foundation, Atomic Energy Commission, etc., which in turn decided how to divide the money among research universities and corporations (think Boeing and Lockheed-Martin!).

These scientific advancements were technological: the atomic bomb, for example, is both science and a technology. Miller argues that there are new relationships between science and technology that have come along with the new innovations. Miller goes into an explanation of "high technology," saying that it is "characterized by its fundmental technical nature, its complexity, its opacity to the user, its large scale and apparent momentum, and its risks" (300). She goes on to say that "[i]n most thoughtful explorations of it, the culture of high technology is unpleasant and dangerous, not only because of the specific hazards of the technology themselves, but also because of the values and social patterns they promote" (303). Like globalization? The isolation of people because they're just interacting with a screen? I could have used more explanation of that statement.

Anyway, Miller reviews four models of the relationship between science and technology:

  1. Hierarchical: Knowledge is always produced in the realm of science and passed down to the peons in technology who apply it.
  2. Monolithic: Science and technology are conflated and somewhat interdependent.
  3. Interactive: This one is pretty self-explanatory--and not very helpful, Miller seems to say.
  4. Reverse Hierarchical: Technology drives science now; Miller seems to be saying that power is to knowledge as technology is to science.

Each model is useful for some kinds of inquiry, and Miller doesn't seem to be too concerned with getting some kind of best model for the relationship between science and technology; she is just reviewing those models in order to get the reader to see that technology might be worthy of its own rhetorical study. In other words, you can study the rhetoric of science, the rhetoric of technoscience, OR the rhetoric of technology in its own right. She gives this helpful explanation of the way rhetoric of technology has been done so far:
These phenomena [that constitute the rhetoric of technology] comprise, at least what we might call rhetoric about technology, often more-public representations or debates in public policy forums; rhetoric within technology, or the private, proprietary discourse by which technological work gets done; and rhetoric from technology (perhaps the most interesting category), the ways in which values and thought patterns developed by technological work extend to and pervade other cultural arenas. These three categories are probably not mutually exclusive. (307, emphasis in original).

Miller gives four reasons that further her argument for a rhetoric of technology distinct from rhetoric of science: first, based on Lyotard and Foucault's power/knowledge conflation, to study technology is to study systems of power, and starting from there, study knowledge. Science is all about knowledge. This reason seems to be based on the dialectical pairs power/knowledge, practice/theory, and technology/science (imagine those in two columns, with the ones on the left and the ones on the right being associated together). Second, technology is "anonymous": not as prestigious as science, and harder to study rhetorically, because whereas you could study some groundbreaking paper by Scientist X, it is not as easy to study a technology created by Committee Z. Third, technology can be perceived as having autonomy (but so can science, I think), whereas science is controlled--by scientists in the lab. More risk is associated with technology because of this. Finally, technology is in our everyday lives: in our blogs (heh), TV sets, microwave ovens, etc.

Miller concludes by saying that "[r]hetorical studies of technology should help us understand the wide dissemination, diverse applications, and cultural potency of technology as a shaper of our lives and minds; they should reorient our understanding of technoscience and at the same time stretch and test our conceptions of rhetoric" (310). Technology is the scene (Burkean term) for rhetoric. Like this blog!

If you recall, I was supposed to read this essay sort of as if I were a judge. Why did this essay win an award? Well, its structure and clarity are above reproach. It was extremely well-written. Its topic was, in 1998, timely and cutting-edge. The only thing I'm having trouble with is connecting this essay to research methods. What was the method and methodology in this essay/study? Is it an essay, or a study? Is it historical research or a cultural study? Both? What is the difference between historiography and historical research? I always thought historiography meant writing about the way history is written. Am I wrong?