New black boxes: Technologically mediated intercultural rhetorical encounters on the U.S.-Mexico border
Activity theory (AT) and actor-network theory (ANT) as theoretical frameworks begin their analysis of the world with the concept of “actors” engaged in activity towards some objective and with other actors in the human and non-human world. In this project, I use AT and ANT to analyze the mediating effect of communication technologies in intercultural rhetorical contexts, in this case a binational small business, and address two questions: 1.) How do common communication technologies (email, phone, IM chat, texting applications) define and transform intercultural rhetorical encounters? And 2.) How do individuals rhetorically engage perceived cultural others using common communication technologies (email, phone, IM chat, texting applications) in intercultural rhetorical encounters? Utilizing observations, interviews, and artifact collection at a small company with an office in El Paso, Texas; a factory in Juárez, Mexico; and customers throughout the Midwestern United States, I argue that communication tools, like the texting application WhatsApp, have the capacity to define and mediate intercultural rhetorical encounters. These tools place cultural others in a virtual, temporally immediate proximity while at the same time creating conceptual voids or “silences” into which participants are invited to “invent” an idea of cultural others as they make rhetorical choices when using the technology. Yet close analysis using AT and ANT of instances of technologically mediated communication suggests that participants make rhetorical choices using these tools by focusing on the concrete material and conceptual goals and constraints under which they are working. Using AT and ANT to study culture also complicates our understanding of the very concept of “culture” and challenges us to re-think how we conceive of cultural difference as shaping our technologically mediated intercultural rhetorical encounters. The study will serve as a springboard for further comparative analysis of technologically mediated intercultural rhetorical encounters in technical and professional, educational, and non-profit work. My research suggests concrete ways students and practitioners in technical and professional communication can use AT and ANT to engage cultural others via technology in more just, ethical, and non-stereotypical ways.
Pihlaja, Beau Scott, "New black boxes: Technologically mediated intercultural rhetorical encounters on the U.S.-Mexico border" (2017). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10619562.