For me community engagement is about doing rhetoric for the public good. The goals of my research are to look for ways to work with community partners to address local problems. I seek to expand our notion of technical communication as an integral part of public rhetoric and a necessary part of complex problem solving. Active research is about working with others to enact sustainable change in our communities. I approach rhetoric as the work we do in the world, with and for others.
I am inspired by the Ellen Cushman’s definitions of active research and Jenny Rice’s scholarship on how public rhetoric circulates and creates communities. I’m also interested in actor network theory and Callon’s definitions of hybrid forums as a space where lay people and professionals come together to deal with ruptures and overflows within communities. As rhetors and technical communicators I believe we have an important role to play in helping to open spaces (and hold open spaces) for the difficult work of problem setting and problem solving to happen.
My past experience with community engagement has included work for the Restorative Justice Coalition in Bellingham, WA. This is an organization that works to assist formerly incarcerated citizens with navigating through the often difficult systems of parole, obtaining identification, and accessing services like workforce services and medicaid. As I go forward with my public rhetoric and technical communication research I will look for ways to participate as an active researcher with issues important to my community.
I also see community engagement as directly connected to my teaching. I believe in service learning as critical pedagogy that allows students to learn empathy and the importance of recognizing difference and considering its uses and its complications. But beyond service learning as an opportunity to help students be better citizens, it is also an opportunity to help them see the tangible ways writing moves across contexts. By working with community partners on projects with real stakes for real people students can see writing projects not only as assignments, but as Paul Heilker has said as a “way of being in the world.” Julie Lindquist and David Seltz in a recent review of literacy methodologies described mapping literacy as a system which requires tracing those literacies into the community “you have to follow it around into the places where it lives– in people’s heads in communities, in workplaces, in virtual and digital spaces.” I believe vibrant service learning programs for both FYC and technical and professional communications classes allow students an opportunity to follow literacy where it lives, and consider seriously those implications for themselves and others.