A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.


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Activity theory is a psychological meta-theory, paradigm, or framework, with its roots in the Soviet psychologist Vygotsky's cultural-historical psychology. It seeks to understand human activities as complex, socially-situated phenomena and go beyond paradigms of psychoanalysis and behaviorism.



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Quark, The (2002). (Danish) Design>Web Design>Theory


Activity Theory

Activity theory was developed in the Soviet Union. The philosophical underpinnings of this theory include the ideas of Hegel and Kant, as well as the theory of dialectical materialism developed by Marx and Engels. The theory evolved from the work of Vygotsky as he formulated a new method of studying thought and consciousness. Vygotsky was working on this theory at a time when the prevalent dominant psychological theories were based on reflexology (stimulus-response - which was later developed into behaviorism) and psychoanalysis. Reflexology attempted to ban consciousness by reducing all psychological phenomena to a series of stimulus-response chains.

Mappin, David, Michele Kelly, Bonnie Skaalid and Sharon Bratt. University of Alberta. Academic>Course Materials>Theory>Rhetoric


Activity Theory and Its Implications for Writing Instruction   (Word)   (peer-reviewed)

Proposes that educational institutions continue to improve the uses of writing in society in two ways: extend writing across the curriculum efforts and raise the awareness of students, the university community, and the public to the role of writing in society by having those who study writing teach an introductory liberal arts course on it. Both are important steps toward removing the remedial stigma attached to writing and its teaching, and toward combating the myth of autonomous literacy that reinforces the remedial stigma.

Russell, David R. Iowa State University (1995). Articles>Education>Writing>Activity Theory


Activity Theory, Speech Acts, and the ‘‘Doctrine of Infelicity’’: Connecting Language and Technology in Globally Networked Learning Environments   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This article draws on activity theory, politics of the artifact, and speech act theory to analyze how language practices and technology interplay in establishing the social relationships necessary for globally networked teams. Specifically, it uses activity theory to examine how linguistic infelicities and the politics of communication technologies interplay in virtual meetings, thereby demonstrating the importance of grounding professional communication instruction in social as well as technical effectiveness. That is, students must learn not only how to communicate technical concepts clearly and concisely and recognize cultural differences but also how to use language and choose media in ways that produce the social conditions necessary for effective collaboration in globally networked environments. The article analyzes two case studies—a workplace and a classroom—that illustrate how the mediating functions of language and the politics of technology intersect as mediating tools in globally networked activity systems. It then traces the implications of that intersection for professional communication theory and pedagogy.

McNair, Lisa D. and Marie C. Paretti. Journal of Business and Technical Communication (2010). Articles>Education>International>Activity Theory


The Affective Domain and the Writing Process: Working Definitions   (peer-reviewed)

Since the time of classical Greece, we have been accustomed to viewing humans as both thinking and feeling individuals. The dichotomy of cognition and affect is so ingrained in Western thought that it seems a natural one; the two elements have seldom, however, been deemed equally important in the scientific community. During the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, psychology gave primacy to affect; humans were thought to be at the mercy of various drives and passions. As behaviorism became more domiúnant in the field, affect was discounted; indeed, there were those who wished to exclude affect from scientific study altogether. More recently, with the ascendancy of cognitive psychology, humans have been viewed as problem-solvers whose thinking processes operate rather like a computer. Often in such a view, affect is seen as “a regrettable flaw in an otherwise perfect cognitive machine” (Scherer 293). But most researchers who study human behavior and human nature agree that the views of both extremes—emphasizing only affect or only cognition—are undesirable.

McLeod, Susan H. JAC (1991). Articles>Rhetoric>Theory


Analyzing Computer-Mediated Communication in Professional Environments: An Activity Theory Approach

CMC is not an end in itself, but a way to accomplish cyclical work objectives. CMC genres are part of an ecology of genres, providing additional ways to communicate, ways that interact with other genres. To understand how these ecologies of genres work in professional environments, we must understand the activities they mediate. To investigate, I (and many others in professional communication) have turned to field studies.

Spinuzzi, Clay. SlideShare (2012). Presentations>Research>Workplace>Activity Theory


Applying Technical Communication Theory in the Workplace: Can Theoretical Frameworks Survive in the World of e-Business?   (PDF)

Technical communication is usually seen as a practical profession -- one that emphasizes products, process and results -- rather than one that emphasizes theory and broad, generalized application of research results.

Grice, Roger A. STC Proceedings (2001). Presentations>TC>Workplace>Theory


An Approach for Applying Cultural Study Theory to Technical Writing Research   (PDF)   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

When the idea of culture is expanded to include institutional relationships extending beyond the walls of one organization, technical writing researchers can address relationships between our power/knowledge system and multiculturalism, postmodernism, gender, conflict, and ethics within professional communication. This article contrasts ideas of culture in social constructionist and cultural study research designs, addressing how each type of design impacts issues that can be analyzed in research studies. Implications for objectivity and validity in speculative cultural study research are also explored. Finally, since articulation of a coherent theoretical foundation is crucial to limiting a cultural study, this article suggests how technical writing can be constituted as an object of study according to five (of many possible) poststructural concepts: the object of inquiry as discursive, the object as practice within a cultural context, the object as practice within a historical context, the object as ordered by language, and the object in relationship with the one who studies it.

Longo, Bernadette. Technical Communication Quarterly (1998). Academic>Research>Cultural Theory>Technical Writing


Are Shared Discourses Desirable?

Some kind of shared discourse is needed for the shared work of the academic community to continue; and even more so, this paper argues that the nation needs some kind of shared discourse in which to address the pressing problems that confront us all.

Bizzell, Patricia. JAC (1994). Articles>Rhetoric>Theory


An Articulation of a Fragmented Discipline: A Postmodern Conception of Formalism and Rhetoric in Professional Communication

If a single course is to be an effective representation of the discipline it should hope to include rhetoric, critical thinking, formalism, service learning, and civic rhetoric to, depending on how effectively so much can be managed within a semester.

Hicks, Tim. Orange Journal, The (2005). Articles>TC>Theory


Avoiding Wrong Turns in the Shrinking Global Village

With the global village growing smaller every year, more and more communication professionals are taking on assignments that span a wide range of countries and cultures. Cross-border responsibilities require that you constantly expand your horizons and learn about new places and people. At the same time, it can be more than a little daunting to get up to speed on each country’s business and social conventions—and when the two do and don’t mix.

Bird, Shelley. Communication World Bulletin (2005). Articles>Business Communication>International>Cultural Theory


Basic Communication Theory

In the 1940's researchers at Bell Telephone Laboratories devised a model of the process of human communication. This model consists of numeous elements.

Malik, Suman Lata. Technical Communications Group (2000). Books>Rhetoric>Theory


A Body of Criticism   (peer-reviewed)

The nature of hypertext challenges many underlying assumptions for traditional literary critics. Literary critics frequently like to think that they have objectively looked at the lexias of the work, thoughtfully considered them, and constructed a solid interpretation or analysis of the work based on those lexia. Hypertext, however, presents the possibility that two critics who are reading the same work may have differing sets of lexia from which to work. Thus, even if critics objectively consider the lexia before them, they cannot free themselves from the subjectivity of the reading performance that made those lexia (and not others) appear. This raises the concern that, if hypertext critics can only present subjective views of the text, there may be little or no benefit to reading or writing those critiques.

Higgason, Richard E. Journal of Digital Information (2003). Articles>Information Design>Hypertext>Theory


Border? What Border? Documents are Interfaces   (peer-reviewed)

Documents are interfaces. In situations where documents help us do tasks - whether simple or complex - they look and act like software interfaces. Academics in technical communication are in the business of helping people learn to design, build, analyze, and assess these interfaces. Yet, only occasionally do we admit this responsibility. Judging from our curricula, our research journals, and our textbooks, we still view this responsibility as somehow distinct from what we do to teach 'technical writing,' 'technical editing,' or 'document design.' It isn't.

Hart-Davidson, William. CPTSC Proceedings (2003). Articles>Education>User Interface>Theory


Building Language Theory   (PDF)

Technical communicators need information about the nature and uses of language. Developing a working theory of language helps technical communicators conceptualize the qualities of good technical writing. Theory development and its application are especially important considering how rapidly technology changes the nature, function, and means of technical communication.

Fink, Bonnie L. and Gary M. Heba. STC Proceedings (1993). Articles>Language>Theory


Can Designers Save the World (and Should They Try?)

Designers are clearly more self-conscious about their social role today than they have been at any time in the last 20 years, yet the lack of substance of the critics who have come to the fore, and the issues on which it is chosen to take a stand, reflect a political agenda that is set elsewhere. There are many areas of life in which designers can make a real difference, but we need to look first at why they are taking themselves so seriously in the noughties.

Macdonald, Nico. uiGarden (2006). Articles>Graphic Design>Cultural Theory>Politics


The Case of the Missing Evite

Not only baby showers, but board rooms and caucuses are subject to missed invitations and can result in missed meetings, failed agreements, inaction, or incorrect action. The question is why did this, and more generally, why does this happen? And what can be done to prevent it from happening in the future?

Knudson, Brian. We Heart Theory (2009). Articles>Collaboration>Case Studies>Activity Theory


Center for Information Society Studies: Call for Papers

A current list of CFP's from a variety of disciplines and professional groups.

CISS. Academic>Calls For Papers>Cultural Theory


Challenging the Transformational Agenda: Leadership Theory in Transition?   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

There are many terrific leaders at large. But society and business have suffered from poor leadership, bad leadership, narcissistic leadership, and above all, too-powerful leadership. Viewing followers as recalcitrant infants in need of tough parental attention really will not do. Too much leadership discourse has evaded this kind of problem: Fairhurst (2007) offers a challenging alternative to a route that frequently leads to a dead end. The myths of powerful, transformational, and charismatic leadership offer short-term comfort. It would be consoling to believe that Superman has stepped from the cinema screen and into the boardrooms of our organizations, whatever his attire. But such comfort exacts too high a price.

Tourish, Dennis. Management Communication Quarterly (2008). Articles>Management>Theory


Changing Nature and Uses of Media Literacy

The more that information and communication technologies become central to modern society, the more it is imperative to identify, and to manage the development of, the skills and abilities required to use them. Within both academic and policy discourses, the concept of media literacy is being extended from its traditional focus on print and audiovisual media to encompass the internet and other new media. Hence, even though the concept of literacy has itself long proved contentious, there is widespread speculation regarding supposedly new forms of literacy - variously termed computer literacy, internet literacy, cyber-literacy, and so forth.

Livingstone, Sonia. London School of Economics (2006). Articles>Communication>Theory


Characterization of Quack Theories

In this article, I will first list some evidential flaws and then discuss errors in relating evidence to theory. Of necessity, this is a short list that omits most such problems. It is largely biased by what I have seen in newsgroup discussions.

Turpin, Russell. University of Texas (1993). Articles>Rhetoric>Theory>Assessment


Communicating Across Cultures   (PDF)

In today's global village, you will work with people whose cultural backgrounds differ from yours. Culture refers to the beliefs, customs, and assumptions that determine perception and behaviour. For example, residents of small towns and rural areas have different notions of friendliness than do people from big cities. Montrealers and Cape Bretoners talk and dress differently, as do people who live in Vancouver, Regina, Halifax, and Toronto. The cultural icons that resonate for baby boomers mean little to members of Generation X and Y. And gender culture often creates conversational incongruence between men and women. All human beings conform to a culturally predetermined reality. Part of Canadian cultural identity, for example, has been formed by our dual linguistic heritage and by the economic and military might of our southern neighbour. Geography, weather, population density, and natural resources also contribute to cultural reality. For example, the Canadian values of courtesy, community, and cooperation may have evolved as survival strategies in a vast, sparsely populated land. Perceptions about gender, age, and social class are culturally based, as are our ideas about race, ethnicity, religious practices, sexual orientation, physical appearance and ability, and regional and national characteristics. Regardless of your own cultural biases, however, your organizational productivity and individual professional success depend on your ability to communicate sensitively and flexibly with others.

Locker, Kitty O., Steven Kyo Kaczmarek and Kathryn Braun. McGraw-Hill (2002). Academic>Course Materials>Cultural Theory


Communication, Culture and Surveys   (PDF)

Interest in corporate culture has been on the increase ever since studies over a decade ago found a link between certain cultural aspects and successful business outcomes. Buthow can you measure the bottom-link impacts of culture in your own organization?

Sinickas, Angela D. Sinickas Communications (2000). Articles>Business Communication>Cultural Theory>Surveys


Complexity Theory as a Way of Understanding our Role in the World-Wide Web   (PDF)

Complexity theory offers a way of understanding our role within the World-Wide Web. Postulating a rhetorical object based on object-oriented analysis and design, we can harness a number of ideas from complexity theory to gain a new perspective on the Web. This paper reviews a number of complexity ideas that may help technical communicators grapple with the exponential growth in the volume of inter-related and interacting rhetorical objects on the Web, viewing the rhetorical situation as the result of the law of increasing returns, which has brought us through a phase transition to a new environment, with its own emergent properties, creating new roles for writers, and new work for managers.

Price, Jonathan R. STC Proceedings (1998). Presentations>Web Design>Theory


Complexity Theory as a Way of Understanding our Role in the World-Wide Web

Complexity theory offers a way of understanding our role within the World Wide Web. Postulating a rhetorical object based on object-oriented analysis and design, we can harness a number of ideas from complexity theory to gain a new perspective on the Web. This paper reviews a number of complexity ideas that may help technical communicators grapple with the exponential growth in the volume of inter-related and interacting rhetorical objects on the Web, viewing the rhetorical situation as the result of the law of increasing returns, which has brought us through a phase transition to a new environment, with its own emergent properties, creating new roles for writers, and new work for managers.

Price, Jonathan R. Communication Circle, The (1999). Articles>Information Design>Theory>Web Design



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