Carnegie Mellon University

The Rhetoricity of Manufacture: Rhetorical Practices at Westinghouse Electric Corporation

Author: Kenneth Zuroski
Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 2001

This dissertation reports the results of a study investigating rhetorical practices of manufacture. By "manufacture" I mean the interaction of actors who systematically organize themselves to design and produce (or, more precisely, construct a socially held representation of) purposeful objects. I examine rhetorical invention in the manufacturing context as it is embodied not only in verbal symbol systems, but also in pictorial and "embodied" systems. Using perspectives gleaned from rhetoric, rhetorical hermeneutics, social studies of science, and semiotics, I argue that manufactured objects are symbols as much as conventional, written texts, and hence their invention, development, and use may be analyzed and understood through the lens of rhetorical theory. Since manufactured objects are, like verbal arguments, contingent "utterances" invented in response to social exigences, I term such objects embodied propositions.

Using data collected at Westinghouse Electric Corporation, I develop a rhetorical model of manufacture. Central to the model is the concept of the proximate response, which I define as the verbal, pictorial, and material inventional acts that comprise the Bitzerean response to an exigence (i.e., the "imperfection marked by urgency"). The proximate response includes the various social acts-including discourse-that are set in motion by the exigence, but also includes the physical world to the extent it is used by agents in an intentional fashion to meet the demands of the exigence. The proximate response can thus be seen as an act of social construction in which various stakeholders, working in symbol systems both verbal and non-verbal, vie to get their intentions embodied in the manufactured artifact. In many ways this work parallels that done in the rhetoric of science: if the end product of discourse in scientific interaction is scientific "fact" (i.e., the community of scientists establishes theories and principles through an agonistic, consensus-building process; cf. Bazerman; Gross; Prelli; Myers; etc.), similarly the end product of manufacture is technological "arti-"fact. The rhetorical model's portrayal of manufactured objects as texts raises questions about the range, scope, and "universalization" of rhetoric (cf. Gaonkar). I address these questions using the theories of Kaufer and Butler, which portray rhetoric, along with engineering, as one of many design arts.

The rhetorical model of manufacture is composed of two major phases: the inventional, which encompasses inventional acts that take place before the object's presentation to external audiences, in which manufacturers inscribe their intentions through text, illustrations, and prototypes; and the reflexive, in which the proximate response is delivered to, judged by, and "rebutted" by one or more publics. The inventional and reflexive phases embody the processes by which, respectively, manufacturers appeal to esoteric audiences (within the corporation) and exoteric audiences (outside the organization). Using a case study (the Polk County waste incinerator project), I show how Westinghouse professional writers helped "manufacture" representations of the proximate response and promulgate them to exoteric audiences.

Westinghouse's response to the many new exigences engendered by World War II helped establish and promote the modern-day conception of the professional writer. Using synchronic and diachronic descriptions of writing at Westinghouse, I offer a system of nomenclature by which to taxonomize and rationalize discourse at Westinghouse. This description, I argue, refines and augments the conception of technical writing as it appears in the professional literature. Finally, I develop the implications of this work for research, pedagogy, and practice.