Engineering through association: Identifying rhetorical practices in engineering work



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This project attempts to identify rhetorical practices in engineering work by situating the engineer at the center of networked activity. Though previous scholars have worked to situate rhetoric within engineering, few have worked closely with engineers to model how rhetoric affects the doing of routine engineering work. By interviewing 11 practicing engineers about their routine work, I was able to collaboratively situate rhetoric in engineering from the perspectives of the engineers who do the work. These engineers showed that rhetoric is essential to engineering activity beyond inscribing engineering knowledge into texts or transforming it to meet the needs of other audiences. Rather, rhetoric is equal to technical competence for the practicing engineer. This claim is supported by the major findings of this study:

• Engineering experience is critical to developing expertise. Engineers must rhetorically frame their own experiences that shift their ontological positionality, as well engineering objects, within their networks. • Engineering experience also mediates past, present, and future states of the actors in engineering networks. • Engineers strategically frame documents as intermediaries in the transporting of engineering knowledge.

The results of this project identify how rhetoric and technical expertise interweave in engineering activity. For rhetoricians and technical communicators, these results steer us towards more nuanced understanding of engineering practice while challenging our current approaches to studying engineering in situ.

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Engineering rhetoric, Technical communication