The making of knowledge in science: case studies of paleontology illustration
Northcut, Kathryn M
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Current theories for analyzing images in technical communication are inadequate to handle the complex and rhetorically powerful images with which technical communicators work. Illustrations are "diverse and situationally specific" (Brasseur, 2003, p. 49), and the same applies to sites for empirical research into illustrations. Paleontology provides an excellent case for examining the insufficiency of contemporary theories of visual communication to adequately explain technical illustrations. My study, focusing on the production of images in paleontology, unveils the complex rhetorical situations faced by the collaborators (scientists and artists and others) responsible for dinosaur images. While pictures of dinosaurs (along with innumerable other objects of scientific inquiry both observable and invisible) serve multiple purposes and help create knowledge in both technical and public spheres, technical communication scholarship is based on assumptions and paradigms which effectively limit a rich and complete understanding of the rhetorical function of the images. Because current visual theories in technical communication tend to minimize the rhetorical power and complexity of images, I propose an alternative way to theorize about visuals, a critical theory of illustrations, that will enable researchers, teachers, and practitioners to exploit and understand the way illustrations can function in knowledge-making. This alternative critical theory might replace the default assumptions in technical communication that images and words have distinct roles; that technical images have less power than words in both rhetorical efficacy and knowledge-making; and that technical and scientific images merely convey neutral information in a non-ideological manner to a homogeneous audience. This dissertation foregrounds the problem presented by the lack of an adequate theory of visual communication within technical communication, submits my research study of the production of paleoimagery, and proposes a modified approach to technical illustrations to expand the current state of knowledge in the field.