ATTW 2018 Conference Call for Proposals

ATTW 2018 Conference Call for Proposals

Precarity and Possibility: Engaging Technical Communication’s Politics

Natasha Jones & Blake Scott, University of Central Florida, Program Co-Chairs

Kansas City, KS           March 13-14, 2018


The Association of Teachers of Technical Writing (ATTW) invites proposals for panels, individual presentations, posters, roundtables, workshops, and “advocacy dialogues” (see below) for its annual conference immediately preceding the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). The 21st annual conference—in part a celebration of the organization’s 45th anniversary—will be held in Kansas City, Kansas (across the river separating Kansas and Missouri) on Tuesday, March 13 and Wednesday, March 14. The two-day event around the theme of engaging technical communication’s politics will include concurrent sessions, book and journal exhibits, and a number of opportunities for exchanging ideas and networking, including with local stakeholders. 

ATTW would like to assure those considering submitting a proposal that the organization is committed to working to create a safe and welcoming space for all conference attendees. In addition to some opportunities for virtual participation, conference organizers will provide participants information about safe transportation options (including routes that avoid Missouri, shuttles, and ride-sharing) and with safe spaces—or enclaves to just “be” or to express and create networks of support around fears, concerns, and needs. 

Given the unique circumstances surrounding this conference in terms of both place and politics, this call is longer than normal and is accompanied by our chair’s statement (via email and ATTW website).

Conference Theme

We live in precarious times. Voting rights, technico-scientific expertise, the environment, access to healthcare, women’s reproductive rights, immigrant dreams, LGBTQIA rights, black lives—so much is under attack, in part by the institutions that are supposed to protect us. While such precarity is ubiquitous, it is also historically shaped (e.g., through a lineage of white nationalism) and differentially enacted (e.g., on the poor, women, people of color); indeed, Butler (2009) defines precarity as a “politically induced condition in which certain populations suffer from failing social and economic networks of support and become differentially exposed to injury, violence, and death” (ii).[i] As a field—at this, the 45th anniversary of ATTW—we have increasingly foregrounded technical communication’s roles in the articulation of precarious conditions and institutional and public responses to them, including possibilities for amelioration and justice. Some have even signaled and/or enacted an emergent move from our earlier socio-cultural and civic political turns (see, for example, Simmons, 2007; Scott, Longo, & Wills, 2006; Herndl & Nahrwold, 2000; Blyler, 1998; Grabill & Simmons 1998; Blyler & Thralls, 1993; Katz, 1992)[ii] [iii] [iv] [v] [vi] [vii] [viii] to a social justice one (see Haas & Eble, forthcoming 2018; Jones, Moore, & Walton, 2017; Rose, 2016; Gonzales, 2016; Williams & Pimentel, 2014; Agboka, 2014; Meloncon, 2013; Haas, 2012; Leydens, 2012; Savage & Mattson, 2011),[ix] [x] [xi] [xii] [xiii] [xiv] [xv] [xvi] [xvii] [xviii] extending the professional politics around demarcating the boundaries of our field. In a number of ways, then, this moment is kairotic for our field, communities, nation, and world—calling for us to reflect and ask: How did we arrive here and what must we do going forward? It is with this understanding—and hope—that we offer this conference theme of “Precarity and Possibility: Engaging Technical Communication’s Politics.”

The primary premise of this year’s theme is that technical and professional communication (TPC) is not and never has been impartial or apolitical. In addition to acknowledging the inherently ideological dimension of TPC, this premise can help us foreground the multiple ways technical communication participates--and has a long history of participating—in various levels (e.g., local, national, transnational) and contexts (e.g., community-based, civil, governmental, institutional) of political action, including within our field or profession. This premise can also help us foreground the precarity and possibility of our ongoing and future political engagement, especially our advocacy of and with TPC’s most vulnerable stakeholders.

Beyond calling for the field to engage directly with the historical and contemporary politics of technical communication, this conference theme invites political imagining and action around a specific political orientation—that toward inclusivity and social justice. This commitment asks us to move from understandings of TPC rooted in ease and accommodation to those committed to, as Jones and Walton (forthcoming 2018)[xix] put it, redressing inequities for and amplifying the agency of “those who are materially, socially, politically, and/or economically under-resourced.” Thus, social justice takes technical communication’s imperative of user advocacy to another level, requiring us to:

  • prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable and under-resourced users, communities, and publics;
  • move from identifying and critically analyzing political precarity toward a politics of possibility that generates both immediate and sustainable resources and actions for redressing inequity and harm (Rose & Walton 2017)[xx]; further, such actions involve the redistribution of resources and the transformation of structural, systemic conditions that enable it;
  • ethically account for our positionality and power relations vis-a-vis those we engage, including potential complicity in precarious systems and conditions;
  • respectfully engage and build relationships with other stakeholders, especially those who are most under-resourced and vulnerable, as partners whose values, experiential and situated knowledges, and voices help shape our work.

In this formulation of a social justice call for our field, technical communication is both a contributor to inequities (e.g., Missouri Senate Bill 43) and a means of redressing them (e.g., the NAACP statewide travel advisory for Missouri). Scholars and practitioners have already pointed us to a wide range of sites in and across which technical communication has and might contribute to the articulation and redressing of harmful impacts, including but not limited to education, technology development, policymaking and regulation, health and medicine, law enforcement, and civic engagement and advocacy. We hope this year’s ATTW conference will take up, extend, and perhaps productively challenge this body of work.

Yes, we are in a precarious moment, but this precarity also provides exigencies for coming together to create new and better possibilities for our futures. Now is the time to build legacies for transformation and empowerment.  

Questions to Consider

This conference call invites proposals on research, pedagogy, practice, and advocacy that address the following questions (other lines of inquiry are also welcome):

  • What are the political lineages and legacies of our field, and of the dominant forms of technical communication we study and enact? How can we re-see history to better recognize and, when necessary, build alternative legacies?
  • How might technical communication practice be impacted by a more vociferous acknowledgement of our field’s, and work’s, political dimensions, including the ways in which we are complicit in oppressive systems and institutions?
  • How can we make our field more inclusive and just? How can we ensure the safety of our colleagues, students, and other stakeholders?
  • To what degree is, or should our field be, enacting a “social justice” turn, and what would such a turn mean for our goals, methodologies, pedagogies, and other activities?  
  • How can we work with other stakeholders to generate actionable (both useful and applied; Segal 2005) knowledge around social justice, and how can we leverage this knowledge to move from abstract and loosely defined orientations to situated, concrete, and actionable instantiations of advocacy?
  • What methodologies, theories, and techne (e.g., for partnership building, intercultural listening, user experience, etc.) can the field use to guard against “drive-by” approaches to social justice research and other work?
  • What scholarly, activist, and other traditions might we leverage and build upon to develop responses to inequity and injustice? What are the relative dangers of and possibilities for different forms of activism and advocacy in particular ongoing and future contexts?
  • What do we and our students need to learn about social justice and other political work?
  • How can we effectively promote our scholarly, pedagogical, programmatic, and other contributions in the political contexts of our academic institutions?
  • How would embracing the politics of possibility change the way we design, conduct, distribute, and understand research within the field of technical communication?

Proposals and Types of Sessions

Note 1:  Some conference sessions, especially advocacy dialogues, will be able to support digital participation, particularly by non-academic stakeholders and contributors.

Note 2: Proposals should not include identifying information. All proposals will be peer reviewed.

  • Individual presentations
    Four 15 minute talks on panels created by the conference chairs. These proposals should be no more than 250 words.
  • Panels
    Groups may submit proposals for 75-minute panel presentations. These proposals should be no more than 250 words per presentation (for three presenters; fewer if more), plus a 150-word overview (so 900 words total).
  • Posters or exhibits
    Exhibits could include embodied performances, multimedia and material displays, and audience interaction. Proposals should be no more than 250 words. 
  • Workshops 
    These should focus on researching sites and/or systems of inequity (e.g., environmental, health/medical, law enforcement, housing) at various scales (local, community-based, cross-cultural, national, transnational). We especially encourage workshops that will help graduate students and other emerging scholars situate their work in the field. Proposals should be no more than 500 words.
  • Advocacy Dialogues
    These are conversations aimed at considering and generating possible forms of advocacy and situated action; we especially encourage cross-cultural dialogues involving local community members (e.g., academics at local institutions, members of Black Lives Matter, leaders and members of local NAACP chapters, workers in the tourism and hospitality industries). These dialogues could take any number of forms, but should include a conversational exchange and some type of audience interaction. Proposals should describe the dialogue topic, participants, and form, and should be no longer than 500 words.

Submission Deadline

Submissions will close at midnight on Wednesday November 15, 2017. To submit, go to proposal submission link.

Intended Audiences

All teachers, scholar/researchers, graduate students, and practitioners engaged or interested in technical and professional communication, along with any of their civic, community, and business partners, are encouraged to submit and attend.


For additional information about this CFP and the conference theme and submission process, please contact the conference co-chairs, Natasha Jones ( or Blake Scott (, both at the University of Central Florida, Department of Writing & Rhetoric. For technical questions about the proposal submission system, please contact the ATTW web team at


[i] Butler, J. (2009). Performativity, precarity, and sexual politics. Revista de Antropología Iberoamericana, 4(3), i-xiii. Thanks to Christa Teston for this citation.

[ii] Simmons, M. (2007). Participation and power: A rhetoric for civic discourse in environmental policy. Albany: State University of New York Press.

[iii] Scott, J. B., Longo, B., & Wills, K. V., Eds. (2007). Critical power tools: Technical communication and cultural studies. Albany: State University of New York Press.

[iv] Herndl, C. G., & Nahrwold, C. A. (2000). Research as social practice: A case study of research on technical and professional communication. Written Communication, 17(2), 258-296.

[v] Blyler, N. (1998). Taking a political turn: The critical perspective and research in technical communication. Technical Communication Quarterly, 7(1), 33-52.

[vi] Grabill, J. T. & Simmons, W. M. (1998). Toward a critical rhetoric of risk communication: Producing citizens and the role of technical communicators.Technical Communication Quarterly, 7(4), 415-441.

[vii] Blyer, N. R. & Thralls, C., Eds. (1993). Professional communication: The social perspective. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

[viii] Katz, S. B. (1992). The ethics of expediency: Classical rhetoric, technology, and the Holocaust. College English, 54(3), 255-275.

[ix] Haas, A. M. & Eble, M. F., Eds. (forthcoming 2018). Key theoretical frameworks for teaching technical communication in the 21st century. Boulder, CO: Utah State University Press.

[x] Jones, N. N., Moore, K. R., & Walton, R. (2016). Disrupting the Past to Disrupt the Future: An Antenarrative of Technical Communication. Technical Communication Quarterly25(4), 211-229.

[xi] Rose, E. J. (2016). Design as advocacy: using a human-centered approach to investigate the needs of vulnerable populations. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication46(4), 427-445.

[xii] Gonzales, L. (2016). Sites of translation: What multilinguals can teach us about digital writing and rhetoric. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

[xiii] Williams, M. F., & Pimentel, O., Eds. (2014). Communicating race, ethnicity, and identity in technical communication. New York: Routledge.

[xiv] Agboka, G. Y. (2014). Decolonial methodologies: Social justice perspectives in intercultural technical communication research. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication44(3), 297-327.

[xv] Meloncon, L., Ed. (2013). Rhetorical Disability: At the intersection of technical communication and disability studies. Amityville, NY: Baywood.

[xvi] Haas, A. (2012). Race, rhetoric, and technology: A case study of decolonial technical communication theory, methodology, and pedagogy. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 26(3), 277-310.

[xvii] Leydens, J. A. (2012). What does professional communication research have to do with social justice? Intersections and sources of resistance.Proceedings of IEEE’s International Professional Communication Conference 2012, Oct. 8-10, Orlando, FL.

[xviii] Savage, G., & Mattson, K. (2011). Perceptions of racial and ethnic diversity in technical communication programs. Programmatic Perspectives3(1), 5-57.

[xix] Jones, N. & Walton, R. (forthcoming 2018). Using narratives to foster critical thinking about diversity and social justice. In M. F. Eble & A. M. Hass (Eds.), Key theoretical frameworks for teaching technical communication in the 21st century. Boulder, CO: Utah State University Press.

[xx] Rose, E. J., & Walton, R. (2015, July). Factors to actors: Implications of posthumanism for social justice work. In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual International Conference on the Design of Communication (p. 33). ACM.





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